Make of Your Life a Song

In one of her most frequently quoted poems, Mary Oliver asks what we each plan to do with our “one wild and precious life.” A question that touches the depths of the soul—and the heart of all life on Earth. We were given our human lives by a universal intelligence beyond naming. Within that act of grace is infinite possibility and expression as well as a world of incredibly diverse experiences. Each day presents a kaleidoscope of wonders to us. When we are children, we see those wonders clearly, our eyes sparkling with delight. As adults, we begin to take them for granted. Our vision may become clouded with habit, loss, or misfortune. Life, of course, can be challenging as well as wondrous. Perhaps the greatest challenge is to continue to experience wonder no matter how your life unfolds.

One year ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It shook me to my core. Yet my actual experience of the months of treatment, in spite of any discomfort or pain, was filled with moments of connection to the Spirit of life, which carried me through the days with surprising synchronicities and inspiration. In the most profound of those moments, I felt one with everything, my own life part of a universal flow of beingness. Within that, my sense of wonder at the daily miracles of life—sunrise, birdsong, human kindness—reawakened and grew. Not that I had lost it, but so often life events get in our way. Our perception is incomplete, shaded. Until suddenly, an event or experience shines a light on each moment, showing it to be the miracle it is.

It may not be cancer that awakens this latent sense in you. It could be anything, perhaps just the course of a lifetime. Many of us, as we grow older, realize the relatively short time we have on this planet. A poignancy and appreciation fill us, an intention not to waste a moment in regret or complaint. The “one wild and precious life” we were gifted with suddenly reveals itself in all its splendor. You don’t want to miss an opportunity to meet each day with joy and gratitude.

There are countless ways to do this, as many possibilities as there are living beings on Earth. Those who have gone before us advise us to share with others our unique essence, our humanity as well as our divinity (they are inseparable) There is no one else like you, so don’t hold back. Make of your life a peaceful prayer, a poem of inspiration, a celebratory dance. Like the wood thrush and robin, make of your life a song that carries the love in your heart to all who hear it. Your soul will guide you.

This is why we were born, why we journey through challenge and crisis, to finally come to understand that each moment carries within it Heaven on Earth. The reward for living, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, is life itself. It sometimes takes an entire lifetime (or many lifetimes) to come to this realization, but each of us is destined to do so. We are currently living through an extraordinary time of transformation on this planet, one in which separation from Spirit and from one another will fall away, sometimes gradually and sometimes with a thunderous crash. We may think we are lost, but there is much more here than what our habitual perceptions show us. Our days are woven from a tapestry of miracles. Open your heart, and let it reveal to you the sweet song your life is meant to be.

Lasting Loving-Kindness

Love takes many forms: family, friends, life partners, animal companions, Nature, Spirit, humankind…the possibilities are endless. Sometimes our lives are so busy that we don’t even realize all the love that comes our way on a daily basis—or the love that we send out. In actuality, our planet is a virtual web of loving connections. Human consciousness and human experience are held together by that web of light within us and all around us. In times of crisis or challenge, that light shines brighter, and we become super-aware of how love and kindness support us in small and large ways.

Gestures of kindness sometimes go by so quickly that you may not fully take note of them: a stranger in the street smiles and says good morning, a neighbor brings you homemade soup when you are not feeling well, an old friend sends flowers for your birthday. A loved one expresses unconditional love by accepting you just as you are. These are the acts of love that help us live our lives with a positive outlook, even in times of pandemic, conflict, and loss. Every generation has faced such challenges, and yet humanity has survived. The human spirit raises its bowed head, looks into the eyes of another, and feels uplifted, able to continue living.

By consciously acknowledging these acts and then living from a similar place, we revitalize the dynamic of human interaction, not just in one place but everywhere. The energy of loving-kindness can circle the globe in a nanosecond. You may think a smile is a small gesture, but it has the power of the heart behind it. This is why we have survived as a species for thousands of years. It is the spirit of love and compassion that has carried us forward in spite of discord or disease. No matter what we have faced personally or collectively, we are still here. And in spite of everything, we are evolving.

