30 October 2017

Wisdom from the Earth: Deepening Connection with the Web of Life

Focus Talk by Chris Farrow-Noble

October 19, 2017
Lighting the candle,
May the sun bring you new energy by day,
May the moon softly restore you by night,
May the rain wash away your worries,
May the breeze blow new strength into your being,
May you walk gently through the world and know its beauty
all the days of your life.
-Apache blessing

I’ve always felt closely connected to the Earth and Nature. My parents sometimes said, in a half-joking, half-serious way, that Nature was their religion. In my younger years, my natural highs were in the middle of nature – camping on the deep pine needles beneath the pines; hearing the sound of my skis on the dry snow and seeing the bluest sky between dark greens; or walking a shoreline, hearing the slip and slide of the water over rocks and sand, feeling content and peaceful. I chose to spend my precious free time in nature…hiking and camping in New Zealand, Switzerland, New England. In 2000 I had the life-changing experience of five weeks in East Africa among the elephants, leopards, wildebeests, rhinos, hippos, snakes, and 200 types of birds.

In more recent decades, my connection has been less intense. Now, living in the city, among buildings, streets, and primarily human-made structures, I’ve felt more separate from nature. I haven’t hiked, camped, or skied in years. I long to walk on an open beach, but instead, my steps take me around beautiful urban blocks with lovely trees. In the demanding pace of today’s life, I can sometimes go for days without registering nature around me.

And now, with the crisis front and center and all around us about the dangers that our natural world is facing, I am brought, face to face, with the absolute need to pay close attention to Nature. I’m aware of melting glaciers and widespread people and animals dealing with winds, water, hurricanes, and temperature. I am more aware of the impact of human beings on our tender, fragile yet resilient planet.

In fact, at this moment, each of the four primary elements is speaking to us on a global scale: Air and Wind ravaged recently in the form of Hurricane Edna, Jose, Maria and Orphelia in Ireland and Scotland. Wildfires continue in Northern California, the Northwest, and Portugal. Water is presenting itself in many forms – floods from Hurricane Harvey and Edna, tsunamis, low reservoirs. Earth is moving significantly in earthquakes and mudslides.

Yet since 1999 I have had a relationship with the labyrinth, and this companion has brought me opportunities to experience the web of life around me. These ancient designs have offered me chances to co-exist and create with the four elements. As an example, on my field-mown labyrinth in Maine that Chris and I created in 2005 for our wedding, I honored the four directions with the four elements, as represented in some Native American cultures. In the East, I honored Air and Spirit by placing a double drum for walkers to beat with a wooden stick. In the South, I honored Fire and placed a cairn of stones to represent Creativity, inviting people to add their stones. In the West, I honored Water and placed a blue bowl of fresh water for the Unknown, inviting walkers to cool themselves and the path with its moisture. In the North, I honored the Earth and placed a sitting Buddha on an oak stump with a mat for kneeling. Upon reaching each of these directions, I often paused, contemplated the element and its effect on me, asked for guidance or direction, and then walked on, slowly. I walked often from 2005 to 2014.

Then, in January 2014, I committed myself to walk a labyrinth every day and to record my experiences in order to explore this as a spiritual practice. I had never done anything every day for a year; I didn’t grow up with a religious practice of praying, meditating or even attending church regularly.

My joyful news today is that I have just published my journal of this year! (Hold it up.) Little did I know that one of the most profound results of this experiment would involve my relationship with Nature and the people in my life. I hadn’t felt an ongoing connection to nature for years. Yet through 2014, I felt a familiar intimate pull to Nature…to be more closely aware of all that was happening around me…and inside me…and in relationship to the people of my life. Let me share a few incidents from my book:

Page 95: “June 12. A low-flying Northern Tarrier Hawk was hunting close to the tips of the field grasses, dipping down with a slanting dive to hunt for small birds or mammals. He or she spanned the distance from MacArthur’s driveway to the far edge near the road. Now another large bird, perhaps the juvenile Eagle, flew and settled on a high branch of the highest evergreen at the small cluster of trees or copse at the corner. It wasn’t there long before it dropped down behind the tree. Perhaps it too caught sight of some meal. “
Page 102: “June 26. Oh, look! A turtle in our driveway! Turtle came to the labyrinth walk. Turtle with its earth wisdom and ancient presence. My neighbor says it is probably a snapping turtle, black shell, no color, probably a female laying eggs in the sandy driveway. The turtle moved slowly toward the trees. When I went back outside, she was nowhere to be seen. Imagine! Our first big turtle came to our walk.
And a profound learning experience from Nature, my teacher, from October 21st (page 156)
“Today is the day that Jake died. Today is the day I found Sparrow on the deck by the hot tub. I placed it on a large boulder down by Parker Stream. This is the third time that I’ve found a dead bird on the day that someone important in my life has died:
• May 19, 2002: I found the nest of dead birds and empty eggs in Lake Arrowhead on this day when Bette Noble died.
• October 23, 2002: I found a dead bird under the bush near the Bird of Paradise in front of Mom and Dad’s house on this day when Dad died.
• Today, October 21: I found a dead sparrow on the back deck on this day when Jake died.”
I rediscovered that my connection to Nature was always present, even when I only saw ordinary insects and plants. Increasingly I felt these small beings acknowledged my presence:

