Dancing Among Angels On Earth

This past week I attended Fabienne Fredrickson’s Mindset Retreat in Ft Lauderdale, FL. The event was part of her yearlong Boldheart Academy program that is designed to help small businesses and entrepreneurs grow their businesses. The Mindset Retreat was focused … Continue reading

A Nature Child Of The 60s In Small-Town USA

Rachel and best friend Peri in New Hampshire woodsAlthough it is easy to wax poetically and over-romanticize one’s childhood while looking back decades, my childhood days really were glorious. I lived in a tiny town of about 1000 people located in one square mile of New Jersey, very much in farmland. Roosevelt is located in central Jersey where relatively large areas of undeveloped land remain and there are still farms left. Sure, there are tract housing developments near my hometown now that did not exist when I was a kid, but it is still a wooded borough surrounded by plenty of nature.

I got to thinking about my experience with nature as a child because of a book that I just read for my book club, Last Child In The Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv. I have been in one book club or another for more than 20 years. This time I have rejoined a club that meets at the library in my new small-town—new in the sense that I have only been living here full time for about 5 years and part-time for only 20 years. A club member, Annie, who works in ecological education, suggested the book. She also happens, coincidentally, to be married to the son of Becky who I grew up with in my hometown of Roosevelt. Although it is possible that knowing Annie’s connection to my town primed me to recollect these nature experiences, the book on its own was remarkable in how much it elicited my memories of being a child of nature in the 60s.

One of the themes of the book is that children raised before the early 70s had a different relationship with nature than most children do now or during the intervening years. As I read the book I realized how lucky I was to roam the small streets and woods of my town and commune with nature. My whole perspective on life, in retrospect, was influenced by nature when I was a girl. To me, being in nature is paradise—heaven on earth. I assumed everyone felt that way and I am sure many do. But I actually did live in Paradise. Well, it was once.

Paradise, NJRoosevelt was originally Jersey Homesteads and before that is was an area named Paradise. I have the map to prove it!  In winter I often sled down Paradise Hill, a steep paved road that was the only remaining nod to Roosevelt being Paradise. In the adjacent woods, if you dared, there was a path through the woods called “Steeple Chase” where you had to dodge trees as you speed down the slope. I think the first time I tasted Jack Daniel’s—just a sip—was on a cold evening as a teenager sledding on Paradise Hill. My mom grew up in the same town and during the early 50s, she sled there too (though I have no idea if she sipped whiskey).

So many of poignant childhood memories are outdoors somewhere in town. Near our school there were many great opportunities for outdoor exploration. In “the enclosure”, a tree and grassy square lined by hedges, friends and I played many different games including hide-and-seek. Even though that area was relatively manicured compared to the woods, I loved running around and under and sometimes climbing through the big trees or just lazing on the grass in the enclosure blowing blades of grass to create sounds.

I was devoted to the paths in town (I walked many paths outside of town too—see Walking Around A Lake). There was the formal path between the school and Tamara Drive where I even found wild asparagus growing. I can almost taste the raw thin sweet stalks to this day. I often walked along the path beside the creek that ran through town. The creek meandered and crossed roads at several locations including Tamara Drive, Rochdale Ave and an unpaved road that we simply called “the path”. I loved stopping on any of those overpasses to play with the creek. I’d place a leaf on the upstream side of the road so that I could watch it float under the road and pop out the other side. What quiet joy!

Great Aunt Ellie on lawn of my first childhood home with view of my second childhood homeI wandered all the paths in town alone or with a friend or my brother any number of times just to explore. Or to use as a shortcut. That was a common word I used to describe the routes on paths I found between places in town. I took a shortcut through people’s backyards, front yards, or the woods—all ways imaginable including just about going through someone’s house—to get between my home and somewhere I wanted to go. I took shortcuts to school. I took shortcuts to my best friend Peri’s house that was across the street from my grandmother Coco’s house so therefore a shortcut to her place as well. And I took shortcuts to my great Aunt Ellie’s house. Most of the shortcuts were through the woods on hardly what you’d call a path in some places. They were more just routes through bramble and prickly bushes, some with blueberries or raspberries, or slimy rock lined routes with colorful moss.

Moss stands out prominently in my love of nature. Very close to my house, above the Pine Valley Swim Club, was a path into the woods where I made a secret hiding spot in a moss-covered embankment. I kept a metal box that held—I don’t know what—tucked under rocks and moss. I loved to go there and sit and think and smell the earth around me. I’ve apparently known forever that flora sights and scents are essential to my livelihood. Not that I didn’t like bugs. I really liked bugs a lot! Whether playing with lighting bugs by putting them into jars as lanterns, or pulling off the lighting part just when they flashed on and squishing them on my finger to imitate a diamond (gross), or collecting bugs as specimens for a science classification project, I definitely was one with bugs.