Today, in the midst of daily news flashes about gun violence, injustice, or environmental crises, we need these positive moments of connection that touch (and open) our hearts. The evolution of humanity and the planet depend on such openings, which strengthen our commitment to possibility, to the power of the human spirit. We are a resilient species. Here we are, standing strong in the face of all that seems to lead us in the direction of defeat and pessimism. Something as intangible as a kind word and a gentle touch may be the key threads that weave the fabric of a positive future.

So don’t give up hope in troubled times. Your neighbor is right next to you. We are all in this together, we residents of Earth, sons and daughter of Gaia. Take a moment for kindness in your life, for the love that connects you to others, to life itself. It will sustain you through challenges and fill your soul with light and your life with joy. There is nothing as strong or lasting as the love that expresses itself through kindness, acceptance, and compassion.

Hope, Love, and the Web of Life

“I don’t know about hope, but I know about love…. Our job is to learn to love.”
—Robin Wall Kimmerer

In this time of heartbreaking political tumult and ecological grief, where do we turn for wisdom or comfort? For a reason to continue, in spite of how the world looks? This past weekend, I had the great honor and blessing of attending a program with Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass. She is a botanist, professor, member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, and beyond all else, a wise and caring soul. Repeatedly, during those three days, she asked the question: What does Mother Earth ask of us? Not what can we get, but what can we give? We are living in a time of shifting focus: from taking to giving, from self to community. Earth herself teaches reciprocity and connection. This is our heritage and our guidepost, if we pay attention, if we drop the cloak of self-centeredness and don the cloth of humility.

We are One, we Earth beings. All of us, plant, animal, human, bird, insect, stone, soil. Our lives and our destiny are interconnected. The web of life that holds us can be torn, but it can also be mended. Mother Earth is a gentle and forgiving presence in our lives; she is also a fierce protector of all of life. We cannot continue to destroy the environment and our living connections to one another. So many of our hearts are filled with grief now, for the visible and invisible ways the planet appears to be falling apart. “Grief is the measure of our love,” Robin said. “We can be the rain on one another’s grief and dryness.”

Her words carried such poignancy and power because she has dedicated her life to Earth wisdom, and she is also a descendant of those who walked the Trail of Tears, which forced native nations to leave their homelands and walk endless miles to reservations (in her family’s case, from Wisconsin to Kansas to Oklahoma). All ties to their specific sacred place on Mother Earth were broken. The grief of that severance continues to this day as indigenous peoples work to regain their ancestral lands. Earth herself was violated by similar cruelty as colonists took what they wanted from the land. We inherit that terrible history and are living with the consequences, that lack of reciprocity between human and human, between humans and Earth.

Reciprocity arises from love, and in spite of the violence that has torn, and continues to tear, the world asunder, love persists. When all hope is lost, love persists. When grief breaks our hearts, love persists. Love and grief together can heal the brokenness. Whether or not we believe that healing is possible, our job is to love. We came here at this specific time, on this specific planet, to be the love that persists, in spite of everything. Injustice and inhumanity exist, but so do compassion and kindness.

We are at a choice point in our tattered past, unsettling present, and uncertain future. We can choose despair, or we can choose love. Ask yourself, “What does Mother Earth ask of me?” As I stood on a wooded hillside at dusk in Western Massachusetts this weekend, listening to the sweet song of the wood thrush, I heard the answer in my heart: Remember your place in the web of life; choose love.

Continuous Conscious Connection

You and I are always connected to the Source of all living energy in the universe. The thing is we forget that connection is always with us. Humans have given it many names to remind themselves throughout the course of their existence on Earth (God, Goddess, Divinity, etc.), but then they become distracted by the details of daily life, and conscious memory slips away. This amnesia makes everything more difficult because on some level we feel untethered and lost. We think we are alone in the cosmos, without purpose or support. This is not true, but how do we find our way back to the deep-seated knowing that lives within? How do we recognize divine Presence in every moment, in everything we experience?

Traditionally, religion played that role. People regularly attended temples or churches to pray and feel connected to something greater. Today, a more free-flowing, eclectic spirituality seems to be arising. People are seeking experiences beyond the parameters of what has defined human-divine connection in the past. Still, the essence of what is being sought is a profound ongoing awareness of something sacred in our lives. In our hearts, we know it exists; we are just trying to access that elusive memory.

