Posted by: Banta | September 16, 2016

The place we call ‘away’

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After multiple attempts to recycle leftover construction materials, we bit the bullet and took a truckload to the landfill—located nine miles north of downtown Asheville in the scenic community of Alexander, NC. If you’ve never visited a landfill, put it on your bucket list. In our throwaway culture, nothing screams “There’s-no-such-place-as-away!” quite like acres upon acres of trash—the detritus of our wasteful lives.

The winding road to the Buncombe County landfill meanders along the French Broad River, a favorite playground for kayakers and whitewater enthusiasts. We nearly missed the landfill turnoff because the elaborate stone pillars flanking the drive look more like the entrance to a pricey gated community than a county dump. Shade trees line the access road and purple martin birdhouses dot the grassy hillsides, adding to the illusion of a sprawling estate.

We weighed in and followed directions to the top of the hill. Here in the mountains of western North Carolina, long-range vistas capture our attention every day. But we did not expect the stunning 360-degree mountain view that greeted us at the crest of the landfill. Against a backdrop of piled-high trash, the beauty of the view felt cruelly out of place. We unloaded quickly, bracing against the stench of decay and wary of a suspicious squishiness underfoot.

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Surely, this is the Wasteland of which T.S. Eliot spoke: “I think we are in rats’ alley / Where the dead men lost their bones.”

Owned by the County Department of Solid Waste and opened in 1997, this particular landfill spans 128 acres and accepts more than 170,000 tons of solid waste per year. That’s a whole lotta trash. When the property reaches its ‘design capacity’ of 3.6 million tons, projected in 2020, this landfill will close and another will take its place. But where? We are fast running out of space.

A recent news report cited remediation plans to clean up a former Buncombe County landfill in Fairview, NC. Closed in 1976, forty years ago, the site continues to raise concern about contaminated water and soil. Four decades later.

Here’s the thing. Trash lasts so much longer than we think. Roughly speaking, a landfill is a depression in the earth that is lined with clay and thick plastic, rather like a large bathtub. (For scientific details on landfill construction, see http://www.ejnet.org/landfills/) Modern landfills try to control for off-gassing and liquid seepage, but leaks do happen. Soil and groundwater suffer as a result. Think about the French Broad River less than a mile away.

Our sobering field trip to the landfill underscored the worthy mantra: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Those items we ‘forget’ to recycle take decades, even millennia, to break down in a landfill. A glass bottle? Maybe a million years. Those plastic bags? Perhaps 500+ years. Plastic soda bottles? About 500 years. Aluminum cans? Eighty to 200 years.

The EPA estimates that the bulk of our household garbage could be recycled or composted—paper, yard waste, plastics, food waste. Even hard-to-dispose-of paints and varnishes, old batteries and electronics have designated recycle days at the landfill and other local drop-off sites.

Simple choices make a difference—buy in bulk (no plastic packaging), go paperless, say ‘no’ to bottled water, opt for cloth napkins and diapers. If the kitchen trash can, or the bin behind the house were the last resort, rather than the mindless first choice, how might our consumer habits change? With a little time and effort, and some focused intention, we commit to recycle more and consume less. Won’t you join us?

Posted by: Banta | July 1, 2016

Chasing summer, finding ‘enough’

(The following essay by Banta Whitner appears in Plough to Pantry / Summer 2016)

Midsummer dazzles the senses—the smell of trees after rain, a mountain stream on a hot day, the drone of bees in the garden, the sweetness of plump blueberries, the riot of color in a high wildflower meadow. Nature draws us outdoors—to picnic on the balds, hike the Blue Ridge, sample local ice cream and beer, tend the garden, and shop the tailgate markets.

At the peak of the season’s bounty, the farmers’ markets and our own harvest baskets overflow with more than we can possibly eat fresh. A sense of urgency bubbles up—to preserve and can, freeze, dry and pickle enough of this abundance to tide us over the winter months when the fields lie fallow. But what is ‘enough?’ A full pantry? A crowded root cellar?

The measure of enough depends on the lens through which we look at the world. Through the lens of scarcity, there is never enough. Anxious worry and fear huddle together in a half full cupboard, bemoaning the need for ‘more.’ Through the lens of abundance, on the other hand, gratitude appreciates what we already have. “Abundance is not something we acquire,” wrote philosopher and self-help guru Dr. Wayne Dyer. “It’s something we tune into.”

