Starting from Seed: Designing Your Own Seed Packet Activity

Seeds are “nature’s suitcase.” They protect and nourish the plant embryo. They are adapted to dispersal by wind, water, animals and many germinate under unique conditions, like exposure to fire. People, like seeds, are unique in their appearance and growing instructions. This activity is one of my favorites I developed for my program.  Any person at any age can participate and it can go hand in hand with an extensive lesson on seeds, or stand alone as an activity to cultivate self-awareness. The objective of the activity is to discover the unique and individual conditions under which people, like seeds, germinate, grow, mature, and blossom. The activity only requires the simple materials of a variety of seed packets, blank paper, and colored pencils or markers. However, the addition glitter, stickers, and photos cut from old magazines is also encouraged!

Activity 1 – Choose a seed packet that “speaks to you” and write down why you chose it.

Activity 2 – Open your seed packet. Notice the color, size, shape and texture of your seeds. Draw a picture of your seed. If you are participating in this activity with others, observe each others seeds and notice how they are alike and different.

Activity 3 – Seed packets contain all the information one needs to plant, germinate, grow, and harvest a plant from seed successfully. Examine your seed packet and find the following information for your seed:

  • Name of plant
  • Visual of plant
  • Description of plant, including uses
  • Sunlight requirements
  • Planting instructions including soil type, spacing, and depth
  • Sowing time, both indoors and outdoors, USDA Zone Map
  • Time to germination
  • Time to harvest

Activity 4:  Design Your Own Seed Packet

On a piece of paper, design your own seed packet. What are your “growing instructions?” What do people around you need to know to help to nourish and protect you?   Under what conditions will you germinate, grow, and blossom?

Information to include:

  • Plant variety – your name
  • Visual of plant – a self portrait; it can be a true self-portrait, or how you visualize yourself if you were a plant.
  • Planting instructions – favorite food, activities, routines; what makes you feel strongly rooted in your life so you may grow strong?
  • Sunlight requirements – What “lights you up,” or brings you joy? Are you full sun, life of the party, or do you need time alone in the shade? Are you an introvert or extrovert? What is your passion? What are your hobbies?
  • Time to harvest – What are your goals? What is your vision? How do you see yourself when you blossom and produce the fruits of your labor, centered in your authentic, best life?

This activity encourages us to look inward and examine the experiences that truly cultivate joy. Re-engaging in this activity at the beginning and ending of a “growing season” helps us to observe and adjust our requirements for growth, recognize what we need to nourish our life and grow closer to the blossoming of our dreams, and celebrate the fruits that burst forth while tending our heart and soul with persistent love, kindness, compassion, and self-acceptance as we stand fully in the garden of our best life.

Starting from Seed: Growing Intention from the Heart

“Be mindful of intention. Intention is the seed the creates our future.”   

                                                                                                         – Buddhist Proverb

As the weeks of quarantine and isolation continue, finding daily purpose is becoming more difficult.  I struggle to maintain focus on larger creative projects, so listening attentively to my body and leaning into deep self-compassion and forgiveness is relaxing me into a broader definition of productivity.  At the root of our productivity is intention, or purpose.  If we plant the seed of positive purpose and nurture that intention with our actions, we create the best possible garden in which to bloom and thrive. 

The Growing Seeds of Intention in the Heart Meditation encourages us to plant our seed of positive purpose in our heart, visualize its steady growth, celebrate its maturity in gratitude, and share its prolific abundance with others. 

Growing Seeds of Intention in the Heart Meditation

  1. Sit up straight in a chair, spine tall and feet flat on the floor.
  2. Take three deep breaths, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth.
  3. Think of your intention as a seed in the palm of your hand. What does your seed look like? Repeat your intention yourself or aloud.
  4. An intention could be love, joy, compassion, patience, tolerance, kindness, forgiveness, active listening…
  5. Close your eyes and place the palm of your hand over your heart. Imagine your seed of intention being planted in your heart. Repeat your intention and water your seed. Imagine it beginning to take root and grow.
  6. Continue repeating your intention as you imagine the seed growing in your heart. It is beginning to blossom! What does it become? Perhaps its blooms are your favorite color, or its leaves a unique shape.
  7. When your seed has finished growing, acknowledge your gratitude for its presence in your heart.
  8. Take one big breath and open your eyes.
  9. Remember: The true power of your purpose is inside of you and your garden is unique!

