Tag Archives: spirituality

Trees: A Love Story

by Kim Childs, CPPC

images love treeOne morning as this year’s interminable winter gave way to spring, I took myself out for a walk. Strolling though my favorite park, I was arrested by the sight of a shining silver birch that was beginning to sprout some green. An exuberant “Hi!” escaped my lips and I looked around, wondering if anyone had heard me talking to the tree.

Not that I could have stopped myself. Because trees and I, well, we go way back.

As the daughter and sister of two skilled arborists, I consider trees part of the family. In fact, you could say that they put clothes on my back, a roof over my head, and money in my college fund. Our family photo collections contain just as many pictures of trees as they do of gap-toothed kids, pets and relatives. Growing up, my brothers and I would groan as Dad repeatedly stopped the car to photograph the specimens he spotted on family road trips.

I’m pretty sure I was the only kid in my school who could identify Japanese maples, Dutch Elm Disease and gypsy moths.

During my tomboy phase I climbed trees, and sometimes I read books in their branches. Later on I built a fort in the woods where I retreated throughout my adolescence, finding comfort and solitude among my beloved trees. I think that’s also where I felt closest to the God of my understanding.

Throughout college and the years that followed, I traded the solace of nature for the excitement of cities. Years spent living in Philadelphia, London and New York found me worshiping shiny buildings, hot clubs, trendy restaurants and trendier people. By the time I was 35, that lifestyle had burned me out.

An early midlife crisis sent me running back to the natural world for healing in 1999, when I came to live and recover my spirit at the Kripalu Center amid the green, green Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts. I went for walks in the deep woods and did yoga or took naps under shady trees on the lawn. My fellow volunteers and I held sharing circles under the majestic American Elm near the Annex, shedding tears and speaking truths beneath its sheltering branches.

Assembling vrikshasana, or tree pose,  took on special meaning at Kripalu as I planted my foot, raised my arms and gazed out at steady evergreens for inspiration. “Trees get everything they need without striving, and they’re never in a hurry,” my yoga teacher once said. “Trees are strong because they root down into the Earth, reach for the heavens and bend with the wind.”

And thus trees became my gurus, too.

Two years later I moved to a suburb of Boston with tree-lined streets and plenty of parks. I’m now just minutes away from Walden Pond, where Henry David Thoreau famously found tranquility in the woods. When I walk the bike path near my home, the tall pines and maples form a cathedral that receives my prayers and secrets. The birds and squirrels offer companionship, too, reminding me of Mary Oliver’s promise that life is always calling to me, “announcing (my) place in the family of things.”

I do feel benevolently companioned by trees, and I’m proud to call myself a tree hugger. I’ve also been known to thank them and caress their bark—usually when no one is looking.

“It’s no coincidence that the most important spiritual leaders went out to nature when they were searching for the truth,” says Positive Psychology teacher and author Tal Ben-Shahar. Indeed, the Buddha himself found enlightenment under a sacred fig tree that later became known as the Bodhi tree. It makes me wonder if this great spiritual teacher was absorbing wisdom from an even greater one during those weeks of sitting in stillness under its leaves.

I once heard a news report that said we humans are spending more time with machines than we are with each other, which makes me guess that time in nature has probably dropped even further down the list. While I love my gadgets, they rarely stir my heart like the smell of spruce or musky autumn leaves, the fiery blaze of fall color or the tender green shoots and pastel blossoms on the trees outside my door.

Recently, I was excited to learn about a meditation practice called Sit Spot. It involves finding a tranquil place in nature to simply sit and observe natural rhythms and changes for about 15 minutes a day over a period of time. Now that’s my kind of spiritual practice, and I know others who’d agree.

“I go among trees and sit still,” the poet Wendell Berry wrote, “All my stirring becomes quiet around me like circles on water. My tasks lie in their places where I left them, asleep like cattle.”

May all beings, everywhere, find their own Bodhi tree.

Kim Childs is a Certified Positive Psychology Life,  Career and Wellness Coach. Click here to learn more and schedule a free initial consultation.

