Is Love Quantifiable?

NoelleHeartCat copyLove simply “is.” It is bigger than all of us because Love is Divine. Our human tendency, however, seems to be to rate it or quantify it or make it fit into one of our myriad boxes that make living both easier and more difficult for us.

How often have we been told “you don’t love me enough” or “you don’t love me as much as I do you” or variations on that theme? This makes no sense to me because Love is not human — Love is Divine. Love surrounds and permeates all life and shows up in infinite variety.

That’s not to say that we don’t have varying levels of attachment to people, animals, places, things, and even belief systems, but that isn’t Love — that’s a human construct aligned with personality.

Perhaps if we were less concerned with making Love a competition, we would experience its expansiveness, its all-inclusiveness?

 

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Encounters with Toko-Pa

This — Encounters: Intimate Conversations on Belonging, with Toko-Pa — is a lovely FREE gift of audio recordings; the first two have been released and they are absolutely wonderful — soothing, evocative, and inspiring.

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Toko-Pa is offering this series of conversations in the context of pre-release of her book Belonging (that I’m looking forward to reading, since I’ve been nourished by her blog for a long while).

With this spiritual and psychological inner work of “belonging” in mind, I’m also reminded of the phenomenal audio collection Longing and Belonging presented by the incomparable John O’Donohue, who was a curator of Celtic Christianity through poetry and philosophy. I’ve listened to this 33-hour collection at least four times, and turn to it often as uplifting material.

Between

Living in between…

Between shallow river below and broad field above, this relatively narrow area of tilted woods is the space between sweep of water and wind.

Between … in the solitary space of trees and rocky soil and birds scattered with tucked wings among leaves and limbs.

Between worlds of wet and dry, opened wide, here in shelter am I; quiet surrounds with only occasional interruption of those passing by.

IMG_0394Inside the space between is my world. Between. Liminal. Threshold. Bridge. Allure in every landscape, whether river or field or woods.

I am the Between, the not-quite-there presence that fits into threshold. Yet “fit” isn’t accurate because liminal space is a transitional expression of stillness and movement, the dynamic dance of deep change and eternal mystical equilibrium without stasis of form.

Between is where everything touches, for here is no time and everything that has happened, will happen, or is present, is making up its mind. Between the balance, inside that space, is where I am … witnessing.

“We feel the touch of life, of a nonhuman awareness, upon us. But more … we experience something unique to most humans in the West. An intelligence, just as subtle and sophisticated as our own, but very nonhuman, reaches out and communicates with us. …

For some people, this touch of communication and intelligence from the wildness of the nonhuman world marks a phase change in their life. They abandon the human world as the fundamental point of reference and begin to cultivate the experience of aisthesis.”

What Stephen Harrod Buhner describes above (in Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm) mirrors my own “phase changes” along sacred pivotal points on the Gaia Path.

 

A Simple Spirit

CupHoldingWorld

artist unknown

For more than twenty years, I’ve enjoyed the gifts of a simple, natural spirituality. My conscious awareness of Spirit within every thing I see and experience waxes and wanes through the times of my life, sometimes emerging in complex ritual, yet remains present and innate.

Our entire Earth is here in the simple cup of chai I make in the morning, and I give thanks to the Infinite, the Great Spirit in all Her mystery, while also giving thanks to each individual Spirit that has become manifest in form. The water from our well, unique to this place and the aquifer below, provides the carrier for each spice; I give thanks to the Spirit of Water. As I grind the fennel in mortar and pestle, I give thanks to Spirit of Fennel; each additional spice is given the same gratitude. I give thanks for the long journey they’ve endured to reach me, and for the people who have grown and harvested and been part of the process that is their physical journey. I give thanks for my senses that allow me to delight in this tea.

I have a deep appreciation for each food that nourishes my body, mind and soul, ingesting their subtle energy qualities as well as their obvious physical ones.

And, as I gaze out at the woods, the grasses and plants and trees, giving thanks for them and feeling myself soften in their surrounding embrace, I sense them watching me, too.

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Tending Tilted Woods

Tilted North Woods

Our woods grow on a steep hillside in The Ozarks. This north-of-the-house view of the hill is far less sharp than the south side where the angle is precipitous. I adore that the landscape is tilted rather than level, a curious mirror of my own off-kilter nature. Spirit is tangible here; the Divine is present.

Only a professional forester or extremely knowledgable lay person could determine how much of our woods are of original diversity though the likelihood is doubtful considering the thousands of years of habitation by indigenous humans (many of whom, we now know, did clear and burn forests to allow for greater ease in hunting and limited agriculture) and later by European colonizers.