Hanni mama in her gardenSo now when I think of Coco’s and my great grandmother Hani mama’s vegetable garden and the sweetest peas imaginable from the brightest green pods possible or I remember the wonderful feeling of my hands pulling carrots from the earth or I envision dancing around Ellie’s cherry trees and gooseberry bushes and the baked goodies that we created with them, I recognize how much my childhood was chock ‘o block with good times in nature. And I recognize that those good times in nature have influenced what I consider good times now. I’ve been a flower gardener from the time we bought our home 20 years ago to today. Now that Andy built us a vegetable garden, we are also vegetable gardeners. I often dream of that wild asparagus in Roosevelt, so much so that I am considering planting some in our garden even though it needs lots of space and years to establish. And not surprising, one of the first things I did when bought our property was create paths (and a labyrinth—see Revealing the labyrinth on our land). I need only step outside to be surrounded by our 3 acres of woods to regain the calm and quiet joy that I have known since childhood.

Several years ago I rambled on about how nature soothes my soul to my life coach. From the clouds above (see Cloud Hopping) to the earth below and all the flora and fauna in between, I spoke of my sense of awe and love for nature. He paused and thought about what I said and then characterized me as deeply spiritual. I had a momentary confusion having been raised non-religious. Me spiritual? I never learned anything about religion so what does spiritual mean? I was unable to fully reconcile my feelings of transcendence when I commune with nature with what I think of as religion. But now I recognize that through nature I was first exposed to the sense that there is something more than me as an individual. In nature, as a child and now as an adult, I feel connected to all forms of life and I have a need to use my hands to connect with my evolution on earth. This isn’t a theological perspective but rather a personal spirituality perspective. Now I understand that to me nature is a perfect place to get replenished because it embodies love, beauty and peace. I will always be a nature child of the 60s.

XOXO Rachel

Creating intimacy through sharing

Courageous ConversationsSandy Weiner of lastfirstdate.com invited me to her blog talk radio show, Courageous Conversations.  We discussed my career path and what I have learned about creating intimacy in all types of relationships while working with engaged couples and as an executive in the corporate world.  To listen to the interview, click here.

Creating an altar for sustenance

I do not have any spaces in my house that I consider to be altars, so last year while training for my celebrant work and altars very much on my mind, I contemplated creating a space where my Kuan Yin would sit peacefully.  Kuan Yin, the Bodhisattva associated with compassion, is an antique brass piece that my mom bought for my dad when I was very little.  At the time, she had little money and she paid the antique dealer in Princeton a little at a time to be able to get this beautiful object that spoke to her as a gift for my dad.  About ten years ago when I got interested in Buddhism and meditation and spirituality, I expressed my love of their art object, so my parents gave her to me.

Up until last year, Kuan Yin had moved around in my house and I had not created any ritual that involved her, though I know that I bowed to her from time to time and I certainly gazed at her for long stretches as well.  For altar inspiration, I looked at the beautiful book Sacred Rituals by London and Recio.  I had been thinking how much I loved my Bodhisattva sitting on my desk where I placed it just a week earlier when I had a class about symbols.  So, I chuckled when I opened the book and the first sentence I read was that one of the authors treats her desk as her altar.  I immediately closed the book, recognizing that I needed no more input and decided that I would create an altar on my desk.

The desk is a beauty.  When my husband’s firm moved from one of its earliest locations in Manhattan after thirty years to an office that had modular spaces, everyone was allowed to take any furniture they wanted.  Andy had been working at a large wood desk with flower-engraved brass pulls for years and we had an inexpensive desk that needed replacing.  He and I drove to the city in our RAV4 with the back seats removed to pick up the piece and anything else interesting.  Getting the desk to Cold Spring was no small feat.  We had to disassemble much of it and Andy carefully labeled sections so that we could reconstruct it when we got home.  And it was very heavy.  (We also picked up a wonderful bookshelf with sliding glass doors.  Andy subdivided each shelf so that he doubled the number of shelves and reduced their height to fit CD’s perfectly.)  Andy, of course, reassembled the desk with ease.

So once I had an altar location identified, what was my plan?  I began by clearing off the desk to mark the beginning of my new phase of work.  To signify readying to launch my own business, I also did a cleansing ceremony.  Andy had grown lovely sage in his garden that he kept in the freezer – perfect for a smudge stick.  The act of creating the smudge stick was a ritual in its own right (rite?).  Then I designated the desk as an altar and thoughtfully placed objects on the desk and spoke to what each provided me.  I inventoried each item that already sat on my desk and determined whether it served me moving forward.  Some items did not make the cut but I figured that the desk would become an evolving altar so some items might return.  My laptop computer has a practical role yet it is really quite beautiful with its sleek Apple design.  It provides me access to the world and to my writer muse.  But what about the pencil holder; should I replace it with a pot that I made (I did) and where should the Bodhisattva be located?  As the creation ceremony unfolded, I lit a candle and read poetry and designed a workspace where Kuan Yin reins over me with compassion, sitting on the windowsill.  I am so fortunate to sit and look out into the woods from my beautiful desk altar.

