Friday Favorite – The Woods

The Woods Behind My House
Native land of the Osage, Shawnee, Miami, Adena, and Hopewell people

There are people who love the beach. There are people who love the mountains. I can absolutely appreciate the beauty and presence that captures the admiration of so many. It is awe-inspiring to sit on the beach, gazing out at the horizon past the crashing waves. It is breathtaking to experience the majesty of mountains drawing the eye to the thin place between the earth and sky.

Even so, I am a person who feels most enraptured by the beauty of the woods.

I didn’t live in the woods as a kid, but I had a view of a nice Midwestern woods, out past the farm field that bordered the backyard of my childhood home. My dad knew the farmer and had obtained permission for us to walk out in the field and woods, so sometimes we would try to go back and explore among the trees. It was pretty far to walk all the way back to the treeline, so we this wasn’t a frequent excursion, but I remember being drawn to what seemed like a wilderness and enchanted by the spongy moss that carpeted much of the earth around the trees when we did make the trek.

I also grew up camping for vacations–the only way we could really afford to do any travel–and these trips often included hiking forays in wooded areas. I have fond memories of these times, but it wasn’t until I was grown that I became consciously aware of the sense of home I experience among trees.

My husband and I started hiking together because we want to see as many National Parks as we can. Most of those public lands hold spectacular natural wonders. Yet I’ve realized over the years that I love simply being in a patch of trees and appreciating them, whether we are in majestic far-away places or simply the groves growing around the lake in our local state park.

We are fortunate to have woods that cross our property and I visit them as much as possible. I notice how they change over the seasons and try to embrace the changes as they come. There is a group of three large, old oak trees I visit regularly, greeting them with a “Hello, friends” each time I make it to where they live. There is one in particular I am drawn to. I think her name is Eve, even though I have no rational basis for thinking of her by this name.

When I’m visiting “our” woods, I often wonder about the people long ago who walked among the ancestors of the trees I see now, back when humans lived reciprocally with the land and no one thought they owned it. I pause and breathe deeply, trying to appreciate the way that I am breathing out what the trees need just like they are exhaling what I need.

I make an effort to stand still and listen to whatever birds may be sharing their song or to watch for whatever creature may venture into my line of sight if I am still long enough. I place my hand on Eve’s trunk and bless her, thinking of how she was here long before me and will still be here in some form after I’m gone, even if that form is giving back to some of the saplings I can see sprouting up in the distance as I lean against her.

Being in the woods helps me pay attention. They remind me that there is reciprocity and abundance inherent to the earth that it’s easy to lose sight of in our individualistic, market-driven culture. They remind me that there is something beautiful about every season. And they always have a welcome for any of us who are willing to wander in and see what they can teach us.

The Woods Behind My House
Native land of the Osage, Shawnee, Miami, Adena, and Hopewell people

Friday Favorite – L.R. Knost

Image from @lrknost

As a young parent, I was told that I had to be strict with my kids, that I couldn’t let them manipulate me, that I had to establish my authority with them from a young age, otherwise I would lose total control of my household–and worse, the souls of my children. This called for inflexible rules, a firm voice, and spanking for any act of defiance, disobedience, or disrespect.

And I tried. I hate to admit that I parented this way for several years, but it was the way I was parented and any doubts I expressed were met swiftly with directives that I must stay the course or risk wayward children. So in those years when my tender little ones were learning and growing and trying to figure out this great big world and their people in it, I was struggling to control them using force and punishment.

But….. It.Did.Not.Work. My heart was broken. My spirit ached. I was acutely aware of the hypocrisy of trying to teach my kids to be kind and gentle when many times I was the opposite of that. Their “bad” behavior rarely changed, or it only changed when I was threatening punishment.

Then one day I was reading the daily office and in two different readings were references to love being kind (Psalm 69 and 1 Corinthians 13). And all I could think of was that if love is kind and I am not being kind to my children, then I am not showing them love. And I decided I had a lot of work to do and that I could not possibly spank them or harshly punish them going forward.

This was a wonderful revelation, but also created a vacuum in my parenting resources, as I had no reference for where to go next. If kindness was my goal, how does that translate into maintaining one’s footing in the family? Was anarchy the only alternative?