Losing My Ambition

As I approach my personal half-century mark, I find myself in strange territory. Having successfully climbed a few career ladders in my life, I am currently, apparently, without ambition. It doesn’t feel like a bad thing.

I’ve lived in big cities and charming towns and traveled the world from Alaska to Zimbabwe. I’ve interviewed celebrities, been interviewed on TV, hosted radio shows, co-written books and hung out with politicos and hip hop pioneers in New York, New York. I’ve sung to crowds at Boston’s Symphony Hall and the Hatch Shell. I even swayed and clapped with fellow gospel singers behind Mariah Carey as she belted out “Make it Happen” to thousands of fans at the huge TD Garden. (That was awesome.)

I’m not trying to brag here so much as note the highlights of a life lived pretty fully so far. I’m sure I’ll be up to more adventures eventually, but right now I’m satisfied with the ones I’ve had.

The evidence of my contentment, if that’s the word for it, is mounting:

A few weeks ago, as I sat in the waiting room of a Toyota dealership, I scanned the table full of gossip rags. I realized I had absolutely no interest in anything that any celebrity was up to that week. This, from someone who used to devour People magazine from cover-to-cover, watch Entertainment Tonight religiously, and fantasize about being a big somebody some day.

Always a fan of comfort clothes, I now find myself primarily dressing in a style that can best be described as casual bordering on frumpy. Most days you’ll find me in sensible footwear, yoga pants, and no-iron tops. I cannot recall the last time I put on a pair of pantyhose or high heels.

I recently ran into a former yoga student of mine as she prepared to give a talk on European flower shows. When I asked her if horticulture was her business she said, “I do it for fun. To tell you the truth, I’m kind of a ‘kept woman.’” To tell you the truth, that sounded pretty good to me.

What happened to the teenager who wanted to be the next Barbara Walters, the public radio reporter who planned to host her own show, and the yoga teacher who thought she’d sit across from Oprah one day, gabbing about her spiritual awakening and helping millions to achieve their own? She’s the same person who walked away from a career in broadcast news at age 35 because her soul beckoned her elsewhere. She’s the passionate creativity teacher who recently said, “Yeah, I wanna be a ‘local somebody’ too!” upon hearing the clever phrase from a student. The current me delights in coaching others to live fully expressed lives, writing articles for a local healthy living magazine, selling the occasional personal essay and blogging for beloved readers.

When it comes to amassing a fortune, well, I always worked in non-profit but now I seem even less concerned with profiting. I pay the bills, enjoy a simple life, and follow a work schedule that leaves me with adequate free time. If time is indeed money, then I’m rich. So is a former student who echoes my sentiments as she writes, “Sometimes I feel I should be doing more and leading the kind of busy-productive life I admire in others, but my unscheduled time is so precious and essential to my peace of mind. I’m grateful to have it, because I know not everyone does.”

Author Daniel Pink recently said that this age of abundance and prosperity has liberated but not fulfilled us, leaving more people searching for meaning instead of megabucks. Last year I heard a news story about MBAs who were becoming farmers to live more sustainable lives, and last month I learned about the Junky Car Club, in which people drive old cars in order to have more money for charitable contributions.

Like these folks, my highest ambition is to be a better human being. I also want to spend more time with my family and friends while we’re all still around, keep using my skills to help people, and savor my blessings.

Crowding 50, I have no advanced degrees, no property in my name, and no record of civic involvement apart from some volunteer work and the local garden club. Still, I’m happy with the person I’ve become and I love my life. The other day I read a little message on my tea bag that said, “You can run after satisfaction, but satisfaction must come from within.”

I think I’ve stopped running.

Back in high school I thought I was too cool when I wrote my yearbook quote in French. Today, it’s the sentiment that impresses me. “What is success?” I wrote, in the English translation. “It’s being happy with what, who and where we are in life.”

More than thirty years later, I find that to be true.

