Monday, October 6, 2014

Listening to the soul of the natural world...

It's the rainy season and all around me nature is cycling at break neck speed:  entropy/regeneration, entropy/regeneration, e/r, er, er ,er ,er, ererererererererererererererererrerer.

The ceiling of my kitchen is snowing salt from the constant leaching from the rain on my cement roof.  My view from the windows is the underworld life of the backside of vines and iguana traffic.  There are flashes of lightening and the rumble of God moving His furniture upstairs. Tomorrow I will vacuum the ceiling - this is normal for this time of year.  The house is covered in a chaotic proliferation of blooming vines, an intricate highway for birds, frogs, rats, squirrels, snakes and iguanas.  We are an ecosystem.  Wally and I are the largest of the mammals with the most developed brain but we are still food and if we stopped moving the ants would pick us up and carry us out the window to be processed through a variety of industries.

This is how it is.

Here in paradise, those who have second homes close up and head north.  They skip the rainy season.  Before they return again they call their caretakers to chop back the wild growth that covers the front door.  They come armed with strong chemicals to push back the mildew and rust and to annihilate the insects.  They initiate a war on the natural world so that when they arrive in their climate-controlled cars and turn the key to their gates they can take possession of an ordered universe just like the one they just left.  I realize that is all good and normal in the civilized world.   I like order too and I struggle with balancing how to have a comfortable order vs the force of nature here in my jungle wonderland.  My eyes are open.  My tiny speck of green order will one day succumb to a Jurassic Park tsunami.  Nature rules. It is tenacious and self-healing, both fierce and fragile.  I don't want to fight it but to love it and find a respectful relationship in the true order of things.

I've been permanently changed by a life intimate with nature.  It is why I no longer feel comfortable in cities.  I can't help but see them as places where nature is conquered and enslaved - where did the rest of life go?  It feels like the Left Behind series but instead of missing people it's the rest of the species - the tortoise, the falcon, the firefly?  It feels wrong.   I don't fault people.  Nature has slowly been bred right out of our senses.  It's been several generations since folks left the farm to work in cities.  I am only an accidental witness, not an activist.  The simple absence of asphalt has allowed the living systems to touch me up close and personal.  I am captivated by a story read out loud by the leaves, written in  spiderwebs, shown on the widescreen of strobing lightening storms in real time HD.  Nature is God's other compelling gospel and I am a convert. 

I am finding peace in nature's economy.  It's a challenge to live harmoniously with everything.  In the end I won't mind giving up this body to its processes to cycle again into the great and glorious re-creation.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

There is no greatness where there is not simplicity, goodness, and truth. --Leo Tolstoy

