I just wanted to let you know that I have decided to change the name of my blog from Caregivers Journal to The Grace Tree.
As much as I have loved narrating poetry and writing short blog posts about loss and gratitude, I would like to expand my writings to include my search for spirituality in everyday life. That means, more original content, some longer, some shorter. I do still plan on narrating poetry since that is very healing for me and I hope for you as well.
There is a beauty in broken things. The Japanese call it Wabi Sabi. I call it life.
The imperfect nature of each of us gifts us with unique ways to see the world and express ourselves for the benefit of everyone. When we add our uniqueness to the whole, we create openness within ourselves and within the world for even more expression, creation, and compassion.
No matter who we are or how long we live, each of us contributes to the ever-expanding consciousness where our ancestors live. Someday, we, too, will be called ancestors. Let us be worthy of the prayers and pleadings. Let us pave the way for our descendants to live their own lives of free will.
We can start this daunting task with a simple understanding.
Understand that the shattered pieces of our broken hearts, minds, and bodies shine like prisms. Every new crack brings a brighter light.
Our brokenness does not stop us from seeing beauty and being beauty herself. In fact, it is the reason beauty exists and is seen at all. Imperfections may be precisely why we see so differently than everyone else. These are gifts that need to be shared.
Our imperfections have the power to give us compassion for all life – if we can love this brokenness within ourselves. Compassion that can change the world must begin within and for ourselves.
Life on this planet is short-lived; each being is a different expression of creation and consciousness, whether a flower, a rock, a human, or another animal. It is imperative to share your uniqueness and your way of seeing and speaking with the world.
For what other reason have you been created?
The Two-Headed Calf
By Laura Gilpin
Tomorrow when the farm boys find this freak of nature,
They will wrap his body in newspaper and carry him to the museum.
But tonight he is alive and in the north field with his mother.
It is a perfect summer evening: the moon rising over the orchard,
The wind in the grass.
And as he stares into the sky,
There are twice as many stars as usual.
A note to readers: I have increasingly been writing about consciousness, cosmos, and spirituality. For that reason, I have a new blog called anahatanada.online. If that is of interest to you, please check it out.
Solstice. Darkness. Hibernation. Think of the night and the earth and all the things that rest during these long, dark hours. When even our broken pieces sleep in the cold, moist, earthen soul. This is the fertile ground where our healing begins. Where we will someday wake into that day that may seem so far off to us now. When we are strong enough to gather our strength and our pieces together into something new.
It is a beginning. A time when our wounds become portals to a new world.
Blessing for the Longest Night
All throughout these months as the shadows have lengthened, this blessing has been gathering itself, making ready, preparing for this night.
It has practiced walking in the dark, traveling with its eyes closed, feeling its way by memory by touch by the pull of the moon even as it wanes.
So believe me when I tell you this blessing will reach you even if you have not light enough to read it; it will find you even though you cannot see it coming.
You will know the moment of its arriving by your release of the breath you have held so long; a loosening of the clenching in your hands, of the clutch around your heart; a thinning of the darkness that had drawn itself around you.
This blessing does not mean to take the night away but it knows its hidden roads, knows the resting spots along the path, knows what it means to travel in the company of a friend.
So when this blessing comes, take its hand. Get up. Set out on the road you cannot see.
This is the night when you can trust that any direction you go, you will be walking toward the dawn.
I have been volunteering with a hospice organization. At first, I was not sure what I should say when sitting by the bedside of someone who is leaving this earthly realm very soon. After weeks of trying to convince myself that I had something of value that I could give to the hospice residents, I came across this poem by Susan Frybort. It helped me realize that my presence, silently sitting and listening could be what I might offer. This could be a soothing salve.
I hope when I take my last breath, someone is sitting beside me. Not with words of wisdom that might make my departure easier. That would be too heavy a burden to ask of anyone. But rather, their attentiveness. Just their being.
I never wrote a masterpiece, painted a perfect landscape or played an etude. I cannot beat the African healing drum like a shaman to intercede between the realms. I don’t know how to touch people to resolve them of all their inner conflict or traumas. I never looked into a crystal and saw the divine… I’m not a psychologist, a therapist, a counselor or a saint. And Das is not part of my name, my name is ordinary. As I thought about how the opportunity to tend to a painful wound as if it were an injured plant or delicately administer soothing salve to another earthly soul would not be mine because I do not possess the official requirements, I felt a particular sadness, as though I were, somehow, not enough.
Then suddenly I remembered everything is well within me.
