Are you asking who you are meant to be and what you are meant to do in this chapter of your life? Recent observations of a tree may offer some help.

Two years ago, porcupines ravaged one of our locust trees, stripping bark and leaves from almost every branch. Based on the lack of life last year, I thought the tree was dead. This year, observing its lifeless branches as its neighbors leafed out, I concluded it would join our wood pile this fall…that is, until this past week, when the cream colored flowers appeared. While sparser than two years ago, the blooms are unmistakable signs of life.

In addition to how little I know about locust trees, three other lessons surfaced that may help you with the arrival of your own blooms of this season of your life.

Like the tree in question we humans carry within us unique gifts and truths. Locusts grow quickly, even horizontally in outreach to the sun. Their wood is durable and difficult to cut and split. It takes a long time to dry and burns quite hot. What are your special gifts?

The locust’s vitality reminds me of the genius of resilience. Able to withstand the porcupines’ assault the tree persevered for a new day. What persists in your life’s calling?

Each gift of vocation manifests in its due season. I knew that ash trees leaf out later than most others. I now know that locusts leaf out even later than ash trees. No amount of my worrying or coaxing could change their inherent timing.

Maybe these simple lessons from nature’s way can reassure us that our unique gifts will emerge in their due season. Patience, mindfulness and receptivity will also help.

 

The most recent wind storm left behind fallen trees and broken limbs. The top of a tall pine blew off its moorings, landing like a beached ship near the driveway.

We are now experiencing the upside of the cleanse. It is as though the storm blew away the remnants of a tenacious winter. Daffodils and crocuses bravely reappear. Forsythia reaches its yellow arms to receive the embrace of the warming sun. The grass grows again into its richest greens of the year. Lower morning and evening temperatures temporarily cool the fervor of the black flies.

I am reminded of the life force that animates all living beings. The lyrics of a song from a favorite musical, The Secret Garden, captures the hidden but powerful “streak of green” in plants. “Wick” is the living essence cultivated by warmth, light and attention. The message is metaphor for us humans as well.

When a thing is wick, it has a life about it.
Now, maybe not a life like you and me.
But somewhere there’s a single streak of green inside it.
Come, and let me show you what I mean…

You clear away the dead parts,
So the tender buds can form,
Loosen up the earth and
Let the roots get warm…

You give a living thing 
A little chance to grow…

So, grow to greet the morning,
Leave the ground below…

And all through the darkest nighttime,
It’s waiting for the right time.
When a thing is wick, it will grow!

As spring returns most of us cannot help but feel the life force within us regaining strength. It is unique to each of us – our soul, our passion, our life’s energy. What are you doing to honor and cultivate yours?

 

Our men’s group met last week. We span four decades, and it was the arc of our chronology that dominated our dialogue. Whatever our respective ages, we face the unknowns that accompany walking into that landscape for the first time.

Three of us are in the “sandwich” years, directly caring both for children and parents. Two are exploring what it means to retire and when. Two have done so. Each of us dances with our partners in ever-evolving relationships. None of us has ever been here before.

Always the task beckons: how do we define ourselves within the unknowns of each stage of life? What insights and perspectives do we bring forward from the past to guide us? What baggage do we leave behind? What are the treasures of this time to embrace and the trolls to beware of?

As each member of our group has chosen to live where we do in a small town near lakes and hills and remote forests, the words of Wendell Berry resonate, reminding us of the adventures to which life calls us.

Always in big woods when you leave familiar ground and step off alone into a new place there will be, along with the feelings of curiosity and excitement, a little nagging of dread. It is the ancient fear of the unknown, and it is your first bond with the wilderness you are going into. What you are doing is exploring. You are undertaking the first experience, not of the place, but of yourself in that place. It is an experience of our essential loneliness; for nobody can discover the world for anybody else. It is only after we have discovered it for ourselves that it becomes a common ground and a common bond, and we cease to be alone.

 

Whom do we blame and for what? – two critical questions, whether they apply to our view of others or ourselves.

A high school classmate and I have an ongoing dialogue about which of our human capacities dominates – cognition or emotion. He would say that our rational mind can and should prevail. While I often wish that were the case, I proffer that despite the power of our executive function, many times our emotions take over, especially when dealing with our fears.