—————————

p.s. Okay, now I AM bragging – this essay made the front page/Editor’s Picks this week on Open Salon, a forum for writers. You can see it by clicking here.

Surrender Equals Control (Huh?)

“Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go.” –Herman surrenderHesse

Last year I interviewed a man who leads personal development programs with the help of a horse. Specifically, Brian Reid puts people who are stuck and struggling on top of his horse, Brenda Lee, to get them out of their heads and into their hearts.

When Brian’s clients climb on the horse, relax and release tension all the way down to their, ahem, bottoms, they start to feel more trusting and empowered. From this place, he says, they can envision a successful resolution to any issue they’re grappling with.

To explain this phenomenon, Brian says, “They understand that surrender equals control.”

I later pondered these paradoxical words in the wake of a huge shift that happened in my life. In truth it happened to my husband but, because I was trying so hard to control his life, it happened to me, too.

My husband is an African immigrant who left behind his life, language, family and electrical career to marry me. I’ve consequently felt pretty responsible for his welfare over here and tried my best to help him succeed. Being a Type A personality with a streak of control freak, I’ve also attempted to engineer most aspects of my husband’s American life, including his career path.

For several years we searched and applied for electrical jobs while my husband held down a supermarket job. I employed all of my networking and public relations skills on the quest, writing impressive cover letters and cold-calling electricians. I printed up business cards for my husband before he’d mastered enough English to pronounce the words on them, and I urged him to enroll in trade school to work towards his Massachusetts license and impress potential employers.

As tuition bills mounted and months passed without so much as a “Thanks for your application,” my husband became disheartened and I grew more desperate. I didn’t know if we were up against racism, xenophobia, a sagging economy or all of the above, but I knew that insisting upon this career path was draining the joy from us.

In the midst of this dark time I sat down to pray one morning and started to speak the words “I surrender,” choking on the words as a tidal wave of emotion gushed forth. All of the anger, resentment, frustration, disappointment and heartache that I felt about the situation came pouring out as I cried. Eventually, the tears subsided and I quietly released my ambition for my husband, asking a higher wisdom to prevail.

A few days later I was talking with someone in the renewable energy field when it occurred to me: Should we consider a related path? I consulted my husband and discovered that he was completely willing to change professional gears in order to meet his ultimate goals, financial security and job satisfaction.

“God knows what I want and God will show me my way,” was what he actually said.

And so we became willing to surrender the electrical dream, prayed for guidance, and reached out to our community one last time for leads and luck. Within weeks my husband had an entry-level technician job in a related industry with good pay, full benefits, appreciative employers and opportunities for advancement. It happened with no cover letter, resume or business cards, and he received the offer during his first and only interview.

I was dizzy for days from the speed of these events.

I’ve come to realize that when I’m holding tightly to specific agendas and outcomes, it’s usually because I fear that my needs won’t be met. In the grip of that fear, I lose control of myself and I lose sight of other options.

However, when I identify a desire, take inspired action, surrender the results and allow something bigger to take over I feel more peaceful and, ultimately, in control. There’s the paradox.

I’m not saying it’s easy to “Let go and let God,” as they say in Twelve Step parlance, but I find that it can build faith and trust. It also cultivates peace of mind, unlike, say, obsessive thinking. When I gnaw like a dog on the bone of my willfulness, all I get is a sore jaw.

A student of mine recently remarked that the desires she holds most lightly are the ones that manifest most easily for her, often in unexpected ways. Thinking back on my own life, I can attest to the truth of that experience.

While I may not always get what I want (and who’s to say that that’s a bad thing, given the vagaries of my mind?), I can aim in that direction, do my part, and hope that I’ll get what I need.

 

Building Risk Muscles

One year ago I left a full-time job to rejoin the ranks of the self-employed. While the job provided wonderfully steady pay and health insurance, it was in no way related to my vocation as a writer, teacher and creativity coach—things I’d been doing “on the side.” And so I took the leap, not knowing exactly how, or whether, things would work out.

It’s not the first time I’ve done that.

