Thursday, February 27, 2014

2/28/14—Spotting Your Reflection

Still waters reflect the truth of our heavenly and earthly selves. 
Today's post is a classic post from 2/6/12.

This morning, after a long absence, I returned to my favorite park spot to greet the sun. What I found both surprised and comforted me.

Everything was exactly as I left it three years ago when I gave up my sunrise trips in favor of sleep and blogging. The lone pine that bravely sticks its head above the canopy of deciduous trees—daring to be an individual, daring to claim the nourishment it needs—was still there. The constant din of traffic was there, still challenging the profound underlying silence of the park. And the same glassy water was right where I left it, reflecting the beauty of the sky above.

I confess I don't know enough about rivers to know why they always seem so still at the liminal times of the day. Maybe it has to do with the moon or tides. Maybe it's the weather. Maybe it has to do with passing boats. But it seems like the river's surface is calmer at dawn and dusk than it is in the middle of the day. It could just be this particular location. A few miles away at Great Falls, the river is never calm.

We're kind of like the river in our spiritual journeys, aren't we? Sometimes we're calm and still, reflecting back both the beauty that beams down from above and that which gathers around us in our lives. And sometimes we're jumbled and chaotic, reflecting back a more distorted view of our reality. We move in and out of the pocket of love, flowing with the tides and the forecast. 

Looks like a pigeon, but it's a dove.
The other day, a couple of miles upriver, someone came across two doves that had been decapitated in some sort of ritual. The article said that doves and pigeons are pretty much the same bird. "Dove" and "pigeon" are used interchangeably and not even experts agree whether there's a difference or not. But you know the difference, don't you? Doves are those pretty white birds that mate for life. And pigeons are those nasty gray ones that poop on everything. Right?

Turns out pigeons and doves reflect something back on us, too. 

Looks like a dove, but it's a pigeon.
Everywhere we look in life there's a mirror. Our friends and family reflect back our strengths and insecurities. Our words and actions reflect back our beliefs and attitudes. Even the things we don't do or say...the people we don't hang out with...reflect back on us. We may be able to successfully hide our truth from others, but no matter where we look or what we do, our truth is always looking back at us. That's both good news and bad. The bad news is that, wherever you see something you don't like, you're responsible for it being in your life. The good news is that you also have the power to change it. Even if you can't immediately change your circumstance, you can change the way you view or approach it. 

So this weekend, see how many mirrors you can spot in your life. What does your home say about you? Your choice of a mate? Your pets? Your job? Your response to the email you just got? The quality of your friendships? The condition of your shoes? If you see something you're not pleased with, why is it still in your life?

Moreover, check the state of your internal waters. Are they calm enough to accurately reflect back some higher aspect within you? Or are they choppy, rough and discombobulated? If they're the former, don't take that connection for granted. And if it's the latter, consider what stills you and move toward that. Ultimately, the difference between living a pigeon life and a dove life is all in the way you see it.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

2/26/14—Getting Into the Rhythm

Interesting things happen when you start watching the sunset nearly every night. When I started watching in the dead of winter, it was dark by 5pm. Now it's dark at 6pm. Come summer and I'll be out there as late as 9pm watching the sun dip down (though my dislike of warm weather may deter me.) 

Along with the time differential comes a "neighborhood habits" differential. While some activity follows the sun—my back yard neighbor going on her dog walks, for example—other activity follows the clock. Like kids coming home from school and people returning home from work. Right now, I'm seeing one group of neighbors in their routine and in a few months, it will be another, later group in their routines. 

And then there's the changes with nature. As the leaves begin to pop, what I'm able to see of the sunset will change considerably over the coming months. Right now I get an eyeful through the branches, but soon I'll have less sky to observe. I may even be urged out of the neighborhood for more expansive views. But then I'll miss out on the unique rhythm that goes on where I live. 

Years ago my thing was sunrises. For two years I watched the sun rise twice a week at a local park, but I didn't have the same experience as I'm having with sunsets. There, I had my back to the hustle and bustle of the world. And even if I didn't, all there was to see was a blur of cars whizzing by on the Parkway. So while the sunrises were all different, the rhythm was usually the same. 

Also, Daylight Savings Time keeps sunrise times more consistent than sunset times. So the sun might rise between, say 5:45 at one end of the spectrum and 7:30 at the other end. With sunsets, the times span from 4:45 to 9pm—about twice the range of time in which to observe the life that happens around the sun's show. 

What I have noticed from these practices, however, is that nature's circadian rhythm follows the sun while much of our own rhythms follow the clock. One interesting observation I've had recently is that the first chirp of morning birds coincides nearly perfectly with the sensors on the street lamp behind my house. When the street lamp goes to sleep, the birds awake (though both are taking their cues from the angle of the sun.)

