Have you ever gone somewhere and the moment you arrived, you were just happy? I mean, from the moment you stepped out of your car after the long winding drive up the dirt road past farmhouses and fields, the brilliant green of fresh new leaves on the trees bending overhead, you just opened your heart and received the wonder of all that is here.
A week ago, at the end of May, I went on a five day retreat with the Animas Valley Institute, based on Bill Plotkin’s book, Wild Mind, connecting human development, the Natural World and Spirit/Soul. We had a wonderful intergenerational group of eighteen. Thirteen men, including two others who had also just turned 60. Something is breaking forth in all of us, a new season of change with new questions, challenges, opportunities and openings. I’m always so fascinated to find any “spirit-centered” group where men show up. What is it that draws us all here? Perhaps it’s the wilderness guides, the woods, the experiential program with movement and conversation, community and solitude.
Our conversations over meals and around the fire, confirm our deep connections in fears and worries, anxieties and ecstasies. Stories of learning to walk with despair, the fate of the earth and finding our part. Talk of the meaning of healing and hope, the longing that had drawn us here to give ourselves to the way of transformation. We are so alike at our core amidst all our surface differences. As I think back on this group, I could go on and on about each of them, how I treasured hearing their stories.
Each day a simple rhythm of morning yoga in the yurt, conversation and discernment about dreams over breakfast, dancing on a green hill followed by conversation in a circle. An afternoon wander in the woods with a question and sharing our discoveries when we returned followed by a delicious dinner. Conversation and drumming around a fire on the hillside at night, and one night a most incredible “trance dance” where everyone could find a part holding the circle, drumming, striding out one way as the “sun”, and slithering the other way as the “moon”, dancing every which way in the center. Together we made something powerful that ebbed and flowed in energy and ecstasy, in grief and joy, ending in dark silence.
I gave myself so fully to all of it. Perhaps, its how I’m learning to walk these days, open to receive the gifts that are here – such happiness, such grief, this laughter, these tears. Present to all of it, gift and grace.
Yes, after not being able to smell the lilacs several weeks ago when I had COVID, I stopped to smell the purple and white lilacs everyday, several times a day, each time I passed in fact, just to take in the wonder of smell and lilacs.
Everyday on our afternoon wanders I kept meeting frogs. I’d head out with my head full of my “plan” of where I was going and what I wanted to “do” and everyday was drawn off the path and away from my plans to something that was deeper, quieter, more necessary.
One afternoon I went down to play in the brook. Constructed dams and piled rocks, something I have not done since I was a child. That day, met a brown wood frog in the stream, and everyday since kept meeting frogs. I wasn’t out looking for them but they kept finding me each day.
“I take coincidences like that seriously,” our guide told me. “I wonder what frogs are offering you?” I think about frogs and how they are so present, silent, waiting, watchful. So deeply attuned to their environment, their skin so porous to receiving and yet so vulnerable. A way of silent, watchful listening that I treasure. Think too of their sudden flying out, their joyful leaping. Think of all this and who I am and long to be.
Am I listening? Patient and watchful?
Am I awake to all that is here?
Ready to pounce in a moment?
Am I ready?
On returning last week, a share of sadness and grief of missing the wonder and joy of those five days in the woods, a sadness I’d felt in the last circle we had on the morning before we took off in our many directions. I was ready to tell my tale of sadness and woe, planned it all out in my head of what I was going to share. Instead, a question was offered that I hadn’t expected, a question that changed everything. “What sea are you heading out towards?”
“What? That’s not the question I thought we were here to answer,” I said. “And that, that changes everything!”
The question does make all the difference. And this question, not the one I expected on what was in my heart looking back on this week but instead what is in my heart heading out, opened my heart in another moment of transformation to joy. Instead of sharing my woes on leaving, I laughed.
I could go on and on about it – the joy I found there that is calling me out – to the woods, to community and connection, to deep listening to the deep questions of life and where we are going together, to wonder and wanders, dancing on the hillside. To the creation of a dance that creates a fire of energy and passion none of us could generate alone, but together do. Oh, I could go on and on about the seas where I am headed and not have a clue the shape and form, the place and context in which I will find them. But I know where the Spirit is calling.
On returning to my home of this season on the Neponset, I sit here on a green bench this morning looking out over the river so green and still, I receive this wind, this grey sky, this drop of a single wet drip from the branch above. This sparrow song and all is so, so alright. More than that, well. So very well.
The white duck appears. A cormorant pops its long slender curving neck out of the water. Startled to find each other here. I am here. I am home.
The mallards too are back to be with the white duck. I wonder if he now imagines himself a mallard.
As for me I imagine a frog. Watching, waiting, present, listening. Ever so ready when the time is right, to leap.