Sunday, August 28, 2016

8/29/16—Practicing Unconditional Love

This is a classic post, but the phenomena has repeated itself over and over again in my life since. So pay attention. ;) 

The other day I mentioned that a stranger smiled at me when I was on the verge "having a moment" in the drug store, and it made me feel like things were going to be all right. She had no way of knowing how I felt. She just smiled from her heart.

Later that day I saw a little girl in a restaurant. She seemed transfixed on me. Children of a certain age range, say birth to 5 or 6, tend to see something in me. I flatter myself by thinking they see a lovely aura or that they see guides around me. Anyway, she had that look. And as her mother walked her out of the restaurant, I smiled at the little girl as she walked past. Then she made a monster face at me and disappeared through the door.

I was sitting near the window, so as they walked by me again, I made a monster face back to her and she laughed. We were simpatico. I knew she was playing and she knew I was playing. And we had a secret little moment that her mother was completely unaware of. I imagine both of us relished it.

Then today I was having really bad day. Just exhausted to the point that just sitting here writing was almost more energy than I had to expend. I've been on the verge of sleep and tears all day, but had deadlines to meet, so I soldiered on. Then I got an email from a friend saying wonderful things to me and giving me permission to feel exhausted without feeling guilty about dogs that need walks or anything else.

These little, seemingly mundane moments are far more important than they seem. The stranger in the drug store defused the emotion welling up in me. The little girl removed any lingering trace of negative feelings within me. The friend affirmed that I don't always have to do it all. 

Helping others doesn't have to cost money, it doesn't take an elaborate plan, it doesn't even require that you know the person or sense distress. It just means walking through life with an open heart, an encouraging smile or a kind gesture or word. You'll never know if your smile fell on deaf eyes or saved a life. And it doesn't matter. All it takes is to develop a practice of kindness and love within yourself, regardless of the other person and whether or not they mean anything to you.

One of the hardest and most rewarding spiritual lessons is unconditional love. Hard, because it requires you to love those society deems unlovable. Rewarding because it literally sets you free and transforms you spiritually. And it all starts with simple, kind shows of love like I described above. 

A smile alone can transform and even save a life. You very well may be the one bright light in someone's day. You don't have to always be the smiler. Sometimes you'll be the smilee. But either way, recognizing and appreciating you're part of a beautiful transaction can move you further down the path toward achieving universal unconditional love.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

8/22/16—Sharing Six Things About Happiness

Odd piece of trivia: people tend to like enumerated lists of things. So if you get an email with a subject line that says "Five Things Weird People Do," you're more likely to open that than an email that just says "Stuff Weird People Do." 

Before you protest and tell me all about how you'll read any email with "stuff" in the subject line, there are, no doubt, exceptions. And you, a board-certified snowflake, may be one of them. But it's just one of those things the advertising industry does research on, then pumps into my head. So I thought I'd share it with you. Now here's a classic post, "Six Things To Know About Happiness."

1. Happiness Isn't All It's Cracked Up to Be. You very well may be happy right now and not even know it. It doesn't necessarily come with a balloon and streamers attached. It's not necessarily something you get in exchange for something good you've done. It's merely a feeling of remarkable wellbeing in body, mind, emotion, and/or soul. And by "remarkable", I'm not talking "rare". I'm talking, "hey, I'm remarking that I'm happy!" (Notice the lone exclamation point?) So it's not quite joy or bliss (which *do* come with streamers...AND a few extra exclamation points). Happiness is just a nice smile that comes from within. :) 

2. Happiness is Not a Destination. It's part of the journey. There's never going to come a day when you're "Happy. Period." We all have ups and downs. We may be happy in one area of our lives and less than happy in another. It's not a place to land and plant roots. Nor do you want it to be. Because happiness should never become mundane. If it's how you felt all the time, it wouldn't be such a gift. 

3. Gratitude is a Direct Route to Happiness. Want to be happy? Count your blessings. We are all so incredibly blessed and we don't even realize it half the time because we're looking at all the areas where life has fallen short of our expectations. Well what about the vastly larger number of areas in which it has met and exceeded...or at the very least mirrored the effort we put forth?