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In this third half of life, I tune in to abundance with every cell in my body. On our small homestead, the garden has grown beyond my capacity to keep up with its demands. My own greedy fault, really. Insisting on another bramble there, a few more squash seeds at the edge of the woods, herbs multiplying in the perennial bed, a couple (okay, actually six) extra tomato plants as a hedge against the blight.

Every day I learn more about sharing the garden with the critters that gnaw the tomatoes and snap off the bean seedlings. I notice the weather signs and gauge what the plants need. In turn, I listen to what my body and spirit need—hands in the soil, a walk by the creek, a good book on the deck. Every day I tune in more closely to the abundance of what is right here, right now.

Even in challenging times, it is possible to find enough. Enough light to see the next step on the path. Enough lung capacity to draw the next breath. Enough love to counter the waves of hate in the news. A few seeds to grow a bit of food, strains of live music from the pub down the valley. The trick is staying present, and finding ways to be grateful.

This summer I will put up jams and salsa, dry herbs and tomatoes, freeze berries and beans. Come September, the pantry will bulge with mason jars and garlic braids. But the pantry cannot measure ‘enough.’ Only the gratitude we express with each breath can do that.

(Plough to Pantry is a quarterly farm-to-table magazine with distribution across western North Carolina, parts of east Tennessee and the South Carolina foothills. If you’d like to subscribe, visit http://www.ploughtopantry.com)

Posted by: Banta | April 28, 2016

Uncle Billy’s Garden

(The following story by Banta Whitner appeared in Plough to Pantry | Spring 2016)

Freshly plowed fields dot the hills where I live, each one a blank canvas awaiting the artist’s vision. Every spring, without fail, farmers and gardeners step beyond the newsfeed of the day to tend their soil. They turn “swords into ploughshares,” and plant seeds for a new harvest. This is our common ground.

Long before I learned to read and write, I was digging in the dirt. My great uncle Billy introduced me to organic gardening the summer before I started kindergarten. He and my great-grandmother lived on the outskirts of Cashiers, NC, where I spent golden nuggets of summer as a child.

One morning after breakfast, Uncle Billy handed me a basket. “Blueberry pickin’ time,” was all he said. I hung back at first, wary of this grumpy old man with his big booming voice. I had no idea he was an operatic baritone or coached opera divas in Manhattan. At five, the promise of a pie won me over.

He took to whistling as we headed down the stone steps to the garden. His gruff exterior melted away, replaced by a childlike joy I understood. At the rustic gate he stopped and spread his arms wide, “Here we are.” Even then I sensed we were about to enter sacred space.

Tucked into the hillside, invisible from the house above, his garden spilled out in every direction. Besides plump blueberries, Uncle Billy grew rhubarb and asparagus, purple eggplants, sweet onions and peppers, strawberries, and heirloom tomatoes. Herbs tangled among the vegetables—sage and dill, parsley and basil, rosemary and creeping thyme. To keep out hungry rabbits, chicken wire surrounded the tiers of greens—endive, spinach and kale, and more varieties of lettuce than I’d ever seen.

We filled the berry basket in no time, but my five-year old self had discovered a lifetime happy place. With grudging good humor, Uncle Billy nurtured the clumsy zeal I brought to his well-tended garden. He treated me like a grownup and shared what he knew.

That summer we sowed crookneck squash and field peas, pulled weeds and picked hornworms off tomato plants. I can still smell the rich loamy dirt, composted with eggshells and banana peels and cow manure, and I can hear the drone of Uncle Billy’s bees.

That grumpy old opera singer, a WWI veteran and closeted gay man, taught me how to listen to the land and coax food from earth. He taught me that healthy soil grows healthy plants, and that making good soil requires patience and huge amounts of compost.

More than that, he taught me that making a healthy human, a good idea, a sustainable relationship—all take time and lots of compost, too. Toss together the discarded scraps, shredded pages, broken hearts, the missteps, snippets of memory and sleepless nights. Let the ingredients heat up in a messy pile. Provide ample water and sunshine. Stir occasionally. With enough patience, new growth will take root and rise up from the compost. Every single time.

Shed drawing by Stephanie SippIllustration courtesy of Stephanie Sipp

Posted by: Banta | March 4, 2016

If not now, tell me when

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If you like Carrie Newcomer’s music, you know that her story-songs speak straight to the heart. On Being’s Krista Tippett says, “They get at the raw and redemptive edges of human reality.” In all her work, Newcomer explores those places where the sacred meets the ordinary—a light in the window on a dark night, an empty chair, a laborer’s rough hands.