For I know that all my certainties and all that has ever been established before me are in sacred correspondence. I know about the stars and how they gather as constellations to guide the wanderer through all the eras. I know of the bamboo that will not flower until many years pass by and how the blossom gives its life as nourishment and protection so that the tiny seedling within may push forward and grow. I know there are mysteries not fully understood. I know each life holds a unique path, eventually drawing to an end for all.
And when I sat at the bedside of an elderly woman dying, or on my knees next to a fading animal struggling for her last breaths after a long earthly journey, there was no difference in my attentiveness. I felt equal compassion for both, then wept the same mournful tears.
And I know for certain that when I look into another human being, whether they have eyes to see or not, I can behold them.
I can view the hurt in them and feel the wounds in me. It is a pain that agonizes quietly inside as we share it… So I reach out to comfort them. These are the opportunities to extend and touch another soul with all that is in me now.
What if I told you that by avoiding going deep and walking through the darkness of heartbreak, you only take yourself further and further away from who you truly are.
Many of us, if not most of us, do not believe we can carry that kind of pain for very long. We avoid feeling it and skim along the surface of the heartbreak, never taking a deep dive.
We keep afloat with distractions, self-medication, overwork, anything else but feeling.
These dark times, when we sink into grief and let it hold us like a heavy blanket, are the times that give birth to a new way of being in the world. That is that fertile soil from which we emerge with a tender yet strong heart, a heart that, despite the painful memories, wants to give and receive even more. A heart that knows how to carry grief and love together.
The only way out is through. And without that deep dive, we never know who we could become on the other side.
As Henry David Thoreau stated, “There is no remedy for love but to love more.”
Below is a Blessing for the Brokenhearted. I hope it gives you comfort.
BLESSING FOR THE BROKENHEARTED
Let us agree for now that we will not say the breaking makes us stronger or that it is better to have this pain than to have done without this love.
Let us promise we will not tell ourselves time will heal the wound, when every day our waking opens it anew.
Perhaps for now it can be enough to simply marvel at the mystery of how a heart so broken can go on beating, as if it were made for precisely this—
as if it knows the only cure for love is more of it,
as if it sees the heart’s sole remedy for breaking is to love still,
as if it trusts that its own persistent pulse is the rhythm of a blessing we cannot begin to fathom but will save us nonetheless.
What do I know of how to forge a path forward as the world is once again swept away in the wave of war? What do I know of the significance of my life, a life, anyone’s life during these times?
One man’s dark dream can unleash such suffering onto the world that his name will live in infamy.
Another man’s courage can inspire millions and change the course of history. Both names are written forever in the scarred and sacred journey of humanity.
It is easy to see the influence of lives such as these on our planet.
But what of the rest of us?
Those of us who live quietly? Who will never be globally influential or famous?
What can we do in times such as these?
What is there for us to do?
What do I know of such things?
I know of the beauty of the butterfly on the wind.
I know its life is short and quiet. I know its life is essential to our world.
I know the spiritual teachers of the past and present speak of the imperativeness of our connection to Spirit.
Our own spirit and the Great Spirit, God, Allah, Gaia, whatever name one chooses.
As the past week has sent me into the depths of despair for the suffering that has been unleashed onto the Ukrainians, people I have never met, I sit in the embers of my hopelessness and try to hold tight to that which connects me to Spirit. I pray for mercy and beauty and humanity. I pray that those lost in the darkness of their own soul will find the string that connects them to love and the Divine. I pray that they hold tight to that string. And one by one, we can weave together a new path for humanity and all life on Earth. Then perhaps there will be no more war.
I leave you with this poem by Parker Palmer. Hold tight to your string.
This feeling of grief after a loss, I feel is a sacred time. I have vowed to let myself feel the depths of this pain. To sink down into the wisdom of this darkness. It is an ebb and flow of dark and light. And what we bring back into the world can be a healing balm, a calm acceptance, a way of walking gently on the Earth and loving this transitory life.
“No, it’s not emptiness that is felt now that you are gone from this world. What is felt is the fullness of your absence. A space laid bare, pregnant with the light of your humor,
I wrote the following journal entry in January of 2020 a few days after my dog Lola died, and a couple of months before the pandemic hit. I was struggling under the heaviness of new grief, trying to find a way to get through the days without crying. I would find myself numb, distracted, staring at nothing while at work. Nights were worse.
I never wanted to numb my grief. I wanted to sink into it. And I still do, when it emerges. Slowly the sharp pain I felt in my heart eased and came less often.
Perhaps that was the gift of Lola’s life: To tear my heart so wide open that the compassion and love that poured out carved a new trajectory for my life.
I have lost more loved ones, human and animal since then. My other dog, Dickens, among them. I try to meet these losses with a strength of Spirit that I did not feel before.
Sometimes I read this letter I wrote to Lola and it gives me comfort. I hope she can hear it where she is.
