Returning To the Present Moment

Our search for greener housing has brought me an intense focus on a worthy project and a burning desire to bring it to completion. But one of the side effects of this project has been that I easily lose track of my attention to this present moment. It is as if I am hovering between the present and the future, and my feet can’t find the ground.

I took a walk this morning in my neighborhood. A short way down the road, I found a frog that had been killed by a passing car. As I moved its body into the grass, I was reminded that we never know when we will meet our own end. It won’t wait for us to finish all our projects. This moment is all that we have for sure. How can I live in this moment, even when I am involved in working on a goal?

One of the best ways I know to return to the present moment is to enter through the door of gratitude. I am grateful for the full moon that was golden in the trees as it was rising last night. I am grateful for cuddling with my love after watching a movie together on the couch. I am grateful for diving into the ocean yesterday after time setting up rain barrels at a Permablitz in South Portland. I am grateful for people who care about the earth and each other enough to gather together to help new friends fulfill a permaculture design for their garden.

I am grateful for local sausage fried with green kale at breakfast. I am grateful for the sun shining through the clouds during my walk. I am grateful for the turkey who crossed the road in front of me. I am grateful for the chirping of the chipmunk who greeted me on my return, and then hid in the rain downspout extension. I am grateful for one more day to be alive in this beautiful earth.Chipmunk DSC00392

Waiting

After going back to the beautiful window house, we are feeling more confused than ever. We are hoping to simplify our lives, yet this house would need so much work before we could move in. And would it really get simpler after all that? I made a rough to-scale sketch of the floor plan, so we could try to imagine ourselves and our basic furniture fitting into the spaces, but there were complications there too.

As I fell asleep, I called to mind the face of my ancient grandmother who guides me, and it seemed she was shaking her head “no.” This morning I am also remembering that feeling confusion is itself sometimes a signal that the answer is no. If it were yes, there would be a sense of joy and clarity.

But letting go means leaping into the void–there is nothing on the market right now that fits the dream we created in our search for greener living. Still, that is the ultimate work of magic and mystery–to let our longings go out into that emptiness, and trust that the emptiness is like a dark womb in which beauty is born.  And so I leap into that void and wait. And the sun shines warm upon my face.

Later this morning, through the window I hear a ruckus and a loud chirping, and look to see a cardinal feeding her child. I am like that baby bird calling out and being fed by all that lives around me. I am like that mother bird, giving to the next generation in the ways I can. I am like the person who fills the bird feeder, making an offering to the cardinals who are beauty and hope in the flesh.Cardinal Feeding MJ DSC00761

Closets

Broom DSC00663It is funny what bubbles up. In our search for greener housing, there were some things that didn’t make it onto our dream list. Like closets. But after writing the post about the beautiful window house, as I lay in bed trying to go to sleep, I realized that that house had almost no closets–one big bedroom had an okay-sized closet, the other big bedroom had a very tiny closet, and there was one very tiny closet in the hall. That was it.

I began to try to imagine–where would we put our coats and boots and scarves and mittens? (We live in Maine after all.) Where could we put our bathing suits and beach bags? (Maine in summer!) Not to mention clothes and linens and shoes. Where would we put an ironing board or vacuum cleaner or broom? We are trying to simplify our lives, but we also need the tools that go into daily life, and a place to put them.

Then I started to notice other things about the house that weren’t very good. For example, there are two and one half bathrooms (we only really need one) but if a guest comes to stay, they have to go into another bedroom to use the shower. Isn’t that a little crazy? The big beautiful window can’t be opened, so what does that do to airflow? The basement was musty–will it freshen up with some attention so that we’d feel comfortable storing boxes down there, or will it be off-limits to us?

Our realtor reminds us that some of the features we do like about this house don’t come along very often. We are going back to the house today to see if we can imagine solutions that work. But at this moment, this morning, I am paying attention to the voice that says, “maybe not?” How do we find clarity? Perhaps the voice of wisdom will come through the silliest thoughts and feelings that creep into our hearts as we try to sleep.

A Beautiful Window

Window DSC00652 - Version 2Continuing our search for greener housing, today we saw a house that had a lot of features we liked. The rooms were full of light, even on a rainy day. The living room had this really great full length window that we fell in love with. The house could be made accessible by widening a couple doorways on the inside, and a ramp to the front porch which was only a step or two up. (Very unusual for the houses we have seen.) The house had character–it had two bedroom suites, each with their own bathroom and room for office/study space. There was a fireplace in the living room.  Wood floors and lovely windows throughout. A small but usable kitchen. A small guest bedroom. It had a front porch (visible through the cool window), and two back decks on different levels (which is both a positive for outdoor space and negative for access). Oh, and another half bath, with hook-up for washer and dryer on the first floor. Outside, it had a big side yard as well as a sweet back yard and small front yard. It had an apple tree. According to the listing it was .3 acres. A quiet street and close to a bus line.

On the negative side, it had only a one-car garage, but it looked like there would be room in the front of the side yard to build another garage. We weren’t sure about whether solar panels could be installed on the roof, but we would have to cut down an ash tree on the back property line for it to work. On the other hand, if we built the garage, it might be situated well for solar too. If we make an offer on this house, we’d put in a contingency that it would work for solar panels. We’d also need to buy a washer and dryer, a dishwasher, and a hot water heater. Along with the air-source heat pumps. I think we might use up our budget for all of this.

Other good news, we were approved for a home equity line of credit on our current house that will cover the initial costs of buying a house and renovations, so we don’t have to make an offer contingent on selling our current house. (Though we would put our house on the market once we have a house under contract.)

