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

photo 3

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?

photo 1

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.

photo 2

In the Thick


photo 2

One perfect cardinal perched on the bird feeder this morning. He was luminous crimson against absurdly deep snow, a red assault to temperatures cold enough to freeze my boots to the mudroom floor. But there he was, breast glowing, a miracle of winter.

It’s easy to miss things like this, when the whole joke of winter has gone on too long.  The novelty is over, we’ve heard this one before. February, for me, can bring on a kind of impetuous, can’t-we-move-on-already feeling. But we can’t. Not yet. The season asks us to move more slowly than that, to notice the slightly longer light, the single cardinal.photo 4

And that cardinal can come in many forms. Last week, navigating the snow-covered and icy roads, I had to come to a hard, skidding stop when a car pulled out suddenly into the center of the road. Now, you can find yourself thinking a lot of really very impolite thoughts when someone cuts you off like this, thoughts you might even say out loud, in the privacy of your car. But the other driver, an older man, simply waved and slowly continued on his way. He paid no mind, and – just like that – all my sudden indignation rushed away.

In this climate, we may be itching with winter, cold, buried up to our shoulders in snow. But we are also  – each one of us – in it. Making our way the best we can. And each of us knows that somewhere, beneath this impossibly thick blanket, bulbs and seeds and future possibilities are waiting. And that perhaps something in us is waiting too.

A practitioner friend once told me, “if it’s not a resounding yes, it’s a no.” Over the years, I’ve come back to this when I’m trying to make a decision. What do I truly, resoundingly, want to say yes to? But it also helps to turn the question outward: Where do I notice a resounding yes? Certainly in that red bird, and even in the moment after the not-accident when I realized the silliness of my own hot air. This is the gift of winter: The spare sleeping earth quiets the noise and lets us tune into those resounding yeses. We begin to notice where we encounter that small spark, how we listen, and what we want to invite into our lives.

photo 3


Please note! This month I’ve added a new feature that allows you to purchase gift certificates online. You can select the type of massage you’d like, as well as whether you’d like to have the gift certificate emailed to the recipient or sent by regular mail. Massage makes a great gift for Valentine’s Day… or for anyone who’s been doing lots of shoveling! Learn more on the gift certificates page.

 

 

Kite Strings

photo 1There is a little thing that happens to many of us, especially right around now. Things seem to be humming along just fine – we’re working or cooking dinner or vacuuming the kitchen – feeling we have something of a handle on our lives. And then somehow, inexplicably, without our even noticing, the needle slides off the record.

It may have been the cough. Or the state of the world. Or forgetting to dress warmly that time. Or perhaps accidentally scheduling just a few weekends to resemble carnivals rather than rest time. But it is suddenly All Too Much. The Land of Fine feels lost in the rearview mirror, and we question whether it was really ever there to begin with.photo 3

Back when I was struggling with a long term illness that would flare up willy nilly, leaving me bewildered and bereft, my husband Jon would say, “You just lost your kite strings.”  I would want to find some sort of pattern to explain why I had so suddenly, so thoroughly been waylaid, but he offered this gentle, story-less explanation. “They just slipped from your fingers, those kite strings.”

“I’ll hold them for you,” he said, “I’ll keep them safe until you want them back.”

This was one of the kindest gestures I’ve ever encountered. Because, at that moment, there was really nothing I could hold to, and feeling that someone else could mind those threads while I curled up and rested was exactly what I needed.

I’ve said this to friends too over the years, when inexplicable rough patches send them hurtling. Once in a while, we need someone else to hold the kite.  But the truth is that those strings can also be held by pets, and walks alone, and time that gives us permission to give up a little, because there isn’t energy for more.

In our house, we use kite strings now as a kind of short hand for suddenly-don’t-have-it-quite-together. It also means: Please be a little softer with me. I may need a little space, a little time. I have some tending to do.

In this season, wishing you permission to set those strings down for a bit, and know that we will hold them for you for as long as you need.photo 2

 

Vacationland…for Non-Vacationers

photo 1In Maine, we wait about 10 months of the year for just this spot: The zenith of summer, the beach days and campfire nights, the sweetness of porch sitting without a jacket (or at least not for warmth – mosquitoes, though, that’s another story). The truth is, most people come here for just this sweet time. All those Vacationland license plates don’t lie. What this means for many of us is visitors. People we love. People we wait all year to see. People we take to the beach, and to the ice cream stand and down to the lobster shack. We talk late into the night, cook giant meals, we wash sheets and pick flowers. This is – as I’ve written about elsewhere – the season of yang. Active and abundant, and sometimes so much so that we can forget about that most fundamental of rhythms: our own.  photo 2 I was thinking about this the other day, relishing time spent with friends from far away, when I realized I needed to do an almost-nothing-something, just for myself. And it was surprisingly simple. I made chicken noodle soup. I picked and dried calendula (with a cup of bulletproof coffee on the side). I worked on a sewing project with my four-year-old. I went to bed early. With that – order restored, inner-animal fed. So long as we truly include ourselves, we can find beauty and nourishment in most anything. Even the dishes.

I’m looking forward to the next batch of visitors. photo (29)

Yin Time

IMG_3006

A few years ago, I went through a period of waking up every morning at 3 a.m. I was overextended and desperately  needed the rest, but lay there, awake and lucid, unable to fall asleep again until about 5 a.m. Has this happened to you? No amount of cajoling or chamomile tea or daily exercise convinces your internal rhythm to let you sleep through the night, and – if we’re maybe a little bit alike – leaves you feeling cranky and irritable the next day.

I was utterly frustrated: Didn’t my body know this was a very stressful time and what I needed was not insomnia but actual REST?

In fact, that’s precisely (and paradoxically!) what my body knew.

When I told an acupuncturist friend about this habit, she suggested something I never would have considered. My body, she said, was claiming its yin time.  Yin time? Was that even a thing? Yes, she said, and evidence of a foundational principle in traditional Chinese medicine.

She explained that when we are busy, stressed, filling every moment – operating in the yang, you might say – our body feels the absence of time spent not doing. Whether we are daydreaming or walking without destination, those “unproductive” spaces where time lies fallow also feed us.  Yin is quiet, heavy and dark. It is a balancing force to all that heat and movement.  In waking hours, my body was so busy that it never had time to experience stillness. And so, at 3 a.m., I was forced to.

Yin is the winter to yang’s summer, so it might seem a little funny to bring up this phenomenon at just the moment when we see spring bursting forth. The thing is, we still need pauses.  Out breaths follow in breaths, music beats wait until the next – even when the sun comes back and we are outside and moving, our bodies crave yin time. It may even help us sleep.
 IMG_2728