I could smell the Carolina lilies before I could see them. Just the day before, hiking along the Bartram trail upslope from Martin creek, I had been taken by surprise and wonder to find a single lone beauty standing left of the path, where never before I had seen one. I bent to meet her and soaked her fragrance into my whole body. I could feel the core of my being drinking in that sweet melody. I felt the honey slide down from nose to tail, infusing secret places I had forgotten were there. Now, along the winding switchbacks between Otto, NC and Standing Indian campground, the rocky dirt road is bejeweled with the look alike Turk’s Cap lilies and the bright almost quinacra violet-red seed structures of umbrella plants in moist places under black boulders. I pause many times along the way to get closer looks and whiffs of a variety of wildflowers.
The deeply fragrant Carolina or Michaud's Lily (Lilium michauxii) (looks very similar to the Turk's Cap)
and the Umbrella Leaf(Diphylleia Cymosa) with seed berries
I had started writing something a week or two ago, and so I am beginning with it, even though it starts on a different branch...
For several years now, in my practice, I have been honored by women bringing their mothers and/or their daughters to me. I would have a long time client whose daughter visits every so often and she would become a repeat client. Or a woman would bring her mother in to treat her in such a sweet gesture. And come to think of it, several families have come in three generations, and I love working with the young people - teenagers are so much fun, and seem to be at once surprised and amused by having their limbs moved about by another and coming to a new awareness in their own bodies.
I have always felt the added sacredness of someone entrusting the care of a loved one to me, first and foremost. And there is the gift of witness to what transfers from one generation to the next. I am always amazed at what gets passed down - physically, emotionally, spiritually, energetically. Even when the third generation is adopted (and from a starkly different ethnicity), I see the same physical manifestations in the body. We are made from the inside out and then the outside in. What we think, what we do, how we do what we do and how we feel about all of these show up in the body. It is inevitable.
Often it is not until we age past midlife that we truly realize how much we embody our ancestors. We see resemblances early on, and appreciate them, then sometimes we attach ourselves to the story of an elder - on occasional an unfavorable story about health issues - and then finally we gain a deeper felt sense and understanding later in life when we begin to manifest similar or identical conditions to our parents or grandparents. To me, this emphasizes the value of coming into a unique body-felt-sense awareness in our own bodies.
We have the opportunity to acknowledge and let go of our storied associations with our ancestry as they pertain to our physical and even emotional or psycho-spiritual lives. A beautiful way of doing this is to come present in the physical ground of our own being - our own bodies. To let this be the ground from which our unique expression emerges with greater clarity. In each moment, I have the opportunity to feel where I am, what I am, who I am. It’s so easy to get into the stream of busy-ness, work, family, chores, etc., and yet we can get carried away in that stream before we know it and become defined solely by our activities. This is where some kind of practice comes in handy.
Such a practice can be to address any aspect of our being - from inner, physical self to emotional, psycho-spiritual. To me, a practice can be utterly simple. It is something we do with regularity (let’s just say several days a week or on a schedule of one’s choosing). When I say utterly simple, I mean it. If there is one thing I have learned about personal growth and transformation, it’s the power of keeping a promise to one’s self. It matters not how challenging the action is, and it matters fully that we follow through on doing it.
SO, it can be as simple as walking around my house three times on waking. I firmly believe and know that the power of keeping promises to one’s self is tenfold the to honoring of commitments to others (which seems so much easier to most of us, but only becomes as powerful when paired with accountability to self). Each morning when I rise, I cook breakfast for myself - real breakfast. Yes, I rise hungry in general, but it is also a ritual I do for myself that involves all of my senses, and a certain amount of care to nourish myself.
