Looking out, seeing in

I wrote the following in support of an organization that strives to connect youth with wilderness. I feel even more strongly now in these days of turmoil that if we can ground our children in the strength and gifts of wild places, as wild as we can get them to, they will have a chance to discover the strength and gifts in themselves that they will need as they go forward. It's a window that opens onto my deeply held beliefs about nature, about parenting, and about the well of possibility that bubbles in our young people.  I'm sharing it because as parents, sometimes we need to look through our children's eyes.
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     I think it was the car ride home when she said it. Jo was in the back seat gazing out the window, far from her canoe's stern seat on the Missinaibi River. But I think that's what she was seeing in her mind's eye, the long view over water and scrubby vegetation that opens up to the sky of the far north:

“You know, the more beautiful stuff you look at, the healthier your eyes get.” 

"Everyone must believe in something. I believe I'll go canoeing."
~ Henry David Thoreau ~
      All summer this theory, proposed by her bowman Annie, had been a guiding point for them. Living with the land, following the water, reading the sky, their journey took them far from the ease of home. With each sunset or waterfall, I imagine them turning to each other knowing that yes, their eyes were growing stronger, and so was their friendship, their inner strength, their physical endurance, their freedom.

     This is why I support the work that organizations like Wabun do. They do what I as a parent can't do. A journey into wilderness with capable peers, supported by a base of experienced and tested staff, strips these young people of the noise and stress and temptations of their home world and adds the self-knowledge, surety and confidence that comes when life is simplified to its most basic – and beautiful – self.

     I've been a camper on wilderness journeys myself. I've led them. It was with awe and hope that I watched my own children leave me to embark on their own journeys. And Jo, my daughter in the back seat? Now she's head staff at Wabun leading young women on their own journeys towards Hudson Bay.

"The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness."
~ John Muir ~
      Friends of Wabun* was formed to support these kinds of organizations and the youth who seek these opportunities. I give out of gratitude for what I consider the most important, self-defining, and empowering experiences my children have had. I give because I believe that these organizations need to stay alive. I give because I know that young people from all walks of life need this, and their world will be a better place for them and their peers. I give because I want their inner-looking and their outward-seeing eyes to be strong. 

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*The organization I support is Friends of Wabun. Whether it is through urban-based programs working to get youth into natural settings for a meaningful experience, partnerships with indigenous communities, camps like Wabun, or other organizations sharing our goals, our work is to support the confluence of youth and wilderness. A statement of our guiding beliefs is here


A Letter to my Children

     My dear daughters: 

     I was hoping to share with you this morning the glow of making history together. Yesterday, I really felt our connection as women for the first time. Your initiatory Presidential election vote offered perhaps the starkest differential between candidates this nation has ever seen. I truly believe our responsibility is to vote for the best candidate first, regardless of gender or race or religion, and it was a triumph to be able to choose superior intellect and experience residing in the character of a strong woman. We still won that. Hillary Rodham Clinton won the battle for integrity, never compromising her compassion for people with her drive to keep the country safe and prosperous.

     Don't despair. We are Americans. We. Are. Americans. We voted. We will continue to vote and choose our own government, and that -- for all its periodic tumult -- is one of the greatest blessings of our nation. Your voice did count, and it will count again.

     It is time now to listen. It's time to understand why Donald Trump was elected. It's time, as women, to combine our own compassion with our intellect and see where we can say "yes, I hear you, let's work together to try something new here". Anger, entrenching deeper and planting our self-righteous flags, name-calling, and cynicism do not serve our country -- and they fester in our souls. Retreating into self-pity does the same.

     We are women. We have the gift of compassion and connection. Enough people in our country are so hurting or fearful that they voted us into this new territory. I challenge you, my daughters, just as I challenge myself, to tune your hearts towards that hurt and fear, and find some way to be open to what needs to change. Ignore the chest-thumping. Learn mediation skills. Build on your own values: take our angry, fearful, poor, rich, disconnected fellow citizens out into the forests or mountains or parks near you, exposing them to beauty. Build gardens together; create art. In every person you encounter, find the inner place where you connect. There is spirit in every one of us, and from your strengths, you might be able to be part of the Great Healing that needs to happen.

     I realize this is for you too, my son. It's not just women that are hurting today, and it's not just women who can be compassionate. Bring your gifts to this work we need to do together, and perhaps in four years when you vote in your first Presidential election, it will be a different story. Now, let's hug each other, and let's get going.

Love, Mom


Sensing our connection

I have this cool thing called an energy ball. It's my favorite prop. 
Innocent looking ping pong ball 

Picture this*: a group of people is sitting together in a large comfortable room, mostly strangers, uncertain about what's going to happen. An instinct drew each person to this place: an awareness that something is missing, a hollowness perhaps, a curiosity maybe, almost always a longing to get out of the schedule-driven expectations that dictate their life. They want to make contact with their own inner self, to see if there is comfort there, a recognition of what they used to know before life got so crazy. But they're nervous because this is so personal and here they are with people they don't know. This is when I pull out the energy ball. 

"Ok, everybody hold hands with the person next to you." Tentative obedience. "Now...", I pick up a ping-pong ball and hold it, touching a little metal contact strip: "you touch it here" I say to the person next to me, indicating the other little contact strip. Suddenly the ball lights up and flashes making spooky noises. Delight surges around the group, the reality of energy flowing through us dawning on them. We really are connected by energy. It is one of the fundamental things we want them to take away from the workshop: we are all connected, influencing each other and being influenced. Awareness of this brings a great wealth of resources, from sensitivity and understanding of others, to insights into challenges, to patience and even love for oneself. 

I felt it this morning when I took the dogs out to walk through our fields. They were on my list, and I needed to get them out so I could get to the other things.
It hit me mid-field: the light was filtered, the tree leaves copperish, the air cool but soft -- nothing was breath-taking. Then through my unseeing self-absorption I heard the crickets doing their late summer "ch-ch", maybe for the last time now that it's November. I heard them with something deep inside, that memory place that sounds and smells can evoke: "ch-ch". And my whole body relaxed, my mind relaxed, and I saw the beautiful trees in that soft light and gentle air and felt myself sink into connection with where I was. 

This is when it's time to drop the explanations. I felt it. Is this what it's like to have roots that reach through the soil, supporting and nurturing me, holding me steady? Is this what it's like to be one of many grasses in the field, feeling the same air riffle through us? If the energy ball was here, it would light up.

And it's not a "oh that's nice for you, Libby, but I'm here in the real world" thing. Being outside is my easiest pathway to connect with our inter-relatedness. There are other ways. Meditation, creativity, love, for example. What is important is that we cultivate that awareness and keep it with us as we navigate our task-driven days. When I come back to "the real world" with that inner sense alive in me, I see the people I talk to and the work I'm doing with something like a cushion around them and me; it's a little easier, a little more spacious, and I'm more open to what is possible. 

I forgot to say that in that moment of hearing the crickets "ch-ch" and feeling the return to my senses, the words that came out unbidden were thank you. Thank you. We are not strangers to each other. We are among life everywhere, participants together. Connecting. 
 *this describes a moment from our Opening Pathways LLC workshops