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.

Half Full, Half Empty, or…?

Most of us are familiar with the saying “Is the glass half full or half empty?”, which points out how perspective affects our experience of life. In other words, do you count your blessings or tally up your grievances? Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Do you feel life is a gift or a burden, joy or tragedy? On any given day, you may feel one of these extremes and then extrapolate to a world view that sets you up for future experiences. You may keep an inner tally sheet of the “good” and “bad.” It seems to be a human tendency to divide up life events in this way. Yet life is made up of many emotions, many experiences. None of them permanent. What if the greater wisdom is to be inclusive of it all?

I grew up seeing the “half empty, half full” view played out in aspects of my parents’ personalities. My dad noticed poison ivy and quickly acted to get rid of it. My mother noticed lilacs in bloom and picked a bouquet for the house. Still, neither one of them embodied only one of these behaviors or life views. They both were so much more. So are we all. What if either/or options like full/empty limit us and keep us from seeing the complete spectrum of possible experiences in our lives? What if the glass of life is always full, and it is only human perception that polarizes it into half and half? Or what if it is always empty, in a receptive state, just waiting for our visions and potential to fill it?

More and more, these days I remind myself of this wisdom. It is very easy to fall into gloom and doom if I focus too much on world events. Even the weather extremes that are now occurring with climate change can trigger fears about the future. Where is the human race headed? Apocalypse or utopia? Heaven or hell? But once again these are polarized views, each one excluding the other. The longer I live, the more I learn to shift into neutral as much as possible, which is the soul’s vision of life. The soul has no opinions; it is just experiencing. We incarnated in human form to experience, to see and feel all of life’s variations and wonders without limitation. Judgment about good or bad stalls us in one viewpoint, which translates to one experience. Is it possible to let go of those opposites and live in neutrality, which includes everything?

Neutrality doesn’t mean boring sameness. It means an open heart and mind. It means inclusivity—of events and people and every single detail of daily life. Nature gives us the best example of this. There is an overall harmony to the natural world: trees, plants, birds, animals, insects, stones, soil, fungi all living intertwined and connected lives. Of course, birth and death take place, but in the natural flow of life on Earth, not artificially imposed or manipulated. Perhaps this is our greatest lesson, we humans: to flow, not try to control. Because in truth, we can’t control, anything. At a deeper level, all is unfolding as part of a greater universal tapestry of being and light.

So if we are meant to flow and not control, why not relax into accepting all of life as a gift of infinite possibilities? Which is the soul’s view. The soul sees glasses stretched to the horizon, in a rainbow of colors, all of them both empty and full. All of them perfect as is. This is a bit like what Buddhists call “the middle way,” between attachment and aversion, form and emptiness. You walk life’s path inclusive of every experience that unfolds before you, without categorizing or judging. Just being fully present. In this is peace, which my life has continuously guided me towards. And it was within me all along.

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.

Say It Loud—Now!

With the passage of legislation in Florida restricting discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, the “Don’t Say Gay” movement is gaining national momentum. Similar legislation is in progress in multiple states. Those of us in the LGBTQ community who marched for our rights in the 1970s­–1990s can hear echoing in our ears the rallying cry we chanted then: “Say It Loud: I’m Gay and I’m Proud!” The right to be who we are without fear or shame; the end of hatred and violence directed at us.

In 1975, a group of teenagers sprayed mace in my eyes for holding hands with my girlfriend in public in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 2014, almost 40 years later—also in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and in public—my partner Anne and I were married after 31 years together. Massachusetts was the first U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2004. Huge changes in those years; huge shifts in the collective consciousness. Even rainbow lights on the White House when same-sex marriage became legal in all 50 states in 2015. And now this frightening backlash. But we cannot allow ourselves to be silenced again.

Human rights are in jeopardy world-wide. In the United States, immigrants and Asians have also become targets for hatred and attack, along with Jews, Muslims, and people of color from diverse cultures. Hard-won women’s rights are threatened as well. ”Make America great again” translates as the desire to erase from existence anyone who doesn’t fit into the dominant patriarchal paradigm (white, Christian, heterosexual). This is the face of fear of difference, growing stronger and more widespread. I am reminded of the oft-repeated quote by Martin Niemoller regarding the systematic purging of groups in Nazi Germany: “First they came for the socialists and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist.” He continues naming group after group and finally ends with: “Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.” Chilling history lesson. It’s on each of us now, at this time, to speak—to “say it loud.” Don’t wait until you are left standing alone.

So here we are, witnessing threats to the growing universal acceptance of all peoples. What we thought we had moved beyond is once again at our front doors. Anita Bryant was not the last antigay vigilante. The Klan still exists. But giving up and living in denial is not an option. We were born for these times, like it or not. And we came here to do it differently. Not with fighting and aggression but with peace and kindness. The individuals who act from hatred are filled with pain themselves. In our hearts we have to hold empathy for all.

So I urge you to “Say Gay,” to say “Black Lives Matter,” to say “Stop Asian Hate.” Say it with conviction but not hostility. I encourage you to speak with truth, love, and compassion to everyone you encounter in your life, whatever they may believe. And to live that truth every day. We must continue to remind ourselves that love is stronger than hate, and fear is an illusion that can dissolve in the presence of a courageously peaceful open heart.