Sophisticated Simplicity

--by Duane Elgin, syndicated from, Apr 29, 2014

What kind of "stewardship" fits our emerging world? When we consider the powerful forces transforming our world — climate change, peak oil, water and food shortages, species extinction, and more — we require far more than either crude or cosmetic changes in our manner of living. If we are to maintain the integ­rity of the Earth as a living system, we require deep and creative changes in our overall levels and patterns of living and consum­ing. Simplicity is not an alternative lifestyle for a marginal few. It is a creative choice for the mainstream majority, particularly in developed nations. If we are to pull together as a human commu­nity, it will be crucial for people in affluent nations to embrace a deep and sophisticated simplicity as a foundation for sustainabil­ity. Simplicity is simultaneously a personal choice, a community choice, a national choice, and a species choice.
What does a life of conscious simplicity look like? There is no cookbook we can turn to with easy recipes for the simple life. The world is moving into new territory and we are all inventing as we go. For more than thirty years I've explored contemporary expressions of the simple life and I've found such diversity that the most useful and accurate way of describing this approach to living may be with the metaphor of a garden.
A Garden of Simplicity
To portray the richness of simplicity, here are eight different flow­erings that I see growing in the "garden of simplicity." Although there is overlap among them, each expression of simplicity seems sufficiently distinct to warrant a separate category. These are pre­sented in no particular order, as all are important.
1. Uncluttered Simplicity: Simplicity means taking charge of lives that are too busy, too stressed, and too fragmented. Simplicity means cutting back on clut­ter, complications, and trivial distractions, both mate­rial and nonmaterial, and focusing on the essentials — whatever those may be for each of our unique lives. As Thoreau said, "Our life is frittered away by detail…. Simplify, simplify." Or, as Plato wrote, "In order to seek one's own direction, one must simplify the mechanics of ordinary, everyday life."
2. Ecological Simplicity: Simplicity means choosing ways of living that touch the Earth more lightly and that reduce our ecological impact on the web of life. This life-path remembers our deep roots with the soil, air, and water. It encourages us to connect with na­ture, the seasons, and the cosmos. An ecological sim­plicity feels a deep reverence for the community of life on Earth and accepts that the nonhuman realms of plants and animals have their dignity and rights as well.
3. Family Simplicity: Simplicity means placing the well-being of one's family ahead of materialism and the acquisition of things. This expression of green liv­ing puts an emphasis on providing children with healthy role models living balanced lives that are not distorted by consumerism. Family simplicity affirms that what matters most in life is often invisible — the quality and integrity of our relationships with one an­other. Family simplicity is also intergenerational — it looks ahead and seeks to live with restraint so as to leave a healthy Earth for future generations.
4. Compassionate Simplicity: Simplicity means feel­ing such a strong sense of kinship with others that, as Gandhi said, we "choose to live simply so that oth­ers may simply live." A compassionate simplicity means feeling a bond with the community of life and being drawn toward a path of cooperation and fair­ness that seeks a future of mutually assured develop­ment for all.
5. Soulful Simplicity: Simplicity means approaching life as a meditation and cultivating our experience of direct connection with all that exists. By living simply, we can more easily awaken to the living universe that surrounds and sustains us, moment by moment. Soul­ful simplicity is more concerned with consciously tasting life in its unadorned richness than with a par­ticular standard or manner of material living. In culti­vating a soulful connection with life, we tend to look beyond surface appearances and bring our interior aliveness into relationships of all kinds.
6. Business Simplicity: Simplicity means that a new kind of economy is growing in the world, with healthy and sustainable products and services of all kinds (home-building materials, energy systems, food pro­duction, transportation). As the need for a sustainable infrastructure in developing nations is being com­bined with the need to retrofit and redesign the homes, cities, workplaces, and transportation systems of developed nations, it is generating an enormous wave of green business innovation and employment.
7. Civic Simplicity: Simplicity means that living more lightly and sustainably on the Earth requires changes in every area of public life — from public transporta­tion and education to the design of our cities and workplaces. The politics of simplicity is also a media politics, as the mass media are the primary vehicle for reinforcing — or transforming — the mass consciousness of consumerism. To realize the magnitude of changes required in such a brief time will require new approaches to governing ourselves at every scale.
8. Frugal Simplicity: Simplicity means that, by cutting back on spending that is not truly serving our lives, and by practicing skillful management of our per­sonal finances, we can achieve greater financial inde­pendence. Frugality and careful financial management bring increased financial freedom and the opportu­nity to more consciously choose our path through life. Living with less also decreases the impact of our consumption upon the Earth and frees resources for others.
As these eight approaches illustrate, the growing culture of simplicity contains a flourishing garden of expressions whose great diversity — and intertwined unity — are creating a resilient and hardy ecology of learning about how to live more sustainable and meaningful lives. As with other ecosystems, it is the diversity of expressions that fosters flexibility, adaptability, and resilience. Because there are so many pathways into the garden of simplic­ity, this self-organizing movement has enormous potential to grow....
The Choice for Simplicity
The circle has closed. The Earth is a single system and we humans have reached beyond its regenerative capacity. It is of the highest urgency that we invent new ways of living that are sus­tainable. The starting gun of history has already gone off and the time for creative action has arrived. With lifestyles of conscious simplicity, we can seek our riches in caring families and friend­ships, reverence for nature, meaningful work, exuberant play, social contribution, collaboration across generations, local com­munity, and creative arts. With conscious simplicity, we can seek lives that are rich with experiences, satisfaction, and learning rather than packed with things. With these new ingredients in the lives of our civilizations, we can redefine progress, awaken a new social consciousness, and establish a realistic foundation for a sustainable and promising future.
Excerpted with permission from Duane Elgin, Voluntary Simplicity: Toward a Way of Life That Is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich. Copyright © 2010 by Duane Elgin. Published by Harper.

Reprinted with permission. The Center for Ecoliteracy where this article originally appeared, supports and advances education for sustainable living. You can follow its work at Duane Elgin is an internationally recognized speaker and author. His books include The Living Universe, Promise Ahead, and Awakening Earth. He received the international Goi Peace Award in recognition of his contribution to a global "vision, consciousness, and lifestyle" that fosters a "more sustainable and spiritual culture."

