Possibilities: Embracing Life . . . Even When It’s Difficult

Photo by Diana Ensign

“Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” —Rainer Maria Rilke

“I am guided by my own instincts and trust them.” —Lois Lowry

Our lives often fluctuate between times of joy, sorrow, excitement, worry, disappointment, and hope — with a heavy dose of hard work continually in the mix. In the midst of challenges, our path may not always be clear, and the journey itself may be fraught with difficulties; yet, the possibilities for our life remain vast and boundless.

In this epic adventure of being human in the world, our mind is a powerful tool: Use it wisely. Plant seeds of love. Plant seeds of resilience. Plant seeds of dreams. Plant seeds of future opportunities. Then, work to water those life-affirming intentions and ideas.

While embarking on this task of creating limitless potential, ask yourself: What makes me truly happy? What brings me peace? What do I need to release? What gifts do I bring?

A few guideposts to assist us along life’s pathways:

  • Celebrate small victories. Work for worthy causes. Practice kindness. Forgive often — yourself and others. Be an Earth Steward. Protect the rights of others. Walk gently. Love fiercely. Be thankful. Say gratitude. Don’t squander your gifts. Believe you are here for a reason.
  • When afraid, ask for help. Friends (and sometimes strangers) can offer encouragement and support during periods of doubt. Never underestimate the power of a kind word, a loving gesture, or an act of generosity. Your choices, each day, make a difference.
  • Learn to breathe mindfully and to practice patience. In a world that all too often rewards expediency and chaotic busyness, perhaps the time has come to hold in high regard perseverance, thoughtful awareness, and inner resolve.
  • Do the right thing — even when it is not easy to do so. Let our moral compass be guided not by old, destructive habits but rather by the children, the plants, and the animals.
  • Embrace the breath of life — despite its many sorrows and disappointments — so that when death comes, we can say that we gave this planet our absolute best efforts to leave it better than we found it.

In the end, we can rest easy knowing that we learned to cherish what truly matters.

 

In joy & gratitude, 

Diana J. Ensign

 

New Book Coming Soon!  HEART GUIDE: True Stories of Grief and Healing

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Our Earth Home: Seven Billion Strong

Photo by Diana Ensign

“We have the ability to change.” —the Dalai Lama 

“Nature is not a place to visit. It is our home.” —Gary Snyder

When I start to feel discouraged about world events, I look for examples of people who model for me what is possible. Recently, I read, A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World. This one book contains a host of stories illustrating the positive changes taking place across the globe.

We don’t often hear news about the billions of people with kind hearts, generous spirits, and loving souls who are working to make a difference in the lives of others: people who care about their families, their communities, and their neighbors across the way. We need to celebrate the numerous individuals (and organizations) acting with wisdom, ethics, and integrity to ensure the survival of our earth home.

With seven billion people on this planet, we have a collective, global community that can serve as a force for good. No single leader, political party, or ideology decides our fate. By working together, forging alliances, and learning new ways (joining heart intelligence with scientific knowledge) we begin to move forward.

Don’t discount your part in this evolving story.

When we offer kindness to a friend or a stranger, when we teach children how to care for the environment, when we seek solutions to problems, when we discover better ways of responding, when we eat healthy foods, when we plant trees in urban areas, and when we act with awareness and compassion, we bring beauty to the world.

As Gandhi says, “Whatever you do may seem insignificant to you. But it is most important that you do it.”

 

In joy & gratitude, 

Diana J. Ensign

 

Celebrating the Small Moments of Our Lives

Blue Flow - Photo by Marg Herder It’s the little things that make happy moments, not the grand events. Joy comes in sips, not gulps. —Sharon Draper (Children’s author)

The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough. —Rabindranath Tagore

The month of May is full of activities with graduation ceremonies, Mother’s Day celebrations, Memorial Day picnics, garden plantings, or events in remembrance of those who have passed.