During this unprecedented time of isolation, setting intention can create a path to change or simply keep us focused on the present.  I have facilitated this meditation at the conclusion of workshops and implemented it in weekly and daily meditation practice. Intentions can be set as a group or individually. When I was teaching, my students journaled daily. We set our group intention weekly and would discuss the actions that would support our intention, or purpose for the week. What actions support our intention? What does that intention look like?  How do we hold ourselves accountable in our purpose? In their journals, they would draw a flower with the intention written in the middle. Each petal listed a supportive action to the intention. In addition, we created an intention garden on the wall, adding a new flower each week.  In this time of quarantine, I encourage families to participate in this activity – perhaps create a colorful, window intention garden as a reminder of your collective  purpose. 

Starting from Seed: Soil Planting

“The soil is the great connector our lives, the source and destination of all.” – Wendell Berry

In my last post, I discussed the benefits of growing plants from seed hydroponically and suggested some activities for those of you who may be home and educating children through this global pandemic, or just looking for an interesting growing project. In this post, I am introducing a simple method to grow plants from seed in soil with containers made from recyclable materials you most likely have at home, so no need for a trip out to gather supplies as most us remain under quarantine and “stay at home” orders.

With the rush to stock up on toilet paper a few weeks ago, toilet paper tubes are numerous. I re-purposed several tubes to make these seed starters. You can also use paper towel tubes, just cut them into three pieces before making the planter. With a scissors, I cut seven slits about one-third of the way up the tube from one end. Fold all the pieces in on each other, fill with soil, plant seeds, and water. Make sure the soil stays moist and place your tubes in a sunny window. The paper tubes are completely biodegradable so if planting the seedlings outdoors, the whole tube can go into the ground or pot. Although the egg carton can also be used a planter, I prefer the paper tubes as they are deeper and give the plants a little more depth to grow before transplanting. The egg carton does work well as a “stand,” to keep the bottoms of the tubes closed. I only planted four tubes, but there is enough room for a dozen. 

The following is a very short list of specific plants that grow quickly and provide a multitude of learning opportunities:

Dill – Dill is easy to grow and the plant is one of my favorites. It is beautiful, fragrant, and delicate with its feathery leaves and lacy, yellow flowers.  As the host plant of the Black Swallowtail butterfly, it is an ideal plant to observe the butterfly life cycle. Dill can be harvested and used in the kitchen to season a variety of dishes, including dill pickles. After  flowering, the seeds can be easily collected, dried and saved. 

Lemon Balm – Lemon Balm is another easy-to-grow plant. Its lemony fragrance is bright and cheery. Steeping the leaves in water or tea adds a light lemon flavor. It is just a happy plant!

Mint – There are endless varieties of mint…and kids just love mint. Most kids are happy just simply plucking the mint leaf from the plant and chewing it up, or adding it to water. 

Zinnia – Zinnias are tall, beautiful flowers whose bursting blooms remind me of fireworks.  Many of the zinnia seed packets are a mixture of seeds, so the anticipation of bloom color lends to the joy of growing these colorful bouquet flowers that children love to share.

Marigold– Marigolds, a relative of the sunflower, have a pungent, musky scent that some people find offensive. I love the scent. Marigolds grow profusely and bloom continually throughout the summer and into early fall, deterring garden insect pests while providing food for butterflies and other pollinators. The flowers are not only edible, but can be used as dye. In addition, marigold has a rich, cultural and religious history – a great research project for students! Like dill, its seeds are abundant and can be easily collected and saved as blooms wither and dry.

Green Bean – Green beans are large seeds that can be started wrapped in a moist paper towel and sealed in a plastic bag taped to a sunny window.  Using this method, they germinate quickly and are easily observed. Transplant to soil as the sprouts get larger. There are bush varieties and pole varieties. The pole varieties are great examples of vine plants and will grow up any homemade trellis. Picking and eating the beans straight from the vine is a feeling of accomplishment for young gardeners.