4. Happiness is a Choice. 
In most moments, you can choose to be happy. You can choose to see your situation as a gift. Sure, if the bad guys are chasing you with guns, it's hard to be happy. Unless you like that sort of thing. But most of us lead pretty tame lives. And we can choose to let some inconsiderate person, for example, ruin our day. Or we can choose to focus on the positives, see how good we've got it and let our bodies and minds flow with gratitude. Now, chemicals in our body can make our moods shift. But even those, we can choose to improve through exercise or pharmaceuticals or whatever. But still, we're all human, so there will be times it won't be a choice. But many times it is.


5. You Can't Know Another Person's Happiness. So stop looking over the fence and thinking that person is happy! C'mon...think about all the times you walk around with a smile on, even though you're less than happy. Well, newsflash! Everyone else is doing that, too. In fact, some people are significantly better at looking happy than you are. The Dalai Lama is probably the happiest person on earth (that I know of, at least) and even his moods modulate. Besides, he's waited on hand and foot, worshipped far and wide and hugely respected. He was literally born to be a leader and a holy leader. But he was a leader in exile most of his life and his people were oppressed...all this happening to a very compassionate man. You want his problems? I didn't think so. So be careful what you're wishing for. 

6. Happiness Shouldn't Necessarily Be Your Goal. Contentment should. See, the ultimate goal in life is supposed to be balance, right? Well, happiness is weighted to one side of the spectrum. It's not in the center. And the things beyond center are harder to maintain. Not only that, but in order to have balance, things that are weighted to one end eventually have to be mirrored by things weighted at the other end. But contentment is at the center. It's satisfaction. It's upturned lips and a relaxed brow, but not quite a full-on smile. With contentment, there may be things in your life that are less than hunky dory, but you'll take it. Because it's pretty good overall...pretty good for a Wednesday. It's the wellbeing without the exclamation point. And it feels really nice. And, with the right mindset, you can maintain it longer. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

8/15/16—Making One Better Decision

Almost exactly a year ago, I found myself in a rut. This was back when I still felt the overwhelming exhaustion that would eventually lead to my asthma diagnosis. So I had no energy. I was feeling lackluster. Life was just meh. I knew I needed a change, but the life force just wasn't in me to do it. Then I was sparked with an inspiration.

It came to me while I was meditating one night on finding an answer—make just one better decision each day. Make one decision that moves you forward. 

It's really kind of simple, but I'll bet most people have never consciously set out to do it. It can't be a decision you make every day. So if your goal is to live healthier and you already drink enough water each day, you can't make that today's decision. It has to be a better—or differentdecision than the one you're used to making or want to make...not the BEST decision, just one you think is more in the direction of where you want to be. And if going for a walk is your better decision today, that doesn't mean you have to go for a walk tomorrow. You can choose a different "better" decision each day. 


What I found was that it had a near immediate effect on my well-being. Within a couple of days, my lackluster and meh lifted. I found myself having fun with it—thinking up all sorts of ideas to try and overachieving by trying more than one each day. 

I also started realizing a little more profoundly how everything we do is a decision. Not just a choice, but a decision. I'm spelling that out, because choices feel less permanent than decisions to me. There is also a greater sense of personal responsibility attached to a decision. Because what we do with many little actions in our lives is we make them more or less permanent. They become automatic. I feed the dogs before I brush my teeth every morning. It's a part of my routine. I don't think about it. But if self care is one of my goals, then I need to create a new routine where I care for myself first. I need to decide to see the behavior, recognize it and seek a new way of moving forward.

For example, somewhere along the line, I decided Crystal Light Decaf Iced Tea was delicious and a tasty alternative to water. It became my drink. Screw water! So I went for a couple of years with that just being a given in my life. What I didn't realize at the time was that it had aspartame, which is unhealthy and addictive. So in looking at the decisions I made about my health each day that could stand improvement—my lack of exercise, my love of chocolate, my Crystal Light, eating fatty foods, etc.—I saw a number of places to make better decisions, one by one, just for a day. At that point in my life, I couldn't handle tackling all of it at once.