Last week I made a post about the data we've left behind because of technological convenience. This is sort of the same thing. Work starts at 9 whether the sun rises an hour before or three hours before. And it ends at 5, whether the sun has already set or won't set for another four hours. But if we, as animals, are tuned to the rhythms of the sun (and we are), they we're keeping "unnatural" schedules. 

Ancient man, who didn't avail themselves so much to artificial light, kept a very different sleep and work pattern than we do (called segmented sleep.) They went to bed much earlier. Woke for a couple of hours in the middle of the night. Then went back to bed. They still got 8 hours, but in two four-hour bursts. Then with the advent of street lamps and affordable artificial light, things changed. 

The move away from segmented sleep is blamed for everything from stress to addiction to obesity among modern man. If you look into the science of circadian rhythm and the hormonal and physiological nuances of how it all works, you begin to see why. Further, when you wake in the middle of the night and curse it as insomnia, what's really happening is that your body is trying to get into rhythm. But modern life doesn't allow that. 

I've veered of course a little here, because what I really wanted to point out is all the different rhythms that go on...the rhythm of light and dark and all that comes with that, and the rhythm of schedules and time clocks and all that comes with them. Watching the sunset really points out the difference between the two and gives you a view of the unique rhythm of your immediate environment...the rhythm that you and your community keep. So far it has led to many interesting observations about neighbors and how I fit into this unique neighborhood. 

What it comes down to, however, is that whether it's the rhythm of earth wobbling on its axis or of people tied to the clock or of our body's cycles of sleep and waking, we don't think too much about our rhythms and how they fit into the bigger picture. But there's a lot of information there, not just for knowing who you are as a person, but for understanding how you work as an animal and the choices you make as to which rhythms you move within at any given time. Being attuned to your rhythms and the ones around you could be key to waltzing more gracefully through the dance of life. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

2/24/14—Making What You Have Work

There's this tree in my neighbor's back yard, behind their shed. It's an evergreen...a cedar, I think. It's sort of a Charlie Brown tree in a way. It's not symmetrical. The branches reach every which way. It's top heavy. Awkward. Lopsided.

You might consider this tree "unfortunate" were it not for the fact that it has somehow managed to grow quite healthy with a shed on one side blocking the afternoon sun, a fence a fence and vegetation on the other side blocking the morning sun and a bunch of bigger trees above it blocking the daytime sun. But I've seen this tree grow pretty big over 15 years with all these obstacles remaining constant.

One thing that helps is that it's an evergreen. When everyone loses their leaves, the evergreen gets to bask in the sun. I have a pear blossom in my yard that buds and blooms before the maple above it gets its leaves. Otherwise it wouldn't get the sun it needs to do all that. Once it has leaves, it's happy to live under the maple, but if the maple grew leaves sooner, the pear blossom never would have made it.

Both the evergreen and pear blossom are able to get what they need to survive, partly because of the kind of tree they are. The evergreen is evergreen, so it gets a good five months out of the year without any competition for sunlight. The pear blossom is an early bloomer, so it gets a valuable month's head start on establishing its leaves and gets all the power it needs to bloom while the maple is still making whirlybirds.

But beyond the tree type...what's in its DNA...the evergreen thrives as an individual by poking its branches out wherever it can to catch sun and rain. Which is why it's so oddly shaped. It is, in fact, NOT oddly shaped, but instead, perfectly shaped to take advantage of its environment. Same with the pear blossom. It's grows thin and tall with more leaves higher up because it competes with two much larger trees and has to find that bit of clear airspace available to wash as much surface area with sun and rain to keep it going.

So there's a tall, fat tree using its tall fatness to make the most of its mission on earth—growth and light. And there's a tall skinny flowering tree that's tall and skinny for the same reasons.

Most of my life I've resented the body I'm in. Like the evergreen, I'm an apple...leaner legs with all my weight around the middle. It's no mistake I have this body, though. Like the evergreen, the universe planted me where it did for a purpose and I grew as I did for a purpose, too. Some of the evergreen's awkwardness isn't awkwardness at all, but what that tree needs in order to face the it copes to both protect and expose itself to the right elements. I suppose I'm the same way.

Same with my pear blossom. In fact, one day the maple will have to come down and that pear blossom will change in all sorts of ways because of it, just as the evergreen would change if the shed or one of the trees around it came down. But then again, we don't know what other issues something like that may trigger. Right now, everything is thriving just as it is. 

And as long as we allow our special kind of DNA and our weird and awkward ways of coping to keep focusing on our unique missions of growth and light, it's likely we'll continue. What the trees don't have to struggle with, but we do though, is accepting that they will never be an oak or maple—tall with an impressive canopy to drink in the elements. Oaks and maples have their own issues to contend with. The lifespan of a maple, for example, is centuries less than the lifespan of a cedar. But that's just it...the trees don't struggle at all. They just work with what they have and make what they have work.