It was only a half day gig, but I was covering French. I know maybe five words of French so there would be no winging it if we ran out of things to do, which we did. The teacher left very limited assignments, which were accomplished in the first third of the class time, and it was a lovely day for December. Blue skies, a light wind, temps hovering around 50 degrees fahrenheit….
So we went outside, naturally. Apparently the French class never goes outside, but yesterday we did. I have learned that playgrounds are not limited by age, only the imagination. Who doesn’t like the weighty drop of a swing after the soar? Well they don’t have swings on the middle school playground in my town, but they do have a things to play on that integrated into the natural environment. There are wooden beams to balance on and hang from, ropes to navigate, and plenty of fields surrounded by trees that beg to be run through and explored. There are few things better than watching a middle schooler give away all cares and run with abandon outside. And, our work was done for the day. We had no excuses.
Nature is transformative. Before we went outside, clusters of middle schoolers were beginning to form to talk not about French, but each other. They were supposed to be practicing their vocabulary words in small groups, but the inevitable “Who do you like?” game quickly formed between two of the clusters. I observed for a while as I pretended to read.
“Okay, let’s go outside!”
The transformation was instant. Everything else forgotten, except who was going to get the football from the gym. If truth be told, I’d spend the whole day subbing outside. Weather permitting. Nothing beats Nature’s Classroom. The benefits are pretty much endless.
I often tell my yoga classes to “get outside” to ground their bare feet through Earth, which has a magnetic polarity just like our bodies do. We need that connection to feel balanced and well. Even if we have to wear shoes. We need the feel of the elements. The wind moving into our lungs, the sun activating joy and that essential nutrient called vitamin D…
I spent the first have of this past Saturday in a suicide prevention workshop and one of the issues we discussed was the high rate of suicides here in the Northeast where are winters are long and sunlight is limited. When we don’t get outside and receive that essential connection to Earth and the elements on a regular (daily) basis, we fall more easily into depression. As a substitute teacher of the middle grades, I care more about the wellbeing of my charges than I do their grades. I believe that’s my job. I can’t possibly know the ins-and-outs of each subject in each grade that I cover, nor can I know the performance record or learning habits of each student, but I can pay attention to their wellbeing.
With the exception of the underdressed (there are always a few who refuse to gather jackets), there is always reluctance to head back indoors after the allotted time outside is finished. That, to me, is a sign of time well spent. Before we went inside yesterday, I noticed that even the underdressed child with her arms tucked into her shirt had been singing for the entire ten minutes. There is nothing better.
During our recent family trip to California, we spent quite a bit of time on the coast. It was incredibly healing and rejuvenating for all of us. While the teenagers explored surfing, I couldn’t get enough of the beauty of the sea, its life, and the feel of the tide against my feet. Here are some of the photos I took, which I hope evoke that healing and rejuvenating feeling:
The next morning, my husband and I returned to the site of the dragon/lizard, leaving our two teenagers behind to sleep in. The night we arrived in California, the moon was full. Three days later, it had begun to wane but the morning held onto the image of its fading face as we set out into the dry, dusty landscape of Wildwood Park in Thousand Oaks once again.
This time we lingered at the junction of paths, debating whether to venture left towards Paradise Falls, or take a sharp right up the hill. The coyote from the day before was nowhere in sight, so we followed the tug of the hill and took the hand of chance. Actually, we both borrowed baseball-sized rocks from Earth, holding them in our palms just in case…before returning them on our descent.
The journey up the back of the dragon, although shorter in distance than the day before’s path, was quite strenuous. It didn’t take long for the heat to build inside us and soon we were both peeling off our outer layers to be tucked around our waists. We could not help but chuckle at the two hikers coming down the path in their matching pink windbreakers, zipped tight to the chins. “Must be locals,” we concluded.
Aside from the the passing by of the two ladies in pink, our hike was almost eerily silent. No coyote. No snakes. Not even a raven…Somehow, like the prior day’s encounters, today’s lack of visitors seemed perfectly fitting. But I’m not being entirely honest either. There were the watching stones that filled the spine of the dragon, bringing the kind of discomfort that makes one turn to look over one’s shoulder. More than once.
But I’m okay with watching stones. I’d have been rather disappointed with the alternative. Watchers remind us of the living spirit(s) that embody the land. In such a place as we were, they are expected. No wonder the coyote had watched us the day before. Testing. Seeing if we were worthy of the climb.
