Sparrow Returns

cf..: Tree and Sparrow

Tweet tweet.

Hello, my sparrow.  Many moons it has been since last you alighted upon my branches.  I have missed you, all the while watching your travels from afar.  So tell me, my dear one… who have you become since last we met?

Well, my grandmother, my journeys seem to have taken me in a circle, or perhaps a spiral, to where I now see the same place as before, but from a greater vantage point, not of elevation, but of centering.

And what is the center upon which you now perch?

It is love, my grandmother.  Love in so many ways, for so many things, and people, and places, and circumstances, and stories, and ways of being.  It is a greater sense of love for those around me and the multitude of journeys that we are each traveling.  It is love for not only what is possible, but also for what is in the way – real or imagined – for the obstacles too have lessons to teach me.

Yes, my sparrow, they do.  But often, the obstacles we see are not what they appear.  They are not challenges to be overcome, but invitations to learn new ways of listening.  So tell me, what is it that you hear?

From here, I can hear the sounds of other birds in the trees.  I can hear the sound of the wind gathering strength and energy from the sun, breathing in, and then exhaling into the sky to join the clouds.  I can hear the colder air moving in to take its place.  I can hear the sounds of footsteps from fellow travelers on this journey of life.  I can hear the chatter of other conversations – many conversations – each with its own sense of purpose, for some, and wanderings for others.  I can hear cycles in all things.  I can hear cycles of peace and tranquility, giving way to restlessness, moving into action and exploration and discovery, the joy of learning, and the search for meaning.

I can hear the footsteps of the squirrels and chipmunks at my feet as they look on in wonder at what I am doing in their land talking to you.  I can hear the screech of the hawk far above that would like to make a meal of the little ones at my feet.  I can hear the noise of activity all around.  But most of all, I can hear, or more honestly, I can feel the calm in the center of it all that is rooted in love, deeply rooted in love, and reaches upwards to the sky as an act of creative self expression.  I am learning the value of stillness, of calm, and of patience.  I am letting go of the rush and hurry, and the false sense that there is an arbitrary goal, target, or level of achievement that I must reach.

I am learning that it is indeed good to have goals, dreams and aspirations, but to hold them lightly and to move towards them with the effortlessness of the wind and in harmony with the cycles of all that surrounds me.  I am learning that I am still in charge of my destiny, but that it is far easier to reach my goals by flying with the wind than against it.  And to do that, I must be still and  quite enough to sense where the wind is coming from, and where it is going.  Not all winds are going where I wish to be… so be still.  Be centered.  And throw myself into only the winds that are traveling in alignment with my higher purpose, and grounded firmly in love and connection with others.

It is time to reconnect and fly with my flock, rather than separate or apart from it.  Sparrows are not solitary birds.  Find my flock.  Because I need their help, and I don’t even know what that looks like yet.  But sparrows are not solitary birds.  Join my flock.

Tweet tweet.

 

Hot Yoga

I went to my first Yoga session today. I met a kindly gentleman up front who would be the instructor. Once in the hot room where we would practice, he suddenly transformed into a cross between Mahatma Ghandi, Richard Simmons, and Adolph Hitler.

His words were soft-spoken, but he gently invited participants to contort themselves into shapes and poses never intended by nature, over and over again. Worse still were the circus-style mirrors at the front of the room that made everything seem rounder than it really was, but only in front of MY spot. The mirror to my right was normal, giving me a perfect view of another woman twisting herself so gracefully and completely, that were she to stand up too suddenly, she would undoubtedly screw herself into the wooden floor without leaving any sawdust whatsoever.

At some point in the 90-minute session, we were all lying on our backs, listening to musical chants in the background. I was completely at peace, knowing full well that if that man gave me so much as one more “invitation” I would kill him. I turned to see where the bastard was hiding, only to find that half the room had left already, and my towel was soaking wet.

I’ll get him next time, for sure.

 

Tree and Sparrow

I am a tree.  I do not struggle to reconnect with the ground, for it is always connected to me, and if ever that were not the case, I would cease to be.  Nor do I struggle in my efforts to be seen, to grow, to bring forth my life into the world.  Growing ever larger, stronger, and more powerful is my nature, and in so doing I contribute to the life of everything around me.

