Naturally Mindful

Elemental Meditation: Earth

Cross-posted at my SageWoman blog.

This is the first installment in a series of blogs about the four elements. My spiritual walk is that of an Earth-based practitioner of Goddess Spirituality, so the element of earth was a natural beginning point. I will be describing physical features of earth and connecting them to our human and spiritual experience for today’s #NaturallyMindful Monday.

Dirt

You’re walking on the dead each time you trod across the ground. Topsoil is comprised of decayed plant material and animals such as insects, as well as inert materials such as clay. I conceptualize it as an open-air sacrifice. All that has gone before us is reused and recycled for our benefit, often without our appreciation or awareness.

We admonish children to wash dirt from their hands, and brush it off of ourselves each time we enter our houses after activities like gardening. Certainly most of us would be embarrassed if a visitor discovered some of it inside our houses, unless it was in a careful container growing plants. Words like dirty and soiled are not typically used as a compliment. We are decaying as soon as we come into existence, but we wish ourselves separate from the process. I struggle with a fear of germs, so I’m not about to take a dirt bath anytime soon, but I now see the inherent worth of something I previously avoided.

Layers

It’s easy to focus on the soil on which we tread as the beginning and end of the ground, but the Earth made of varied geological features. We spend our lives atop liquid rock and an iron core. In some places, water flows miles below, unseen. Every step each of us takes is ultimately above rock that is nearly the temperature of the sun. What would it feel like to internalize the power available to us underneath our beings? The white-hot blazing, flowing, liquid, diamond-hard, soil-soft, aerated impenetrable of the earth cannot be summarized in one word or image; it is complexity quantified. All we have to do is get to ground to literally stand on it and claim it as our birth place.

The earth’s layers help us measure the passage of time and enable us to notice key moments. Scientists theorize about when a particular event occurred based on the physical features of the soil and the chemical composition of the rock layers. As humans, we don’t physically carry our inner self enshelled within deposits of aged growth, but we do hold our past within us. For those of us who are trauma survivors, the memories of bygone fates have altered our internal landscape and left their mark on our psyche. Despite our violent pleadings, I do not think we are made wholly anew by spiritual regenerations or rebirths. Rather, I think we are sifted and stirred spiritually, like sand, until we integrate each part of our existence and self. When the process finishes, no one part can be separated from the rest.

Buried deep in the folds of the Earth, we can find hidden treasures and a wealth of natural resources. The most barren and unsuspecting vista can hold vast caches of precious metals and fossil fuels. How many of us conceal our inner gems, for fear of their flaws or imperfections? We may spend so much time and effort on perfecting our outer being, convinced that the way we look determines our inner worth, when in fact our value is tied only minimally to our constantly dimming physical attractiveness.

Roots

The earth is more than rock and soil. Plants and earth-dwelling creatures share with it a symbiotic relationship. Elements are exchanged between beast and ground, between plant and dirt. Remove one without replacement and the other suffers. Witnessing this sense of place leaves me curious as to where we are rooted, and as to what “grounds” us. So much of what sustains us, even the most basic ingredients such as our food and water, often arrives at our doorstep from vast distances. What are we made of if not our land? How are we altered by our potential disconnection from the place in which we find ourselves?

An animal who makes its home underground and a plant that survives based in part through the tendrils digging deep below will not last long if it is uprooted. At the same time, transplanting and relocation are possible. Consider the care many of us give flowers and shrubs we plant around our houses, welcoming them to their new home and ensuring for their well-being. A new pet is afforded all sorts of accommodations to make it feel comfortable. I moved 12 times or so as a young adult; it was rare to experience hospitality or even recognition in each new location. How do we welcome the strangers among us? Why are we as adults expected to be able to jump right in to an unfamiliar and novel environment? What can each of us do if we move, either physically or psychically, to a new place, in order to find the spot with the right mix of elements and surroundings to help us flourish?