I don’t know if we passed the test, but we were, at the very least, allowed to enter a space still bearing the imprint of magic. That, to me, is enough. I have learned the land’s secrets are not always revealed in one (or two) visits, if they are to be shared at all. Most often there is first a test (the coyote) before initial entry is allowed. And, sometimes the stories unfold in their own time. Imprinting the cells with a whisper before they dig into the marrow of magic.
There was, though, at least a glimpse of what once was, and what could still be…In the distance, uncaptured by camera, I spotted the head of a second dragon. Miles away from the “Lizard Rock,” it jutted over a faraway valley, tracing the undulating length of the spine we had summeted. And I wondered, for a long moment, what it might be like to walk the entire length of the body…
I’ve come to the conclusion the best magic is that which arises unbeckoned and fills the soul with joy. During a family trip to California over the Thanksgiving holiday week, I had the pleasure of encountering this type of magic more than once.
On the second morning of our stay in Thousand Oaks, my husband, daughter ventured to a nearby system of trails and left my sleep son behind in the hotel. A mere ten minutes drive from where we were staying, we were afforded several paths to choose from for our morning hike. After debating between Paradise Falls (which likely had no water to offer) and Lizard Rock, we chose the trail leading to the head of the dragon. We could just make out its profile on the far horizon and it seemed to beckon us. I didn’t know Sue would be waiting for us there, but I wasn’t surprised when I saw her.
Call me crazy, if you will, but those who are willing to open their minds to wonder will likely nod their heads in knowing. Life is filled with magic, we simply need to recognize it for what it is. We need to respond to its subtle cue and open our minds to wonder to welcome it through the door. When we do, rarely are we met with disappointment.
The land we traveled that morning, as all land is on this planet, is ancient. This land, unlike many other places that have been radically altered my humankind, still bears the memories of magic. There was little doubt in my mind that it was once, and perhaps still is, considered a sacred place. A place where people intimately connected to Life had called forth in the energies of the land and the sky to feed the dragon lines. The rocks still hold the stories. As rocks tend to do. They are the bones of Earth. The keepers of memories long stored, waiting to be awakened.
The weather was near perfect, the sky that impossible blue that only comes in autumn. Yet, the ground below our feet was scorched and withered for want of rain. Over to our right, as we walked toward the head of the lizard, a coyote paced the hillside, watching us. If we had wanted to venture toward the spiny back of the lizard, today was clearly not the day to do so.
It was a little jarring to have our animal guide lurking so close beside us, especially with the knowing that one coyote often belies a pack inwaiting. But it was approaching mid-day and there were other hikers roaming the trails with canine companions of their own. Even if we were being watched, we were safe enough. And the symbolism of the coyote, with the blackbird that awaited us, could not be more fitting for a place such as this.
Lizard rock is just over a mile from the parking lot of Wildwood Park in Thousand Oaks, and when we arrived at its head we waited patiently for the hikers who proceeded us to take their photos. My daughter and I both wanted our turn, and as you can see, the view is well worth it. When a solitary blackbird appeared overheard circling above us I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt we had arrived at a special place. I could only imagine what it once must have been like to look upon nothing but wild wilderness and feel the rush of energy commence at the head of the dragon upon which I sat.
Sadly, though, I could not ignore the feeling of neglect in its place. Southern California is suffering greatly from the effects of climate change and the land is so thirsty for water even the visiting body aches for it. I felt myself wishing I had the power of my Warriors of Light character, Dell, wishing I could sing the water back to water Earth.
The walls of the cave continued to fill, and Dell did not drown. She had becoming a part of the body of water. Together they moved against the structure of stone, softening its form and urging its pores open to fill hardened veins with life. Up they rose, higher and higher, as the water lifted the weight of time along its way to open air.
I just finished listening to part of a YouTube astrology post that a blogging friend of mine shared. The astrologer triggered had me at the word “trigger.” To say these are “triggering times” for many of us is probably an understatement. We don’t, in fact, need an astrologer to tell us that volatility and instability surround us and stir the sense of unease within us, but it’s helpful to know how we react to what triggers us. It’s helpful to discover the cause and the effect.
Triggering events are what spurs life into being. If you recall yesterday’s post where I discussed the five elements and their corresponding seasons that cycle through our lives, you might bring life’s triggers into the perspective of the natural patterns of Life. And these need not be negative. We need not view them from the lens of judgement. The union of yin and yang energy that brings forth life is often pleasurable, just as a “triggering” song might inspire us to dance or sing with joy.