I cannot yet clean the patches of dirt off of the walls where you used to sleep or put your food bowl out into the garage. Your collar lies next to your ashes on the credenza. I wish I had known how much you meant to me when you were here. If only I could go back to that day when I saw you, an abandoned puppy awaiting adoption at the pet supply store. I would spend every day for the next 11 years making sure you knew how much I loved you, instead of being distracted by my ego-centric pursuits, all so trivial, now I know.
We had so much fun hiking in the mountains, or driving to the park, or swimming in the lake on the weekends, didn’t we? Do you remember that time you startled an elk? Or that time when you realized our home was going to be Dickens’ forever home, too? Or that first time I had to pick you up and put you into the back of the car because you could no longer jump? Do you remember? Can you still remember?
Or are you running in mountain meadows now, chasing elk and squirrels and butterflies? A green meadow with clean air and blue skies, where your labored last breaths are forgotten? But you still remember our walks and weekend treks and playing catch and how Dickens would always get the ball out of your snout, don’t you? You will remember us, won’t you? You will remember to greet Dickens when her time comes? And when I finally come? Won’t you, Lola?
It is said that with the loss of someone you love, there comes a feeling of emptiness. What I feel is not emptiness. What I feel is a presence, a fullness of your absence at home. I feel the fullness of the presence of your absence. It is heavy and it clings to me.
I know with time this fullness will diminish, and I will smile when I think of our days together, Lola. And on my last day, I will wait. As I hope you will be waiting somewhere, wherever it is that we go when our last, labored breaths are forgotten.
Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?
What will you do with your one wild and precious life?
As I care for my aging father, and witness his diminishing abilities, both physical and mental. I see my own future. I see my frustration and grief in not being able to do things that used to come so easily. I see my melancholy face as I stare out the window of the kitchen, thinking of – who knows? My past? Things I have done and not done? Joys and regrets?
At times it sends me into a panic wondering what I have done, or what I may still do in the time I have left of this life. What will I do with my one wild and precious life? At other times, I release these fears and escape my ego’s hold, a great reprieve if even just for a little while.
I believe the answer to Mary Oliver’s questions above may be within the poem in which she asks that devastating question, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.
Be in awe of the grasshoppers, and trees, and blue skies. Be in awe of the beauty in this weary world. A world that we have been gifted.
The rest of life will unfold as it will and should.
Mary Oliver’s poetry has saved me in ways it is hard for me to explain. Through the darkness of my mind, her words pulled me back to the world. I wiped my eyes and remembered to be in awe of the beauty around me, especially in the smallest of things. A flower, an insect, a cloud, fleeting as they all may be. Her poem “The Summer Day” was the first one of hers that I read, and it pulled me back from the abyss.
THE SUMMER DAY
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
I do not know where I first read this or who wrote it. But it has always stuck with me, so I share it with you now.
The Wise Woman and The Stone
A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream. The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food.
The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman if she could give it to him. She did so without hesitatin. The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime. But a few days later he came back to return the stone to the wise woman.
“I’ve been thinking,” he said, “I know how valuable the stone is, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious. Please give me what you had within you that enabled you to give me the stone.”
We stand on the shore of a large lake. Each of us dives into the lake and, for a brief moment, submerge ourselves in the waters of mother Earth. We reemerge back onto the shore and turn to see the ripples we have created that will remain long after we have left.
Someone once asked Gandhi what his life message was. He answered that his life was his message.
No matter who we are, we all have an impact on the world around us that will remain long after we are gone, sometimes for generations.
Some words and actions can wound for generations. Some can be so searing that they carve a new trajectory into a family’s destiny. Others can heal. The message of our lives is how we live in our mundane days.
Perhaps one has stripped the cultural blinders off and lived against the grain. Maybe teaching that the Creator, God, Gaia, whatever name one calls the breath of life, is not found in some distant, off-planet place of the gods. It is found everywhere on Earth. It is heard in birdsongs, felt in the roots of the trees communicating under our feet, seen in the fearful eyes of animals whom we have excluded from our circle of compassion.
These people have the challenging task of carving out a new future, and many are doing this now in ways both large and small. And how might a deep dive into the collective human shadow and reemergence into the light change one’s destiny? And change the fate of this planet?
We can pray to our ancestors for wisdom and thank them for their lessons, but we must remember that we who are alive today will soon be the ancestors. And when those not yet born stand in the ripples of our lives, what will they say to us?
It is not an easy or trivial thing to be the caregivers of the Earth.
When I first heard this poem by Naomi Shihab Nye, I viscerally felt the truth of it in my body. The truth I felt is that great suffering is the door through which kindness enters and becomes the only thing that makes sense in this world. Kindness to each other, the earth, animals, every living thing.