In and of itself, finding fault, which is one definition of “blame,” can be a neutral dynamic. It is a way that our “head” identifies the source of events or circumstances. Knowing the cause of a situation often mitigates its threat. Replacing the unknown with knowledge provides us a way of managing if not controlling what confronts us.

At the same time embedded in “blame” is judgment, and judgment is one way our “heart” seeks to protect us from potential threats. We see too many examples of the emotional blame game in play every day in relationships, politics, religion and culture, where our tribal roots tilt the teeter-totter of fake versus fact.

Perhaps more pernicious is the blame game we play with ourselves when we judge ourselves as inadequate or unworthy. Who is to blame – our upbringing, our workplace, our partner? While those may indeed be the source of fault, we are the sole agents of changing the game going forward.

Harnessing the wisdom of both head and heart, we have the capacity, indeed, the response-ability, to create a new future for ourselves individually and collectively. We do control the two ingredients that can do most to lift us out of blaming others and ourselves – our attitude and our effort.

 

This past week I received an email from a friend with whom I spent three years in seminary. Until a fiftieth reunion last year, we hadn’t seen each other since graduation. I was reminded how often back then he and I shared frequencies regarding life’s conundrums and possibilities.

Arriving last week, my friend’s message was a brief but powerful outcry over our brokenness as a species. Examples he cited from this year’s forty days of Lent epitomize our capacity for treating each other inhumanely, a morbid prelude to the crucifixion of “Good” Friday.

Efforts to rationalize all that is going on in our country and around the world seem futile, especially if one is attached to outcomes. Believing an Easter experience is the Christian response to a Good Friday, my friend re-framed the quandary by suggesting we turn to another realm of truth-seeking – the wisdom embedded in our place among the mysteries of the earth and its cycles. He shared two poems by Mary Oliver, one of which is below.

Here in rural New Hampshire it is lambing season for some farmers. Is the timing with Passover and Easter this year just coincidence?

Mysteries, Yes

Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous / to be understood.

How grass can be nourishing / in the mouths of lambs.

How rivers and stones are forever / in allegiance with gravity

while we ourselves dream of rising.

How two hands touch and the bonds will / never be broken.

How people come, from delight or the

Scars of damage / to the comfort of a poem.

 

Let me keep my distance, always, from those

who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say

“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,

and bow their heads.

Mary Oliver

 

Across our valley one day last week the setting sun kissed the tops of the hills. Continuing its arc to the west, it cast shadows that revealed the contours of the terrain that are hidden from our view at midday. The sight grabbed my attention. With their fleeting hues the passing moments of twilight were blessing the day, bestowing a fuller perception of its gifts and lessons.

Mid-way through my eighth decade I see the sun’s retreat from the peaks as a visual reminder of my life’s twilight. I am learning to embrace it. Slowly cleaning the clutter of expired years, I revisit and cull correspondence and writings, claiming the perspectives they provide on the people and events who have brought joy, challenge and meaning to my life. Like the contours of the hills revealed by the setting sun, views appear that were missed while I had been absorbed in the day’s dramas.

However, twilight’s perspectives are not reserved for the final decades of life. They are available whenever the light of our mindfulness softens the sky. Times of perplexity or promise, when we may procrastinate or prevail, can point us to the blessings of a new understanding.

Some lines from John O’Donohue encourage us to pause at day’s end to capture and appreciate an insight hidden in the glare of our midday tasks.

As light departs to let the earth be one with night,

Silence deepens in the mind, and thoughts grow slow;

The basket of twilight brims over with colors

Gathered from within the secret meadows of the day

And offered like blessings to the gathering Tenebrae.

(from “Vespers” in To Bless the Space Between Us, p. 183)

 

Have you asked yourself lately where you are in your life? Are you clear about your purpose, the reason you are here? Are you fulfilling it? Are you content with your answers?

The familiar Shaker hymn reminds us – ’tis the gift to be simple. ‘tis the gift to be free. ‘tis the gift to come ‘round where we ought to be.

First, a disclaimer: the word “ought” can be fraught with danger. Too many of us “should” all over ourselves to the point of diminishment, convincing ourselves we are not enough. Rather than self-blame, what if we think of “where we ought to be” as an embrace of the truth of who we are and why we are here?