Friday, March 14, 2014


Within the Orbit of Widening Circles - Photo by Katherine Minott
This season of Lent has me thinking of circles.  As we make another pass through the liturgical year I experience again the familiar rhythm of this season, its signs and changes, a closing of winter, an inkling of undefined new things.  The ancient road of catholic discipline brings me again to this place of anticipation.  My two latest paintings were called Ancient Paths to New Creation.  They were the expression of what it is to be led by way of tradition, discipline, and faith in ordinary daily-ness to discoveries that surprise and change me.  This is where I am God's art.

I find myself coming full circle in more than one area of my life.  Being a surrogate mother to 13 year old Chayo is an unexpected joy and a weighty responsibility.  I am drawn to motherless children and I know its challenges, joys and heartaches well enough to want to be tempted to bolt, but here I am

A young friend who is pregnant is sharing her life with us and again I feel this as another circle coming to ripen.  Nearly forty years after birthing my son at home I find that I still have the impulse, impetus and enthusiasm for midwifery - not just the aspects of delivery, the care and preparation of becoming a mother and nurturing a developing baby, but the wonder-miracle and mystery of welcoming life.  I have become aware that I still carry seeds of longing in my body - that people I know be birthed into their own unique giftedness.  I meet my pregnant-self again as my friend shares her growing-self with us.

I am feeling the changes of aging and wondering the wisdom of pushing my body, hands and stamina to the brink.  It is soul-work to distill my energies, funneling them more deliberately in the direction of being true to what is important rather than what seems urgent.  This is a closing of a circle in the sense that I am re-turning to what is essential, clearing away the inner obstacles to what is calling me, refining/defining/divining me.

Lent begins every year with this scripture from Joel:   
“return to me with all your heart,
    with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
 Rend your heart
    and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and compassionate"

Turning back with a whole heart, re-turning to God - whole-heartedness - isn't that a circle with a pinch at the top?  We start off with a whole heart and then stuff happens and over time the wholeness is shattered.  There's a piece I hold back for me, a piece I show to others, a piece that doesn't fit anymore, a piece that sort of looks like a heart if you squint your eyes.  Like Humpty-dumpty we think what is broken can never be made right again.   It's hard to look at wreckage, to re-member it and accept the losses and the grief.  In honest acceptance, followed by liberal compassion, the pieces integrate.  Mercy and truth meet,  justice and peace kiss, the circle closes - it's stretched larger, widening.
 I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.
I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
I've been circling for thousands of years
and I still don't know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?
Book of Hours, I 2 by Rainer Maria Rilke

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Feast of Epiphany

A Scene from The Nativity Story

The festivities of the Christmas season are winding down.  Chayo and Roberto returned to school today.   

As I drove Chayo down to the village in the morning darkness to catch the bus we were captivated by a bright star over the ocean.  Maybe it was the morning star. 

I thought of yesterday’s celebration of the magi and how they ventured out on an epic journey because of an extraordinary congruence of planets –  a pretty crazy idea. 

I watch for the star as I weave under the trees and cross the river into the village.  What star am I following?  What kind of crazy hope is my goal? 

Then I have an epiphany, and that is what the feast of the magi is called, Epiphany!  It means an appearance or manifestation.   What crazy kind of synchronization is this?

My epiphany is that I am on a journey and Christ, who is also called the Morning Star, is my Star; and the camel I’m riding is a radical, looney faith that is supposed to traverse this desert journey through a world gone mad.

I heard a song on the radio the other day and the refrain, “a heart full of hope”, resonated in me.  I thought, Hey, it feels good to have gotten this old and to still feel this way. 

It turns out that the lyrics are “a heart full of holes".  That could have been my song too but my heart is pretty well patched.

As I opened the gate to return to the house I had another epiphany. It came on slow like the dawn's light coming over the mountain.  It feels right to have Chayo in our lives.  It’s crazy too.  We had different ideas for slow-living but I find myself softened to what is happening, open to something-someone we hadn’t even thought to ask for.   

The image of following a star is how I enter the New Year. We all have eyes on the horizon of the morning sky to see what light rises to illuminate the way ahead. I am feeling tremendously grateful for a sense of joy and anticipation over what is coming this year.

May a star rise above you to guide you through this year too.  May you have a feast of epiphanies, new ways of seeing the things that are already true and on their way to you.