At my daughter’s graduation ceremony, I reminded myself to pay attention as she celebrated this life milestone. Even with that intention, the weekend flew by in a blur. In fact, it seems like — from the day she was born until this afternoon as I watched her posing for pictures in cap and gown — it all went by in a blink. Perhaps that’s why we take so many pictures. We know the moments don’t last, and try as we might, we can’t stop them from moving on. It’s like standing in a rapidly flowing stream and trying to cup the water in our hands. Even while we drink in a few precious moments, the days nevertheless pass quickly through our fingers.

So, what can we do about this ever-elusive passage of time?

We can recognize that our time here is brief. As we spiral back to memories of the past and imagine forward into future possibilities, we also work hard to stay in today — knowing that now is all we ever have. No one is guaranteed tomorrow.

Remaining mindful of one or two things a day may be enough: Remembering to say gratitude each morning or each evening. Noticing the sunlight shimmering brightly on the water. Drinking a cup of hot coffee on the porch while watching a squirrel scurry along a limb. Listening to the woodpecker, Blue jay, or mocking bird songs.

Yes, graduation ceremonies, Mother’s day brunches, and Memorial Day gatherings are big events. But they pass. Our lives pass. Those we love pass. We celebrate with grand gestures – as we should! Significant milestones matter. Yet, it is the small things we remember: The sun was out that day. My son (or daughter) suddenly looked so grown up. My mother’s laugh made her whole face light up.

We hold on to a smile, a song, or a feeling because that is the way of life.

For me, at the end of the day — as my daughter headed into her apartment with her back to me — she called out, “Love you mom.” That’s my sip from the stream of our busy, hectic, celebratory weekend.

Hold on to those small things, even as they slip through your fingers. It’s okay. Put them in your heart where they stay — long past all the millions of things that never really mattered.

 

In joy & gratitude,

Diana J. Ensign, JD

 

Still Quiet Moments: Loss & Healing

Photo by Mike Marcus

“When darkness comes. And pain is all around. Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down.”  —Simon & Garfunkel  (Bridge Over Troubled Water lyrics) 

“You must be able … to love what is mortal … and when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.”  —Mary Oliver (“In Backwater Woods”)

Spring rains drench and nourish the earth. Even the tree bark is soaked: grassy patches of moss are softly nestled against the trunk, and water droplets fall from the branches like tears.

Sitting with grief is not easy.

I observe a bright red cardinal hopping along an outstretched limb, a chipmunk scurrying through the woodpile, and a Blue Jay pecking at seeds from the birdfeeder. Blue Jays remind me of my father who passed many years ago.

It’s difficult to be with our loss. It’s also hard to put into words the enormous expanse of emotions our heart cradles when we lose someone we love. Perhaps because that person’s essence now seems so far away – immersed in the distant stars and in the swirling galaxies beyond our human comprehension – we try to hold on to simple things. A song. A poem. A feather. A smell. A familiar smile, laugh, or mannerism. A brief sighting of a butterfly, hawk, eagle, cardinal, red winged blackbird. Or a Blue Jay: here for a moment. Then gone.

When we are still – for a few quiet minutes in the early morning sun, or for a peaceful meditation over lunch, or for an evening prayer after a cup of hot tea – we breathe deeper. We slow down. We remember to cherish the small daily gifts we receive.

Loss can show us what is important.

As we sit with our sadness, we may decide not to waste time chasing the wrong things. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow likely no longer appeals to us because we understand the impermanent, fleeting beauty of the rainbow’s hues – knowing such splendor will not last. Knowing it is not meant to be here forever, but nevertheless wanting desperately to grasp each precious moment.

The people in our lives matter to us.

In our sorrow, we can hold compassion for ourselves, we can hold compassion for our loved ones, and we can hold compassion for others who walk on this earth.

Today, this is my morning prayer: Let Spirit fill me. Let Spirit guide me. Let my life be of service to all I have loved. 

 

In joy & gratitude, 

Diana J. Ensign

 

My upcoming book on grief and healing will be released later in 2017.  Sign up for email notifications or contact me if you want more details about the publication date.