I take the opportunity to move my body as I prepare breakfast. I’ve always been shy to dance, but for whatever reason, in the mornings, my body takes the opportunity to move about the kitchen in something that looks like a dance. We cannot underestimate the value of movement to our general health. If nothing else, our internal organs deeply depend on such movement. Vibration, swinging, bouncing, turning - all these mobilize our viscera in ways they need to function properly. Especially as we age, things tend to stick together if we don’t move enough, and it is vitally important that our organs can slide and glide as we move. So I bring my conscious awareness and attention into this movement and really feel the places where I can stretch a little farther in a bend at the gut and think about opening space for things inside to move. Conscious awareness and attention - these are what transforms a normal activity into a practice. As such, if I decide to notice my breath at certain intervals throughout a day, this would also become a practice. Simple. Easy. Effective. And quite transformative.
One of my favorite practices is dream work, in which I am tracking and learning to understand the language of my soul. This language is coded into my world since before I arrived, and there are clues in every direction in which I look. Yet I must pay attention, follow along and experiment with the elements and signs and symbols to learn this language and how to navigate by it. Over the years of writing dreams and working with them - in small groups, one on one and by myself - I have come to learn more and more how all life becomes more navigable. Waking life and dreaming life have a way of merging or becoming less differentiated - more integrated and complementary, actually.
Here we are in a time when we are all being asked in some way to isolate ourselves. We are doing this to protect ourselves and each other, at the chance of mitigating the influx of a global pandemic. So many challenging emotions and reactions are coming to the surface and will continue to increase in frequency and intensity. It’s scary for each and every one of us, except maybe for those who feel ready to leave the planet. I’m not saying that in a flip way. I know of one person who publicly wrote about how his poverty has made him feel ready to be taken by the bug, although he is not suicidal. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t had a moment of fear of having already been infected at this moment. We are coming into allergy season and still in flu season and how do we know at the onset of any of these what is really happening. And really, it hasn’t even begun yet where we are locally.
I want to talk about some ways to calm this fear and desperation. I know many people are busy with work and family and so many obligations and not accustomed to down time or being stuck at home. These people don’t even stay home when they do fall ill, but choose to power through because they don’t feel they have another option. But right now we are being asked to pull in, retreat and isolate, not because this will stop the whole thing from happening, but because it is what will make the best outcome for the highest number of people, minimizing the death toll and ensuring that affected populations will be more likely to have access to appropriate care. And we should heed this precaution.
I was writing a couple of weeks ago about what makes a practice. And I was saying how making it very simple and approachable is a good way to begin. I cited a silly example of walking around one’s house three times upon waking and before attending to anything else. I was making the point that it is arbitrary what the practice is and essential that we follow through with it reliably. In the days following, I decided to begin walking that talk. I know the effectiveness of this in theory and in other practices, but on a lark, I just decided to take up this practice. And then today, as I was chatting with a friend on the phone over breakfast, and she was hearing the birds in my yard, it hit me. I had just started a practice that is perfect for this time we are in, when many of us may be by choice or command stuck at home or very close to home for longer periods than normal.
Don’t laugh. Or yes, by all means, LAUGH! You, too, can take up this practice. Look, we can feel stuck at home or we can begin to explore the world we’ve been passing right by. I live down in a hollow and so walking around my house three times gives me the opportunity to go up and down a hill and some stairs in a variety of combinations. I can hear the birds and the creek, I can see all the stuff that needs doing around the yard and remember projects I left unfinished. I can be caught by the beauty of the sunrise light that will soon be obscured by fresh new leaves but is now as bright as it gets in this north facing hollow. I can also feel my body getting a little extra movement, breath, and grounding. And as I circle my home I give thanks for such a wonderful place that supports me.
There are other ways we can explore being right where we are. How we connect to the land, the house itself, the others who inhabit them - people or animals, what elements surrounds us and affect us. We can also learn to inhabit ourselves in new ways. Are you dreaming? What are your thoughts and emotions like in this moment? How is your body feeling? Are you breathing fully or holding your breath in suspense or fear? Are you eating well, nourishing yourself to stay strong? Not eating enough or overeating for comfort? Are there any habits you want to change or begin during this time? I’m sure we’re all a little more keen to wash our hands more frequently now (although as a body worker it’s about normal for me). I don’t know about you, but I need to moisturize more than normal this time of year with all the extra handwashing, and this can be a ritual itself. I also plan to take time to write some letters, especially as the people I love are more than ever in my heart and mind. I'm thinking a letter a day might be a nice cadence and that means each day I can spend time thinking about one person in particular and how they are important in my life.