Having said that, I don’t want to imply that “simple” means easy. Rather, simplifying involves focusing on the essentials of who we are and aligning ourselves accordingly. It is a process that can reveal and reinforce the gifts we have been given and those we bring to others. Our circles of influence may be small, but they are uniquely ours and critically important.

If you have not yet explored deeply your sense of life’s purpose or wish to revisit it, let me suggest a resource that served me well over a decade ago – Alan Seale’s Soul Mission, Life Vision book and training.

Having a clear sense of purpose is one of the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves and others. Knowing who we are, why we are here, and having a vision for how we can live that purpose is a significant key to a rewarding and fulfilling life.

May each of us in our own way manifest our intention “to come ‘round where we ought to be.” What’s your first next step?

Recently I held space as a friend processed the weight of many pressures. When leaving he said, “you helped me discover what I already know.” That’s a profound insight for all of us and for a coach the highest of compliments.

Most of us who have lived a few years know what makes us tick and what brings us joy. We also recognize that sometimes life buffets us with unforeseen force that can overwhelm our internal GPS. Taking a time out to reclaim our core can help us regain our balance, direction and momentum.

Some of us call our internal GPS our soul’s mission – what we already know about who we are and why we are here. Opening to that sense of purpose is an ongoing pursuit, as the Buddhist Metta prayer reminds us: May I awaken to the light of my own true nature.

A recent post from Bishop Steven Charleston offers timely encouragement when we lose sight of what we already know:

Life will find a way. No matter how dry. No matter how broken. Still the green shoot will appear. The stubborn sign of hope. In each of us there is a force more ancient than any of us can remember. We have sheltered it for generations uncounted. It is not the will to live, for there are times when the will alone is not strong enough. It is the faith to live. The deep roots of life finding water where no water was meant to be, the emerging spirit of life rising to seek the light when all light was supposed to have gone. We carry that within us. You carry it. It is part of who you are and will always be. Have faith. Life will find a way.

 

I heard from two friends this past week. One hovers on the brink of a life defining decision. The other has made hers. The first weighs carefully the pros and cons, hesitant to fully embrace what she knows deep down she must do. Having committed, the other shares with gusto and resolve her first strides into its unfolding.

Do you see yourself in either of my friends? Or perhaps both? I do for myself. Once again, the words of John O’Donohue touch my heart for such moments. Perhaps they will provide some helpful perspectives for you as well. Which of his lines below speak most closely to your current situation?

For the Time of Necessary Decisions

The mind of time is hard to read.

We can never predict what it will bring

Nor even from all that is already gone

Can we say what form it finally takes;

For time gathers its moments secretly.

Often we only know it’s time to change

When a force has built inside the heart

That leaves us uneasy as we are.

 

Perhaps the work we do has lost its soul

Or the love where we once belonged

Calls nothing alive in us anymore.

 

We drift through this gray, increasing nowhere

Until we stand before a threshold we know

We have to cross to come alive once more.

 

May we have the courage to take the step

Into the unknown that beckons us;

Trust that a richer life awaits us there,

That we will lose nothing

But what has already died;

Feel the deeper knowing in us sure

Of all that is about to be born beyond

The pale frames where we stayed confined,

Not realizing how such vacant endurance

Was bleaching our soul’s desire.

One key to successful coaching of self or others is the ability to frame questions that open the mind and heart to new possibilities. The end of the day and the close of the year are propitious times for probing queries that can pull us forward.

In his book, To Bless the Space Between Us, John O’Donohue bequeaths us some compelling inquiries for these moments of reflection. I offer them to you, either as guidance for your reflections at the close of day or your review of the year gone by.

Here are some samples from his meditation “At the End of the Day: A Mirror of Questions” (p. 98).

What new thoughts visited me?

Where was I hurt without anyone noticing?

What differences did I notice in those closest to me?

Whom did I neglect?

Where did I neglect myself?

What did I begin today that might endure?

What did I do today for the poor and the excluded?

Where could I have exposed myself to the risk of something different?

Where did I allow myself to receive love?

With whom today did I feel most myself?

What reached me today? How deep did it imprint?

What visitations had I from the past and from the future?

What did I avoid today?

From the evidence – why was I given this day?

Which questions engaged you the most? In all likelihood, it is your responses to those queries that your head and heart are asking you for.