We feel its power pushing us forward, carrying us as does a river’s current. It takes us many places both serene and chaotic. It molds and shapes us. Yet there’s nothing concrete to grasp onto. We cannot dip our hands into its waters nor physically feel that current.
In my quest for a harmonious life I understand the need to be still. Certain tools help in that effort:
Reading, to organize my thoughts.
Praying, to tap into my soul, drawing me closer to God.
Time spent outdoors, especially in the Spring, to quiet myself.
The landscape is slowly coming to life here in New England and when I see signs of Spring, I think of Henry David Thoreau. His intimate knowledge of the outdoors came from a sense of mindfulness–no detail missed his watchful eye. He took the time to be still and observe. And in following that simple maxim, the world revealed itself to him.
New book on Thoreau
I recently reviewed a book on my Louisa May Alcott blog by Corinne Hosfeld Smith (certified tour guide of the Thoreau birthplace and author of Westward I Go Free: Tracing Thoreau’s Last Journey) calledHenry David Thoreau for Kids:
I welcomed this book because while I have always appreciated Thoreau’s message, I find his his works difficult to get through. The writing is dense, demanding your full attention. Many of us suffered through high school and college English classes with his classic Walden. And yet, that message of a different way of living got through to me even though I could not begin to digest all the words.
Making Thoreau concrete
What I loved about Henry David Thoreau for Kids were the twenty-one activities geared for middle school students that help you live out his ideas. Many of these activities are just as engaging for adults.
I was intrigued by the exercise which encouraged the participant to sit outdoors for thirty minutes in total silence, waiting for wildlife to appear. Sure enough, after a few moments birds and other creatures come close for observation. I was eager to try this exercise in my quest to be still.
Stillness, however, does not come easily in this busy world so I was grateful that Smith recommended another exercise to help me focus–creating a sound map.
Sitting in my lawn chair, I sketched the area you see here in my notebook and every time I heard a sound from nature, I drew an “x” where I thought I heard it and wrote down what it was. As you can see, I heard quite a bit!
From listening to observing
In the listening, I began to appreciate the visual imagery around me.
Stillness opens the inner eye
Stillness and mindfulness are hard to achieve in this high tech, multi-tasking, noisy world. Patience and due diligence are rewarded however with the opening of the inner eye, that which sees beauty and truth around us and eventually, within us. It’s a simple truth really: the wonder of life and how it was created, and how we are lucky to be alive despite all the challenges.
A compatriot of Thoreau’s, Ralph Waldo Emerson, once wrote of the transparent eyeball, an expression for which he was mocked. Wikipedia explains it this way:
“The transparent eyeball is a philosophical metaphor originated by Ralph Waldo Emerson. The transparent eyeball is a representation of an eye that is absorbent rather than reflective, and therefore takes in all that nature has to offer.”
Emerson experienced an epiphany that day–the discovery of the ability to read between the lines in the world around him, and come to an understanding of a deeper existence within him.
Once that eye is opened …
… you never want it to close. All of a sudden, the smallest things become lovely, compelling, even exciting. Once I became mindful of what surrounded me in the natural world, I couldn’t get enough of it, especially when it came to bird watching and kayaking.
And once I made a commitment to pay attention to what was there inside of me, allowing myself to to be drawn closer to my Creator, I find I can’t get enough of that either.
Silence is becoming an elixir.
I understand from the great mystics that you can learn to be quiet and still even in the midst of noise and chaos. Wouldn’t that be something! Somehow I think a bunch of people with that kind of inner harmony could truly change the world for the good. Think about it.
Your time of stillness
Try spending thirty minutes in the woods, in a field or by a pond this Spring. Create your own sound map and share it here. Let’s compare notes and find out how we are doing on our journey to harmony.
You can find out more about Henry David Thoreau for Kidshere, and read about the author, Corinne Hosfeld Smith, here.
Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).
This is an amazing initiative by Tinykittens.com with a feral colony of cats. The first experiment, that of trapping a pregnant feral so that she could give birth in in a warm and safe place resulted in her four kittens being totally socialized and adopted out to loving families while the mother cat was returned to the colony where she would be the happiest.
How many of us remember making mud pies? Hiking in the woods? Splashing in a stream? Observing birds and butterflies? Every kid needs to experience the outdoors and this program offers some amazing options.
As an avid kayaker familiar with its therapeutic benefits, I can see how this would be a tremendous benefit to our vets.
As you all seemed to enjoy the video I posted of Sarah Hart singing “Praying from a Broken Heart” so I thought I’d share this:
October 26, 2013 – Sarah Hart singing in St. Peter’s Square for Pope Francis and a crowd of 150,000; Sarah meeting the Pope at the end of the video
The recent ruling by the Supreme Court on the legal state of marriage has reverberated across the country. People cannot stop talking about it and the conversations are often heated. A seismic shift has taken place in our culture. It caught me unprepared for the personal storm of confusion and fear that I would experience as a result.
Facing the inevitable
Christians are facing a “brave new world.” Confrontation is now inevitable; I cannot avoid it no matter how uncomfortable it makes me feel. I have to be clear as to what I think and how I feel and learn how to express it both firmly and in love, as Jesus would do. Continue reading “Confession of a timid soul”→
The dashboard contains various pictures and icons that I can gaze upon. God has gifted me with a long commute – two hours each day of time alone. Here I can pray, reflect and sing. And often I end up brainstorming as well. It’s not only a prayer space but a creative space.