Revealing the labyrinth on our land

My husband Andy and I created a labyrinth on our wooded property.  Or as my husband says, we uncovered it much like Michelangelo removes bits and pieces from a large piece of marble to reveal a sculpture.  Here is the story.

I have been very fortunate to have labyrinths come into my life about ten years ago.  At the time, I was in a yearlong leadership training held in Sebastopol California for four one-week intensive sessions.  The retreat was held on a beautiful redwood covered property that had many wonderful facets.  I loved the outdoor shower, completely secluded with views of the woods and plenty of hot water.  Not far from that was a swing that swayed on a very long rope beneath a lovely tree.  The grass covered hill had a large labyrinth made of berms covered with grass, the path, worn down earth.  Each day, our class of twenty would walk the labyrinth together, passing each other as the path meandered this way and that way.  We would offer a smile to our passing friend; sometimes we had our fingertips graze each other.  I came home thinking about labyrinths all the time.  And when I went to San Francisco to take my coaching certification exam, my husband surprised me by taking me to Grace Cathedral to walk their labyrinth.  I was hooked.

At home, we took off on our property to select a spot to build a labyrinth.  The found location had a natural boulder right in the middle of an area miraculously absent of trees, except for the circular perimeter.  We decided to collect rocks from our property to line the labyrinth path and I chose a design: the Baltic or Goddess labyrinth.  My sweet Andy is a structural engineer so he created sketches and using laser levels and stakes, mapped it out on the land.  Over a few weeks of backbreaking labor, the two of us collected the rocks and placed them to create the labyrinth.  I have walked the labyrinth many, many times over the past decade in all seasons and have enjoyed the meditative space that the labyrinth has provided.  A few summers ago on my birthday, Andy gave me a large brass temple bell that he placed just at the entrance.  Now I ring the bell three times before I walk our treasured labyrinth and I remain so grateful that the labyrinth was revealed from our property.

The ritual of fall sports

Although it is only just on the precipice of fall, I was reminded of the ritual experience of fall sports this week.  On a lark Andy asked me if that evening I wanted to go see the Hudson Valley Renegades, our local Class “A” baseball team.  It turned out that they were battling for the Penn League Title in the second of three-series against the Tri-City ValleyCats.  In keeping with our pledge to “play” (see The world needs play), how could I say no?  He added that they would be displaying fireworks afterwards, so that made the decision easy.

I had not thought of many of my experiences as rituals but in deed they are.  I love the fall sporting events as both participant and spectator because they are imbued with ritual. In high school so many years ago, I played field hockey and the crisp air and communal experience of being with a group of other girls on the team has such rich memory for me.  We would sing songs and get “psyched” about the game.  Sometimes we would have this experience in the confines of a yellow school bus on the way to our rival’s school.  Other days, we would just head out to our field for a home game with all the excitement to unfold.  The best days were when there was a bit of a chill and we would have our high school-issued navy blue sweat pants on under our pretty blue kilts.  It was at once both snugly and cozy and inward of an experience as it was also very much outward and about the team experience.

My spectator memories move to college when I lived in a cooperative household at Berkeley and we would rent out our parking area for all the people who came to see the Big Game (Stanford vs. Cal).  After all the cars were carefully parked, our house of about 18 people would go together to Memorial Stadium.  I was lucky to have been present at one of the most famous games of all time in college football: I saw “The Play” on Saturday November 20, 1982.  Stanford was ahead 20-19 when in the last four seconds of a kickoff return, Cal ran with the ball and did five lateral passes all while the Stanford marching band, who thought they had won and the game was over, was already on the field.  Still controversial to this day, Cal won 25-20.  Just a few years ago, Cal played Rutgers in New Jersey so my parents and my husband went to the game.  (I met my husband at our cooperative household so we were at The Play together before we became college sweethearts.)  As we ate leftover Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches, we enjoyed the ritual of watching our alma mater play football (they beat Rutgers too, go Bears!).  The communal experience of food, fun and loved ones in the beautiful fall outside is beyond compare.

So as we watched the Hudson Valley beat Tri-City, even though we barely knew the teams, we felt connected to our local team and to the loyal fans around us.  We cheered, ate stadium food, and then feasted on the lights and sounds of fireworks.  The ritual of fall sports was alive and well on this beautiful evening.  PS – The Renegades won last night and took the title!