These plants are my top six choices of starting from seed projects that are simple, but bring a variety of learning opportunities to your growing space, big or small.  They are easy to grow and easy to manage with minimal maintenance, but offer many educational opportunities for children all summer long.  

Starting from Seed: Hydroponics

“No water, no life. No blue, no green.” – Sylvia Earle

As we move into the outdoor growing season, many of us are waiting impatiently to plant our annual flowers and vegetables. Although the days are warming up, it is important to be mindful of the time frame for the last frost in your location, so as not to plant too early. Growing plants from seed to harvest is a great activity for children to not only grow delicious food, but also examine life cycles and natural systems while relieving stress, anxiety, and boredom, promoting an overall sense of well-being. Our living space, as well as other factors, may prohibit us from having a traditional garden, but there are many creative alternatives to engage children in raising plants from seeds. One of these options is hydroponics, the cultivation of plants in water, without soil.

Dill, Parsley, Mint, Zinnias (just sprouted)

My first attempt at soil-less gardening was the addition of a hydroponics growing system to a therapeutic gardening program I developed and taught to incarcerated youth. Most of the youth enrolled in my program had little to no gardening knowledge or experience, including basic information about natural ecosystems, nutrient cycling, or plants. Hydroponics provided the opportunity to see plant growth quickly, fully, and without complications. These systems are so easy to use that no green thumb is required and success is almost guaranteed. It was a great way for my students to cultivate feelings of pride and success early on in the course, before we were able to plant outdoors. There are a variety of grow units on the market and they range in size and price. Currently, I have two table top units on my kitchen counter growing dill, parsley, mint, zinnias, marigolds, two types of heirloom lettuce, cherry tomatoes, and jalapeño peppers. My units are the six-pod unit from AeroGarden and are $100 on Amazon. Although somewhat of an investment, they are complete and simple units to set up and maintain and produce a considerable amount of food all year round.

The learning and seed to table opportunities are endless. Children, even small children, can examine seeds, observe plant growth, name plant parts, and engage in the sensory experience of plants through smell, taste, and touch. Growing the same variety of plants in soil and in water creates a hands-on, experiential opportunity for older children to examine and compare plants and plant growth with more depth, encouraging them to pose questions, participate in research, observe purposefully, and collect and analyze specific data. Moreover, gardening promotes a sense of pride and purpose. Tending to plants tends our soul. Hydroponics can provide all the positive benefits of plants to those interested in gardening, but not ready or able to grow a traditional garden. 

Here are some of the benefits to growing plants hydroponically:

  • Larger plant yield and faster plant growth
  • Low maintenance
  • Low threat of pests and insects
  • Conserves water as water is filtered and re-used
  • Controlled environment
  • 100% organic; needs no pesticides or herbicides
  • Space saving
  • Mental health benefits and stress relief all year round
  • Easy and straightforward – no green thumb needed!

A variety of hydroponic growing systems available and depending on the unit, a multitude of fruits, vegetables, herbs and houseplants can be grown.  The following is a shortlist of plants that seem to have the most success:

Lettuce, cherry tomato, jalapeno pepper

Vegetables/Fruits/Greens

  • Lettuce
  • Cherry tomato
  • Jalapeno pepper
  • Cucumber
  • Arugula
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Beans

Herbs

  • Basil
  • Thyme
  • Dill
  • Mint
  • Oregano
  • Cilantro
  • Parsley
  • Catnip
  • Chamomile

Flowers

  • Snapdragon
  • Petunia
  • Zinnia
  • Orchid
  • Carnation
  • Gerbera daisy
  • Dahlia
  • Marigold

Solitude

“Solitude is the soil in which genius is planted, creativity grows, and legends bloom; faith in oneself is the rain that cultivates a hero to endure the storm, and bare the genesis of a new world, a new forest.”     