So I started by replacing one glass of Crystal Light with a glass of water each day. I started making infused waters, too. This little one-day decision turned into a mission for me. Since I was doing that daily, I started tackling other things, one decision at a time, one day at a time. Within a couple of weeks I had quit the Crystal Light entirely. It was completely painless for me. And the more decisions I recognized that I was making each day, the more I saw all the aspects of my life I had placed on auto pilot, and the more I realized I had abdicated my control over my life to all these automatic, everyday behaviors that kept me from moving forward

What I find happens for me is that I do this plan, then I get happy, then I drop the plan. Then, a while later, I feel stuck, depressed, in a rut, whatever, and I start back up doing this again. The past couple of months I've been pretty down and this came to mind the other day and I've started doing it again, and, again, I'm feeling better. Ideally, though, it would be a good practice to incorporate into your life every day, good or bad.

So the plan is really simple. What is your goal? Where's a place in your life you're feeling stuck or meh? What choices and decisions are you making that are keeping you from moving forward to a better place? And how can you interrupt the pattern of one of those things, even in a small way, today?

Even if it's an emotional issue you can, for example, decide that you can only think about it twice today, for 15 minutes each time. Then after that, you have to stop yourself from thinking about it each time you find it in your mind. Or maybe you decide to do something crafty today to take your mind off it. Or maybe you go out for a jog or to work in the garden. Or you decide to try to meditate tonight. Or you look into joining a new club. The goal is not to CURE it today. It's to chip away at it...to challenge the notion that you are powerless over it. Then, once you see your power, you can take larger healing steps. 

The beautiful thing about this strategy is that, when we're feeling stuck, or when we have no energy, we tend not to resist the status quo. It takes too much energy to change. So we wait for things to pass or improve, or we wait for ourselves to be inspired to dig out. I've told myself that I have to hit a certain bottom in my sadness, stuckness or dissatisfaction before I'll be inspired to dig out. But that's really not the case. I can do one little thing different today. And tomorrow I can do another. And little by little I start feeling better. And that builds momentum and energy so that, some days, I can make bigger or more decisions. And then other days I can only make only one. And that's OK, because that's all you have to do. .

There are times in life where we move forward by bounding leaps. Then there are times we inch forward with all we have. Anyone with a chronic disease or emotional/chemical imbalances knows the latter all too well. But either way, through the effort alone, you get further along your path than you would had you just kept waiting to hit bottom. All it takes to start clearing the energy in your life is just one, small, better decision.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

8/8/16—Rewriting Our Story

I was watching Shark Tank the other night—a show where entrepreneurs try to get millionaires to partner with them on a business—and there was a little girl on with her dad. She was six years old and, with her dad, invented a paint-on bandage in colors...skin tones and colorful colors. Personally, I thought it was brilliant. The sharks didn't buy into it, though. 

As I watched them walk away from the sharks after their pitch, I thought how wonderful it was that her dad took her seriously and believed in her so much. I thought, "what an epic adventure they'll both always hold in their memories." I cried because it was beautiful. Then that cry turned into crying for myself because I had nothing like that with my dad. 

The second I had that last thought, however, it was as if someone in the heavens said "wait just one second, missy." Then the canoe trip replayed in my mind. The canoe trip was epic. And it was something just me and my dad shared. 

We didn't set out to have an epic canoe trip that day. My parents were visiting a friend with a house on the Shenandoah River. I was maybe 12...too young to stay at home over night by myself, even with my teenaged brothers around. So it was just the three of us on that trip. 

We put in up-river, up above the rapids. The put-in spot was maybe a 4-7 mile car drive from the friend's house, so we counted on a 2 or 3 hour trip. My mom got in the canoe first. She got in very carefully, as my father had lectured us both on the proper way to get into a canoe. Once seated, she got herself all adjusted...her big straw hat carefully tied beneath her chin, her book at her side and her hands folded on her lap. Then I got in the canoe and carefully took my seat. Then my dad got in the canoe and toppled all of us into the river. 