The Earth is very much alive. The ground is filled with secrets. It holds the past in its decay. The dynamic ground swells and moves. It undulates with deep stirrings. Most importantly, the ground is sacred. Who we are, what we are and where we are is entrenched within it for this emanation of our life. What lessons have you cultivated as you’ve surmised the earth element? How best can we return to it the real and the mental support it gives to each of us?

Sacred Spiritual Growth

To Do: Ask a Question Every Day

I recently listened to an interview on NPR with Walter Isaacson about a new book he’s published on Leonardo da Vinci. In the interview, he discussed da Vinci’s practice of recording fascinating to-do lists. He noted a favorite, buried within a list, of “describe the tongue of a woodpecker.” Da Vinci was no stranger to dissection and the examination of corpses, so one can only speculate the woodpecker would likely not have been alive if he attempted to study it.

I found inspiration in da Vinci’s practice, if not the particulars of his method. Poking around dead animals is not my forte. For several months, I’d written down a natural feature that I wanted to observe—such as trees—each morning during my morning ritual. The practice was becoming a bit stale, so I’ve decided to take it a step farther by delineating a specific question or curiosity, the analysis of which I wish to uncover during the course of the day.

Da Vinci placed an emphasis on consulting with experts, asking them in particular about the ways in which mechanical processes and structures worked. In today’s world, we don’t necessarily have a “Giannino the Bombardier” to whom we can turn, but we do have the Internet which is replete with information. Something in me balks though, at this process of “asking Google.” We can now install devices in our house to which we can literally ask any question, and they will provide an answer. The human, the physical, the effort is removed, replaced by an automated and unedited response. What would it look like to see the wisdom of our fellow humans and of our own skills of observation, to have to put energy and time into gaining knowledge? How much more fully are our minds shaped and expanded by this type of learning, versus a few second of a search through digital databases?

If we embark on the quest for a more intimate connection with the world in which we find ourselves, what or who should be our subjects? How do we record our findings? What do we do with the knowledge we gain? I’ve tried on the life of a scientist briefly, and the infighting, politics, scandals and backstabbing quickly showed me the extent to which human flaws pervade even the noblest of discoveries. It was not for me. But, my curiosity about the world beckons, and I desire to intertwine it with my spirituality. I wish to hone my powers of observation to more fully appreciate my place in the Cosmos and to better equip myself during my inner work to flow within the natural energies that surround us.

Where this has led me is to a deeper understanding of a possible use for a Book of Shadows. I do not practice magic with the belief that my thoughts can directly alter outcomes, nor do I believe I can summon forces to do my bidding. As I’ve noted many times, I see my spirituality primarily as a conduit for inner change, as well as a mechanism by which I can better experience the interconnectedness of all of life and existence. With this in mind, I see a Book of Shadows as a place to record those instances in which my observations have transformed my inner being, as well as the practices by which I achieved such outcomes.

The natural world is my primary sacred space, the place where I nearly instantly move on more than a physical plane, the place that causes me to leap for joy and which brings tears of appreciation for its beauty to my eyes. Therefore, detailed study of the plants and the animals and the sky and the moon and all of Goddess’ realm seems, for me, a natural companion to ripe spiritual musings.

Isaacson’s discussion of da Vinci made note of the many half-attempts and false starts contained within his writings and drawings. He demanded perfection of himself, reworking some of his famous paintings for years. Yet, the intricacies of what he didn’t complete are just as revealing as those he finalized. Most of our own observations will not lead to any great insights regarding the world, but I think the idea that, on this day, for this time, a particular person saw, felt, touched, heard, tasted or smelled something that no one else experienced in the same way is, absent of anything else transpiring, a beautiful and brilliant moment resplendent in the sacred.

Goddess Thealogy

Walking the Labyrinth: Cycles and Circles of Existence

Have you ever watched a group of people as they move through a labyrinth? Their movements are very different from how we normally travel through the world when we focus on getting from point A to point B. They weave in and out, moving sideways in a cadence reminiscent of the flow of a river. They seem to be getting farther from their destination, only to make a turn and appear significantly closer. Labyrinths are physical manifestations of natural and internal phenomena; the cycles that bring us to life and lead us downward toward our demise also transition us into new phases of existence. In today’s #Thealogy Thursday, we’ll examine the concept of circles and cycles within Goddess Spirituality as well as within our own lives.