Photo credit: Mike Markus

 

Women’s History Month: Honoring the Sacred

Photo by Diana Ensign“When the women dance … they move with the Earth … to one of the hundreds of verses sung in their honor. To be part of that circle is a great source of strength to me.” —Joanne Shenandoah, member of the Oneida Nation, composer, author, musician

“Let us welcome home in ourselves, and in the world, the wisdom of the strong.” —Alice Walker, author, poet, activist

When we think of the world’s renowned religious leaders, scientists, and scholars, women’s names don’t often come to mind. For some, even the God of worship appears in a male guise. But if we travel far enough back in time, we know there was a period when people revered a female deity. Sacred goddess figures unearthed by archaeologists speak of ancient, female-oriented civilizations. Of course, women healers, spiritual teachers, and scholars have existed throughout the ages; we simply don’t accord most of them the same status and recognition as their male counterparts.

While many people may agree that Spirit transcends gender, it can certainly make a difference in the lack of respect shown to women when we teach our children that it is a male God who rules our world, with wrath and vengeance.

When the feminine is truly honored, perhaps our daughters (and ourselves as women) will be free to walk alone through secluded areas without constant anxiety about safety—glancing over our shoulders, tightly gripping our keys, or worrying whether someone will hear us if we scream.

When we respect women’s bodies (in all the various shapes, skin tones, and sizes they come in), we will be paying homage to the Feminine Divine. In doing so, we will refuse to permit women (and girls) to be used for sexual exploitation.

When we treat menstrual cycles with reverence and acknowledge this powerful life-giving force deep within, we will value not only the women who birth new life and feed from their breasts the children of this earth, but also the strong feminine energies coursing through life’s infinite Mysteries.

When we show admiration to elderly women sages (those women with silver threads of grey woven through their hair and lines etched across their face like intricate grooves along the trunk of an ancient tree), we will begin to draw from the deep well of women’s wisdom.

When we remember the millions of women and girls brutally tortured and murdered by state-sanctioned religious fanatics, we will never again use the word Witch against any Woman.

When we recall the generations of African women shackled, raped, and sold into slavery, and the thousands of Cherokee women (and other Indian tribal women) forced into famine, disease, and death along the Trail of Tears, and the countless women across the continents killed for religious, ethnic, or political opposition to the governing male authority, we will know in our hearts the strength and sacrifices of our foremothers.

When we listen to women’s voices from around the world and offer them our complete support, we will embrace a global sisterhood that recognizes our shared desire for peace.

When we describe women (our sisters, mothers, daughters, wives, aunts, and grandmothers), as Beautiful/Intelligent/Talented/Creative/Hard-working, we will steadfastly refuse to ever allow the use of derogatory language to “put” women in their place.

When we view Mother Earth as the life affirming, nurturing home of our birth—an integral part of our existence and upon whom we depend for our survival—we will become unwilling to participate in the pillage and destruction of the gifts she offers. 

For all who came before and all who follow in our footsteps, we will honor the feminine, eternal, life-giving force of this Universe. And then, women will join together, once again, in the sacred circle dance that is our power and our divine source.

 

In joy & gratitude, 

Diana J. Ensign

 

Upcoming Event

Cultivating Calm & Mindful Meditation Workshop
Tuesday, March 7, 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm

Heartland Unitarian Universalist Church
9870 North Michigan Road, Suite B
Carmel, IN 46032
(Located at the back of the parking lot, behind the Enterprise Car Rental)

Learn about the benefits of meditation and the use of mindfulness tools for healthier living.  Cost: $15.

 

Originally published on Christian Feminism Today.

 

Peaceful Earth Warriors: Our Spiritual Awakening is Here, Now

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”  —Nelson Mandela 

“I am no longer afraid of life. A deep and abiding sense of calm and of poise flows through me.” —Ernest Holmes, Discover a Richer Life.