With each image from the commons, Newcomer reminds us that a simple shift in perspective transforms the most ordinary moments into something holy. The truth is, the holy is there all along, just waiting for us to notice. When we slow down and pay attention, the holy shines through. But in our multi-tasking distraction, our rush to the next thing, we too often miss it.

Holy is the place I stand

To give whatever small good I can

The empty page, the open book

Redemption everywhere I look

Unknowingly we slow our pace

In the shade of unexpected grace

With grateful smiles and sad lament

As holy as the day is spent

(from Holy As A Day Is Spent, words and music by Carrie Newcomer)

She also writes about hope—“the kind of hope that’s faithful, that kind that Niebuhr talked about: ‘anything worth doing will probably not be achieved in one lifetime. So we are saved by hope.’ And that’s a harder kind of hope to live with, because it’s easier to be cynical. I mean, when you’re cynical, you’re never disappointed,” she says. Newcomer reminds us that our task is to get every morning and work for good, practice peace all over again, even if what we hope for cannot happen in our lifetime.

Not long ago I had the pleasure of sitting close to the stage at a Carrie Newcomer concert. While this singer-songwriter-poet makes light of her reputation as a “Quaker celebrity,” she is indeed a strong voice for progressive spirituality, social justice and interfaith dialogue. She has collaborated and performed with a number of well-known authors, artists, scientists and progressive theologians—Parker Palmer, Barbara Kingsolver, Marcus Borg, Mary Chapin Carpenter and neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor, to name but a few.

Once referred to as a prairie mystic, Newcomer was born and raised in southern Indiana. She traces her Quaker faith to a service semester in Costa Rica during college. There she had her first encounter with an unprogrammed Quaker group. Based on the idea of “expectant waiting,” members sit in silence until someone has a message they wish to share with the group. There is no prearranged liturgy of prayers or readings.

Newcomer felt at home in the silence. Of her lyrics and poems she says, “My best language has always come out of the silence,” and “…my best prayers are songs.” For her, music itself is a spiritual practice because, as she explains, “You have to be present, you have to show up to your life.” You have to remain curious, to live your questions.

One particular song echoes in my head, a mantra worth repeating. Listen and see if you agree.

 

Posted by: Banta | February 12, 2016

Plan B for Valentine’s Day

Wholehearted living

Every Valentine’s Day when my daughter was little, I cut out hundreds of red and pink and white hearts in all different sizes, stuffed them into an envelope and wrote on the outside flap, “Open with care and shake out the contents over your head.” We called it Valentine rain. The tradition caught on and lasted for years.

At five, she giggled and squealed with delight. By fourteen, she thought it lame. As a college student in western Massachusetts, where February is the bleakest month, she welcomed the Valentine rain as a reminder of home and her parents’ love.

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Like it or not, February 14th rains down hearts on all of us, regardless of our relationship status. The single, the lonely, the broken-hearted, the grieving—all stand in the path of the Hallmark storm. The pervasive emphasis on romance—candlelight and flowers and dinners for two—excludes those who by choice or circumstance are not part of a couple.

Whether you are partnered or single, I offer this Plan B. For every paper heart you see, remember to open your own. Take a moment to touch in with the soft spots there, honor your vulnerability and remember your innate worthiness.

In her popular book Daring Greatly, change agent Brene՛ Brown describes what it looks like to live a whole-hearted life:

“Whole-hearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, ‘No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.’ It’s going to bed at night thinking, ‘Yes I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid but that doesn’t change the truth that I am worthy of love and belonging.’”

Loving myself and others with my whole heart requires the courage to be vulnerable. When I allow you to see me as I really am, warts and all, I drop the protective shell around me that has prevented us from connecting with one another in a genuine way.

On the other hand, as long as I hide my real self, I remain stuck in a place of shame and fear. The stuck place tells me that I am unworthy, not enough. Fill in the blanks for yourself: Not smart enough, thin enough, lovable enough, successful enough. The not enough feeling cloaks me in shame, and fills me with fear that you will see my unworthiness—that all my imperfections and flaws will be exposed.

To ward off the shame-fear-unworthiness narrative, we often deflect blame onto others. We get all puffed up with righteous indignation, so certain we are of being right. If I am uncomfortable, surely someone else is to blame.