Cycles within Goddess Spirituality

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always imagined the year as a circle, like a clock face. July is at 12 o’clock, October at 3, the New Year at 6, and March at 9 (realizing as I write this it isn’t evenly divided!). I assumed everyone else had the same general layout and was surprised when the people to whom I spoke about it gave me weird looks. Not everyone sees time as a loop! Cycles and circles are everywhere in Goddess Spirituality, so it’s no wonder it had an innate appeal to me.

Some of the main processes that are viewed as metaphors within Goddess Spirituality include the moon, the menstrual cycle, seasonal changes, and the life-death-rebirth paradigm. Life emerges, transforms, undergoes entropy and then recasts itself in a new form. I sometimes think the purpose of life is to grapple with the fact of its eventual ending; it is in realizing our finite nature that our existence become a precious community.

As someone who struggles with mental health concerns, it has been helpful to see that, through this lens, the current focus on keeping one’s thoughts tuned only to high vibrations falls flat in defining the full context of our biological and psychological cycles. We may have experiences where we rightfully resist unnecessary negativity, but expecting everything to come up roses if we just keep our focus on the positive is simply unworkable in my opinion. There are moments we exist in full thrall dancing in sunlight and swirling with energy, but it is antithetical to the basic nature of existence to expect bliss to last or that we will arrive at it as a destination.

“Circle Within A Circle”

With these dynamics in mind, how then can we make sense of the unfolding of our own lives? I’d started this blog post as it related to thealogy; I then read a great article by updownflight on recovery and mental health. The dialogue we had regarding that post sparked a realization in me that there is an intimate connection between Goddess’ cycles and the long-term cycles of our own lives.

I’ve begun to visualize the labyrinth when I consider my own growth and development. This viewpoint allows me to see how far I’ve come in an area, but also feel connected to the “layers” below or adjacent to my journey that inform where I’m at right now. The word “meandering” keeps coming to mind in the sense that I might not make it straight from A to B, but I’ll get there eventually.

I wrote a previous post regarding finding my spiritual home. As I deepen my understanding of my spiritual walk, I see that there are transition points where I do see progress. This image below of the triple labyrinth speaks to me as it connotes an ongoing pathway that transitions from one realm to the next. Something shifts, but we’re still connected to who we were and who we will become.

triple map

I spent a lot of time in the past 5 years or so envisioning my “future self,” knowing that a shift was going to happen eventually. Writing this blog has been that shift, as I see myself making manifest the inner work I’ve been doing. “Future self” dreaming has taken a backseat for now, as I’m living in the next version of who I am. I’m certain that this is yet another cycle, one that will eventually restart with a sense that something is going to be birthed in me followed by movement into another spiral.

I do not want to imply here that movement is always positive. I see the spiral as existing in three dimensions, so that there are times of decent and times of ascent throughout our journeys, even as we traverse another layer. Moments can snag us so strongly that we are convinced there is no way out, or we can reach peaks that we are certain have permanently elevated us beyond the earthly plane. And yet, there is that moment where we look back and see it was high or a low point in our journey, rather than something separate from the rest of our existence. Mythology is ripe with images of Goddess descending to the underworld or rising to the sky as she makes manifest her will and destiny, and, at times, as fate unfolds beyond her control.

I am freed from comparing myself to others when I use the cycle, circle and labyrinth models. It may be trite to state that “we are each walking our own path,” but I think it takes on a different meaning when we see it through the visual imagery of the labyrinth. People may seem out of reach during a particularly high or low point in their journey, or during a moment when they are nearing a transition in their life. Accepting that our paths interweave in sometimes unpredictable ways, with strange angles, curves and points of coordination, may allow us to release some of the hold we desire to have over another person’s timeline and progress.

I am very curious to see how you conceptualize the unfolding of your life; the metaphors you use to describe time and the cycles you experience. I plan to unpack more regarding the connection between trauma, mental health and how we see our journey on an upcoming #SurvivingnThriving Tuesday.