At age 18 I left cozy Cape Cod for the streets of Philadelphia to join the freshman class at the University of Pennsylvania. It wasn’t the Ivy League cred that sold me on Penn so much as the chance to explore urban living for the first time in my life. I went to jazz clubs and nightclubs, wandered the Italian markets and Chinatown, ran up the steps of Philly’s art museum like Rocky and walked the downtown streets with glee. I felt at home in the city, and the feeling was exponentially magnified when I chose to spend my junior year in London, an experience otherwise known as The Year I Found Myself.

After college I followed some leads to New York, where I spent ten years in public broadcasting and had lots of daring adventures (not all of which are fit to print). When my work as a radio journalist ceased to inspire me, I left it to live in a yoga center nestled amid green hills. Two years later I missed the buzz of city life and headed to Boston to try and make a living as a yoga teacher. I had no jobs lined up, but I had a bed in my friend’s guest room.

The point is that I’ve taken many risks in my life to follow my desires in the direction of what promised greater fulfillment. At times I was moving toward something concrete, but more often I was simply moving away from what no longer fit. Both are valuable practices, but it’s the latter that really builds risk muscles when we dare to step off metaphorical cliffs and hope that a net will appear.

I once had a powerful dream about this. It found me making my way across tall rock formations in the Grand Canyon (I’m not even a hiker in waking life, but you know how dreams are…). At one point in the journey I came to a place where the next rock was too far away for a safe leap and I froze in fear. Suddenly, part of me split off and jumped, falling hundreds of feet to the ground—splat. As I peered down in horror, I saw a crowd gather around my fallen self. To everyone’s amazement, she/I got up, brushed off the dirt, and walked away, unbroken. Up above, the frightened but emboldened me shakily stepped forward into the air. Immediately, a kind of magic carpet appeared under my feet and transported me to the next rock, Aladdin-style. And so it went, all across the canyon.

This vivid dream came to me twelve years ago during a time of great change and uncertainty. It told me: 1) You may fall/fail in front of other people, but it won’t kill you, and 2) When you take a step forward despite your fears, help arrives. I like to tell my creative recovery students that God/Spirit/Higher Power/Universe is always ready to assist us, but we have to take the first empowering action. As the saying goes: Pray to catch the bus, and run as fast as you can.

Each time I exercise my risk muscles I grow in courage, faith and self-confidence, which are the real rewards of risk-taking. And let me be sure to say that it’s rarely comfortable to embrace the unknown. Most of my riskier life changes were accompanied by many wide-eyed “What the hell am I doing?!” moments at 3 a.m. By the light of day, if my inner convictions were stronger than my fear and anxiety, I forged ahead.

When I asked others about risks that paid off for them, I heard stories about daring to leave unhappy jobs and marriages, taking a chance on love, and “following my own path against the odds, which in some ways proved my worth, at least to myself.”  A former student who’s moved around the country to follow her dreams says, “It seems that the more something scares you, and the higher your resistance, the more you should actually take the plunge.” Another writes that, “Taking a recent trip to Europe meant emptying my bank account at a time when my work hours were being cut in half, but that trip broke me out of what I later recognized as depression and woke me up to possibilities again.”

A friend of mine echoes my own aspirations when she says, “The greatest risk that I take on a daily basis is being true to myself. We live in a culture that feels better poking, pushing, and prodding people into conformity. By being true to me I cultivate positive resources for a calmer and more joyful life experience.”

It’s been a year since I had a full-time job, and I’m still paying my bills (with, I must add, some help and health insurance from my husband’s job). I’m also much happier, and even more daring. In the end, I believe that the things we don’t try to do may haunt us more than our so-called mistakes and failures. As the poet Mary Oliver suggests, we have just one “wild and precious life” to live, and it’s not a dress rehearsal.

So go ahead, take a risk and do something that scares you a little today. I’ll be rooting for you, perhaps from somewhere over the Grand Canyon.

This essay was also published at www.JasminBalance.com/building-risk-muscles/