On Morning Walks, Geese, Flowers, and Discovering Oneness

I like to run in the mornings, before the sun gets too hot and the Mid-Atlantic humidity sets in. 

My route stays pretty much the same. I meander through various neighborhoods, down quiet winding roads, past farms and ponds where geese and ducks waddle around and swim, where swans glide with seeming effortlessness across the water, and then in the park where I follow a paved path, passing people walking their dogs, kids riding bikes, and older couples holding hands. 

My hours in nature have always been a refuge for me. I have discovered that time alone in the open air amidst the vistas of farmland, crossing tree-covered bridges, and running through the sun-dappled patches of grass and pebbles allow my soul to breathe. I have always needed solitude and space. I had a therapist ages ago who said to me on my first visit, “You may be small, but you need wide pastures.” He hit that existential nail on the head. Rainy days in the park are the best. It is often expectedly empty. All the smart runners stay home and dry. Every so often, though, I will see another dedicated runner across the field, and I am (ridiculously) disappointed. Rats, I say to myself. I thought I was alone.

Every time I venture outside for my walks and runs, I learn something new or see something new or think about life in a new way. This is the gift of nature, as many teachers before me have witnessed. Franciscan priest, teacher, and modern-day mystic, Richard Rohr, teaches that (as St. Francis himself believed) nature is the first true scripture. This resonates with me deeply. All of life, its challenges and sufferings and pain and beauty and wonder and joy, is reflected in every element of nature. Every budding wildflower. Every nascent pine cone. Every intricate gossamer-like spider web. They all reflect the spirit of the cosmos.

And so it was again for me today. As I ran down one of the quiet roads past a pond, I could hear the geese in the distance. As I approached the pond, there they were, visiting and swimming and seemingly enjoying the morning. Soon afterwards, I heard mourning doves, cooing and chatting as they do. And then I saw them, sitting happily on a wooden fence, and as I approached, they flew away to perch on a tree branch. 

Then quite suddenly, I ran through a veritable valley of perfume. The air was saturated with the scent of honeysuckle and roses. It nearly took my breath away with its beauty and perfection. The fragrance of flowers hovered around me like a morning mist, but invisible to the eye. And it was this inability to see the source of such sweetness that actually heightened my awareness and appreciation of the moment. 

I searched around me, but I saw no honeysuckle bushes, no blossoming roses. Unlike the geese and mourning doves that had made their presence known to me, the flowers remained allusive and intangible. 

And yet, their perfume affirmed their presence. The joy I felt in being cloaked with their scent was palpable and real and true. Because I felt this deeply, I also trusted they were there around me, somewhere. This knowing was enough. This satisfaction and engagement with ethereal and unseen beauty was enough.

Almost immediately, I realized that this seemingly mundane experience was no less than an affirmation of, and invitation into, deeper faith. Faith in what? In knowing that the “energy that creates worlds” (Abraham) is around and in us at every moment. That God, Source, unitive consciousness, are present in the eternal now, which is the continual outpouring of “beingness” itself. “Faith,” as Abraham tells us, “is believing in something before we see it in its manifested state.” In other words, it is the knowing that the thing, the event, the person, the opportunity are here for us, available to us, even if and when we can’t see them—yet. 

I heard the geese and doves and then I saw them playing before me. As we learn to trust and as our faith grows, it is important to have these experiences where the invisible is easily manifested. These experiences teach us to trust our faith—trust our knowing. We learn that we need not second-guess ourselves, fear that what we envision or feel or desire won’t come. These easy, quotidian experiences smooth the resistance along our spiritual paths. We can meditate on a blue bird or on our dream job. We can contemplate a happy interaction at the market or the resolution of illness. They are the same things where energy is concerned. The only question is, am I resisting the manifestation because I don’t believe it will come? Because I don’t have faith?

So when I experienced the honeysuckle and roses and didn’t literally see them, I smiled. I was satisfied, because I knew they were there. Their perfume was a gift—a glorious reminder that I can feel deeply, have a high vibrational emotional response without needing to see the flowers themselves. 