Inner Work

Mindfully Leafy

For today’s #InnerWork Wednesday, I wanted to share a short practice I developed for mindfully observing a leaf as it relates to inner work. Fall is my favorite time of year, and leaves work even better than pumpkin spice to connect me to the season. To complete this practice, you’ll need a leaf that has recently fallen from a tree.

Sensory Exploration

Begin by using four of your senses to observe the leaf.

Sight

What colors are captured in the leaf? What patterns and shapes does it contain? Where is it ordered, and where do you see disorder? What happens where the stem and leaf meet? How do the edges differ from the center?

Sound and Texture

Hold the leaf in the palm of your hand. Can you feel its weight? What does its energy feel like to you? Move the leaf through the air. What sounds does it make? Crinkle a bit of it between your fingers. What does it feel like? What noises does it produce?

Smell

Sniff the leaf and notice any hints of smell that emerge from it. What scents do the decay it is undergoing release?

Mindful Transformation

If the energy feels right, break the leaf into five pieces. You’ll be connecting each piece to a different element and experience. Alternatively, use five leaves total if you don’t want to break one apart.

Earth

Bury a piece of the leaf in the earth. What is the experience of digging in the dirt and covering up the leaf like for you? What do you notice about your surroundings as you bury it?

Air

Wait until there is a breeze, and release a piece of the leaf into the air. What trajectory does it take? What are the characteristics of its flight? Where and how does it land?

Fire

It would be most interesting to light the leaf on fire and watch how it transforms while burning. Given the rampant wildfires in many places, a safer practice may be to expose the leaf to sunlight, noticing how its characteristics change in the light, and, slowly, how it decomposes.

Water

Place the leaf in a puddle or another natural body of water. Observe its movement. How does the water change the way the leaf holds its shape? How much of it is above water, floating? How does it interact with obstacles such as the edge of the puddle, or other objects in the water?

Spirit

Place the remaining piece of the leaf on your personal altar or in another sacred space. Notice any thoughts and emotions that arise from doing so. Continue to use your senses as you incorporate it into your altar space and ritual practice. Samhain may be a good time to return it to one of the elements from your altar. Or, you can let it dry out and keep it as a permanent piece of your altar decorations.

Naturally Mindful

Nature Adventure: Geese in Flight

For this #NaturallyMindful Monday, I wanted to share a series of photos I recently took of geese at a pond. I was looking for a nature shot and thought the geese were serene as they skimmed through the water. As soon as I started using my camera, the geese took flight from east to west in front of me. I’m not sure what lead them to move, but it was beautiful! We stood there for a moment and then my pup decided to start to get a little antsy so we left the area. I didn’t see a Yorkie doing too well chasing after an entire flock!

geese 5
Geese in pond.
geese 9
Taking off in flight.
geese-10-e1505050673224.jpg
In action.
geese 2
After touchdown.

The experience reminded me of the power of present-moment awareness in nature. I guarantee there have been many times in my life the same event could have occurred and I would not have paid any attention to it. There are definitely times and places for inner focus and work, but personally I now take every opportunity possible to practice mindfulness when in nature.

Tips for Discovering Treasures While In Nature

  • Pay attention to your breathing as a centering point, especially if you find yourself becoming distracted or feeling overwhelmed by the amount of stimuli coming at you.
  • Use all of your senses. I am very visually-driven so I tend to focus a lot on what I’m seeing, but attending to the other senses such as what I’m smelling, feeling on my skin, and hearing is also very powerful.
  • Take in the scene in multiple scales. What are the littlest parts of your surroundings that you can feel, see or hear? What are the key parts of the scene? How does the entire area around you fit together into an ecosystem?
  • Release any judgments you find yourself having towards the experience of being nature. Notice them instead and allow them to pass through your mind. Return to your breathing in order to re-center. For example, if I start to get annoyed because it is a bit hotter or cooler out then I like it to be, I can observe myself and how the temperature affects me, and then see those thoughts dissipating as new experiences fill my mind.

I hope to hear from you about your experiences in nature!