Buddhist nun Pema Chodron puts it this way: “Blaming is a way to protect our hearts, to try to protect what is soft and open and tender in ourselves. Rather than own that pain, we scramble to find some comfortable ground.” (When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times)

Chodron says that having compassion for others begins with compassion toward oneself. We must touch the soft places in our hearts—all the unwanted parts of ourselves, the myriad imperfections we would rather hide. With an open heart, we must sit in that discomfort and not run away.

Whole-hearted living begins here. Touch the soft places in your heart and your protective armor starts to fall away. You open to deeper connections with others. And it is those connections that give meaning and purpose to our lives, that teach us gratitude and joy and resilience.

Plan B. Open your heart. Let go of the need to be right or certain. Have the courage to be uncomfortable as long as it takes. Allow for vulnerability. You are worthy of love and belonging.

Posted by: Banta | February 3, 2016

Memory makes mistakes

what's your story

My great-grandmother Bella knew how to embellish a story. She liked to tell about the day she painted her baby brother bright green. The way she remembered it, she was a bossy nine-year old, and little Riggs was five at the time. I was sure she was making the whole thing up.

“No, baby, I’m telling it straight like it happened. I see it so clear in my mind’s eye. Riggs was too big for his britches. He was sassy and wouldn’t mind me when I had to babysit him. One Saturday I got him real good. Told him how proud Mama and Daddy would be to see him painted the same color as the lawn chairs. Told him he would be their favorite yard art. He fetched the paint and brushes himself. I couldn’t let him down. So I painted him, short pants and all, from the bottoms of his chubby feet to the top hairs of his blond head. I left little white circles around his eyes and one around his mouth, and room to breathe through his nose. He was a masterpiece to behold.” She sighed with pleasure at the memory.

“Course I got the whippin’ of my life when Mama and Daddy got home. Sent to my room without supper. And Mama had to bathe Riggs in turpentine and tomato juice twice a day for a week to get the green tint off his skin. Riggs hated baths. He squirmed and cried like a stuck pig through it all. Served him right. Pesky brat.”

“C’mon, Bella, you didn’t really paint your brother green, did you? He’d have smothered to death or something.”

Bella shrugged off my challenge. “Believe what you like,” she sniffed, “I know what I know.”

Memory makes mistakes. We humans rarely recall events in their entirety. More often, we file them in multiple compartments—the visual in one box, the sensory in another, the tactile in another, and so on. Our memory retrieval is partial and inexact.

Siblings, friends, coworkers, experience the same event and recall it differently. Or not at all. We minimize or we embellish, based on our emotional wiring, our roots, our wounds, our capacity for what AA calls a ‘searching and fearless moral inventory.’ Every time we remember an event, we reconstruct it just a little differently.

Why does this matter? Because we create the narrative of our lives with the building blocks of memory. We humans need a story line. We depend on autobiography to remind us who we are. Yet that very narrative also holds us hostage. It contains the potential for self-harm as well as growth. How we interpret the memories of our past—the elements of our story line—makes all the difference.

Change the story, change your life. Is it really as simple as that? Yes, both as simple and as complicated. Stuff happens to us, joyful stuff, painful and traumatic stuff. We make faulty interpretations of events. We “misremember” bits and pieces, hold on to some of the bits, let go of others. We file, lose, delete, retrieve, reconstitute—in waking hours and in our dreams. Find the thread and follow the story line. Where does it take you?

Think about a story you believe about yourself. How does it serve you? If you told this bedtime story to your child self, would you want to hear it again? Would it give you nightmares? Or would you go to sleep with a smile on your face, feeling safe and loved?

You can change the story line any time you want. With mindful intention, you can live into a new narrative that serves and promotes your greatest good, rather than one that perpetuates old hurts and fears. Philosopher-teacher Wayne Dyer liked to compare a person’s past to the wake behind a boat. Depending on the size and speed of the boat, the wake can be gentle or turbulent, but it has absolutely nothing to do with driving the boat forward. The wake is what the boat leaves behind. Dyer advocated we think of our past as the wake behind the boat, and let it go.

By loosening the attachment to our personal history—that story line that holds us hostage—we give ourselves the freedom to choose a new and more positive story, one that propels us forward rather than keeping us stuck in old patterns. The point is, we get to choose.

 

 

 

Posted by: Banta | January 24, 2016

The art of surrender

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Surrender was never my strong suit. If you are someone who makes long-range plans, or keeps a detailed to-do list, or chafes at travel delays, then we speak the same language. You know what it’s like to get so attached to a certain outcome that you tie yourself in knots to predict and prevent all the pesky what-ifs that might capsize that boat.