There may be times when I grow more, and times when I grow less, but even in the cold, dark, dormancy of winter, I remain connected to the ground, ready, waiting, silent and still, yet remaining true to my purpose of life.  When the conditions are right, I will awake.  While they are not, I will be still and focused.

But you, young sparrow, have flown from branch to branch, from tree to tree, from hillside to mountain to rocky crag, always sure that you had a purpose, but not heading the call of what that is and what it holds for you.  You have known the wind as your friend and played with it when present, but have yet to fully extend your wings and see that you can fly to great heights on you OWN power.

You have feared that to fly too high would put you too far from the ground that supports you, when nothing could be further from the truth.  The ground is always available to you, and the higher that you fly, the more ground that comes within your view.  The farther you see, the more possibilities open up for you on where to land —  for a moment, a day, or a lifetime.  Your home will always be on the ground, but your life and destiny are to be in the sky.

Look at my branches, reaching in all directions, each one offering a gift of shade, of food, of berries, of shelter or support to you.  Look at my bark, offering a home to the smallest of creatures that climb up my trunk.  We are sisters,  you and I.  And while you take shelter in my strength and stability, I take delight in your power and flight.

Listen to the wind… Do you hear it?  No, you do not.  Instead, what you hear is the sound of me and my brothers as the wind flows through our branches.  That is the sound of two worlds joining together; the threshold between the world of the earth and the world of the sky.

My dearest sparrow, you must fly.  Not just physically, but metaphorically, for only you can reach the heights of your destiny, to live your life of freedom, of purpose, of certainty, of care, of love, of delight, of power, of brilliance, of leadership, of discernment, and of LIFE.

Only then can you return to my branches and share with me your stories.  Only then can you return to the other creatures of the earth and tell them of the beauty of far away lands.  Only then can you inspire and lead others to begin their journey of greatness, whatever that may be.  You can chirp of your dreams as loud as your lungs will allow, but it is only when others see you in flight that they are inspired to reach for their dreams as well.

And so, young sparrow, take flight not of fancy, but of purpose – your purpose – a flight of greatness so that you may return and show others their way.  My branches will be here upon your return, and you can tell me great tales of where you have been, and of renewed purpose for where you will go next.  But fly you must.  The tallest of my branches is but the ground from which you launch.  Go forth into the sky and experience the world as yet unknown to you.  Go.  Go.  Go in peace, and love.

The theme of this post continues, 2 years later, with Sparrow Returns

Where are you From?

Where are you from?
It’s a question to be answered on so many levels…

Where are you from, as an opening for a gargantuan question of purpose and direction. What is the journey you are on now? Where are you on that journey? Have you alway been on this journey, or did you come to this one by way of another shift/pivot/transformation?

Where are you from, as in what have been the cares you have been tending to? Or how has your journey influenced the direction you are going today?

Where are you from, as the definition of who I am, or at least who I have been, rubbing up against the force, power, and drive of the declarations of who I really am and who I am becomming.

Where are you from, as but merely a past, having information, but no longer control over who I am right now, and what I really care about and am further growing to.

Lastly, Where are you from, as a question about the geography or region where you live now, or where you used to live when you were growing up.

So how about you? Where are you from?

About that Book…

As part of a training program this past weekend, we had a rather odd exercise.  The task was to find three strangers, and to give each of them a dollar.  Also, to find three other strangers, and to ask for and receive a dollar.  There was a mixture of awkwardness, self judgment, and silliness as we undertook the task.  Most of us found it far easier to give a dollar away than to ask for it.  Yet even in that part, there were people who outright refused the money, almost as if there were something seriously wrong with the gift, or that perhaps they were being watched, or that maybe it was a setup.  Regardless of the reasons, many people simply could not accept an unexplained gift from a stranger.

The silliness came when parts of our class traveled in a group, and somebody up front would give a dollar away, and the recipient would then be asked by the end of the line for a dollar, and they would give back what they had just received.  Several people, myself included, were highly self-consciousness.  We were dressed reasonably well, and by looking at the faces of others whom we would ask for a dollar I could see responses ranging from surprise to confusion, to disgust.