Summer Flowers - Photo by Marg HerderThis is a momentous time in our collective history. We have access to amazing, earth-friendly technology, science, and wisdom. We have the ability to make life-affirming choices. We have an opportunity to create a new story for the next generation to pass down to their children. That story is our love for this planet, our love for nature, and our love for each other. This birthing of mindful compassion and mutual understanding is a spiritual truth carried within each of us: stored in molecules as ancient as the stars and passed down from the world’s great wisdom teachers. It is the story of earth citizens living together in harmony on this beautiful planet: a reality we craft each day as we learn new ways of being.

How do we nurture the gentle unfolding of this story?

We close our eyes, take a slow, deep breath, and we remember. We remember our birthright: the wide-eyed wonderment of a child newly born into an exquisite diversity of life. We remember a planet teeming with forests, flowing streams, mountains, berries, fruit trees, songbirds, foxes, coyotes, wolves, deer, hawks, and falcons. The air is clear. The water clean. The sky blue. We hear the hawk’s call and view from high above this magnificent red, yellow, white, black, and green tapestry we call home. We are no longer afraid to live, speak, or act on behalf of all life.

Then, with inner vision, we travel out toward space where we observe the entire cosmos. Beneath our gaze is an azure globe spinning in vast darkness surrounded by a galaxy of bright stars: our earth home. From this distance, we know humans are living out their earthly lifespans along with the caterpillar, butterfly, ant, salmon, turtle, otter, bear, and snake. We know there is no reason to be divided by politics, borders, race, religion, nationality, gender, territory, skin color, eye color, or any other arbitrary distinction, because – like a field of wildflowers – the rich variety of human life on this planet is a miraculous gift. No single person or flower is better or above another. No single person or flower is in control of our destiny.

We plant seeds of universal accord when we remember that we are here, as guests, for only a brief while. What makes us truly happy is never that which destroys. Rather, it is the connection to our Source and to our hearts that nourishes a deep, abiding love for humanity, for wildlife, for nature, and for our planet.

This conscious transformation began eons ago; yet, we carry it forward with our breath, our prayers, our thoughts, and our words. In each waking moment, we live our peaceful warrior earth story.

 

In joy & gratitude,

 

Diana J. Ensign

 

 

2017:  Working Together for a New World Vision

"Winter Clouds" - Photo by Marg Herder“In our work and in our living, we must recognize that difference is a reason for celebration and growth, rather than a reason for destruction.”  —Audre Lorde

“We learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same.”  —Martha Graham

Many years ago, I visited Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp in Germany: a depressing and forlorn place with ghosts of unspeakable horrors. Afterward, I went to an outdoor exhibit where artists rendered their visions of that time in the world’s history. One exhibit I have never forgotten was a sculpture of two people hugging with a placard below that read:

“The red-painted tyranny was not the worst about our tyrants. The worst thereby were we ourselves. All our cowardice and servility. And that we also were this evil ourselves. Just that is the chance and our luck. You see: It works! We also take back the everlasting human right ourselves.

Now we breathe again, we cry and we laugh the stale sadness out of the breast man, we are stronger than rats and dragons – and had forgotten it and always knew.”

No one person holds the key to our power for good or to our freedom of thought. No one person controls our words or our actions. We, the 7 billion people who inhabit this earth, create our collective destiny with our daily choices. We are the living, breathing dance of life each time we learn something new or do something differently. It is we who decide not to seek power, money, status, or glory at the expense of others. It is we who decide not to follow laws when laws are unjust. It we who decide to undertake the demanding work necessary to overcoming hate, prejudice, ignorance, and fear.

Here’s what we can do in 2017:

  • First, learn about ourselves: What we fear and why. What we love. What we dream for ourselves. What we envision for the world. Doing our inner work doesn’t mean going it alone. We can seek support and guidance from friends, books, counselors, wellness communities, meditation groups, nutrition advocates, personal growth workshops, 12-step programs, self-help classes, and numerous mind/body/spirit teachers who practice healthy living. The skills we will need to develop include: honesty, vulnerability, courage, and willingness.
  • Next, learn about others. Ask questions. Set aside judgments. Go beyond current comfort zones. Learn from the indigenous people, the scientists, the children, the plants and animals, the shamans, the musicians, the artists, the peacemakers, the homeless, the teenagers, the poets, and the dancers. Learn about other cultures, religions, races, and ethnic groups. We have so much we can teach each other! The skills we will need to develop include: openness, curiosity, nonjudgmental mindsets, and humility.
  • Finally, acquire the tools and practices that allow us to be more loving in our dealings with each other. Difficult topics need everyone at the global table working toward solutions. We simply do not have time for bickering. Us v them camps will not solve the challenges we face. This beautiful planet and our lives (and the lives of our children) are too precious for wasting energy on endless distractions—we cannot afford to get sucked into mindless behaviors. We must move forward with all people who care about the welfare of humanity and the survival of our earth home. That means not being offended by someone asking questions. That means learning how to navigate through emotional triggers. That means expanding our awareness. That means thinking beyond our limited views of the world. The skills we will need to develop include: perseverance, knowledge, compassion, creative problem solving, and vision.

I believe we can learn to live together on this planet. We can practice the values we preach: love, kindness, respect, tolerance, and peace. We can hug one another when surviving a crisis. And despite outside circumstances, we can remember that our strength rests in our humanity and in our enduring capacity for love.

 

In joy & gratitude,

 Diana J. Ensign

 

 

 

Seeking Solace

"Winter Light" Photo by Marg Herder

“You can do this hard thing. It’s not easy, I know. But I believe that it’s so. You can do this hard thing.” —Carrier Newcomer (song lyrics, The Beautiful Not Yet)

“The prayers and teachings of the ancestors will light our way through an uncertain future.” Grandmothers Counsel the World (author Carol Schaefer) 

For those of us in winter climates, the December landscape can be cold, harsh, gray, and forlorn. We feel the loss of sunlight and seek shelter with friends or family members by the warmth of a fire. We bake bread, cook a big pot of soup, drink hot cocoa, and adorn our homes with bright, colorful lights. We gather for the holidays. We share gifts. And we offer gratitude for ordinary miracles.

In the midst of winter, most of us do what we can to endure hardships and to help one another. Hard work is required as we shovel paths through deep snow, haul wood, prepare meals, light fires, and tend to the sick – each of us knowing we must do our part, however small, to ensure the survival of all.

During inclement conditions, there is no time for despair.

So, how do we forge ahead in these challenging times?

Some of us hold firmly to the teachings of the man whose birth we celebrate. He preached radical love for the poor, the sick, and the outcasts among us. We model his actions. We see the miracle in each newborn child. We understand the light of the stars will guide our way. We believe the kingdom of heaven is within. And we practice opening our hearts and our homes to people we find suffering along the path.

Others look to the earth for her lessons. With roots buried far below the frozen surface, we understand from nature how to slow down and go deep within in preparation for winter storms as well as in anticipation of spring, knowing that young tender shoots and beautiful blossoms will indeed return. Nature is our sanctuary. Despite outside appearances, we recognize that the earth and her creatures are alive. We place humans among the family of creation, treating each relative (animal, fish, bird) with respect. We know our wellbeing depends upon the wellbeing of our earth home. We treat the earth as sacred.

And still others turn to the luminous wisdom of poetry, music, pottery, dance, drumming, and painting. Our hearts seek comfort from things of beauty. We find solace in metaphors, stories, prayers, and songs. We gain strength from those creative souls who remind us, again and again, why we are here. They show us that we can do this hard thing: We can get up each day, do our work in this world, and stay awake to both our sorrow and our joy.

Whatever our circumstance, we are always being asked to love. Not just love in words. But love in a thousand daily acts: Love when the way is unclear and the outcome uncertain. Love when the road is steep, rocky, and littered with debris. Love when our soul aches with silent anguish. Love when harsh voices clamor for hate. Love when self-interest says: it’s too risky, too costly, and too difficult. Love when all seems lost. Love, when love is the only thing we have left to give.

Even in the depths of winter, our hearts grow stronger. With the radiant glow of each sunrise, we know what we must do: Gather together and love, even more.