But life unfolds true to her own plan, not ours. Trying to control the flow simply guarantees frustration. Somewhere along the way, we forfeit our happiness and put our relationships at risk. And by clinging to that illusion of control, we also miss the extraordinary gifts of the present moment.

The need to control is rooted in fear. When we let fear and anxiety run the show, they bully us into thinking we have to be in control all the time. They convince us that dire things will happen if we let go of the reins. Turns out, they have it dead wrong.

Fear and anxious worry beget more fear and worry, not less. They bury us in the what-ifs and steal our energy. They seduce us into thinking they’ll protect us from harm, but that’s a lie. Fear and worry never kept anyone safe. And when fear manages our choices and decisions, we often veer way off course.

In certain contexts—like war, sports, and politics—surrender connotes a white-flag retreat, a giving up or giving in, a backing down or crumbling under pressure. We grew up with the old adage that “quitters never win and winners never quit.” When that rule bleeds into our personal and inner lives, we turn everything into a struggle. But away from the battlefield and the ball game, the campaign trail and the boardroom, we can opt out of that relentless win-lose-draw mentality.

Even in difficult circumstances, we always get to choose our response. Always.

According to psychologist/author Amy Johnson, “Surrender literally means to stop fighting. Stop fighting with yourself. Stop fighting the universe and the natural flow of things. Stop resisting and pushing against reality.”

Some faith traditions call this spiritual surrender—to completely accept what is, and have faith that all is well, even without one’s individual input. Lest this sound too passive, be assured this kind of surrender is not about inaction. Rather, it’s about what Buddhists call “compassionate action”—the practice of active compassion toward self and others.

I like to think of surrender as a threshold, a path of less insisting and more allowing, less holding on and more letting go. Instead of pushing back, imagine how it would feel to soften your resistance—to a change in plans, or something new on the horizon. The art of surrender, in this scenario, invites us to melt into the present moment. When we surrender ego and will, and get out of our own way, we yield to the fullness of now.

Posted by: Banta | January 9, 2016

Opening to uncertainty

Rumi quote about the field

“Feeling certain, of course, is no guarantee of being right.” Barry Magid, Zen teacher

When my dad got old enough to laugh at himself, he used to say he was “often wrong, but never in doubt.” A fair amount of his bull-headed certainty rubbed off on me, and—be honest—perhaps you have a little of that too-sureness going on, too.

It makes that tsk tsk voice in my head when someone I love opens another can of diet soda. It sticks its nose into conversations about political candidates and social policy. It wants to edit the writing of others. It even pokes at me in yoga class when I begin to think my triangle pose is spot on. Just then I’ll feel a tweak in my lower back that says, “Oh no, you don’t.”

Self-righteousness gets me nowhere I want to be. It stifles my own growth and makes faulty assumptions about the paths that others walk. The truth is that we are, every one of us, doing the best we can with the capacities we have, to muddle through this very messy—extraordinarily beautiful—life. Ram Dass writes, “Let’s trade in all our judging for appreciating. Let’s lay down our righteousness and just be together.” Can we do that?

In addition to trading our judging for appreciating, I’d like to trade my certainty for curiosity. Certainty slams the door shut, puts a big black period at the end of the sentence. But curiosity slips a foot in the closing door and says, “Wait just a minute. I want to know more about this.” Curiosity lifts us out of our smug “knowing,” and invites inquiry and conversation.

Above all, curious mind makes room for compassion in ways that certainty cannot fathom. Curious mind allows us to hold the tension that rises in our relationships when opinions differ. In any given moment, we know precious little about what is really going on with each other. Curious mind allows for the not-knowing, and nudges us to practice tolerance for that vast uncertainty.

The older I get, the less I know for sure. My dad and I spent decades butting heads, often good-naturedly but sometimes with rancor, on everything from politics to social welfare and taxes. One day near the end of his life, when conversation around us grew especially heated, he leaned in and whispered in my ear, “You know, there’s a lot more gray area than I used to think.” And he winked at me.

That was a watershed moment between us. Thereafter, the gray area became a place to practice curiosity about our differences, and to nurture a love that stretched much deeper than the constraints of certainty would have allowed. It’s one of the things I am most grateful to him for— his capacity for uncertainty.

In this moment, I offer the practice of curiosity to you as one more light for the journey. May we open to our differences, not with certainty but with curiosity, in the spirit of all we have yet to learn—both about ourselves and about one another.