At this point, one must be wondering what on earth this exercise could possibly be for or about.  At its core, it was about our relationship to money.  No matter how you look at it, three dollars is a trivial amount, and yet the feelings, doubts, fears, concerns, projections, and stories that we all have about money came rushing to the surface as surely as were we giving away or asking for a fortune.  If for that reason alone, there was value in the exercise.  But then I decided to go just a little farther, and at this point my story takes a turn for the bizarre.

I did not wish to travel with my peers, where the people I would encounter had just moments ago been asked to give or take a dollar by somebody else.  Instead, I wanted to go a bit farther away, and so I kept walking until I reached the bus stop in front of the opera house.  There, I found an elderly woman who was missing a few teeth and had all of her worldly possessions wrapped in a plastic bag inside a shopping cart.  She was wearing tattered cloths and kept herself warm with a blanket.  She had a plastic bag over the top of her head to keep it dry, and as she stood, she was permanently hunched forward, as if she were leaning on a cane that was not there.  This woman’s name was Edith, and I know this because she gave me a gift worth far more than the dollar that I gave to her.

You see, I had made a judgment that of the many strangers on the street, that she could probably make use of a dollar, and that to her, it might even be a considerable sum.  She had her back to me for a while, but when I met her gaze, I asked her if she would like a dollar.  She responded with a kindly “God bless you.”  At that moment, I was about to turn away and return to class, but then I hesitated.  I looked this stranger in the eye, and with all genuineness and sincerity, I asked her “How are you?” and her face lit up like angel’s.  Her voice was crisp and clean, her demeanor bright and cheerful, and her words were deeply profound.

Among many other things, including her two experiences with death, once by car and once by drowning, she had a story to tell.  Her story was of watching the paramedics working on her, and of speaking with God.  God gave her a choice to move on, or to return to earth.  She said she had no idea what moving on meant, and so she returned to her body.  She also told me that after those experiences, she knew that she could talk to God anytime that she wanted to.  And that with that unfettered access to God, she had learned that “No matter what, you never tell God what is wrong with your life.  Instead, you ask God to transform your life into something wonderful.”  Part of me wondered if she were a little crazy, but her words rang true regardless of the answer.  She said a few other things, but I kept thinking about her pearl of wisdom and how deeply it applied to my life.  But try as I might, I would have forgotten those words were it not for the following.

She asked me what I did for a living, and I told her that I am a professional coach.

“You mean like an athlete?” she asked.

I told her no, that I am a life coach.

At that she responded “Ahhh, yes, of course.  You are the one I saw in my dream last night.  God has a message for you.”

Without so much as a hint of doubt or skepticism, I smiled at her and said “I’m listening.”

“He says that you need to get started with writing that book you’ve been thinking about.”

Indeed I do.

Scared the Crap out of me!

At some point, we’ve all had at least one event that literally scared us something fierce, but today’s was definitely a first for me.

It happened as I stepped into a port-o-potty in a park that I visit quite frequently.
No sooner had the spring-loaded door slammed behind me when the vibrations upset a snake that was resting in the crack behind the back wall, up on the decking area.  This thing was definitely not happy, and I could see the head and eyes of what was surely a king cobra.
snake_3n
Well, I sort of saw it.  My first instinct was to run, which actually meant stumbling backwards, falling out of the toilet into the parking lot and landing on my ass next to a parked car. Thank goodness that I had not yet dropped trow!

After catching my breath and making sure my heart was still beating, I looked around for the first guy I could find. His name was John (really).

“You mean it’s down in the hole?”

“No!  It’s big, mean & ugly, and it’s up on the part next to the seat! Please, make it go away!!”

So he came to look, and the snake was still there.  He told me it was just a harmless garter snake, but I didn’t care. In my eyes it was still a cobra.

I mean, come on, fellas, if you saw that thing coming out of the urinal, do you think you’d really stop to ask what KIND of snake it was?

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman” (Gen. 3:15).

The point is, ladies in particular, bang on the walls first, before you sit down.

Death by Chocolate

For many years now, my personal theory of the universe has been that chocolate makes the world go around, and that peanut butter holds it together. I’ve also thought that the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup should be the new symbol for the United Nations.

Reeses-UN

So with a title like “Death By Chocolate,” one might be inclined to think that this is a story about a world-class desert. However, in this case, I am using the terms far more literally.

