Smoke Among the Trees

“I am still fascinated with stories of survivors of all things, refugees, endangered species that reemerge, the ways that a burned and scorched forest yields seedlings.”

Like Gerri, I too have survived intense and difficult times (and corresponding depression) and have friends who have endured the same. The metaphor of trees returning to the forest feels particularly apt.

As the ashes cool, the first seedlings appear. They’re tender and delicate, the first tentative steps back into the world. They need light, nourishment, and time most of all. They may be the seeds of something that has been around all along or something new split open by the fire. It doesn’t matter what they are, all that matters is the nurturing.

Some of those will take root and grow deeper supports, some are meant to live briefly and build the conditions for another to take root. Just as an experienced eye can look at a forest and see early and old growth, you can look into another’s eyes and see their still-trembling parts and majestic strengths.

“It would be years before I dealt with my depression and addictive patterns and even longer before I forgave myself. I would later learn to call that period a dark night of the soul, and honor it as an initiatory opening to a healing path that I would walk for the rest of my life.”

I believe one of the things we’ve lost as a culture is awareness of how long these journeys actually are. Medicine treats so much of this as a transient condition, something like a brief infection that will get better with the right pill. The hope is that one has left the original damage behind and created a new world.

In my experience it’s more like walking out of the devastation and starting to change your clothes. The smoke-filled layers come off one by one, then comes the careful cleaning of the traces that merged into your skin and all the way to the bone. Then you rebuild, layer by layer, from the inside out. The initial beliefs and actions that supported you give way to newer, more supple strengths. You find a new way of presenting yourself, a new flow and structure, a new recognition of others who have been through the fire.

And yet, the body never forgets. There’s still the scent of smoke in the back of the nose, the roughness of grief in the lungs, the remembered feel of cinders underfoot. The feelings are never truly forgotten as they were the genesis of your strength today.

Nor is the path straight. The road spirals back through the original forest, sometimes circling patterns that helped right after the fire, sometimes to return and recover something left behind. Sometimes it’s necessary to return, sift through the ashes, and plant something anew.

If you’ve walked this path, or love someone who has, please be kind. Please understand that the surface can be deceiving. It can be easy to see the glory of the new-grown forest and miss the ruin at the center. It can be easy to be dismayed when a whiff of smoke draws one back to the injury. But that too is a path of healing, as our resistance and awareness constantly present the next part that is ready to grow.

If you’re back in the forest, can you look to a friend and reach out a hand? If you’re outside, can you come in as far as comfortable and reach out yours? Simply put, we need each other.

Breaking the shell

Think about someone you know who lives in a world of “less than” (it may even be yourself). Women are often treated as “less than” men, the poor seen as “less than” the rich, blacks treated “less than” whites, “queer” less than “straight”, “trans” less than those who live in their assigned gender, etc. Even the child who is different from her peers is called “less than”.

There’s an emotional shell that forms from the repeated judgements, the invisible cultural barriers, and the demands to “stay in your place”. It can become painful and reactive, tired of always protecting the tender person within. It’s the shell around a heart and the shell around a community.

As without, so within. “Less than” is a story we also tell ourselves.

Think about someone you know who lives in a world of “more than” (it may even be yourself). Someone who has the privilege of their race, gender, and/or affluence. Someone whose voice carries weight. There’s a shell there too, often with the fear of loss of status and possibly a discomfort over being part of the more-than/less-than system. They might seem blinkered or arrogant, but is there also a tinge of fear underneath?

We’ve all held someone else back and we’ve all held ourselves back. This binds us all. Where can we find liberation?

Love may call you to approach the mechanisms of privilege and suppression. It’s not easy. All too often, when our shells touch it brings pain and reactivity on all sides. Whenever you’re pushed back toward the invisible barriers or someone points out your role in maintaining them, let love call you back from the edge. Whether that challenge seems righteous or unfair, let love call you back from the edge. Listen to the part of yourself that is responding and see if there’s a corresponding part in the other person.

We are all human and we are all tender underneath. There is always a way to build a bridge.

If you are on this path, you know the discipline of responding to ego with love. Sometimes love needs to listen, accept, and reach out; sometimes it needs to listen, accept the person, and draw the line that says “No, that behavior harms both of us, and we both deserve better.” Sometimes it needs to witness in silence.

You know that love can be relentless. It can hold all this.

I invite you into this practice: to approach these questions in whatever way suits you; to hold yourself in love whenever this becomes a challenge; and to hold all challengers (including yourself) with fierce and tender love.

Let the shell open. Let yourself open.