(Page 107): “July 4: One of those brilliant neon turquoise insects was on the side of the blue water bowl in the West. I moved it slightly to help it get out, and it fell back in. I got it out again, and it hopped immediately onto my hand. Then it flew to my shoulder and then to my back. I wasn’t certain where it was, but I kept walking to the Center. It was on me the whole way to the Center because when I arrived there, it dropped off onto the rocks. I like to imagine that it chose to walk the labyrinth with me. “

I recall this moment vividly. I am grateful that I had slowed down enough to register it as I experienced it. I can’t know with any certainty the existence of its awareness of me, but I can share what happened.
While walking the outdoor labyrinths in various seasons, I personally felt the impact of water, wind, cold, warmth, humidity, rain, ice, snow and the changing of the seasons. I felt the resemblance to walking the highlands of Scotland in April; I could see the devastation of the microburst on my mini-ecological sphere of the labyrinth. I could feel the relief of the snow-laden branches as I shook the extra weight of snow off. I smiled at the resistance of ice on the bottom of the bricks when I tried to move them before they had thawed. I deeply missed the connection between the soles of my feet and the earth when I had to stay inside and walk a finger labyrinth. Metaphors abound.
As I wrote my daily journal entries, I sometimes added a simple Thank you. Not to any particular deity or person or god, just a simple expression of thanks for something from that day. Some examples are “Thank you for the soft light so I could walk the labyrinth after dark; “Thank you, dear old Norway maple, for being there when I’m not, and when I am!” (page 112) “Thank you for this time of walking prayer.” (page 63)

I have also sensed a deeper connection to the intricate layers of life and death, present, past and future, through my nighttime dreams. I have kept dream journals since 1985 and am always stunned when I experience people who have died as well as those who are still living. My mother, Eleanor Dietrich Farrow, died on March 19, 2016; I have dreamed several times of her since then, as well as my dad, and other relatives who have died. Dreams can be critical connecting thread between this life and beyond. Here are two family dreams: The first is a dream on August 22, 2016, exactly 40 years to the day after my younger brother Don died. It’s titled “Don.”
Dream Journal, red flag)“I am bringing some tray or food to give to people under a tree in the city. I put it down on the ground and, suddenly, the person who was there stands up, straight and tall. It is Don! He says, “I was expecting a representation from you.” He is right beside me, fully seen – his face, his body. I am so aware that I haven’t seen him this fully or completely in my dreams. “

The second is a joyful one of my mother from July 15th of this year, entitled “Mom and her Suitcase.” (Dream Journal, yellow flag)

I am near Mom when she flops into a large roomy fabric suitcase and says, “I love this suitcase!”  I don’t really see her face.”

So, in my youth I chose to be in nature for recreation, inspiration, and beauty. During my full-time teaching, being single, and co-parenting time, I spent far less time in nature. In the last 15 years, I have found connection again through the labyrinth pathways and precious time with my loving new husband, Chris. Throughout my life, I have always treasured connection and sustained links with family and friends in my daytime life and nighttime dreams.
Yet now, I have a desire to connect at a deeper level with the compelling call of nature. We are in a crisis. I want to offer my gifts of writing, singing, and photography. I liken my voice to a stone thrown into still water with expanding ripples emanating from that stone. I want to be such a stone, as well as part of the rippling actions. I want to help inform others of the potentially catastrophic changes in our natural world. We are interdependent and influenced by each other’s actions and lack of actions. I want to be a positive force within a community of people who are taking steps forward together.

Nature, like nightmares, is calling to us, screaming at us to pay attention and take action. I want to “add my voice into the fight,” as Phil Ochs wrote so profoundly in 1966 in his song, When I’m Gone.
I’ll close with two verses from this song. Please join me.
All my days won’t be dances of delight when I’m gone
And the sands will be shifting from my sight when I’m gone
Can’t add my name into the fight when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here.

There’s no place in this world where I’ll belong when I’m gone
And I won’t know the right from the wrong when I’m gone
And you won’t find me singing on this song when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here.”
By Phil Ochs
© 1966 Barricade Music Inc
Rise Up Singing, page 229.