My writing corner is a sacred space.
On my small desk is a picture of my favorite author, Louisa May Alcott, plus 2 paintings by her younger sister May. Sitting at the desk and working from my laptop, I can see my bookcase dedicated to all things Alcott plus the birds at the feeder outside the large window. Lots of writing has been done in that space.
The entrance to our home is a sacred space.
Here my husband, a deacon in the Melkite church, has set up his icon corner. Each morning he faithfully prays the First Hour of the Office, also known as the Liturgy of the Hours. I marvel at how he prays the same prayers every morning and frequently experiences new insight. He’s been praying those same prayers for close to ten years.
Physical sacred spaces prompt the mind and heart to enter the spiritual sacred space in the soul.
I am pleased to offer a guest post by Lori Erickson of the Spiritual Travels blog on sacred spaces. Here’s a tease:
There seems to be something instinctual about the human desire to create sacred space. We set St. Francis amid our garden flowers and tuck the Virgin Mary under the shelter of an overturned bathtub. Many of us do even more inside our homes, creating private altars that seem to grow of their own accord on a shelf in our bedroom or on top of a dresser, spots that gradually accrue photographs, stones, sea shells, candles, holy water, and prayer cards. Each seemingly inconsequential item carries a deep weight of memory, prayer, or hope.
Goins describes it as a painful, often messy experience that opens your eyes to a new life. It is transformative, introducing you to sacrificial love if you’re willing to go along for the ride.
He shares experiences in his life that have “wrecked” him, the first one taking place in Spain while spending a semester overseas.
Putting a name to the poor
Goins met a homeless man and quickly developed a relationship with him. The “poor” suddenly became a flesh and blood person with a name and Goins grew to care about him. It was a first of many experiences that would alter his life course forever.
Why Wrecked is important
It is a radical book, “slamming” into the conventions of
21st century life: “Our culture is so individualistic and wired for success that we often miss the point of life. We think it’s about self-actualization, about becoming the best version of ourselves. It’s not. It’s about losing ourselves.” (pg. 40, ebook)
It is counter to everything society says is necessary for
“the good life:” “We are conditioned to believe life is supposed to be comfortable. But ask anyone like my friend Matt who has radically changed his life, and they’ll tell you the best decisions they made were when they were uncomfortable … What we have to learn to do is lean into the things that hold us back, to move through the pain and push forward.” (pg. 42, ebook)
It gets to the core of the Gospel of Jesus, a core that is often sanitized, glossed over in favor of the warm and fuzzy “God loves you.”
Instead it confronts the Cross: “If we are to follow the Jesus who suffered with us and bled for us, we too must suffer.” (pg. 33, ebook).
Christian without being “Christian”
Wrecked imparts the core message without mucking it up with a lot of “church speak.” This book, although produced by a Christian publisher, speaks clearly to all people with a language that anyone who is searching for the meaning of his or her life will understand.
A book for Millennials
Even though there is much written about mission work and social justice (as this is Goins’ experience), don’t be fooled by this emphasis – this is not a book on becoming a missionary. Wrecked is the handbook for the Millennial generation. A Millennial himself, Goins spells out the problems, diagnoses them and offers the cure.
Wrecked also shouldn’t be construed as just another self-help book or spiritual guide. It is rather the authentic account of someone who writes honestly, understands spirituality and has “been-there-done-that.”
Wrecked isn’t perfect. Goins’ trajectory for the journey of life (having adventures when you’re young and making long term commitments as you get older) is sound but maintains that if you don’t have these adventures when you are young, you will spend the rest of your life trying to recapture your youth or relive old dreams (pg. 71, ebook).
Obviously that is true in many cases but what he doesn’t take into account are late bloomers like me and the whole idea of second chances. I was too timid in my youth to have adventures and married young, raising two children. Losing my parents between 2003 and 2010 “wrecked” me and subsequently transformed my life. Now in my 50s I am pursing the creative vocation I believe God has called me to with total dedication, confidence and commitment. I did things backwards – committing first (to my vocations as wife and mother) and having my adventure later on.
My other problem with Wrecked is one I see frequently with regards to Christians and service – that of the the cart being put before the horse.
When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment (Matthew 22), He presented two: loving God and then loving neighbor, making it clear that loving God needed to comes first. A close, loving relationship with our Creator results in a pouring forth of grace which empowers us to love and serve our neighbor. Being immersed in God allows us to see Him in others and the desire to serve becomes irresistible.
Goins mentions the Gospel story of Martha (the busy one) and Mary (the introspective one) but fails to mention Mary and the need to take the time to sit at the feet of God. I can’t be sure if he assumes the reader knows this or not. He does stress the importance of taking care of our inner lives and he also makes it clear we need to let go and allow God to lead but I was hoping for a more direct connection between taking care of ourselves and allowing God to take care of us.
Committed to Wrecked
That being said, I bought a copy of Wrecked as a going away present for my Millennial son who is heading to New York City from sleepy central Massachusetts at the end of this month.
I also got the Wrecked ten-week study guide which I intend to use with my eleventh-grade Sunday School class. And I’ve recommended it to a deacon friend of mine who runs a young adult book club at his church.