On this particular day, it just so happened that I had been away from home for nearly a week and things were not going particularly well for me. It culminated when I found myself with a large group of people heading out to dinner, and the choice was to go to a Bar-BQ joint that had nothing to speak of for a vegetarian. So while my comrades gorged on chicken, pork and ribs, I chose to go for a walk instead.

I soon came to a gas station (seldom known for fine cuisine), but entered with but a single quest: chocolate. I found satisfaction in the form of a Hershey’s chocolate bar, paid the clerk, and started my return walk back to my friends. To avoid some of the traffic along the road I already traveled, I walked along a more picturesque route behind some buildings and along a forested trail.

Apparently I was not paying much attention and I somehow managed to choke on a piece of my precious chocolate. Now, we’ve all had things go down the wrong pipe once in a while, but this time I was really choking. I could not breath, and I had hardly the air in my lungs to expel whatever was in there. I knew full well that my airway was obstructed and that I had to clear it, but my own attempts to do so were utterly useless. I tried to focus and think through my breathing rather than panicking, but the fight-or-flight response was in full force, complete with massive amounts of adrenaline and fear.  I heard this awful noise as I struggled to inhale, made all the louder in my heightened fight for survival. I tried to do the Heimlich maneuver on myself but it failed.

Moments later, I collapsed to the ground on the street behind what turned out to be an old-folks home. The traffic I formerly chose to avoid was now conspicuously absent when I needed it. From the ground, I saw a patio chair about 30 feet away.  I had fallen from dizziness, yet still needed to return to my feet to reach the chair. As I stumbled my way there through the dizziness I could hardly see straight.  I fell down again by the chair and fought an intense urge to go to sleep. I knew that I was on the verge of passing out. I managed to pull myself back up to my feet, placed my hands on its back, and hurled my abdomen into my hands, knowing I would not likely get a second chance to attempt the maneuver.

Whether because the chair was more effective at expelling the object, or perhaps the chocolate had melted, but I could breathe again.

At that point, one of the residents came by and asked if I was OK. I was still coughing profusely, which was a marked improvement from passing out.   I said no, I was definitely not OK, and that I needed water. I could barely get the words out through a still constricted and very sore throat.  She pointed me to a door through which I could get a drink, but it was locked.  I sat down in front of the door and just started bawling uncontrollably.

She came back a few minutes later with water, which helped a bit, and she started asking questions about where I was from, if I was alone, and if I needed further help. I told her that the worst was over, and that I had just managed to scare myself something fierce — I would be OK in a few more minutes.

However, that was not really the case. I started walking back towards the restaurant where my comrades and carpool mates Ray and Forest where eating.  They had actually gone looking for me by this time, and saw me walking on the road.  They beeped the horn, and as I got in they asked what was wrong. All I could say was “just drive” and I could not stop crying the whole way home.

I knew my response was way disproportionate to the events of the day, but I was still a mess.  We got home, and I asked to just be by myself for a bit in the car.  So they went into the house and apparently told Paula (another housemate) “you have good antennae…  Ashley is out in the car crying.  Go figure it out.”

I could not even tell her the story without reliving the experience still so fresh in my mind, and again the tears flowed like rain. Yet it did feel better to tell my story than to to live it. Together, we went inside and let the rest of my friends know what had happed.

Forest said he was glad I was still alive, because if they had to haul my body back home, it would probably start to stink by the time we had to leave on Sunday, especially without air conditioning in Ray’s car.

So while it is true that all of our days on this green earth are numbered, I can say with some degree of certainty that death by chocolate is not they way I plan to leave this world.

To Bond, Or Not To Bond…

Half way through college in Boston, I took a semester off to teach environmental education to 4th through 6th graders at Seargant Camp.  The program provided room and board in a huge farm house for about 12 staff who had all come together with diverse backgrounds, experience, ages, and expectations.  For 3 months, we lived, worked, ate, and played together in various capacities.  There were problems and flare-ups of personality, but for the most part things really were addressed either individually, or as a group where all would come together.

For me, it was the first time that I became part of a larger community than my nuclear family of 4.  For recreation during the weekends, groups of us would go canoeing, rock climbing, or hiking together.  Technically, it was a “job”, but practically, it was a way of life and of being.  It was very new, fascinating, intriguing, intense, and enjoyable for me.  Over time, these people I worked with became very dear friends.  From each and every one of them, I learned a great deal.  It was therefore with some sadness that I knew the end of the program would see us all going our separate ways.