These are the everyday moments we are invited to experience and contemplate and in which we can find meaning. “Everything is spiritual,” as Rob Bell writes. “Experiential salvation,” as James Finley when discussing mysticism explains it, is all around us in the world if we choose it. “The fiery power [of Divine love] is hidden in everything that has being,” as Hildegard writes. 

I will continue to take my walks and run outside. I hope you find ways to move meaningfully through nature, too, wherever it takes you. The mysteries are always calling us. Spirit, faith, love are always beckoning. Can we try and consistently experience the perfect perfume of a flower and be satisfied, even if we can’t see it? When we can, and the more we can, we will understand that we are truly powerful co-creators in this interconnected universe that is ever unfolding within and around us.

Self-Care Revisited

I first published this piece in May of 2019–two weeks after Sean began radiation treatment for medulloblastoma. Every day for six weeks, Sean and I drove an hour each way to and from Philadelphia. Once at CHOP, after we checked in and Sean was prepped for his treatment, I used the 90 minutes or so during his radiation to meditate or write or catch up with a friend on the phone. Most times, though, I used that time to go for a run by the river.

At first, I was self-conscious about exchanging my clogs for running shoes, putting on my knee braces, and strapping my running belt around my waist. By the time I walked through the revolving doors out of the hospital, having added my baseball cap, sunglasses, and earbuds to my ensemble, I looked pretty goofy. But once I reached the running trail, I not only didn’t care, I felt great. I felt like myself. I felt free.

Taking the time to get outside, run, and listen to podcasts became my time for learning, for educating myself about all sorts of things: nutrition for cancer, meditation, conscious parenting, spirituality and Catholic mysticism. I have learned so much since I wrote this piece a year ago. I have so much more to share and to explore with you. But I hope these thoughts will encourage you to find ways, however small, to care more for yourself–now and always.

Self-care, self-love, conscious attention to spirit, whatever we call these practices, are essential to maintaining our alignment with Source and abundance. They are not optional. Living a rich, conscious, connected life requires this kind of attention to self. All wisdom teachers and mystics emphasize the importance of finding quiet in our lives–time apart from the noise and business of the everyday. These are the times we focus on looking and going within ourselves. Only by consciously connecting to this interior spaciousness will we then be prepared to re-enter “ordinary” life. Only when we have witnessed, touched, and calibrated to the serenity and expansiveness within ourselves are we able to be fully present with, and manage, life’s daily activity and struggles.

Find ways to honor yourself both for yourself and for those around you, who might then follow your example. Imagine what the world would be like if we all gave ourselves permission to love, care for, and curate the Divine spark within us. The world would shine brightly indeed, and we would feel truly free.

The term, “self-care,” has become almost trendy now, right? It’s strange how such a basic, essential concept now seems new or alternative. Alternative to what, exactly? Martyrdom? Self-abandonment? Here’s why it’s so vital.

Of course, especially when a sick child or loved one needs us, we need to attend to our own health and wellness; if we don’t take care of ourselves, we can’t care for others. This is obvious. But there are more expansive, even karmic, reasons to mind our minds and our bodies.

When we attend to our emotional, spiritual, and physical health, we are not only literally caring for ourselves, but we are also caring for the energy we emit, the atmosphere we create and offer others. We can’t fool the universe, saying, “I’m fine! Really, I’m great,” when we know we feel empty or sad or are suffering inside.

In the same way, our kids and those close to us know, too, when we’re just putting on a happy face. We cannot hide the energy we carry with us. The electromagnetic field of our heart (5,000 times stronger than that of our brains) communicates the authenticity of our energy.

And perhaps most importantly, when we attend to ourselves, we are also sharing with others, including our kids, that we value their own self-care. When my children see me taking time to exercise, meditate, learn, and create (all activities that are essential to my daily happiness and sense of purpose), they understand that they, too, are autonomous, independent, and worthy of participating in the activities that fill up their souls.

So, is self-care selfish? Yes. Yes, it is. And it is also life-sustaining, liberating, and actually the most loving action we can take to create an optimal environment of love and compassion.