Tag Archives: nature

prayer-examen-garden

Do more of this

I recently attended a workshop at a local nursery called Hydrangeas 101, covering the basics of successfully growing Hydrangeas. I had questions about the one that came with my house, as this is my first experience with this particular flower.

When I moved here, I had Googled “pruning Hydrangeas” and learned that pruning was a no-no. Numerous websites advised planting them where they have enough room to grow to their full size. Mine has room; I was more interested in knowing if it needed to be pruned for its health.

At the end of the hour-long workshop, I had the answers to my questions, and I walked out of the nursery aware that I was feeling light and happy.

Gardening is one of my favorite things and learning about flowers is as much fun as the actual gardening. I joined the local garden club when I moved here four years ago, to learn what is indigenous and what grows best in this zone. Now, I watch Monarch butterflies on Echinacea and hummingbirds at the Rose of Sharon.prayer-examen-garden

But, back to the workshop and the lightness I felt when I left.

I am by nature a curious person. Not nosey (I barely know my neighbors or their habits), but inquisitive; I love to learn.

As I walked out of the nursery, the words that popped into my heard were, Do more of this. The feeling was similar to the one I have when I am leaving my Polish classes—happy, light and free.

Entering with the awareness that I am seeking knowledge and leaving having acquired something—a clearer understanding of what my Hydrangea needs in order to be happier, or perhaps one new Polish word—it does not have to be much to make me happy.

Do more of this. The words reminded me of a prayer practice developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola called The Examen.

St. Ignatius saw the benefit of periodically stopping during the day and looking at how the day was going. Was he drawing closer to God through his words and actions? Or was he moving away from God?

I have heard The Examen explained in a number of ways, but the main point is to look at how the day is unfolding, to look at patterns in our lives, and to do more of the things that draw us closer to God and less of those that take us away from God.prayer-examen-gardenI tend to think of gratitude as an indicator of how my day is going. If it am feeling grateful, things are generally good. If I am feeling resentful or jealous or put upon in some way, I know I need to change something because what I am doing is moving me away from God.

The Examen can be helpful in leading me away from toxic people and situations. It can help point out patterns that are harmful and also patterns that are grace-filled. The Examen redirects me toward God and freedom.

 

 

Living intentionally

This is the beginning of a new day. God has given me this day to use as I will. I can waste it or use it for good.

What I do today is very important because I am exchanging a day of my life for it.

When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever, leaving something in its place I have traded for it.

I want it to be gain not loss, good not evil, success, not failure in order that I shall not forget the price I paid for it.   Paul “Bear” Bryant

I found this piece when I was sorting through my friend Jim’s papers. Like Bear Bryant, I want to pay attention to how I am spending my days, to live each day conscious of what that something is that I am leaving at the end of the day.

When I ask myself what a successful day looks like, I think of how open I was to God. Was I of service to someone? Was I loving, compassionate and forgiving? Did I pay attention to the gifts God offered me throughout the day? Did I say yes more than I said no?

I begin my day letting the dog out and stepping outside with her. I like to look up to see the stars and listen for the sounds of nature.

At this time of year, the crickets are full-throated, and I love to listen to their morning song. Do they only sing in the morning? I wonder, or is there so much other noise during the day that I do not hear them?

Mary Oliver wrote in The Summer Day,

…Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

The grasshoppers in my yard are abundant and very large this year. The other day, I watched one sitting on a zinnia.

grasshopper2

When I can tune into the seemingly smallest things happening in nature, I can then be more open to notice the nuances of relationships, of people who are in need of a kind word or some assistance. I can slow down, listen, look and appreciate every day.

The Summer Day ends with a question:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

I want to live my one wild and precious life intentionally, noticing the little things that happen around me, attentive to God and the abundant gifts God offers me every day. Only then can I hope to use each day for the good God desires. Only then do I know that I am trading my day for gain, good and success.