Keep returning to what is close and what is simple. A cup of tea. Bare feet on the moist earth. Fresh air in my lungs. Sunshine on my skin. My heart connecting to a nearby tree. Recognizing the resources I already have all around me, and how I know them and how to utilize them. The books I’ve been meaning to start reading but haven’t had time for. Longer phone conversations with far away friends. My dreams and how they inform me about what’s been churning under the radar and also caution me about what is coming. How my dreams and my days are always interweaving. The creatures in nature around me and how they meet each moment ready and respond to the environment only in real time. What it means to fully digest what is happening before I have to respond in any way. Which leads me to internal guidance systems.
We all have an internal guidance system. Many of us disregard it unless all bells and whistles blare at once under extreme crisis. It can sometimes be referred to as the “still, small voice within” or the “little voice” or “a gut feeling.” And we can learn to be fluent with it. We can learn to hear it more clearly. All we have to do is begin engaging it. There are some simple ways to learn to hear it and you can begin today with some simple practices and it will become more clearly a tool for navigating daily life I use it for things as simple as which item to buy at the grocery store, which route to take on a journey, whether or not to attend something I’m not sure about, etc. If you can find your way to a yes or no question, you can use this simple guidance system to discern your inner yes or no. I can talk you through this process.
I will be trusting my internal guidance system while I take all the precautions I know how to take to protect myself and those I come into contact with throughout this challenging time. I am here to help you in any way that I can, whether lending an ear, providing dream consultations, helping you to create some daily practices for yourself, providing some cranial work or body work that is safe and effective to help bring you home in your body. There is plenty of work that I can do with the client fully clothed, and I’m considering meeting with clients in an outdoor location so that we can minimize vectors of transmission of any pathogens. Please feel free to comment with notes about what you are doing during this time to keep healthy and strong in body mind and spirit. Wishing you all continuing robust health and peace wherever you can find it.
It feels like forever and a day since I have posted anything here.
This morning, as I was looking for a document on my Mac (and not finding it), I stumbled across some words I wrote back in 2014 around Thanksgiving. I'm not sure if I ever did anything with them, but they felt poignant to me, especially as I come up on a big birthday in a couple of weeks. They are words it will be good to revisit often and add to from time to time.
These words, like a letter I wrote to myself five years ago:
I think about nature, always, and the beauty and grace and infinite wisdom I find in her. I think of the miracle that is my body, which - even oft abused - ever heals and supports my consciousness along the way. I think of the suffering in my life that has honed my eye for beauty in such a way that only a heart broken wide open so many times can let in the love and light in such spectacular ways.
Too, I think of the disenfranchised among us - those who are adrift in a world too busy to notice, and those who have shut themselves off from others in their desperate self-punishment for not measuring up to expectations they have assumed.
I think of those who cannot recognize the beauty and blessings in their lives - whose eyes are so shrouded by need, fear and grief, say nothing of those trapped in war zones.
I think of parents grieving their children and lonely old ladies. Of children so spoiled with riches they know nothing of value.
Each year into my life, I feel less and less want for things, for possessions, for stuff. Each year into my life, I feel more grateful for beauty, for grace, for fresh air and clean water (harder and harder to find, as the world is polluted more and more with pesticides and pollution).
Each year into my life I find more depth and meaning in the fewer friendships that really stick around for the duration.
Each day into my life I am grateful to the bottom of my being for the earth kissing my feet, the sky inviting me to stand tall, the waters offering to cleanse my spirit, the sun warming my heart. I am ever grateful for the beauty that graces all of it so long as my vision is clear. I am grateful for the grace of time, containing all possibilities at once, leaving nothing out. I am thankful for the moon and stars, who tell us about our ancestors and guide us home, for trees who have always listened to me and offered steady embrace. I am thankful for the winged ones who effortlessly shift my perspective to the clouds and back down, the furry critters who call me home even though they see all of me. I am grateful for the deep, authentic connections I call gravity between myself and all that is.