The key lies in the response. What do we do with what we are given? How do we learn? How do we take action that yields new growth, which brings us closer to the state of being that resides in joy?
Often, when we are triggered by something that we perceive as “negative,” we dive into defense-mode. We externalize our feelings to guard and protect our sense of security. It can take tremendous vulnerability to let go our guards and dive inside instead of outside of ourselves. We forget that herein lies the gift. When we go within we find the seat of our strength and our inner power, because that ever-wise inner-self calls us home to who we truly are.
I have experienced many triggering events in my life. Some days I experience several over the course of just a few hours. I probably don’t need to tell you how exhausting that can be. We are energy, and the more we are pushed to expend our energy and then turn that push into defense-mode, the more exhausted we become.
These triggers remind me of the guards I still station around my joy. They are irrational in the moment, but rational when I dive into the body’s wounded stories. What a disservice, though, it is to myself and others to perpetuate these myths and to allow them to wreak havoc on my interconnected mind/body/spirit.
There are times where it doesn’t take much to spur the creative action of grown. Years ago, I decided to get my palms read. I was a vendor at a local metaphysical fair and during one of the audience lulls I went over to a booth that had caught my eye. I’d say about 50% of what I was given during the reading rang true, the other 50%, well some of it triggered within me with the feeling of untruth.
As the palm reader was studying one of the lines on my hands, she declared with absolute assertion that I could not be a writer because I lacked the line for creativity. This statement triggered a whole series of wounds inside of me before it spurred me into growth. It triggered my sense of self-doubt and the idea that I would never be good enough to do what my heart knew to be truth since the moment of earliest memory. It temporarily unraveled my sense of identity and had the potential, if I had let it, to unravel my dream. I pushed aside the fact that the reader had also got a lot of other things wrong, like that I really didn’t listen to, nor like in the least bit, heavy metal music. Instead, I immersed myself in the one statement that spoke to my wounds.
And for those of you who follow my writing, you know that I haven’t stopped. We can feed our energy bodies or we can deplete them with the stuff of life that triggers us. Many of you may also know that when I was in my early thirties I suffered from debilitating IBS. For two years I allowed my energy body to suffer because of its untended wounds. Then, on Mother’s Day of 2008 I awoke from a hellish night of my body’s agonies and decided that this trigger I was experiencing was not going to defeat me. I was going to defeat it. Or, let me put it more kindly, I was going to grow from it and heal it. For the sake of my children first, and my own wellbeing (still always second, I’m still learning), I dove inside and released what needed to be freed. It was the same day I gave myself permission to write. I had 30+ years of words buried inside of me, it was no wonder my body was ready to explode. Thus, you can perhaps image how triggering it was to, years later, hear that palm reader tell me I was not, in fact, a writer.
I tend to be one of those people who always looks for the underside of the story of an event. I like to dig into the “why” to discover a deeper meaning, and how it might relate to the bigger picture of my life, or life in general. It helps me make sense of a world that would otherwise seem chaotic and randomly unjust. I don’t always like doing it, but it’s essential for my own wellbeing.
I am currently reading a book I don’t like. It’s a sequel to another book I didn’t like. The author, Octavia Butler, was a fine writer, but her apocalyptic choice of genre is triggering for me. I suspect that was a large part of why she wrote the books she did. In these particular books, the nightmaric world she created for the future illustrates a future out of control due to all the triggering events that lead up to its dystopian creation. Climate change, greed, the lust for power…it hits hard with a possible reality that is difficult to stomach. Yet, I keep reading it. It is triggering my shadow-self, that part of me that I don’t always like to visit, and that part of humanity that Butler is asking us to see for all its potential horrors.
There’s a section of the population, including the lead character of the books, that Butler calls “sharers.” It is another word for empath, but in the case of Butler’s stories, these empaths were created from a drug their mothers took. The stark reality, though, is that we are all empaths. Some of us hide it better than others. Some of us build shields to protect what we don’t like to feel. Butler’s books are uncomfortably close to our global reality, and because they are so dystopian, they stir more despair than hope through their plots. Yet we can still use them as triggers for change. We can dive deep, deep into the shadowland of the individual and the shared self to find out the root cause of our actions or inactions and allow the trigger to inspire positive growth.