 

In joy & gratitude, 

Diana J. Ensign

 

 

Our Earth, Our Home

"Turning" - Photo by Marg Herder

“Help me always to speak the truth quietly, to listen with an open mind when others speak, and to remember the peace that may be found in silence.”  —Cherokee Prayer

“You are a child of the sun, you come from the sun, and that is something true with the Earth also … your relationship with the Earth is so deep, and the Earth is in you.”  —Thich Nhat Hanh

We are entering a new day.

Sit quietly, listen to the breeze gently brushing dry, crumpled leaves across the hard ground, and remember all who came before.

During periods of uncertainty, inner stillness brings us strength: Strength of heart, strength of mind, and strength of spirit. Calm introspection illuminates not only our interior landscape but also the tender beauty and sharp harshness of world around us. When we are mindful of our motives and intentions, as well as aware of the natural world in which we live, we become better at releasing the ego’s fierce grip on position, status, power, and greed.

In stillness, we don’t have to know all the answers. We don’t have to be right. And we don’t have to prove a point. To rest in the silence of unknowing is not a sign a weakness. It means we are open, and we are ready to hear the call of our heart. Then, we can ask: What is my role? How may I serve? How do I celebrate and appreciate the gifts of my life? 

To begin:

Align your heart with what you truly love.

Know you are here for a reason.

Develop a profound reverence for nature, for wildlife, for flowing streams, and for sunshine. Cultivate compassion for humanity.

Let Spirit be your guide.

Stay strong.

Inner calm is mighty. It is the courage to get up each day despite hardships. It is the willingness to bear witness to loss, anguish, betrayal, death, and destruction. It is the capacity to hear the silence of children who speak volumes with their eyes. It is the ability to cry when tears are needed and the ability to laugh when human folly presents itself. It is the determination to hold fast to a vision that serves our earth home. It is a positive force that ripples out into the world in a myriad of beautiful ways.

Close your eyes and feel life’s energy course through the center of your being, connecting you to trees, clouds, hawks, caterpillars, howling wolves, rustling leaves, and the bright moon on a still, dark night. Surround the essence of your soul in this eternal sacred space.

Remember who you are: A vast galaxy of stars, continuing the work of walking on this earth . . . each new day.

 

In joy & gratitude, 

Diana J.  Ensign

 

 

The Enduring Strength of Women

"The Tall Pines in Spring" - Photo by Marg Herder“I raise my voice not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard.”
—Malala Yousafzai (activist and youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate) 

“Let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.”
—Starhawk

I’ve been watching a British television show, Call the Midwife, about a group of midwives working in the impoverished East End of London during the 1950s. Birthing babies is such noble profession: it’s also a vivid reminder of the physical hardships women undergo as they bring forth new life. Incredible endurance is needed to carry and birth a child. Without access to reliable birth control, those difficulties that accompany motherhood were not always freely chosen. Harsh labels such as “spinster” further reproached the rare women who opted not to marry or bear children (whether by choice or by circumstance). And for women whose babies did not survive, the anguish is beyond any words I can convey here.

Years ago, my miscarriage sent me to seek the healing comfort of trees. In the absence of community support for such loss, the trees provided me with a deep connection to Mother Earth. Tall pines reaching toward the sky helped soothe my soul.

When we sit quietly in nature’s loving embrace, we remember: Our life here is a gift.

In one episode of Call the Midwife, the community holds a Christmas celebration in the church—with nuns and midwives singing Silent Night. At the end of the song, a newborn baby is placed in the wooden cradle (used as a manger). That miracle baby is a little girl.

As in nature, human life continues its on-going cycles, with seasons of births as well as seasons of death. All the while, the creative, life-giving force of our great-great grandmothers flows powerfully within each of us—bestowing upon us strength, confidence, and courage. American poet May Sarton reminds us, “We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.” It is never our weight, height, hair color, age, breast size, buttock size, skin tone, clothing, marital status, and children (or lack of children) that make us worthy. We came into this world worthy. We came into this world whole. Do not heed the voices that say otherwise.

We came into this world through women’s bodies. 

 

In joy and gratitude,

 Diana J. Ensign