Currently, we are living through a time of Remembering, of coming into continuous conscious awareness of the sacred within, which spiritual teachers throughout the ages have pointed to with such certainty and unwavering vision. It is humanity’s time to fully awaken to this inner/outer experience that will individually and collectively guide us through life. But how does this occur? How do we access connection intentionally?

Meditation, prayer, or immersion in ancient teachings can spark connection to God/dess, when this becomes an ongoing practice. Consistency is key; some call it devotion. There are many other conduits to that connection to universal consciousness. One of the most powerful and direct is Nature. Walking daily in natural surroundings, such as a local park or a nature sanctuary, can keep the door to the Divine wide open. Birdsong, flowers blooming, tree branches dancing in the wind, or the drama of the sky and clouds are Nature’s way of keeping us awake and connected to something beyond the daily distractions that occupy our minds. The natural world fills the heart and soul with joy, love, and Presence. Over time, this feeling becomes continuous, a conscious part of who you are.

Personally, I find that I rely on all of these reminders. It is so easy to forget in our busy world full of conflicting personal and global dramas. Eventually I make my way to the deeper truth that only love is real. It is the living thread beneath everything in the multiverse, and it holds humanity together with a powerful vibration living at the core of our being. You yourself hold the reminder within you. You can’t lose it because it is what gives you life. The light within you can become clouded over or temporarily forgotten through the years, but it is never lost.

At this moment in time, the cloudiness is clearing. Each of us is gradually awakening to ongoing awareness of the dynamic tapestry of connection that we are one with. Every time you look up at the blue sky or into the eyes of a loved one, you wake up more fully. With every conscious breath you take, connection is present. It is a process that can’t be stopped because it is our divine destiny as humans on this Earth. We came here to awaken and fully remember who we are and where we came from. Continuous awareness of connection is on the horizon. With each sunrise, we see more clearly and love more deeply. And we step more fully into consciously living as our souls.

I Am That

The Ham-sa (or So-ham) mantra has been used by yogis and meditators for centuries to align with the breath—inhalation and exhalation—and experience divine connection, or Presence. One translation of the Sanskrit syllables is “I Am That,” meaning: all that is, or the universe. The repetition of these sacred sounds centers meditators in the stillness within and connects them to universal consciousness. With consistent daily practice (sitting or walking), an individual can increase awareness of both inner and outer Presence, ultimately discovering that they are one and the same.

At least that has been my experience in recent years, particularly in the past few months. As I moved through treatment for breast cancer, my spiritual practice deepened, and I felt a dropping away of personal identity into expansive soul awareness beyond the physical form. “I Am That,” or just “I Am,” expresses this as closely as language can. Infinite spaciousness in which there is only being without boundaries of any kind. As the weeks of post-treatment passed, I felt even more space opening up, extending out beyond me and this planet to endless galaxies with no fixed point or place within time/space. I look at the sun and the sky that surrounds it and know that I am all that I see or perceive. And more. 

I believe this is the life journey for each of us. At birth, we individuate in human form on Earth and then over the course of a lifetime we move gradually to a less defined identity which then disappears entirely at death. We return to the formless universal consciousness from which we came. If we are fortunate, we may experience some of this vast awareness before we die—through spiritual exploration or unexpected life events. Whatever our individual life course, we eventually reunite in collective beingness as we transition from this world to the next. The sharp edges of fear about death can soften as the years pass and we are prepared for that transition, which is not an end but a doorway to expansion beyond the physical body.

“I Am That” awareness comes to me most vividly in Nature. When I gaze up into the branches of a giant oak tree stretching to the sky, I sense the living wisdom of an ancient being. When a great blue heron spreads its wings and takes flight, I feel awe, watching it seamlessly navigate both Heaven and Earth. When, on a cold March day, I hear a cardinal’s spring song, I experience the joyful vibration of new beginnings. With each breath, I inhale Source energy, and everywhere I look, I see a loving Intelligence reflected in the world. Some call it the Divine Mother’s love, taking physical form around and within us.

We all are part of that love. In fact, another way of saying “I Am That” is “I Am Love.” Everything in the universe embodies shining loving Presence, more and more visibly when we let go of our identities and rest in the peace and stillness of the natural world. However you come to discover the vastness of the cosmos and the spirit within you, your heart will open so fully that you will recognize Love in all you see. Truly, there is nothing but That.