My mom stood up, maintaining her British dignity as she moved toward shore, soaked and dripping. Without a word, she walked back to the car and drove away. That left just me and my dad. I certainly hadn't planned on being stuck with my dad all day, nor had he planned on being stuck with me. See, my dad, who was such a charming person to strangers, had two modes of conversation with his kids. Either complete silence because he was off in some world you weren't invited into. Or, when he was stressed, terse and brusque. I can't recall ever having many actual conversations with my father. 

So with my only hope for rescue now driving off in the station wagon, my father told me to get back into the canoe, which I did. The first hour or so of the trip was fine. Lazy paddling on calm waters. Then we came to a dam, at which point we got out of the canoe and had to carry the heavy thing all the way around the dam. On the other side of the dam, I was told to get in the canoe as fast as possible because water moccasins were headed right toward me. This, of course, terrified me. And thus the scene was set for phase two of the adventure...the rapids. 

Nobody had prepared me for this. I was in flip flops and shorts, which meant I couldn't get out of the canoe from that point forward because of the sharp rocks. And, as it turns out, 5 miles by car can be 25 miles by river, depending on the river. Any food or water we had went down when my mom got dumped. And, on top of all of that, I was in charge of steering through the rapids. My dad would call out "shoot right" or "shoot left" and I would comply. But it's a well-known fact that my father, who was a navigator in the Air Force, didn't know his right from his left. So I would inevitably do it wrong. This just upped the stress level and, as I said before, he got pissy when he was stressed. 

So hours of intense rapids go by and the sun starts getting lower in the sky and it's clear we're hopelessly lost. My dad kept saying "I'll know when we're a mile or two away because there will be a general store on the right bank." By now we've been on the river 6 hours...twice the amount of time he said we'd be gone. It was clear to me that he finally realized we'd bitten off more than we could chew. And even though I kept asking him to pull over and call for help, we soldiered on. By this time, though, he finally noticed he had a terrified young girl in the canoe that he'd been barking at the entire trip and she was on the verge of a breakdown. So as the sun and all hope began to disappear, he got calmer and kinder. He realized he had to put his own shit aside and be strong for me.

We started our trip at noon. And we finally saw the general store at 8pm. By 9:30, as the last sliver of light left the summer sky, we reached our destination. 

So, as it turns out, I did have an epic experience with my father, one none of my other siblings would ever come close to duplicating. It's a fair bet I'll never do 25 miles of white water canoeing again in my life, so I can now say I've done that. And while neither of us ever would have volunteered to do it alone together, we survived it. And though he never said it, he had to have felt proud (or something) of me because I didn't cry and I gutted it out. I imagine, as a father, he had to swallow hard because he brought a young girl out ill-prepared for the conditions. He miscalculated. He put both of us in danger. He knew it. I knew it. And we never spoke of it. In the end, all we suffered was hunger and sunburn. 

The point of this rather long story is that we have things we tell ourselves that just aren't true. We have stories we make up. As I was watching Shark Tank and crying over the adventure I never had with my father, I was lying to myself. Sure, my adventure was a nightmare...haha. But it was something we survived together. It was a connection. And I saw that my father was fallible. I saw him vulnerable. I saw him, for the only time in my life, having no answer at all...not even a wrong one. I think I saw him scared. A veteran of three wars. A two-star general. Scared and over his head in a situation he couldn't control. 

We have tales of victimhood and woe we tell ourselves and many times they just aren't true. Byron Katie has a series of four questions we should ask ourselves for when we're retelling our stories of woe in our head. And the first one is simply, "is it true?" Very simple, yet very powerful. 

If you use that question responsibly, you're likely to find that everything other people did to you was really something you did to yourself. A mean person didn't make you feel bad about yourself, for example. They didn't tie you down and attach electrodes to you, refusing to let you go until they had scientific proof that you now felt bad about yourself. No. They said something and you chose to feel bad about yourself because of it. 