This last Thanksgiving, 2019, I was blessed to spend a full day on my favorite wild and scenic river, in slow time of nature. Arriving at the river, Grandmother Beech gifted us with a shower of gold.
In thinking on love this morning, I realize that the only authentic love is the one that is all pervasive. I cannot truly love without realizing that I, too, contain these disparate factions within me and until I can embrace them fully, my love is incomplete.
What is LOVE? It is not a relationship, though in our culture we tend to equate the two. It is not need or obligation. It is not a showering of affection or a calling one home. It is a feeling no, the reality of sharing ONE consciousness. When I am awake to this ONE consciousness and all that is, there can be nothing but love. And then it is what we call unconditional love. But then what we forget is that there can not be unconditional love that is exclusive for only one being. If we can indeed experience authentic, conscious love, then we are in effect IN UNCONDITIONAL LOVE WITH THE ONE CONSCIOUSNESS WE COMPRISE. It is a FIELD we all exist in and love is the sensation of the field, when felt with our body/mind. It is resonance with the ONENESS.
Then there was a whole world of learning about love from my feathered friend this last summer. I have still not been able to sit down and write about that gift. I hope I will be able to get some things down while I can still access them.
You'll have to forgive me. This is neither finished nor polished. This last few months I really haven't had the luxury of time to write, as I've been busy relocating my business, catching up on clients and, well, learning about another species. Anyway, I jotted down a few things the other day...
In this culture, we have a problem with cowardly racism, laziness and greed. And there’s an unfortunate sense of dominion that somehow got implanted a long time ago - dominion over other creatures deemed lesser, dominion over “other” humans deemed lesser. There is apparently a sense that if someone or something seems inconvenient then it should be removed away, or removed by killing if deemed necessary by someone who decides such things.
Weeds, insects, rodents, indigenous peoples and so on. It doesn’t even seem to matter to the perpetrators of poisoning or displacing the unwelcome visitors that they poison their own wells make their own homes toxic, grow crops with insecticide built in (carcinogenic to humans in food) destroy our only life support system we call earth. Leaving an impossible equation for their - our - grandchildren. “They” are us. There is no other. Search your self, seek out all the ways you are lazy, take advantage of situations that make things easier in order to indulge a complacent and self entitled laziness. We call it “convenience,” “fast food,” “conventional and factory farming,” “the help,” “out of sight, out of mind.”
I had the unexpected good fortune to raise a wild goose this spring and summer. No idea that raising a goose would be so much like raising a baby all the way to adolescence in a very short period time. Albeit one who produces more poop per pound than any human baby.
When I was young our family had a cabin on a lake, and I remember when the Canada geese arrived and decided it was a nice enough place in the world to stay and call home. My dad hated those geese because they pooped all over the dock. I reckon he didn’t realize that a bucket of water would so easily have removed the partially digested grasses. I can still hear my mother in the upstairs window barking like a little yippie dog to run them off. She really put a lot of gusto into that. No harm, no fowl.
At some point, I learned that a wild goose might require some kind of permit, and I began researching. Everywhere I looked to find out about how to have a permit to care for this creature, all I could find were permits for killing them. It seems people don’t like goose poop. And although these birds are protected federally, it seems that one can simply say they are a nuisance because of their (quite benign) feces, comprised of grass that easily melts away with water or rain. It is also said that they cause depredation of crops. And so permits are issued for culling these birds in fairly large numbers for four months out of the year, which happen to be during the breeding season, when many adult birds molt and so are also not flying. So, while I may be breaking the law caring for this wild animal that was orphaned when it fell out of the nest and drifted down a river, it would be easier for me to get a permit to kill “it” than to raise him.