–  Mike Norton

As we stand in the midst of a global pandemic, seclusion has become the new world order. Seemingly overnight we have lost our everyday connections with others – our work place interactions, social gatherings, gym times, and intimate, physical contact.  As social creatures, many of us are feeling lonely, isolated, and solitary. The adjustments to our routine and the implementation of social distancing along side the constant flow of COVID-19 information from news agencies, social media, and casual conversation has left many of us shell-shocked, feeling anxious, fearful, and completely unprepared to deal with life on a daily basis. Although some families may be spending more time together, many individuals live alone and, like me, are spending most of their time sitting in solitude. 

Although I am comfortable being alone and in my own skin, much of what I am feeling in quarantine is reminiscent of the emotions I experienced when I lived in the small, Inuit village of Wainwright, Alaska, deep within the Arctic Circle, remote, isolated, and alone. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought my 6 months in the cold, dark, tundra of Alaska would prepare me for a global pandemic, quarantine, and social distancing protocol. As we all struggle to establish a new “normal” routine, sustain our deep emotional and spiritual connections with loved ones and our community as we disconnect physically, and seek to preserve our overall well-being in a environment that is heavy with fear and uncertainty, solitude can seem overwhelming. Solitude, even in its discomfort, is necessary for all of us sometimes. It is an opportunity to check in and be fully aware and present in our own life, to peer into our heart to see if we are still manifesting the life that honors our vision, to explore our reactions and emotions and let go of what no longer serves us, and to sit in the quiet and hear our own voice.  In solitude, we retreat to our center, recognize and resurrect our authentic self, and raise our resilience.  Through mindfulness practice, meditation, and prayer we can find and hear our own divine voice that professes our unconditional self-love and worth. Immersing ourselves in the natural world and connecting to our environment not only improves our overall sense of health and well-being by reducing stress and strengthening immunity, but also expands our awareness of interconnectedness and social community by widening our perspective and growing our gratitude. In remembering our common humanity and holding space for others in loving kindness we can feel less alone in times of solitude. 

I appreciate all of you who take the time to read my blog. I hope you find some comfort and inspiration in my words. With our continued quarantine and social distancing protocol in place, and with schools closed for the remainder of the school year, I have decided to change the focus of my blog for now. Beginning March 30th, I will be sharing a variety of simple plant and nature-based activities that may be used as resources to promote social and emotional health, academic learning, and family engagement as we all continue to adapt to a new daily routine in the midst of a global pandemic. Please share this link with those who maybe interested. Wishing you peace and health!

The Edge Effect

“The edge of the sea is a strange and beautiful place. – Rachel Carson

In October 2018, I left my community where I had lived, worked, and raised my family for 27 years. Feeling stuck in my comfort zone and in my life, I found myself down in the tall weeds and unable to see a clear path to move myself forward. Living in Alaska had been a life-long dream, so I made the decision to uproot myself and move to Wainwright, Alaska, a small, Inuit village wedged between the Chukchi Sea and Arctic Ocean.  In a month’s time, I purposefully shifted my life from comfortable to chaotic. With no tall weeds in the tundra, I stood exposed in a zone of transition.  Alone and thousands of miles from my home, I was resolved to step fully into my life and adapt – to the cold, the isolation, the stillness, the culture, the darkness, the solitude, and the silence. 

At the boundary of two or more biomes, there is a zone of transition, an ecotone. Ecotones can be narrow or wide, local or regional, and are areas where two or more communities meet and integrate. The transition areas shifting from field to forest, ocean to beach, and river to marsh are examples of ecotones. As one would expect, these areas of transition exhibit characteristics of both habitats. Moreover, these unique interfaces can also be home to organisms adapted solely to live in the transition space  Surprisingly, this distribution of organisms often results in a greater biodiversity, or variety of species, living within the ecotone than in either associated community. This ecological phenomenon is known as the edge effect.

Transition zones can be challenging and turbulent spaces in which to live. For example, the intertidal zone along the ocean coastline is a zone of transition between ocean and land. Species living in the intertidal zone adapt to varying, often harsh conditions in their habitat, including flood during high tide, exposure during low tide, and constant agitation by ocean waves.  The organisms that live in this this interface are adapted, resilient and tough.  The tidal marsh, or wetland, is a zone of transition between river, ocean, or estuary and land.  Wetlands have a rich diversity of unique, well-adapted flora and fauna that together with variations in tides, temperature, salinity, and storm surge create a difficult but productive community. Wetlands function to improve water quality, create a protected nursery ground for juvenile fish and crabs, provide food for migratory birds, stabilize the shoreline, and prevent erosion, establishing one of the most biodiverse and biologically productive ecosystems on the planet.  In natural systems, the edge effect is a positive product of the shift from one ecosystem to another. As humans, we often find ourselves standing in a difficult zone of transition, living in the in-between, and struggling with our uncomfortableness.