 

 

 

Mindfulness

One wall of our parish chapel is made up of floor-to-ceiling stained-glass windows. A circle of deep red-orange sits in the center panel, and from that core come colorful lines and swirls in shades of orange, yellow, purple and green. It is a beautiful mosaic, one I have looked at many times; but last week, for the first time, I noticed that the window is not one-dimensional. Pieces of glass randomly rise up from the base, adding dimension and movement. I was surprised by this discovery.

How is it possible, I wondered, that I have looked at this window so many times and not noticed this design feature?

I became intrigued by the mosaic and began to look more closely at the window, noticing the juxtaposition of shapes and colors. I sat in different areas of the chapel to give me different views of the window. I was entranced by the subtleties of its design, and as I paid more attention to the window, my appreciation for its beauty grew.

This, I think, is what being mindfulness is about, this intentionally slowing down, paying attention and noticing—looking at what is right in front of me and seeing it in a different way.

Living mindfully takes practice and energy. It requires me to focus, to notice, to look and to see. It is a discipline.

Living mindfully, it seems to me, is the antithesis of what is valued in our culture, where we love to talk about how busy we are.  Busy with what? I often wonder.

I find I am most able to be mindful early in the morning. Walking the dog, I am aware of the sun coming up and coloring the sky, of which flowers are in bloom (lilacs right now), of birds singing and squirrels playing. I am aware of the gentle breeze moving the air around me and shaking the treetops one street over. It is the most peaceful time of my day, and I am deeply appreciative for the quiet of it. Sitting on my sun porch, writing this,

Once I leave for work, though, I struggle to hold onto this level of awareness, to stay open to the little joys of my day.

I recently read an article about mindfulness, which suggested creating a calendar of positive experiences, and recording at least one moment of joy or gratitude every day. Even pausing for one moment to reflect on something positive can reshape the day and provide a different perspective.

The image of the stained-glass window is the reminder I carry these days—a reminder to look more closely and to be open to surprises that are right in front of me, if I only take the time to notice.

The Uninvited Visitor

As I was coming home yesterday, a cat greeted me in the driveway. It started to walk with me toward the house, as if it planned to enter, and it occurred to me that this cat may have visited the previous owner of the house. I shooed it away and closed the gate.

A few minutes later, I let Detroit out, noticing too late that the cat was sitting on top of the gate, ready to re-enter the yard. Detroit took care of that, running toward the gate, barking like a banshee. The cat ran and Detroit entered her yard, sniffing for telltale signs of the cat’s visit.

A few hours later, I let Detroit out again to play in the yard, not thinking that the cat may have returned. But it had, and it was hiding under the hedge that runs along the fence between my next-door neighbor’s house and mine.

Detroit ran straight to it, and she and the cat engaged in battle. The cat had strategically situated itself against the trunk of a shrub so that Detroit could not reach it from behind. Undeterred, Detroit approached from the front.

Each time Detroit advanced, the cat took a swipe and Detroit momentarily retreated, only to regroup and jump back into the fray—a regular Rocky Balboa. She and the cat sparred for a while, neither willing to give up.

I was frantically trying to get Detroit to come out from under the bushes and get her into the house. I feared that the cat might get the better of Detroit—it was the bigger of the two and its gimpy hind leg told me this was not its first fight.

Unsuccessful at separating them, I finally cried to the heavens in exasperation, “I can’t take this!”

Just then, my neighbor came home, and I explained what was happening. “It’s probably here for the birds,” he speculated.

Ah, yes, the birds.

A robin was sitting in a nest under the eaves of my garage. I had noticed the nest when I moved in last summer, and had intended to take it down, but never got around to it. Before the snow had completely melted this spring, the robin had taken up residence; the cat was keeping vigil, waiting for baby birds to fly.

As I pondered the situation, I wondered if this cat had claimed this territory last year (and maybe for many prior years), unaware that this year, there was a new sheriff in town named Detroit who now claimed this yard as her own. Detroit intended to defend her property against all intruders and had been practicing on squirrels and birds. This was her first cat intruder. She was ready and undaunted.

I finally got Detroit into the house and am not letting her roam freely, just in case the cat is lurking in the hedge. I know that once the baby birds are gone, the cat will leave, and I will take down the nest—and Detroit can once again patrol her property.