For us, as new stewards to this special place, we hope to continue encouraging natural growth without imposing a manicured specter. After all, as Eliot Cowan says: “The most striking thing about this relationship [to plants and trees] is that we need them, but they don’t need us. We humans are utterly dependent on plants … In contrast, plant communities do just fine without people.” Where’s our gratitude?!

We have only to look at what humans have done to other landscapes to realize the lunacy of our arrogance. For instance, Great Britain has no natural forests left, although the extensive peat bogs are a testimony to previous vastness of woods; after human destruction, people learned how to coppice and pollard, in order to use wood but also steward the fragile stands of trees that were left. Sara Maitland writes of her journeys into the forests of Great Britain in From the Forest. Many woodland places in Europe met the same fate. Many islands — like Crete, for instance — were deforested by humans and their recovery has been difficult.

Here, in our wooded sanctuary, I often feel euphoric when breathing in the oxygen from the trees and plants, when gazing upon the lush green foliage, when listening to the wind rushing through the swaying canopies. Many people have lost this connection with and appreciation for nature and especially its wildness.

In Plant Spirit Medicine, Cowan writes:

“All things enjoy ecstatic union with nature. Life without ecstasy is not true life and not worth living. Without ecstasy, the soul becomes shriveled and perverted, the mind becomes corrupt, and the body suffers pain. … And to think that plants are mere dumb creatures that do not know ecstasy is ignorance or tragic, arrogant folly.”

I want ecstasy! Don’t you?

Voices Call Me

Wildflower Ohio Spiderwort or Cornflower

Ohio Spiderwort

Sometimes I hear voices.

Sometimes these are

Earth voices crying

in pain, fear, grief.

Misunderstood,

the wild beings —

plants, animals,

minerals more —

scream in my head.

A few weeks ago, anger overwhelmed me when I heard the voices.

We had moved to the country, into the woods, so that we could encourage and, as necessary, cultivate a wild landscape around our home. For me it was about protecting and manifesting the gorgeous wildness of nature; for my husband it was to be significantly less maintenance (ultimately, we were planning for a landscape free from the need to use a lawnmower). For both of us, we desired quiet and solitude.

Then, my neighbor began “mowing the woods” across the road from our house (a swath a couple feet wide; the property was owned by a large farm, so neither mine or my neighbor’s), a place where wildflowers like Sweet William and Ohio Spiderwort and others show up unexpectedly … and delightfully. Not only was the mowing disruptive to the day, but I swear I could hear the voices of the wildflowers and other plants screaming their objections in death and dismemberment. I decided to protest his invasion of that particular space. He immediately became furious with me and the end of the conversation wasn’t pleasant.

This experience reminded me of a similar one in Maine where I was unable to protect the wild landscape. Our house there abutted a main roadway and, one summer, the county decided to widen the road. They cut down many large, old pine trees and destroyed a corner where we had lovingly planted a pretty Rhododendron, a gift from my father during an earlier visit. As they were cut down in their prime, I could hear in my head the pine trees shrieking.

I heard their voices, the lamenting and dying. But it wasn’t just this, I realize. After all, trees are cut for lumber and paper, plants are cut for food, etc.; the natural cycles of our world revolve around life, death, and rebirth. I give thanks each day for their gifts and honor their sacrifices. Here, it was the sheer lack of necessity, from my perspective, regarding what was being done that was so abhorrent. There was an added arrogant lack of respect for life and beauty within a wild landscape that I had chosen to protect and advocate for.

The mowing was simply because my neighbor didn’t like the looks of the wildness that edged our narrow, single-lane private road; it was partly this messy verdant landscape that had attracted us to this place. The widening of the road in Maine was simply to expand the shoulders; I’ve no idea why since it was a rural road used only by locals and in ten years never saw an accident.

In these two incidences, it was as if I felt the assault along with the trees, plants, and wildflowers. Maybe that’s why I heard the voices in my head. (I also acknowledge my own ego involvement, in that the mowing was an intrusion into what I considered my own personal space.)

Many botanical studies are confirming what indigenous populations have always known: that plants are sentient, they feel pain and pleasure, they consciously share resources. Plants may move and live in slow time, in deep time, but they are aware of life and death.

At times like these, I keep simple ceremonies.

May the spirits of the wildflowers and the other wild plants know that their seeds are welcome to settle in our yard. If I should ever need or desire to cull them, respect and gratitude will be extended to them.