Loving this World in Difficult Times

I sometimes feel guilty because I don't comment more on politics and current affairs. Politics and current affairs are not, I remind myself, my beat, my area of expertise. The truth is, I shy away from that kind of commentary because it seems to me that the tone and tenor of public discourse leave no space for my voice.

It is all so shrill and angry and fear-mongering, all extremes and labels and I-hate-you-because-you-disagree-with-me. All sides, no middle. No time or place for thoughtfulness, for pondering and reflecting and trying to see, much less respect, other points of view. 

Thoughtfulness and respecting other points of view are critically important values for me. I am an INFJ personality type in the Myers-Briggs spectrum of understanding human personalities. The "I" is for introverted and intuitive (yes, I like people; I just need a lot of time alone to process and reflect). "F" stands is for feeling in the empathetic sense because I am sensitive to the non-verbal signals we humans give off with such abundance, and "J" because I value concrete data and the ability to think over the patterns it creates to explain the world.

(If you're curious about where you land in the personality spectrum, check out the test at 16 Personalities. It's thorough without taking too much time, and surprisingly and sometimes a bit uncomfortably informative.)

Put more succinctly, sound bites and labels and divisions are not my thing; fairness and consideration and justice are. Love is.

Look up photos of me and I'm the one smiling with my arm around someone else, or on hands and knees admiring some detail of leaf or flower or rock. I'm the one in love with this world and life, hard as that may be. 

That's me expressing two kinds of love, love for the Chihuahuan Desert  in southern New Mexico, and big "L" love for the man who has his arm around me, the late Richard Cabe. (Photo by Susan Kask. Thanks, Sue!)

My mission is loving and restoring the world, not tearing it to bits by reducing its human and wild communities to warring factions. 

I believe that our species' greatest attribute is not our big brains–those are wonderful, but can also get us in serious trouble. Nor our intellect, strength, or even our creativity. What we humans do best, I think, is love. As I wrote in one of my books:

What we do best comes not from our heads but our hearts, from an ineffable impulse that resists logic and definitions and calculation: love. Love is what connects us to the rest of the living world, the divine urging from within that guides our best steps in the dance of life.

–From The San Luis Valley: Sand Dunes and Sandhill Cranes

Loving Molly Cabe at the Fine Arts Museum in San Francisco

I've been pondering lately how to best live that love in these times. Not so much in my writing, because my love for this troubled world threads through everything I write, from the haiku and photo I post each morning on social media to the columns I write for Houzz and Rocky Mountain Gardening Magazine, to my work re-imagining Bless the Birds, my memoir-in-progress. And of course my podcasts on end-of-life choices for The Conversation Project, a national effort begun by writer Ellen Goodman to encourage dialog on how we want our lives to go at the end. 

In the being. How can I, how can we keep that love flowing, and encourage it in others when the world seems to value love so little, when fear and anger seem to have so much power? 

To express love is a conscious choice that comes from within. Which means that we have to have love to express. We have to nurture our own supply by taking time every day to restore both heart and spirit. 

Here are some suggestions adapted from a list I posted on social media in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting:

* TAKE A BREAK from the news–watching violence over and over triggers more stress and grief, exhausting our ability to love. 
* BREATHE: Take a deep breath, hold it for a few seconds, then exhale slowly and completely. Repeat a few times. 
* GO OUTSIDE. Find a quiet space, as natural as possible. Nature nurtures our empathy and ability to love.
* SIT. Let your mind empty. Listen for the wind, bird sounds, the flutter of leaves. Look for the beauty of flowers or form. Feel the sun on your skin. Let the pulse of life soothe your pulse, refill your capacity for feeling beauty, awe, and gratitude.
* CRY, SCREAM, RANT if necessary. Then find quiet again. 
* CONSCIOUSLY SPREAD LOVE and light, not fear and anger: Smile at strangers; be kind in a difficult situation; offer help to someone who is struggling; act with generosity and compassion. 

How can we practice love in a world as troubled and frightening as ours seems right now? By remembering that love is not about being perfect, either us or the world. It is about actively looking for and nurturing beauty, diversity, kindness, courage, compassion, empathy, creativity–the basic goodness of life, all lives, in the community of this planet. It is about seeking and nurturing the heart in every living being, in every moment. 

Remembering that love is always stronger than hatred. 

And deliberately adding our mite of love to the world. Every day. 

Thank you. 

It's not perfect by any means, but I love this community, this place, this life.

News on Writing, Teaching and Moving

When I left Santa Fe last Wednesday at the end of my amazingly fruitful fellowship at the Women’s International Study Center, I had written 13,400 words, a solid beginning of my new book, The Ditch & The Meadow. (The subtitle–also my elevator pitch–is still evolving, but right now it’s How Native Plants and Passionate Plantswomen are Restoring Health to Humanity, Our Communities, and the Earth.)

Thirteen-thousand-plus words in a month may not seem like much for those who took on the NaNoWriMo challenge and wrote a whole novel in November. But I’ve never been a fast writer, in part because I revise the previous day’s work before I inch forward. So these are three fairly polished chapters and part of a fourth, and a table of contents that is actually a pretty good guide for the book to come. 

Of course, that’s all the writing I’ll likely get done on The Ditch & The Meadow until, oh, about mid-February. Because between now and then I have two real estate deals to finalize (one selling, one buying, both scheduled to close in the first two weeks of January), a household to pack up and move (in late January), a renovation project to get started (which I’ll live in for a few months), a couple of columns to write for Houzz, one for Rocky Mountain Gardening, and two presentations to prepare for garden conferences. 

So the new book will have to wait until after I’m moved, settled, and have done the garden-conference thing. 

My tiny and wonderful podcasting microphone, a Raspberry from Blu Microphones, next to a script

In the meantime, I’m happy to report that my first podcast for The Conversation Project in Boulder is up and already drawing an audience. It’s a short excerpt from my memoir, Bless the Birds, with lessons for us all about talking about quality-of-life values with the people we love. Give it a listen and let me know what you think! 

I’ve wanted to get into podcasting for several years, and simply lacked the reason to learn the technology, so this first one got me going. I’m aiming for one a month for The Conversation Project, and I’m also going to start my own podcast series using some of my recent short commentaries, plus new ones I’ll write.

I haven’t figured out a series name though. It has to be something general enough that the podcasts can range from commentaries on nature to sustainability, and to memoir and the occasional foray into politics. Ideas? Leave them in the comments below. 

I’m also honored to be part of the first webinar-based writing workshop series from WordHarvest, the parent organization of the Tony Hillerman Writing Conference. If you’re looking for ways to sharpen your writing craft and your ability to market your work, check out the package here. My webinar, Sculpting Compelling Stories, is a digest of my favorite revising techniques to polish your work from draft to ready to submit, gleaned from my Write & Retreat Workshops. 

You can buy the package or just one webinar, and listen to them as often as you like. They even come with bonus gifts from each workshop presenter. I have to say, I wasn’t sure about how well I’d do teaching a workshop to a video camera and no students, but the videographer, Robert Muller (who also shot my wonderful new publicity photos), was a delight to work with, as was Jean Schaumberg, the co-Director of Wordharvest with Anne Hillerman. 

Webinar graphic courtesy of Robert Muller

And on a personal note, as the Northern Hemisphere heads into the cold season of short days and long nights, and the US heads into a political transition that looks dark, I’m more than ever determined to live my values and be part of what Quakers call “the Ocean of Light.” I believe in the power of our individual actions in making the world a better place to be. 

Thanks for joining me and spreading that Ocean of Light. Together we can grow positive change.