The same is true for so much of what we mourn in our lives. They're stories that we tell ourselves, but they're not true. Often they're just about us not taking responsibility for our own role or they're about us failing to see the gift hidden within. And while many of us might not have gotten what we wish we would have from loved ones, that's not an excuse for why we haven't given it to ourselves. It's also not an excuse for why we withhold it from others. I would venture to say that many, if not all of my own hard luck stories, aren't entirely true. 

Here are Katie's four questions: 
1. Is it true?
2. Can you absolutely KNOW it's true?
3. How do you react when you believe that thought?
4. Who would you be without that thought?

Even as I told the story above, you can see beneath it a belief that I wasn't quite loved by my father. But also in the story, you see that's not true. We could have all left with my mother, but he wanted to continue on with me. He was actually open to being told he didn't know his right from his left...haha...so there was some openness there. And when he finally awoke to how scared I was, he softened. I was his little girl. And we shared something that I'm not sure if my other siblings ever got to see...his weakness, his vulnerability, his humanity. Even remembering this trip when I did felt like a message from the other side letting me know he loved me. 

And yet for question #3...it's soul wrenching to believe your dad doesn't love you. I would be a different person today if I hadn't held that thought for so much of my life. And at the crux of it all, it just wasn't true. He never said he didn't love me. He never cast me aside. He never rejected me. He just wasn't the warm, affirming father I wished I had. And that's not really his fault now, is it? He met all his own expectations of what a father should be—strong and a provider. That he didn't meet mine begins with my own expectations, includes the fact that I never told him what I needed, and ends with what he was capable of based on what he was given to work with from his parents. He did as much as he knew to do. 

So what story have you been telling yourself? How has it affected your life? And who's fault is it that you chose to tell the story the way you have all these years? How would you be different had you chosen another, more accurate story? Allowing our stories to define who we are when they are, in the end, just stories, is as dangerous and toxic to our happiness as a river full of water moccasins. Best to rewrite the story and just paddle away. 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

8/1/16—Chasing Sasquatch

An updated classic from 9/14.

Although I've lived all over the eastern half of the US and have many roots in the midwest, I've lived within a five mile radius of where I'm living now most of my life. Also in that five mile radius is George Washington's home, Mt. Vernon. So "my neighborhood's" history is well documented and recounted. Which is why it surprised me when, one weekend a couple of years ago in totally unrelated incidents, I learned two new things about my five-mile radius that I never knew before.

The first was actually meant to be a secret and it was well-kept for over 60 years. My favorite tree resides at Fort Hunt, a local park I've visited all my life. At the park there are prison cells and a watch tower, but the stories I always heard was that the park's role in anything exciting was fairly benign. It provided some defense during the Spanish American War and some training for other wars but not much else in terms of wartime activities.

Turns out, though, during WWII, the fort was code named PO Box 1142 and its mission was to extract secrets from German POWs, mostly scientists. They got all kinds of groundbreaking secrets out of them involving things like rocket science and microwave technology. And they didn't beat it out of them. They cajoled it out of them.

The other thing I learned was about something called the Mount Vernon Monster. In the late 1970s, local residents heard strange noises coming out of the woods in the region of George Washington's home. Some say it was kids playing recordings over loudspeakers. But some people witnessed a bigfoot-like creature and many others had encounters with the creature nearby, but not visible. They swear that there's no way it could be a hoax from the way things happened...the way the sound moved through the woods.

Now, I didn't live here in the late 70s, so I can see why I wouldn't have heard of it. But Bigfoot is, like, my favorite "mythical" creature. And to think one might have lived here? Exciting. Right now, in the very same area, people are saying there's a cougar on the loose. A cougar! We don't have cougars here! Maybe Bigfoot never left. Maybe he's a shapeshifter! :D

I don't consider myself much of a historian, so I'm not surprised I don't know everything there is to know about my little suburb. But it did surprise me to learn two BIG things in a single weekend—perhaps the biggest things ever to happen here (outside of George Washington himself.)