But not being much of a rule breaker, and not knowing how to proceed with this unexpected endeavor, I recently delivered this goose to a licensed rescue and rehabilitation facility in a bordering state. Believe me, this was not going to be an easy thing no matter what. When he was physically assaulted and manhandled by the person receiving him, it was off to a bad start. Then he was placed in a small pen in a very hot place full with other birds - injured ducks, orphaned geese, a couple of peacocks, all on a dirt floor with no grass, no room to roam, no water to get into. The nearest small pen just 15 feet away held a pacing wolf, no doubt dreaming of a duck dinner.
Now surely these folks care about critters and are putting a lot of time and money and efforts into helping them. And yet this man treated this goose inappropriately, and the environment he was put into was actually not appropriate either.
I’m not an expert about anything. I watch the world around me, spending a fair amount of time in the woods, along the river. And during the last three months, raising this Goose, I’ve observed quite a lot during the countless hours of grazing, napping, preening and, yes, pooping. I had never heard the phrase “like poop through a goose” until recently, but I surely know what it means. In fact, I know a lot about goose poop now. I know about the dark and runny acrid morning poop (that I could smell from 30 feet away), and the watery poop with white film. I know about the grainy, tan poop from eating feed, and the quite beautiful pthalo blue-green poop from high quality weeds. And yes, I also know about the dark and runny poop that happens when there’s stress in the environment. Come to think of it, not so different from ours.
I know that the poop, so widely disliked by humans, if it’s coming from wild geese in their natural habitat, is mostly grass. That it is excellent fertilizer, and I hear it doesn’t need to be composted, because it does not burn when placed on a growing crop. I am guessing that this is because it has already fermented in the belly of the goose. I also imagine that crop depredation is not as common as implied.
Wild Canada geese do congregate in growing numbers, as their communities are comprised of extended family. And they do create quite a lot of noise at times. As long as I remember them being in the Southeast – seems like since the 80s – I have felt the general dislike of Canada geese in people. It is a nebulous thing, not grounded in any particular experience of them. I think maybe it’s even an unconscious response to a foreign population moving into a territory where it didn’t exist before, and this being a beautiful place in the world with a generally mild climate, they decided to stay. No different from many of us who have chosen this as our home. Why on earth would we want to go anywhere else? There is the most amazing and diverse natural beauty here, and a plethora of resource in the form of wild forests and clean, running waters, open spaces along a short chain of man-made lakes (made to create electricity for our convenience).
In other lands, the creatures make great garden helpers, pulling weeds with ultimate agility while effortlessly applying fertilizer. They take excellent care of their amazing and powerful bodies, preening an impressive collection of hundreds of feathers, using oil from a built-in gland to make them impervious to water, unzipping then zipping closed each and every feather until they are all perfectly in order, discarding worn feathers and debris as they go. Their feet are delicate, soft like fine Italian leather, and yet durable for navigating water and land, rock and soil, taking off and landing on a variety of terrains. We don’t consider (why would we?) the astounding proprioceptive abilities of birds, much less those who inhabit both water and air - and land, of course. Can you imagine flying 1500 miles in a day, or bodily reaching up to 9000 feet above the earth and being able to see where you are going from the air? Say nothing of navigating air and water currents in that body.
I scarcely think that we humans consider the tip of a proverbial iceberg about a group of people or creatures we have not lived among enough to intimately understand their habits and character. We don’t ask ourselves what is beautiful and miraculous about them - what truly unique and necessary gifts they bring into the world. We shun them and bar the doors to our comfortable worlds. If they seem useful, we find a way to capitalize on their skills, but without incorporating them into our community - we point to an area we wouldn’t choose to inhabit and say, “there, look, there is a place you can have for your people, all just for you. Isn’t that nice?” A reservation. An up and coming neighborhood. Probably across the tracks on the south side of town.
About a year ago, I was watching the change of seasons and taking a notion from the trees up near a place called Rattlesnake Lodge, above the Blue Ridge Parkway. I learned a lot just thinking with those trees.