The one line that stopped my eyes on the page, and that I kept going back to over and over again is the line about the Indian in a white poncho being dead on the side of the road. I thought, why this line in such a beautiful poem? What does this mean?
Even though we walk through life thinking we have time, things like this won’t happen to me, I must admit to myself, that really, it can all be over in an instant. This man on the side of the road could be any of us on any given day. So what matters most in this transitory world? Where life ebbs and flows, in and out of existence? I wonder if Naomi Shihab Nye might have found the answer.
by Naomi Shihab Nye
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
A poem by Mary Oliver. This is an excerpt from that poem. I plan on uploading a video of the whole poem in the near future, but I find this section particularly meaningful at this time in my life.
To Begin With, The Sweet Grass
The witchery of living is my whole conversation with you, my darlings. All I can tell you is what I know.
Look, and look again. This world is not just a little thrill for the eyes.
It’s more than bones. It’s more than the delicate wrist with its personal pulse. It’s more than the beating of the single heart. It’s praising. It’s giving until the giving feels like receiving. You have a life—just imagine that! You have this day, and maybe another, and maybe still another.
Yesterday, I lost a beloved pet to cancer. Today, I walk in the dark world of grief. It is becoming a well-worn path. Yet, I know that it is necessary to be fully engaged with my feelings and to let them come to the surface in order for them to shift into something that will help me in this world. And something that will lead me back to a deeper love for another.
I know I am not alone in feeling grief in these times. So, I want to share with you a short excerpt from the book by Francis Weller, “The Wild Edge of Sorrow.” He is an elder of our times who understands and teaches about the sacredness of grief.
The weight of heartbreak and loss can envelop us in what feels like darkness so deep and wide, it is unimaginable to think of receiving love from another again. However, the most neglected and estranged person we encounter in our lives is oftentimes ourselves.
It is possible to love ourselves again, or for the first time. This poem by Derek Walcott tells us to discard the letters and preconceived images we have of ourselves that were borne out of disappointment and to love those parts of ourselves we have neglected. Fall in love with that stranger.
Too often, we only have indifference, neglect, or even contempt for ourselves. Yet it is self-compassion that opens our hard shells to new beginnings and out of the illusion of futility. It is imperative in these times that we show ourselves the compassion we wish others would show to the suffering. Who among us is not suffering at times and who among us is not worthy of compassion?
Prescription for the Disillusioned
by Rebecca del Rio
Come new to this day. Remove the rigid overcoat of experience, the notion of knowing, the beliefs that cloud your vision.
Leave behind the stories of your life. Spit out the sour taste of unmet expectation. Let the stale scent of what-ifs waft back into the swamp of your useless fears.
Arrive curious, without the armor of certainty, the plans and planned results of the life you’ve imagined. Live the life that chooses you, new every breath, every blink of your astonished eyes.
A poem by Jan Richardson tells of the luminosity that can come from integrating one’s grief and letting it set fire to the fractured parts within. As caregivers to loved ones, nature, the world, we are burdened with an enormous responsibility that may feel like a suffocating weight. However, this weight can be used as alchemy to form diamonds.
How the Stars Get in Your Bones
by Jan Richardson
Sapphire, diamond, emerald, quartz: think of every hard thing that carries its own brilliance, shining with the luster that comes only from uncountable ages in the earth, in the dark, buried beneath unimaginable weight, bearing what seemed impossible, bearing it still.
And you, shouldering the grief you had thought so solid, so impermeable, the terrible anguish you carried as a burden now become— who can say what day it happened?— a beginning.
See how the sorrow in you slowly makes its own light, how it conjures its own fire.
See how radiant even your despair has become in the grace of that sun.
Did you think this would happen by holding the weight of the world, by giving in to the press of sadness and time?
I tell you, this blazing in you— it does not come by choosing the most difficult way, the most daunting; it does not come by the sheer force of your will. It comes from the helpless place in you that, despite all, cannot help but hope, the part of you that does not know how not to keep turning toward this world, to keep turning your face toward this sky, to keep turning your heart toward this unendurable earth, knowing your heart will break but turning it still.
I tell you, this is how the stars get in your bones.
This is how the brightness makes a home in you, as you open to the hope that burnishes every fractured thing it finds and sets it shimmering, a generous light that will not cease, no matter how deep the darkness grows, no matter how long the night becomes.
Still, still, still the secret of secrets keeps turning in you, becoming beautiful, becoming blessed, kindling the luminous way by which you will emerge, carrying your shattered heart like a constellation within you, singing to the day that will not fail to come.