It's interesting all the layers of stories and lore that form like the strata of sediment over time. Everyone focuses on our founding father's role in the immediate area, but there were layers of history stretching hundreds and millions of years before him. Indigenous people were all up and down this part of the river before the Brits even arrived. Dinosaurs, no doubt, drank from our waters. We're just about an hour or so as the crow flies from the some of the world's oldest mountains and, right here in the same state, is a river known to be older than those mountains and considered by some to be the second oldest river in the world. (In a bit of irony, it's called the New River and it runs backwards, just like the Nile, the world's oldest river, does.)

If you sit with nature long enough, you can feel mysteries yet untold. And not just because of backwards running rivers, ancient mountains and Sasquatch sightings. You'd feel it in the middle of the desert or along the Panama Canal, in the center of New York City or in the depths of Asia. There's magic and mystery and history everywhere there's earth. You don't have to dig to know it's there, because it's part of the vibration.

Many years back I had a very disquieting "paranormal" experience in that park where the POWs were held. Now I understand more about why that happened. Whether you have the data in the form of recorded history  and artifacts or not, the body always knows. We just have to learn to use what we have and trust it.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

7/25/16—Taking A Summer Break

Maybe 20 years ago I visited a storefront psychic. It's one of maybe a handful of readings I've received from "strangers" over the years. If/when I get a reading, it's usually from someone I know and admire. Anyway, this man told me I was going to be a prolific writer.

I laughed when he said it, because of course I already was one. Foremost, in my advertising career. I mean, I remember a day I wrote 24 ads. In a single day...haha. That's a bit extreme, but when you consider I've been writing ads, brochures, webpages, emails, TV and radio spots, etc. every working day for 30 years, we're talking in the 10s of thousands of original compositions. Also, at the time I was journaling pretty much every day. So that's a lot of writing.

"That's not it," the psychic said. "It's something else...something published...short stories...I don't know...I can't say quite what. But it's not in your future. You're already doing it or are about to do it." Well, he was wrong about that. But maybe he was talking about this blog, albeit that was WAY in the future. There weren't blogs or social media or even the internet as we know it today back then. Even though I don't write every day anymore, I have averaged 250 posts per year on this blog over a 4.5 year effort. That's pretty prolific.

While the psychic was kinda right and kinda wrong, I have thought about his words many times over the years. He had no idea what I do for a living or who I am as a person. I think by any standards I'm a prolific writer, but I had never considered myself as such until after he said it. It's funny how how just hearing someone say something can make you look differently at yourself. When I think of how I thought of myself as a writer then and how I think of myself now, I'm definitely more confident in my skill and more accepting of my prolificness...prolificity...ability to generate lots of good quality, original work. 

That said, right now I want a break. I can't take a break from my day job of writing, but I can take a break from this. For a few weeks at least.

It's not that I've run out of things to say. I may never run out of things to say. This summer has been both emotionally difficult and significantly insightful for me. I have lots to say. I have lots to think through on paper. I have lots of thoughts that need to marinate before I discuss. I've peeled a layer or two off the onion this year and as it assimilates, I'll want to talk all about it. But after 1100 fresh posts over 4.5 years, I just need a break. And right now I also need to just be with myself and the people I trust and not share for a little bit.

So I'm going to pick some classic posts from the last four years, including some of the tarot ones, and regurgitate that for a few weeks. When I return, I might tell you what I think is behind all the fear and hate in the US. Or how I jumped through a final hoop in the medical issues that have been dogging me for years. Or how I'm seeing more signs from the universe lately. Or how I'm reclaiming lost parts of myself. Or how I'm releasing myself from some of the fears I've had most of my life. Maybe I'll even write something about what it feels like to not share my deep thoughts after sharing them all these years. :D

If I could write it all out in 15 minutes, I would. But many weeks I give up the bulk of my Sunday to compose something that plumbs my depths and I guess I'm just plum plumbed. :) I'll probably start up again in the (Northern Hemisphere) fall, which isn't far away. In the short term, I plan on being prolific at self care. Or enjoying the summer shade in my back yard. See you on the flip side!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

7/18/16—Being Watched By The Birds

This season of Alone is over now. I wrote about this show before. Survivalists are each left alone in separate parts of Vancouver Island and they live there as long as they can take it. The winner usually lasts about two months. 