When the trees loose their leaves going in to winter, they do not fight with gravity. They dress up in their finest richly hued vestments and then scatter jewels all about. They make an offering of the most stunningly beautiful objects they can create, and then effortlessly let them go to the breeze, dancing their way to the ground with the gifts from all their neighbors where they’ll become a nourishing carpet to feed the roots of the neighborhood.
Just imagine that first letting go by the young tree. What did it think when it started losing its first foliage? And saw all its friends and family losing things? Did it think it would die? How many lettings go would it take to feel safe and confident going into winter’s season of harsh freezes and terrific winds - and threadbare? How many friends fell over in the ice storms? Maybe loss gets easier to bear over time. Some connections, though, seem so much more profound than others, and it seems they will not be bearable. And so I must pause and consider - how can i make the most beautiful offering to the universe at this juncture? What do I have to give to my surroundings in faith to the future nourishment of those around me?
Now I see a sign across the road that says: “God’s in control.” Two days ago I started the morning with a float and ended up lost, driving through hidden hills, towns called Luck and Trust, and up to the mountaintop of 360 degree views. Once I was clearly not on the road I intended to be on, not even going in the direction I intended to go in, I simply trusted the free falling and was led gently to a place I had been wanting to get to for a while but had no idea where it was. I had not consulted a map to see what direction I would have had to go in to get there. And now here I was, albeit ever farther from home than when I had set out toward my house. I had just lost a dear friend and was spending time in unexplored territory.
Now, I am just returned from a longer journey on which I lost another dear friend, quite unexpectedly and not in the best of circumstances. It is not for me to know all the hows and whys of this, yet I must decide how to walk forward along my own path, however invisible it may appear, and how to do this in a way that honors my friends who are gone, along with all the others, and the rest of the world I walk through. Perhaps if I were a tree it would be simpler - all my processes would be inherent and in concert with the movements of the celestial beings and in response to the terrestrial conditions. I wouldn’t have to think about where to go, what kind of work to do, how to interact with far away people and places. And yet, like the tree, fluids run by miraculous nature through my vessels and something animates me with the spark of life. In fact, if I think about it, that tree is as sentient as I am, even if it doesn’t communicate or travel in the ways that I do. I’ve had conversations with trees and learned profound truths. In spite of our disruption of their territories, trees communicate over great distances and have much to say. I remind myself often of how long they have been watching over me and I imagine how much they have seen, unable to look away. Our lives are inextricable from theirs. Were they not on the earth, we would not be breathing.
So as I prepare to embark on the next leg of my path ahead, taking me to new territories and peoples, I take another look at the trees about to drop their foliage. What do I really need to carry with me along the way? What process will support me where I am going? Best I polish all the gold I have and let it drop effortlessly away to dance in the currents about me, that I may be unencumbered to weather the next season. That I may carry in my heart of hearts those I hold dear, to walk with me; that I may learn to expand my heart space to learn with them how to travel the unseen worlds that are always right here with me.
And so perhaps today I can make this letting go a celebration by decorating and feeding the land around me with the treasures I have been holding onto. Perhaps I can celebrate my dear lost loved ones by polishing the gold they have left in my soul, as I am reminded by the golden falling leaves all around me.
After putting this post together, I came across this rich post on the Brainpickings site. Now I will dive deeper into the secret life of trees in following the Brainpickings thread.
I am grateful for the many gifts of synchronicity.
In the midst of my busiest season yet, I have been building a new website for my various offerings in the world. I hope you will enjoy checking it out at: www.honorwoodard.com. I am still in process with it, and will be adding more resources to the site in coming weeks, but I think it's coming along. Thanks for taking a look.
Recent photographic works were on display during June and July at Noble Wine Cellar in downtown Clayton, GA. Big thanks to all those who came out and supported Noble Wine Cellar and enjoyed tasting Georgia grown wines and Georgia made craft beers! Thanks to Jabe and Barbara Hilson for welcoming me into their beautiful space, and special thanks to those who purchased photos! It was such a pleasure meeting and getting to know the lovely folks who came and made the show a success.