Thankfully, I discovered L.R. Knost, whose posts on social media provided wisdom and guidance. It turns out, there is an entire movement of Gentle/Peaceful/Respectful parents who believe that rather than control, the goal of parenting is to help our children grow into the wonderful humans they were born to be, cultivating a willingness to grow alongside them. Rather than starting from a place of assuming the worst and taking every behavior and reaction as defiance or disrespect, they offer resources to help you look behind the behavior for opportunities to nurture compassion, kindness, and respect.

Ms. Knost reminds us that children are hard-wired to connect with those who care for them and that rather than betraying that connection with punishment, shame, and harm, we can always find ways to respond with love and empathy to strengthen the bond and encourage growth.

One of the best things about the content L.R. Knost creates for her pages is that you don’t have to be a parent to appreciate and learn from it. You can be someone in the process of healing from wounds you carry from your own childhood. You can be a person who spends time with other people’s children. You can be that person who doesn’t even especially like kids and who judges parents of rowdy kids in the supermarket. All of us can take something away from the wisdom she shares because she reminds us that the deepest truth about our humanity is that all of us flourish when we are embodying compassion, empathy, kindness, and care.

I’m so grateful not only for finding a new way to parent, but also for finding L.R.’s work and all that I have learned from it. For someone I have never met, she has contributed greatly to the transformation of my parenting and my life. She is my Friday Favorite this week and I encourage you to check her out.

Image from @lrknost

You can find L.R. Knost on Facebook at L.R.Knost – Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources and on Instagram at @lrknost

Friday Favorite – Sacred Instructions

When I decided to start a new blog, I knew that in addition to my own story I wanted to share some of what has buoyed my spirits, challenged me, and supported me along the way. Here is the first of what I hope will be many Friday Favorites where I will share books, sites, articles, and more that I hope others will appreciate as much as I do.

Sacred Instructions: Indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit-Based Change
Author Sherri Mitchell | Published by North Atlantic Books
Feb 13, 2018 | 256 Pages | ISBN 9781623171957

I am fortunate to have encountered a vast array of wisdom as I’ve worked to navigate the past few years. I have people in my life who are voracious learners, who are generous in sharing new knowledge and books and insights they encounter. I’m also the kind of person who, when I read a quote in another work or hear something mentioned that stands out to me, will look up the source to see if there is more I can learn.

My priest recently mentioned this book, Sacred Instructions, in a conversation about the imbalance of masculine and feminine in our culture. I was intrigued, as this is a theme I’ve been encountering from a variety of sources over the past few months. Always fascinated by synchronicity, and finding there was an audio version available so I could listen on my commute, I purchased a copy and dove in.

You know that feeling when you hear or read something that takes scattered thoughts and half-formed ideas that have been surfacing in your mind for a long time and presents them to you in a way that makes them coherent and demanding of your attention? And how this humbles you with the gap between where you are with those musings and the incredible genius of the work someone else has already done to make it all so clear?

That is what this book has done for me.

I have listened with a mixture of awe, rage, despair, wonder, and hope. Awe at the mind, words, presence, and wisdom of the author. Rage over the stark truths she presents. Despair that we have allowed desecration of people and the earth to occur and continue for generations. Wonder at the beauty of her native culture, the sacred customs of her people, and their willingness to share them with the rest of us for the betterment of all and the salvation of Mother Earth. And, gratefully, with hope that there could be a path forward if we are willing to listen and learn.

Sacred Instructions is a clear-eyed look at our culture’s paradigms and a guide for what we must do to change them, heal, and make life sustainable on this planet again. In a disarmingly gentle, yet direct way, Ms. Mitchell dismantles the lies that prop up the dominant narratives that have led to such widespread oppression, injustice, and exploitation. She does not flinch or look away from how her people have borne the most heinous outcomes of these these narratives, yet she uses these examples to show how we are all suffering as a result.

She outlines the ways we have become separated from each other and our true nature and reminds us that our survival as a species is bound inextricably with doing the work to heal ourselves and reconnect with one another. She gives practical steps we can take to join together and chart a path away from the one we’re currently on that leads to our collective destruction.

This book is beautifully written, accessibly concise, and a vital call to action, but is not for the faint of heart. It will require you to examine yourself and the status quo, and, if you’re anything like me, it will make you deeply uncomfortable. But these are times that call for us to wake up and see clearly so we can stop causing harm to ourselves, other people, and creation. Sherri Mitchell has given us a starting place to help us do just that. I would love for more people to read it and begin taking action, so I am making Sacred Instructions my first Friday Favorite. I hope you’ll let me know what you think if you read it and what steps you will start with in your own life.