It is always a choice. Life, in each moment, unfolds a myriad of options at our feet, asking us which way we would like to walk. We can, quite literally, in each moment choose the path of darkness or light. Love or hate. Peace or turmoil. Wellbeing or disease. The choice is always there.
It is unfair to say she has not visited because my mind had hoped for more. This stubborn mule of expectation impedes the magic of the offerings. If I allow myself to weave the threads she sends through the veil, the tapestry becomes a perfect gift. With each offering, I weave the continuation of our story. She doing the work there, and I here, yet somehow there is no here or there. Only everywhere. Creation ever unfolding its mysteries. This is just what I would expect of my teacher, so why want more?
What I seek becomes our tapestry, and I step back to look at the whole still forming. How beautiful is trust as one reaches for the offering, saying yes, I know the source. I accept the continued mystery. I accept not knowing when the thread will pull the veil apart and ask to be woven in connection. She knows I like puzzles, a fellow seeker of truth. She knows the senses can be wholly alert when allowed to open.
If I tell you it all? What will be left?
The joy is in the journey. Delight arrives when the light of knowing illuminates questions. Life, she reminds, need not be a burden of holding, but the beautiful wonder of stripping bare the wrap of that which is cumbersome.
You can be anything in any moment.
The embodiment of the free soul, allowing. Dropping the pretense of control and letting go. That is why we dream of flight. The soul grows heavy in a body of gravity, but it need not.
Each footstep can be magical.
She knows I have felt the magic of the land. She watched in recognition the homecoming. Knew how the Earth’s secrets whisper to those who open to hear them. Each footstep a chance to peek through the door of wonder. Yes, how could I doubt she would not walk again with me? I see her in the cloak of feathers, weightless when she wants to be. She is laughing with the rocks. She is home, ever-nudging me to find it again.
I love that my daughter and her boyfriend greet each other with a hug. Their bodies mold into the embrace in the mutual offering of love and comfort. That is the beauty of a hug.
We’ve forgotten how to hug that way in my family, and if truth be told, I don’t think my husband and I every truly learned how to hug properly. When I was a teenager, working as a waitress, one of my coworkers surprised me with a spontaneous hug upon observing that I was having a challenging shift. My body stiffened in response. She noticed, but without being offended, she understood. Her understanding made me realize how complicated affection had been in my own family while growing up. There were plenty of hugs and kisses, but many of them were not wanted.
When my children were little I relished every hug and snuggle I got, and my one regret was that I didn’t do more to keep the hugs a normal part of our daily life. Too many comments were made about the dependency of affection and raising independent strong, children (mostly directed at the bond between my son and me), and somehow, over time, I gave them away. And so did he. My daughter, who was always more independent, never seemed to need my hugs. Or so I thought.
But I know better now. She gives hugs freely to those who seek them with her, while I am still working my way back those easy hugs with her. And her brother. We have begun to talk about it as a family. It’s not an easy conversation. There is baggage to unload, but it is necessary. Even teenagers need to be hugged. And often. They may not initiate the hug, just as they have a right not to have the hug forced upon them, but that doesn’t mean they are not seeking that connection.
So I am working my way back to those regular embraces, perhaps too carefully as I am overly sensitive about overstepping bounds, but I have found the journey not only rewarding and healing, but necessary. Everyone thrives on love and there is nothing that compares to a mutually loving hug where two hearts join together enfolded by the comfort of arms.
Last week found me racing back and forth between classrooms in whirlwind days at the middle school with barely, if any, time for a lunch break. Yet, even during these hectic days, I am reminded of the gifts that arise out of this adventure in subbing the middle grades. I, inevitably, learn something. Last week, I learned that it was no big deal to read aloud to a group of middle schoolers.
Allow me to add a backstory. It is, I believe, no accident that I have chosen to substitute teach in the grades where my self-confidence was shattered when I was in school. It was during these formative years when I learned how to doubt my voice and blush at the drop of a hat. Now, subbing in the middle grades is another opportunity for me to grow and learn. Challenge pushes us to the doorway and asks whether we’re ready to step through.
Last week I realized how far I had come since my own middle school years. This growth hasn’t happened over night. It’s been many years now since I’ve found myself turning red in the face each time I meet someone new or step into the spotlight to use my voice, but I had not realized how comfortable I’d become in being placed on the spot until last week. It was, as I sat reading aloud from a book I had never picked up, with a classroom of middle-schoolers listening (or not) to every word I read, and fluorescent lights glaring down at my face, no big deal. I was performing the role that I had been tasked to perform and it felt as natural as washing the dishes.