 

Posted by: Banta | January 1, 2016

All souls on deck

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So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing. ~ T.S. Eliot

This first day of the new year dawned sunny and cold. After a balmy December, the chill feels good. Hungry chickadees, titmice and finches swarm the feeders. They know the reprieve is over. Real winter will soon make her mark.

In the garden, we picked kale, arugula and lettuce, secured the cold frame, and spread floating row covers over the remaining beds of greens. The survivors will fill our salad bowls for a few weeks more. And while winter nestles into these mountains, I’ll sow microgreens under grow lights in the basement, and spring veggies to transplant after the last frost. Seeds of hope and new life.

Planting seeds in the dark of winter is an act of unbridled optimism. In the bleak midwinter, when our newsfeeds swell with raging political winds and cold acts of violence, it’s easy to lose heart. When polar ice melts in January, and tides of evil rise, it’s hard to keep one’s head above water.

I need help. Perhaps you do, too. In these turbulent times, we can become lifelines for one another, a community of mutual support. If we pool our resources, we can flood social media with hope and optimism. We can agree to focus on what is going right in the world, rather than on what is wrong.

In his book Blessed Unrest (Viking, 2007), author and environmentalist Paul Hawken draws attention to the more than a million grassroots efforts already underway—from neighborhood groups to well-funded international organizations—mobilizing to confront environmental and social justice issues.

They share no orthodoxy or unifying ideology; they follow no single charismatic leader; they remain supple enough to coalesce easily into larger networks to achieve their goals. While they are largely unrecognized by politicians and the media, they are bringing about what may one day be judged the single most profound transformation of human society.

I want to be part of that transformation, don’t you? I want to be a force for good and positive change in the world around me, don’t you?

But where do we start? I invite us all to start by sharing the good news that rarely makes the headlines in mainstream media. Share stories from your neighborhood, your workplace, your community—of people stepping up to effect change in positive ways. All souls on deck. Tell us what’s working, what brings you hope, what lights your path.

With gratitude to Clarissa Pinkola Estes, I share her words of encouragement with you:

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good. What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.

One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these — to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.  ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes

 

Posted by: Banta | December 23, 2015

Lessons from the underbelly

Rumi quote on love

Underbelly: A vulnerable area or weak point; a dark, seamy, often hidden area or side of things.

Life lessons show up in the most unexpected places. You think you’re moving through an average day, managing what comes. Sure, you have rocks in your road. We all do. But you’re feeling pretty mindful about the way you’re navigating those rocks—maybe even just a tiny bit righteous. A sure sign of trouble ahead, that righteousness thing, because in the very next minute you trip over an innocuous little stone and fall flat on your face.

This is not a pretty sight. Your face plant has kicked up dirt and mud onto several passersby. Your own skinned knees and elbows are gritted up in a bloody mess. Cleanup will take time and effort. Making amends is a rich and humbling experience.

Spenser, the loveable detective in Robert B. Parker’s novel series, was fond of saying, “I never get in trouble from keeping my mouth shut.” While Spenser may have sidestepped the mindful questions: Is what I’m about to say true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? he managed to reach the same conclusion—silence is often the best path.

When I bite the hook or take the bait, I allow the words or behavior of another person to trigger an overreaction in me, usually from that dark underbelly place that we humans prefer to keep hidden. Overreactions never come from our best selves, we can be certain of that. They rise from judgment, from ego, from our need to be “right” and convince the other that he or she is “wrong.”

In the wake of an overreaction, the first priority is to calm myself down. Take a breath, or a hundred breaths. Call off the ego dogs, shrug off irrelevant notions of “right” and “wrong,” and connect with my heart. Find the shortest path toward apology and setting things right again.

The heart does not lie. The heart does not judge, or care about politics or religion, or ego. HeartMath Institute Director of Research Rollin McCraty explains that the human heart, like the brain, generates a powerful electromagnetic field, one that can be detected and measured several feet away from a person’s body and between two individuals in close proximity. (The Energetic Heart, Robert McCraty) That’s a powerful resource, one available to every one of us.

When we lean into the energy field of the heart, we lean in the direction of love. And I’m pretty sure that when we take time to check in with our heart’s wisdom, we act and speak from a place of love and compassion, rather than from our ego’s need to be “right.”

That dark, shame-filled underbelly has lessons to teach us, when we are ready to listen. Sometimes we have to trip and fall to remember what the heart already knows.

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