Pine State Solitaire

“I find that in contemplating the natural world my pleasure is greater if there are not too many others contemplating it with me, at the same time.” — Edward Abbey

IMG_0017When I was 19 years old I got a job as a kind of junior ranger at a tiny museum on the south rim of the Grand Canyon.  I unenrolled from university, crammed in hours waitressing, bought myself a little blue car, and drove west.

Until then, I had barely been west of Massachusetts. As a child, my family lived in a fourth floor walk up a few blocks from Boston Harbor surrounded by the smells and noise and lights that make a city, a city. Even when we moved to the suburbs, or visited relatives out in the country, there were always sisters, uncles, cousins, random visitors. My sense of space was peopled.

So it was strange, heading west as the country flattened out and then buckled up and broke open in unfamiliar colors and shapes, to discover uninhabited space.

My new home was a trailer park at the side of the canyon where coyotes gathered in large numbers. At night, I would call home from a pay phone out behind the dumpster, cupping my hand over the receiver to block the wind. How could I describe a landscape like this one? Infinite stars against a fathomlessly large sky. The smell of juniper, acid and blue, tinging the air. The voices on the other end sounded familiar, but mine seemed to disappear in my chest.

Out here, silence could be a choice. Spaciousness was a physical reality. Far from the crowded cities, I couldn’t help but encounter the one person I had brought along, someone whose company was quiet, and required little of me. It was new and surprising and strange.

I understood loneliness, but I had no vocabulary for solitude. And while I careened wildly between missing people desperately and enjoying having no one around, I also bumped into the solace I derived from being alone.

field at sunset

A million internet tests will tell you if you are extroverted or introverted, but for me the designation is fluid and comes back to this: What nourishes you most of all, at this very moment?

Most of us cannot just throw our material goods in a car and head west (or east, or out). But sometimes, when we choose to turn off the noise and ride out whatever’s underneath, we discover that what we are actually missing is our selves, unhindered.

And when this feels like a true choice, we stumble on the grace of solitude. Without obligation, there’s a kind of freedom to roam the canyons and dry creek beds of our own inner world.

Making time for this unknown expanse ripens us for getting the joke. For discovering what makes us laugh deeply, open-mouthed and flare-nostriled. Or what moves us, invisibly, within.

To this day, I can’t really say what compelled me, against all better judgement, towards the unknown and unfamiliar.  Still, like all good mistakes, the decision brought me closer to who I actually was. Each day, after I’d walked tourists by mounds of rocks we described as ruins (particularly when there was snow, there was really nothing to see), I’d end with a quote from the writer Edward Abbey, himself a defender of solitaire desert living.  It was my secret and subversive salute to solitude.

charlie beach

Please note: There are still spots left in the upcoming Embodied Writing workshop and series. Please contact me as soon as possible if you’d like to join!

 

Mud Season of the Soul

“I will wax romantic about spring and its splendors in a moment, but first there is a hard truth to be told: before spring becomes beautiful, it is plug ugly, nothing but mud and muck. I have walked in the early spring through fields that will suck your boots off, a world so wet and woeful it makes you yearn for the return of ice. But in that muddy mess, the conditions for rebirth are being created.” — Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

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Spring, that season of greeting card sweetness and abundance, starts out with some real ick. I wish I were speaking in metaphors here. When the snowbanks melt, there is sand, sticks, dirty old plastic bags. And those are the sightly bits. All of our garbage is suddenly visible.

It is the season we in New England call: Mud.

And so, when the detritus appears, we rake, clear, cut. We regard what’s been underneath the whole time. And because we know that the chaos of growth is coming, this is the season to survey the bones. To look out and ask, What do I have here? What are the shapes of the structures underneath, revealed now in their nakedness?

For me, this is a ripe time for looking at old habits and patterns.

– Where and how do I move through my days?
– What space have I created for being creative?
– What are the dry wells that need to be capped, those toxic thoughts (and connections) that send me spinning?
– How do I serve the people and places I love, up to and including myself?

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Early spring feels like the season for these stark questions. It offers a kind of invitation to burn the bracken in the early bonfire, to set out the seed trays, empty the shelves. The act of tending to what is here – even when it’s muck-covered and colorless – sends out a kind of secret faith that growth is coming. Despite the evidence, despite the pace.

I try (as much as possible, which sometimes is not at all) to honor this dank and ugly place that always precedes the season of becoming.  Because in mud season, everything we see is unformed, embryonic in its potentiality. Just, you know, not much to look at.

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On sleeping funny and slowing down


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Through the miracle of modern technology, I’m writing this post as my bus travels northward from Boston to Portland. A Sandra Bullock movie plays on the video screens, people sleep, or text, or stare out the dark windows.  We pass over bridges, through tolls, speeding along through the night.

And it is this kind of speed – so quick, so distracted, so careless – that’s on my mind.  It isn’t that we don’t need to get from point A to B, but our terrifically capable wheels pass over so much in the meanwhile.

At the same time, many of my clients are coming in lately with pains from having slept funny.  Necks ache. Backs feel tweaked in odd spots. They have reached a kind of stillness – they slept deeply enough not to move out of those uncomfortable positions, after all! – but not one that leaves them feeling rested.

As my bus approaches home, I wonder about that fine balance: the sweet spot between stillness and movement. A pace that allows us to be nourished by what we’re traveling through.  My wish? May we sleep peacefully, and wake ready to move with our whole selves.