Of course my audience helped. I am fully aware of how lucky I am to be subbing in a district where the students are, for the most part, courteous and well-behaved when it really counts. When a German world appeared during my reading aloud and I mispronounced it, a student called out the proper pronunciation and we moved on. No big deal.
And what a cool experience that was, I thought, as I continued to read.
The other day, I found myself chatting with a friend about our writing aspirations. While I was talking about my visions for the Warriors of Lightbook series, the conversation veered into the subject of magic. I mentioned how most books that use magical elements are placed into the category of fantasy because they are beyond the realms of the realistic. They entertain and enthrall us by encouraging our minds to play with the fantastic in the form of the impossible or unreachable. They stir our imaginations in a way that leaves us wishing for something we will never obtain. Fantasy, though, can also remind the imagination that there is more to life than we often allow ourselves to notice…
How frustrating it can be to feel as though a magical life is illusive and always beyond the realm of possibility. When I mentioned that a few readers of The Labyrinth had compared my book to one of the most popular fantasy series written, our conversation began to explore the definition of magic and how much it differs in my series vs. the one it had been compared to. The young “warriors of light” protagonists are not wizards or witches, nor do they use wands or attend a school that teaches spells and potions. Instead, their teacher is the labyrinth, a magical maze they journey through individually and together to bring back the light where it has been broken by darkness. Sure there are somewhat fantastical elements. The six young protagonists learn how to shapeshift into their spirit animals. Some of them see ghosts and all of them converse with beings in other realms, but is there really so fantastic?
Magic Can Be Extraordinary
Those how have traveled the shamanic journey will probably tell you that shapeshifting, or communing with spirit totems is not so fantastical. And, I’d wager most of us have had communications with spirits or beings from other realms, whether we realize it or not.
The hidden realms of life reveal their wonder as we open ourselves to the inherent magic that resides in all life. Like young children who have not yet lost their connection to inherent magic, our inner sight and senses re-expand beyond the ho-hum of the everyday routines. A mere walk in nature can stir the cells into a state of blissful union. Glimpses, or perhaps more, of the extraordinary become common, but no less magical. The more connected we feel, the more interconnected we feel as joy arises from our sense of being a part of an infinite web of light.
The Magical Inner Journey
While adding truly fantastical elements to a book of fiction can be fun, the magic of a hero’s journey arises out of self-discovery. It is an inner journey as well as outer journey. This is magic that is not only sustainable, but grows with awareness. The state of joy becomes accessible, achievable, and sustainable unlike a material treasure that is not easily found and can be lost, or stolen away. The gift of inherent magic can only be robbed by the self as it resides within the self.
Magic is an opening to and not a manipulation of energy
True magic arises out of the very essence of life. It does not manipulate the forces of the elements, but opens to the inherent magic that already exists. Herein lies true wonder. The state of joy is accessible through the opening. When we allow ourselves to open to life’s mysteries we find connection, truth, and re-union. Although most of us are not trained in shamanism, or have the ability to shapeshift into our spirit animals like the protagonists in the Warriors of Light series, we do have the ability to connect with and glean wisdom, inspiration, and a sense of union with the animal and plant communities around us. Many of us experience an aspect of this connection with the animal companions that live in our homes, but we can also open ourselves to connecting with the wildlife outside of our homes. Sitting in the presence of a tree and bearing witness to its enduring strength and flexibility, or watching the transformation of an earth-bound caterpillar into a near-weightless butterfly can bring profound insight, peac,e and awe to the observer.
Magic is Living in Wonder
This is magic. It is opening to life and all of its wonders that exists and unfold in each moment all around us. It is the knowing that not everything can, or will be known, in one’s lifetime, because life is filled with such complex and intricately balanced beauty that no mind can truly understand creation.
It’s the time of year when cars snake the highways for miles while their occupants peep through windows with cameras at the ready. For a few precious weeks, if we’re lucky, the New England autumn paints us the colors of wonder.
When summer turns the corner into autumn in New England, the body and mind begin to succumb to the pull of winter. There is a natural turning inward to find the cocoon before rebirthing into spring. Yet, in this in-between time, we are graced with a glory that is hard to overlook.
Summer lingers in the warmer days, pulling the body outdoors to bask in the golden light of an autumn sun. “Look at me!” Earth calls out. How can we resist?
And I am reminded, once again, how lucky I am to call this place home.