Sometimes the unsettled spaces we occupy are of our own choosing, like my move to Alaska. Sometimes they are created for us as a result of our comfort, complacency, and lack of consciousness as we move through our life. Living in the edge, the fringe, requires us to be brave and step fully back into ourselves and our life.  It exposes us to the harsh realities of our life, our patterns, our habits, and our decisions. Existence in the edge is painful and raw.  The tumultuous times of transition force us to slow down, self-evaluate, and sync ourselves to the shift in our life.  If we fully embrace the chaos and immerse ourselves in daily practices of centered self-reflection, mindful meditation, and small, sacred steps forward to positive change, we not only adapt, but grow gracefully into ourselves and build real resilience. We experience the edge effect embracing our uniqueness, creativity, diversity, and productivity in our best life.

This essay will be published in Plants and Poetry Journal’s Wildlife of the Underworld (January 2022) and on their website, http://www.plantsandpoetry.org

Decomposition

“There is magic in decay. A dance to be done for the rotting.”   

-Don Chelotti

Decomposition is the act of breaking down.  In natural systems, decomposition is an important part of the circle of life.  It is the mechanism by which dead, complex, organic matter is broken down into simpler compounds.  Decomposers, such as bacteria, earthworms, insects, fungus, and other invertebrates are nature’s “trash collectors,” the organisms necessary for decay and nutrient recycling. They are necessary for the return of important elements and compounds to the air, soil, and water.

As gardeners, we can re-create the decomposition process observed in natural systems.  In a compost system, waste, scraps, and yard debris are broken down by decomposers and recycled into basic compounds and elements that are the foundation for healthy soil.  Compost replenishes organic matter to the garden, in turn, contributing to the overall health of plants, making them less likely to succumb to pests, drought, and disease. Moreover, it can eliminate the need for petroleum-based fertilizers that can have adverse effects on the environment.  Compost systems can be designed to fit any garden setting, large or small, simple or more complex. 

There are four basic components to every compost recipe. The four, components, brown matter, green matter, water, and air, provide the fuel for the living organisms, bacteria, fungi, insects, and worms, to transform the old plant material into dark, rich, nutritious soil. Dry, brown matter supplies the compost with carbon, energizing the compost mixture and producing heat. Brown matter includes leaves, bark and wood, dried grass clippings, newspaper, cardboard, saw dust, and dryer lint.  Wet, green matter provides nitrogen to the compost system that feeds the organisms interacting with the brown matter.  Fruits and vegetables, animal manure, garden refuse, weeds, coffee grounds, and fresh grass clipping are green matter.  Air is necessary for the decomposition process.  Water, in the right amount, is also needed to maintain healthy microbial activity.  

The process of decomposition holds meaning in our lives.  As we create our unique compost mixture, we can embrace the decomposition process as we are broken down to our simplest form.  Our brown matter is old habits, behavior patterns, relationship wounds, inherited characteristics, trauma, including generational trauma – stuff that you have been carrying for a really long time…so long that its dry and brown.  This is your carbon – the foundation of you as a living organism – your fire starter and energy as you begin the decomposition process.  Green matter is our new ideas, goals, and improvements we want to make in our lives – learning a new skill, improving physical health, managing emotions, healing trauma.  Green matter will feed your transformation process.  Air is our breath. Breathing fully and deeply with purpose. Inhaling to fill our lungs and cells with oxygen and exhaling to let go of what we cannot control.   What activities help you breathe, exhale, and encourage your renewal and transformation? Maybe you spend time in nature, create art, exercise, write, participate in a support group or a spiritual community, or meditate.  Water revitalizes us and rinses us clean. We see more clearly. We surrender to the flow of life, in turbulent and in tranquil times.  What core values and intentions help you to maintain your healthy boundaries, ground your emotional state, and strengthen your resilience to help the transformation process move steadily forward? Perhaps, sitting in self-reflection, nurturing supportive and loving relationships, setting small intentions to manifest a deeper sense of self-awareness, acknowledging your needs and not taking things personally. As the process progresses, we transform from complexity to simplicity.  The true elements of our our essence is what remains, our most pure and highest self.  From this strong, authentic foundation, we grow forth our richest, most beautiful life from simple and ordinary elements – peace, joy, and love. 

