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Coming to Our Senses

Article by Leah Rampy (January 2019 eNews)

A crisp winter’s eve. The longest night in the season of deepest darkness. The incessant drizzle that had dogged us for days deigns to pause as a small group of us put on our coats and leave the building’s shelter for the blazing fire. Our first year together in this place and we are creating new rituals on a land that is slowly becoming home. As we reach the fire, it seems only natural to create a circle and so we turn back to the path from which we’ve come. Then we see her: the luminous full moon, startlingly large, rising just over our Common House, gifting us with her clarity and brilliance. We are beyond words. Consumed by her immense and timeless beauty, the only possible response is to stand in awe.

What an incredible gift Creation offers us! Awe and wonder transform us. I am not the same, having been struck by wonder; concerns, worries and fear retreat as I am more fully open and present to what is, just as it is. Inhabiting the present moment, heart open to the Sacred all around me, I know that all are one in Mystery.

How much we all need to be struck by wonder! Understandably we are so often captured by our strong emotional response to all that is happening around us. We grieve for the children, the species, the wild places, all being lost at a breathtaking rate, and we know that the life we seem to keep choosing will not alter that. We feel frustrated that we cannot seem to stay in loving conversation with those on the “other side”—or sometimes even with those we hold dear. We are angry that others do not embrace our clearly superior values—and much of the time we fail pretty miserably on that front ourselves. We tell ourselves to shape up, to “be better,” that this year we will keep that long list of New Year’s resolutions. So the hamster-wheel of our mind carries on trying to figure out how to change how we feel, the actions we deplore, and the person we’ve become. As the sage poet Mary Oliver wrote, “I am so distant from the hope of myself, in which I have goodness, and discernment, and never hurry through the world but walk slowly, and bow often.” So are we all.

How then might we connect to our deeper selves, to the Holy around and within? How can we sink into Wisdom that holds our weariness, sorrow, blame, shame, grief and recrimination in a larger context of love and connection? We know that the answer does not lie in thinking harder, doing more, or creating stricter resolutions. Our spiritual hearts are calling us to deeper connection to the Sacred within and around, opening us more fully to beauty, mystery, and oneness. The mystics of our contemplative tradition show us that there are many paths to deeper connection—and all lead through the heart. On the path of awe and wonder, Nature longs to be our guide.

One of the delights of wonder is that it can capture us when we are least expecting it. The sunset painting the sky in incredible colors, cloudscapes no artist would dream, majestic mountains stopping us in our tracks; streams babbling with joy; tiny communities in an inch of moss; synchronicity of oaks in a mast year—wonder can find us in any moment. Indeed day after day, moment by moment, Nature pours out her gifts, showering us with immense, microscopic, abundant, sparse, vibrant, soft offerings that we may freely receive. What a blessing that we can be caught by wonder! Of course the challenge is that we are not always available to see wonder even when it is right before us; as it offers itself, we are hurrying past with eyes too clouded to see.

One of the reasons that I’m so passionate about leading pilgrimages is that, when we practice seeing with “pilgrim eyes,” we tune into wonder. Time and again, I am honored to witness how our participants are blessed by the wisdom of old growth forests in the Olympic Peninsula of the Pacific Northwest or aligned with the centuries of prayers that seem to rise from the ground of the holy Isle of Iona. Visiting Newfoundland to plan the 2019 pilgrimage there, I felt my heart expanding with the puffins, whales and abundant sea life as they flew, leapt and swam, seemingly relishing their place “in the family of things.”

We open our senses even more fully as we gaze from the spiritual heart. One of the quotes I share often on pilgrimage is by William Butler Yeats: “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” As I prepared materials for the past pilgrimage to the Pacific Northwest, I noticed that I’d been remembering that quote incorrectly. I’d transposed it to: “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for us to come to our senses.” That too!

So what if we were to explore 2019 as a year of sharpening our senses—or coming to our senses, if you prefer—so that we are increasingly available to be captured by wonder? Hasn’t the world been waiting patiently for us long enough? Might we willingly and mindfully accept the gifts Earth offers with grace and gratitude? But be aware: “A gift,” as Robin Wall Kimmerer noted in Braiding Sweetgrass,“creates a relationship.” Struck by the gift of wonder, we might find ourselves seeing the Sacred all around and within, sensing our kinship with every being, becoming more deeply aware of the Love in which all “live, move and have their being,” and responding in love and gratitude.

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