Eventually, the end did come, and of course we all scattered to the wind.  We exchanged names and addresses, of course, but with few exceptions, ties were broken, and the sense of loss that I felt was far and away more deep, profound, and painful than I could have ever imagined.  In essence, I had learned to come alive in that environment, and now my world as I had come to know it was disbanding — both literally, and figuratively.

Sargent Camp had ended on a Friday, and I had the good fortune of being expected for work at Camp Merrowvista, with the American Youth Foundation (AYF) the following Monday.  It was a mournful weekend for me as I traveled further North, living out of the back of my Toyota 4-Runner, which then held the sum total of my worldly possessions.  Merrowvista was to be another 3-month program, this time a summer adventure camp.

At the AYF, the “community” was much larger (75 people), and not as intimate as Sargent Camp’s 12.  I did grow close to a smaller set of individuals with whom I worked more directly, but for the most part I was on my own in this program.  It was stressful in that “my kids” consisted of a pyromaniac, a cleptopath, a sociopath, and about 10 other “normal” kids who were full of adolescent angst and rage, and generally less than happy to be there.  Under such circumstances, I bonded with my co-workers more out of a sense of necessity for my own survival than out of choice or joy.

Nonetheless, by the end of the summer, there were about 5 people that I had bonded with, and whom I knew full well I would miss terribly when the program came to an end.  I had never really taken the time to fully process the loss of my first outdoor community, so the loss of the second one hit me all the harder.  We exchanged addresses and phone numbers, of course, but just like before, we ultimately scattered to the wind like the coming leaves of Fall.

I had a few weeks before college started up again, having transferred to UVa in the interim.  I had another 5 semesters to go before graduation, and I knew with certainty that what I most wanted to do was return to the outdoor field to teach, since that is where my heart was, and where I had experienced the most learning and growth.  College was just something academic to get out of the way before returning to my love of the outdoors.

After College, having majored in psychology, I found a job working for Inner Quest as an intern in their 3 month program.  Again, this was a smaller, tighter community of about 12 people who would live, work, learn, and play together while working with groups of kids for periods of a single day, through a week or more.  Knowing full well that this was another short-term program, I had to give some pause before choosing to let any of these people close to my heart.  Invariably, this group too would come to an end, and we would most likely suffer the same fate as those I had experienced before.  Part of the difference here, however, was that the activities we did were more dangerous, and on many occasions we were all physically responsible for the well being of each other’s life on the end of a rope on a cliff, or deep in a cave under ground.  So any reservations I had about bonding with these people quickly evaporated, and we became closer than I had imagined.

When at last the program did come to an end, the blow was thus all the more devastating, despite having seen it coming from the very onset.  I had a choice of whether to let these people close to me or not, knowing full well that they would leave.  It was not a matter of risk, it was a matter of certainty.  At the end of the program, most every one of the people I was sharing my life with would scatter to the wind, just as they had in the past.  Yet I chose to let them in.  I chose to remain open, to allow them close to my heart, to share my life with them, and  experience the joys and tribulations of their lives as well.

So when that day finally arrived, I felt much pain in my heart.  I also felt a twinge of anger for having allowed myself to form  such bonds of love and closeness with people I knew would leave.  There was loss, sadness, pain and emotional suffering all at once.  But there was also love and joy.  I did not resent any of them for leaving, for I too would be heading down my own path. The love came from the experiences we had shared, and the joy from knowing that as we all went our separate ways, we would each continue to live, learn, and grow in whatever ways that life would bring our way.

Over the years that followed, over and over again I chose to be open with each of the groups that I was fortunate enough to join.  I chose to share, and to love.  In the end, parting from groups has always hurt like hell, but these same groups have also been the largest source of joy and growth I have known.  With each and every new group, there has been that precipice at the beginning when I have had to chose how open to be, how much to reveal, and how close I wanted to allow others to my heart.  Each time, I have consistently made the choice to be open despite what pain might lie ahead because in being open and in accepting  the pain that will follow, I am choosing life — in all its splendor, diversity, and glory.

Let the good times roll.