Well, this year, they had three women in the mix. Two left fairly early in the game. A man left first. I don't think he was even there but a few hours. Then one lady injured herself. Then another realized she couldn't handle the bears, cougars and emotional fears there. All three were gone in the first few days. Then you get a few people who last a few weeks. Then you get the ones that are dug in for the long haul. 

The third women was one of those people. She lasted 57 days. She was a cheery, sweet scientist, safari guide and mom with multiple sclerosis, named Dr. Nicole Apelian. She addresses her MS dietetically and herbally, which seemed to me to make this trip a huge risk for her. But then her knowledge of edible plants put her ahead of many of the men in terms of nutrition...until the frost. After that, I think she was doomed because her gill net became a convenience store for the bears and otters and seals. In the end, though, she left for the same reason most do...it's too hard to be alone and away from family and society (while starving and bored out of your mind) for that long. 

I was really rooting for Nicole because it seemed like less of a chore for her compared to the others. And she seemed to have fewer issues finding food. She made a home on that island. This challenge was suited to her. I mean, my god, she was out there for nearly two months alone with only 10 survival items—nothing more than she could carry on her back—and she outlasted six other, equally qualified people...by a good margin.

But this entry isn't about girl power. It's about Nicole's "way" of living in nature. She was just another animal in the woods. She was careful of bears, but not so fearful she wouldn't go scavenging on their turf. She knew the bird calls and had a feel for what they meant. In short, her understanding of the task went beyond survival skills to a deeper organic connection with nature. 

When Nicole left, she remarked about how all the animals knew her and were used to her. The bears knew her. The birds stopped warning each other when she would come and go. She had integrated into the ecosystem.
And I thought about all the animals in my suburban back yard. I spend time back there pretty much every day. In the mornings I drink coffee with the pups. When it rains, I sit beneath the soffit and listen. When it's cold I wear a blanket. I've been known to sit outside in blizzards and negative temperatures for quite some time in my blanket, in fact. It's only the hottest, most humid days that I don't go at least go out in the morning for coffee, the evening to water the herbs, at twilight for the sunset or late at night to listen to the quiet and hope for a random shooting star. 

It had never quite occurred to me that all the squirrels and birds in the neighborhood knew me. I know them, though I have a hard time differentiating one squirrel or cardinal from another. I know they know my dogs because they are a danger (or something to be toyed with.) But I never had the thought that they know me—probably better than I know them. They have been observing me all their short lives...or for a big portion of their long ones if they're birds. Yet it never occurred to me they might expect me in predictable spots at predictable times. And that if I died or moved, they might notice me gone. It never occurred to me I might matter to them, even if in a small way.

Working alone and living alone and being an introvert, it's easy to feel invisible and alone sometimes. It's easy to feel like you don't matter. I've been doing this for a long time, so I know ways to cope. But sometimes it grabs you anyway. And you don't even have to be a suburban hermit or isolated on a Canadian island to feel that way. I imagine we all feel depressingly marginalized or invisible or unheard from time to time. 

Those with faith know in their hearts know they are "never alone," but in darker times that faith is harder to find. And, in dark times or light, I think we all underestimate how much we are seen in this world and how much an intrinsic part of the larger ecosystem we are as individuals. We forget how much we matter to family and friends, neighbors and co-workers, and the people who work at the businesses we frequent...to our pets, the birds, the squirrels, the plants, the earth and to the collective consciousness.  

It turns out each of us matters more than we know. I can't count the times that I have received messages, signs, reassurance, etc. from time spent in nature. And while I always consider the messages delivered by nature as spiritual intervention—and they are—they can also be considered  comfort offered by my fellow organic entities who have witnessed me from afar and consider me worthy of their efforts to reach out. It's heartening to know we are seen, felt, needed, relied upon and heard, even when we think nobody is paying attention.