Seeds

“Transformation comes from within and seeds have mastered the art.” 

– Scott Chaskey

Angiosperms, flowering plants, and gymnosperms, cone-bearing plants, are the two groups of plants that produce seeds.  Angiosperms usually produce a fruit.  Both groups reproduce sexually and most flowers contain both the male and female reproductive structures.  The male reproductive part is the stamen, which consists of the anther and the filament. The anther produces pollen and the filament acts as a support structure.  Pollen spreads to the female reproductive  structure through wind, insects, or other animals.  

The female reproductive structure, the pistil, has three parts – the stigma, the style, and the ovary.  The stigma is the sticky top of the pistil where the pollen attaches. The male pollen sticks to the female stigma and travels through the pollen tube, the style, to the female ovary where the ovules, or eggs are stored. The pollen unites with the ovules, a process referred to as pollination, and an embryo forms within a seed.  The seed protects and nourishes the embryo.  The ovary develops into a fruit, the structure that encloses and protects a seed. 

As nature’s suitcase, seeds cradle, protect, and nourish a young embryo.  Seeds vary in size, shape, and color. They are as diverse as the plants that emerge from their tightly closed cases. Sometimes dispersed by wind, water, and animals, embryos packed tightly in their seed suitcases can travel near and far, landing in new lands to germinate, take root, and grow.

We also begin as a small embryo growing deep within the protective seed of our mother’s womb, surrounded by a cushion of amniotic fluid and nourished by our mother through the placenta.  At birth and as young children, we continue to receive nourishment and protection from our parents or other caregivers.  We begin to germinate in our sun-lit spot of Earth. We grow, become centered and rooted, learn our boundaries and how to turn our face toward the sun to feed our soul.  We weather heat and drought, building resilience with each disturbance.    If we lack the protection and nourishment, our germination and growth is slow and disrupted. We struggle to discover the light and wither in the face of disruptions.  We fail to thrive, grow, and blossom.   Life is a struggle.

As unique as the seeds and growing instructions of various plants, we, as humans, must embrace our uniqueness and individual direction toward cultivating our self-awareness and growing our most abundant, fruitful life.  The people in our circle who surround, support, and protect us provide a safe haven that nourishes our tender self physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  They give us time to grow our roots strong in the place where we find ourselves.  In building strong, trusting, loving relationships, we can focus on turning towards the light and blossoming into our best self. 

For those of you in the Richmond, VA area, I am facilitating a workshop on Wednesday evening, February 26, 2020 in the Beet Cafe at Ellwood Thompson’s Local Market. The following link includes the details and registration. We will be exploring our connection to nature and the uniqueness of seeds. Hope to see you there! https://ellwoodthompsons.com/events/horticulture-therapy-2-26/

Love

“Love is the bridge between you and everything.” – Rumi

From the time I was a small child, it has been all about the love.  Deep within my center is a well-spring of unconditional love.  It has been the source of my relationship with nature and humanity.  Love manifests in me as patience, kindness, loyalty, and compassion.  It grounds and connects me firmly and deeply to the Earth.  Love is the the lens through which I view the world.     

My intense love for nature has been present since I can remember. As a young child, I spent hours each day outdoors. I had a fort of trees…oh, how I love the trees.  The forest is still my refuge. I instilled the love of nature in my children and each of them has a deep, personal connection to the Earth. 