Thank you for being here today.
Chris Farrow-Noble, October 19, 2017

Link to the worldwide labyrinth locator is:  https://labyrinthlocator.com

30 March 2017

WomenExplore Lecture and Discussion Forum reflects on significance of media

The following is a reposting of Johnathan Kindall's review of a day at WomenExplore's lectures on 16th March 2017.  It was published on 21st March 2017 in the Daily Free Press, the independent student newspaper at Boston University.

Stephanie Leydon speaks Thursday afternoon at the Democracy Center
about how media acts as an informer and manipulator in today’s society. 

March 21, 2017  by Johnathan D. Kindall

WGBH television and radio reporter Stephanie Leydon met with a group of Boston residents and students at the Democracy Center in Cambridge Thursday afternoon to discuss power, problems and importance of modern media and communication.
WomenExplore, a longstanding lecture and discussion forum, hosted the talk. The self-characterized charity with an educational focus was officially founded as the Theological Opportunities Program at Harvard Divinity School in 1973, but the origins of the group stretch as far back as the 19th century.
Every spring and fall, WomenExplore holds a 10-week lecture series. A different guest speaker is brought in every week, and the listeners discuss a topic for nearly two hours. The theme for the Spring 2017 sessions is “From Monologue to Dialogue: Building Community.”
Lindsa Vallee, of Brookline, has attended WomenExplore meetings for more than a decade. Vallee, who moderated Leydon’s lecture and discussion, said she finds every meeting uniquely stimulating.
The topics, speakers and discussion keep my brain alive,” Vallee said. “They keep me thinking and aware of new issues.”
Each guest lecture is preceded by a “focus talk,” a short presentation from a member of WomenExplore that opens up the floor and prepares the minds of the group for the topic at hand.
Barbara Villandry, from Nashua, New Hampshire, provided the focus for Leydon’s lecture.
Villandry reflected on the days of Walter Cronkite and Edward Murrow, and reminded many of the attendees about a time where it seemed as if the news could be wholly trusted.
She voiced her concerns with the current state of the media, going as far as to draw comparisons between now and the times of Joseph McCarthy and his Communist witch hunt.
The pendulum swings both ways,” Villandry said before giving the floor to Leydon. “And I hope that we will soon be back to a place where truth reigns supreme.”
The event then transitioned into Leydon’s lecture, which was centered around her recent attention to partisan divisions and the media following the 2016 presidential election. The title was “The Media: Informer or Manipulator? The Public: Discerning or Naïve?”
In the months since the election it’s been my professional obsession,” Leydon said to the audience. “I can’t get enough of the divide story.”
Leydon’s feature on WGBH, “Greater Bostonians,” often focuses on individuals and their personal stories. The show’s mission is to highlight those passionate about social change.
People let me into their homes and there’s a human connection,” Leydon said.
However, that connection isn’t always easy to make, she said.
We’ve moved beyond identity politics, to politics being our identity,” Leydon said.
She continued to explain how, when she is working on segments for “Greater Bostonians,” many of those walls thrown up in defense of political identity start crumbling.
She drew on these grounded, everyday stories in her lecture.
One such story was that of a New Hampshire couple named Ben and Laura. The two, who had never been particularly active politically, were faithful Trump supporters in the election.
Leydon talked and checked in with the couple at multiple points throughout the election process, and her coverage of real, hardworking and honest Trump supporters resonated with a lot of her Boston listeners, some of whom had never met an ardent Trump fan in person.
Leydon said she wishes the mainstream media would have paid more attention to smaller stories like this during and after the election. She characterizes stories like Ben and Laura’s as a “window to our collective identity.”
She also said she believes that such a focus would begin to bridge the gap between the two sides of the political spectrum. She emphasized the importance of a media-literate public that can recognize blatantly false news and has the skills necessary to seek out truth.
The basis for media literacy is critical thinking, she said, but specific and catered media literacy classes in schools could be a vital step in the process.
I don’t know how we have a discerning public without a media literate public,” Leydon said.
Vallee agreed with the necessity of starting a dialogue, which is exactly what WomenExplore is attempting to do with their lectures and discussions.
The election results tell us that there hasn’t been enough dialogue in our country,” Vallee said.
Vallee said she believes that anything that opens up a discussion can create a more united country.
Leydon does not plan to stop telling the stories of real, everyday people on either side of the political divide anytime soon, commenting that even the discussion following her lecture gave her ideas for new stories.
I’m a journalist,” Leydon said. “When I go out, I have a microphone and a camera. Sometimes I remember to bring a pen and paper. But most of all, I have my ears to listen.”