Inviting the Shadow

Let me hold your hand
As the tea grows cold,
The day’s embers fade,
And frogs grow silent.

Our eyes in first light,
Words all flown overnight,
This soul who I knew,
Half glimpsed, in my youth.

I would embrace you
and ask forgiveness
For the untimely parting

And bring your grace to
warm this waiting hearth.
My beloved soul,
Join me in the light.

Brightness, rising

Do the things that light you up.

Do the things that light you up, for the light it kindles in you.

Do the things that light you up, for the light it kindles in you draws others who live in their brightness.

Do the things that light you up, for the light it kindles in you draws others who live in their brightness. In that shining community we see the places within that call out for more light, more love, and the smoky kiss of desire.

May the light flow in, may desire be known, and may the sparks thus planted grow into their own bright flames to warm and enlighten us all.

With love this Solstice day

Touching the Wound

Einstein said that every object bends space and time around itself. Something that comes into its influence sees itelf as moving in a straight line, but everyone else sees it curving. In the same way, a deep wound can bend both emotions and actions into orbit around it – not just the emotions felt in the wound, but actions that often recreate and sustain the original injury.

Each successive piece pulled into the wound adds a little more mass, a little more power to distort. Pack enough of these together, wall it off (as we do in pain), and the result can be a drastic shift in emotions as somebody’s innocent action spirals and crashes into the hidden mass.

The challenge lies in the ways that emotions and actions distort around the core. I’ve seen many people try to charge into the wound, break it open with force, and remake it with their bare hands. These actions often get bent around to feed the original wound.

Instead, consider softening. Find your awareness, find the spark of love, find the tools that Love gives you as one of its warriors.

If you’re feeling that wound, I invite you to take a breath. Do what helps you remain present in your body and aware of your soul. Come into your own beautiful Presence.

Look inward, softly. See that wounded part floating gently in space. Let love gently infuse around and through that center.

Slowly and gently, you can let the healing happen. With tender attention, watch as layers and pieces flake off, slowly dissolve, and spread gently into the flow of love. Every piece carries a bit of your life’s power, and this power will be cleansed and added to the flow. Flashes of memory may appear; simply breathe and let them go into the stream.

You don’t have to do this all at once. You don’t have to do it alone. You can return to the work when you are called back, you can bring your tools of awareness and ritual, you can make this work your own.

As the healing unfolds, watch for what lies at the center – the tender innocence that has been calling, through your dreams, for so long. Let that shining heart that called to you with love call out to the world. The world will answer, and this will be worth the journey.

Surrender into Freedom

When you’re struggling, don’t quit. Surrender.

Think of the last time you reached for something you wanted, but didn’t succeed. If you gave up, there’s probably a piece of you that feels left behind. It’s like Aesop’s fable of the Fox and the Grapes: unable to reach the grapes after several attempts, the Fox dismissed them as probably unripe and sour.

Our desires are often rich, ripe, and juicy. Sourness doesn’t become them, nor does abandonment. So what can you do when the desires feel out of reach?

20130319-132215.jpg You can surrender. You can listen for the stories that keep you trying the same approach. Loosen your grip on them. They want you to keep fighting the same inner battle, so you surrender that fight. You let go, and the stories let you go, freeing you to take a different approach and another angle.

Cheri Huber writes that “Fear is a green light”, that taking a step in the direction of the fear leads us to freedom. We can be aware of the old stories and choose not to enter the fight again, but step toward the dangerous, desirous place and see that the danger is entirely illusory.

I found myself struggling with my physical limitations in yoga practice, and the stories were rising up strongly. I was ready to give up the practice. So I decided to try something new: I resolved to try each pose and notice what my body could do today. Accepting my body and its abilities has led to breakthroughs on the yoga mat and in life. (I also see the part of me that tells fearful stories and accept it.)

The stories that hold us back become habits. What’s your habit? When you reach a challenge, what do you do? Do you push through, attack the problem, back away, or give up? When you want something, do you reach toward it or hold your hands closed in fear?

Can you take just one of the old battles and surrender the next time it arises? Call a truce and try stepping into the unknown. I hear the grapes are sweet and juicy there.


This Great Love shines through us. We are the vessels through which Love manifests in this world. How can we not love ourselves? Every atom we are composed of came from the very same beginnings of our Universe. Knowing that how can we not love our neighbours as ourselves?

I love you. Now that you know someone loves you, can you love yourself a little more? Peace begins here, in a nurtured heart.

(Originally posted @ kiyowara dot typepad dot com)