Both my parents have a love for the outdoors. My father’s sense of adventure and fun was always evident as we embarked on ski trips, sailing voyages, bike hikes, and plane rides, but my love of plants was gifted from my mother.  My mother always had beautiful gardens – bountiful vegetables, fragrant roses, a vibrant, variety of texture and color. She canned our garden’s excess and we ate from it all winter.  I never had a store bought vegetable or spaghetti sauce until I was married.  Her hands were always rough – “gardener’s hands.” Gardening is her therapy.  She is 85 years old and still longs to be outside working in her garden everyday.  I work alongside her now, as I did when I was  a child.  For my mother, it is about the process – it is the small, everyday tasks of gardening that bring her joy; the weeding, watering, pruning, raking, mowing.  She makes sacred the process of tending her garden.  Each task  brings joy, wholeness, healing, and connection.  I understand her deep love for gardening and its spiritual transformation, as I also honor each step of my own adventures in the natural world. 

Deep within each of us is a love – a love for something – gifted to our souls, our authentic selves, from the moment we were conceived.  It is our Divine gift, our essence.  As children, I believe our gift is transparent and unmistakable, but overtime, it becomes clouded and and blurred.  We become distracted by suggestions, influenced by others, and often oppressed by the chatter in our own head.  How can we return to what we love, uncover our gift, and live our fullest, most abundant life?  We must sit in stillness, solitude, and silence, center ourselves, and listen to the faint whispers that come from the heart. We must fully engage in those activities that manifest joy, peace, harmony, and most of all, love. Embracing and making sacred each step along our journey.  Learning to love ourselves first, cultivating our relationship with our authentic self and honoring and celebrating our divine gift is the bridge to living our most light-filled, joyful, magnificent existence.

This essay will be published in Wild Roof Journal (Issue 12) in January 2022, available on-line at http://www.wildroofjournal.com

Awe

“For the creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.”  – Carl Sagan

 Awe is a profound and transformative emotion. Reflecting on the points in my life where I have experienced awe, I recall being overcome with spiritual presence, blissful peace, overwhelming gratitude, quiet humility, and a love so abundant it welled up from my saturated heart, spilling down my cheeks as a coupled stream of tears.  Awe-inspiring events manifest a connection so deep and so prolific that we remember these life-changing moments in time for our entire lives. My awe-inspiring events include the the birth of my children, the beauty and majesty of Glacier National Park, Montana, the vast, white, cold tundra of Alaska, and the dancing, green glow of the Northern Lights across a deep, dark, star-laden sky.  

Merriam Webster defines awe as “an emotion variously combined with dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority, the sacred, or sublime.”  The feeling of awe can be induced by nature, a person who exhibits dignity, wisdom, dedication, talent, or an act of selflessness or generosity, music, dance, or art.  For some cultures, an awe-inspiring experience originates in fear, but for most of us, awe arises from joy and vastness, and transcends our understanding, often sparking our curiosity and moving us to explore the details of new information.  As individuals, awe alters the way we understand the world.  It can help us let go of the little things as we expand our beliefs on the capacity of human potential.  It manifests a sense of humility and feelings of a smaller self as we are reminded of our interconnectedness to a larger sphere.  We are drawn out of self-interest to the concerns of the social collective and whole community.  

Craig Anderson, a University of California at Berkeley PhD candidate, investigated the emotion of awe through data collection from groups of veterans and under-served youth participating in rafting expeditions down the South Fork of the American River.  Of the six positive emotions he tracked in participants, awe was the emotion most evoked through nature. His data supported awe as a means of increasing an overall sense of well-being and decreasing stress-related symptoms. In a second study conducted with undergraduate student, Anderson found that daily, small doses of awe improved life satisfaction.   

Exposing ourselves to awe-inspiring experiences, especially those in nature, big or small, can lead us to focus on what is truly important.  Our sense of self falls away as we stand in the presence of something bigger. In a world of instantaneous updates, illustrious stories on social media, and the immense changes to our climate and natural world, we struggle to find our place in the stars and connect to our true selves. We have the world at our fingertips, but many of us long for a more passionate, healing, engaged connection with others. I challenge you to find some awe daily. Be intentional in seeking it out. Plan an adventure with those whom you want to deepen your connection. Experience awe collectively and stand in the bigness of it together. Use your awe-inspiring moments to grow your joy, your creativity, and your community.