It is hard to make a decision. Margy and I talked it out tonight, and both of us are leaning toward making an offer, but now we are going to sleep on it. It is really nice to find a house that has character, that I feel like we could love. I feel a little overwhelmed by all of it right now. Mother Earth, please will you guide our hearts into clarity? Ash tree, are you willing to give yourself to this project of our search for greener housing?

I remember the words of the Tao:

Do you have the patience to wait 
till your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving 
till the right action arises by itself?

A Cattail Basket

Cattail basket MJ DSC00428I made this basket tonight from cattail leaves! I went to a workshop at the Resilience Hub, led by Ashirah from the Koviashuvik Local Living School. She brought the leaves, which had been picked when they were green, dried for a few days and stored, then re-dampened shortly before our workshop. We used darning needles and sturdy green thread, and Ashirah taught us how to coil the leaves and thread them together. My first basket is uneven, and had a will of its own but it smells great and it came from plants the grow wild and abundantly here in Maine. Hurray!

The Hope that Springs from Uncertainty

This week there have been no new houses to look at, but that is just as well because we are waiting to see what loan amount the bank will approve for us. I have also shifted from sabbatical time to a week of study and preparation for fall worship and return to full-time ministry. Today I’ve been reading books on Life Coaching, to learn strategies that coaches use to help people achieve their goals. I’ve thought that perhaps the tools of coaching might be useful for leadership in my congregation, and also useful personally to achieve our goal of finding greener housing, and living in ways that unite us with the living Earth.

I completed one book, whose author describes the most important tools for achieving coaching results as: motivation, positive frames of thinking, and confidence. I am going to be snarky for a moment and say it sounds a little like the worst of new age thinking–“just believe it and you can make it happen.” I do believe that we can access resourcefulness in ways that help us to achieve our goals. I like the tools that enable us to do that. But I don’t buy how everything seems to hinge on positivity and rejection of the possibility of failure. (I have two more books to explore, so perhaps I will discover that this one isn’t the best representation of the coaching philosophy.)

I am remembering Joanna Macy‘s advice to honor our pain for the world, to honor all the so-called “negative” emotions as well as the positive. Our pain is not just a hindrance to achieving our goals, but also a resource for compassion: our pain for the world comes from our deep interconnection with all of life.

Joanna speaks about the three stories of our time–the ways we understand what is happening in our world. The first is “business as usual” in the industrial growth society, believing we can just go on as we have been doing, and everything will sort itself out. But the industrial growth society is actually on a suicidal path because it is built upon destroying the natural world. The second story is called the “Great Unraveling,” a story of the destruction of our society, the mass extinction of species, climate disasters, and nightmarish post-apocalyptic scenarios in which people fend for themselves and turn on each other. The third story is called the “Great Turning,” in which human beings make a profound shift toward a life-affirming society, through major changes in our energy consumption, our social and economic structures, and especially in growing to understand that all beings are a part of one living Earth.

My desire for greener housing springs from my hope to be a part of a Great Turning. But Joanna points out that we have no assurance of success in our work to transform the world toward a life-affirming society. We could just as easily fail in our efforts, and witness the downfall of humanity and the extinction of our species along with so many others. Yet that very uncertainty can be the source of our hope and of our motivation.

Bald Eagle, photographer unknown

Bald Eagle, photographer unknown

I went for a swim at Winslow beach today, and as I floated on the ocean waters, I saw a beautiful bald eagle flying overhead. A small bird was chasing it at first, but then it soared on a long straight path towards the western sky.

As I ponder the concepts of motivation and hope, I realize that I don’t find my own motivation through messages of assured success and positivity.  I feel more resonance with the hope that springs from uncertainty.

There is no guarantee that Margy and I will find greener housing, and no guarantee that human beings can turn our society around toward a way of living in harmony with the earth. But for that very reason, we must give it our passion and our dedication and our best efforts. We must put our whole energy into the story that offers Life.

Shredding and Thoughts on an Anxious System

Shredding DSC00379As part of our downsizing, simplifying, and search for a greener home, I have been cleaning up old financial records that I had basically just boxed up and kept forever. I checked online sources to figure out which records I actually needed to keep and which ones I could throw away and recycle.

I found out that the IRS has three years from your income tax filing to audit your tax return for miscellaneous errors, and six years if they suspect you of underreporting income, so they suggest you keep all your returns and documentation for seven years. As a minister, this means I must also keep the documentation for all housing expenses, since our housing allowance is treated differently for taxes than regular salary. I have also read that I should keep anything related to purchase or sale of a house, and permanent improvements to the house. (If you think you might want to do some shredding, please do your own research on this, because I am not an accountant or tax expert.)

I have been doing this process for an hour or two at a time, because the shredder gets tired after a bit of time, and I do too. I’ve fed it thousands of old receipts, old bills, old bank statements, old tax returns. I have filled up four huge trash containers with paper for recycling. I am just getting up to the seven-year mark in my papers–starting from many years ago I’m finished up to 2007. What am I learning? It takes almost as much work to eliminate old papers as it did to acquire them. Finances have gotten so complicated that they take more time and energy than I want to give to them. In the financial world “green” does not refer to environmentally sustainable.

It makes me realize that the structure of our society’s economic system is based on fear and anxiety. The IRS is the adversary who might bang at our door and discover we threw away the letter acknowledging a donation. I am not against the idea of taxes or contributions to social security. (I don’t appreciate that so much of the money goes to weapons and war.) Ideally, taxes are the way we support the Common Good, the way we recognize and contribute to shared resources like roads and firefighters and schools and libraries and care for our elders. I wish healthcare for everyone was also included among those shared resources. I deeply value giving energy to the Common Good.

And I wish there were a way to approach it all beyond anxiety and the complicated accumulation of records. I am curious if others have found a way to truly simplify the financial processes in our lives?