Listen to me read the post…
I had a dream once, that my body had become part of the landscape. The curve of my belly was now a hill that people and animals were walking across. Small children were playing on my forearms and trees were growing in the soil between my fingers rooting my hands to the ground. It was not an unpleasant dream – in fact I found it quite comforting to witness my body sinking into the soil and becoming a part of it. I awoke feeling rooted and at peace.
I’ve been remembering that dream these past weeks as I’ve been wandering in the woods and along the shoreline of this island that is becoming my new chosen home. After sixteen months of traveling the world with my laptop and a small suitcase, I’ve landed on Vancouver Island – a place I’ve long felt drawn to but have only had a flirtatious relationship with.
I want to become part of the landscape here. My wandering feet are ready to root themselves, to find familiar paths that feel like home, to learn to know trees that feel like kin. Though I was born and bred a prairie girl and will always know the prairies as my first love, there is something about this landscape that brings both soothing and aliveness to my body in a way that feels right for this season of my life.
On these misty cool days of a Pacific north-western December, while I deepen my relationship with this landscape and this climate, I’ve found myself drawn back into the work of John O’Donohue, a poet and mystic who could translate landscape into language in ways that most writers only dream of. Reading and listening to him anew has awakened something in me that feels true and good for this moment. While I am here, I want to slow down and live as the mystics have taught us to live. I want to unleash the inner mystic in me and lean into whatever wisdom awaits among the tall trees and rocks on the wild shoreline.
“What you encounter, recognize or discover depends to a large degree on the quality of your approach. Many of the ancient cultures practiced careful rituals of approach. An encounter of depth and spirit was preceded by careful preparation.
“When we approach with reverence, great things decide to approach us. Our real life comes to the surface and its light awakens the concealed beauty in things. When we walk on the earth with reverence, beauty will decide to trust us. The rushed heart and arrogant mind lack the gentleness and patience to enter that embrace.” – John O’Donohue (From Beauty: The Invisible Embrace)
On Saturday, I sat on a rock at the edge of the sea, looking out into the shrouded expanse of the horizon. Noticing movement at the edge of my vision, I looked down and there was a seal, floating on its back just feet away, looking up at me with curious, friendly eyes. “Welcome to the neighbourhood,” it seemed to say. “Take care of the place and treat your neighbours well and you’ll find a way to belong here amongst your kin.”
In January, I’ll be moving into a small apartment in a quiet little town near a lake. When I first came here, I thought I’d be living in the city. I’ve become accustomed to having the conveniences of a city available to me ever since I left the rural life behind in those restless days of early adulthood. But I surprised myself when I landed here by falling in love with a place and becoming intrigued with the idea of returning to a more rural life. It might have something to do with the fact that I put “proximity to good walking trails” and “space to set up a hammock under a tree” on my wish list for my next home (a wish list I’m happy to say that this place fulfills completely).
While re-listening to John O’Donohue’s interview on the On Being podcast, which he did just before he died, his words about thresholds felt particularly timely. “If you go back to the etymology of the word ‘threshold,’” he said, “it comes from ‘threshing,’ which is to separate the grain from the husk. So the threshold, in a way, is a place where you move into more critical and challenging and worthy fullness.”
I have a lovely and nostalgic relationship with the word “threshing”. Among the highlights of my childhood were the visits we sometimes made (in years when we could afford such an outing) to the Austin Thresherman’s Reunion. After the parade of antique farming equipment passed by, the old threshing machines would be lined up on the dirt floor of the arena and the farmers (and wannabe farmers) would gather for a friendly threshing competition. My siblings and I would always coax our dad out into the arena, knowing that if he went down there, he would almost certainly bring home the prize – a shiny silver dollar. Few people could beat my dad when it came to the stooking competition. (To “stook” is to stack the sheaves of wheat in upright pyramids so that the heads of wheat have the best chance of drying.) Afterwards, the stooks would be fed into the threshing machines and the wheat would be shaken from its husks.
Years after losing my dad to a farming accident, I stand at this new threshold, reflecting on what it means to metaphorically separate the wheat from the chaff as I prepare for the seasons ahead. What will be harvested to nourish me over the winter and what will be saved for planting when the sun begins to warm the soil?
It’s not lost on me that only a week after I move into my new place, I’ll be launching my next book, Where Tenderness Lives: On healing, liberation and holding space for oneself. It seems an auspicious time to be sending this book, which I’ve worked so hard to gestate, out into the world. Like a pregnant parent, I’m now in the nesting phase that often marks the turning point when birth is on the horizon.
“I think a threshold is a line which separates two territories of spirit,” O’Donohue said in that interview. “And I think that, very often, how we cross is the key thing.”
Two territories of spirit. That’s an intriguing thought that won’t leave me alone. What is the territory I am leaving? What is the territory I’m moving into? How do my new book and my new home play into that? And how do I wish to cross over?
If these past few weeks have given me any clues (and I believe they have), the next territory of spirit will have something to do with a deepening relationship with Mystery and a kinship with the non-human beings I encounter in this new place. Perhaps while I lie back and look up at the giant tree that’s near the small patio where I intend to put up a hammock come Spring, my dream will be realized, and my body will become part of the landscape.
As I set my intention for how I wish to cross over into this next territory of spirit, I turn to Richard Wagamese, another wise guide whose final years were lived out not far from where I now live.
I want to listen deeply enough that I hear
everything and nothing at the same time and am
made more by the enduring quality of my silence.
I want to question deeply enough that I am made
more not by the answers so much as my desire to
continue asking questions. I want to speak deeply
enough that I am made more by the articulation
of my truth shifting into the day’s shape. In this
way, listening, pondering and sharing become my
connection to the oneness of life, and there is no
longer any part of me in exile.