~ from cats, dogs and nature to the flowering of body, mind and spirit ~

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Where is home?

“A track is not the shape of a foot; it is the shape of a foot in the ground.” ~ Mary Pipher

The above sentence clarifies my sense of the path I’ve already travelled as well as the one that remains in front of me. It reveals a vital image of context. My tracks are not just mine but encompass where I have placed my feet. And the image also provides discernment toward where next to step, because I will leave my imprint in that place while also receiving its imprint upon me.
Pipher reflects upon how “place is identity” when she refers to a painting and interprets the artist’s message to be that, “we are landscape internalized. Our souls are etched with the geography of a particular place.” Every place I’ve lived has done this, has etched itself upon my soul. A new place will do this, too.

It is difficult if not impossible to separate culture(1) from community(2). Because community is a place that is inhabited by people (in this instance, though, I also know the power of being in community with beings of the more-than-human world), those people bring with them their culture. My personal yearning for a specific place in which to feel at home is by its very nature tied to whoever lives there and what their beliefs are.
While I am simply an American moving from one state to another within the same country, reading Mary Pipher’s book The Middle of Everywhere: Helping Refugees Enter the American Community has provided tremendous perspective. Pipher’s book is eye-opening and heart-breaking; she says that “it is difficult to describe or even imagine the challenges of getting started in a new country.” Not only do refugees and immigrants have to decide how much of their traditional culture they want to maintain, while also building a new life and community in a foreign country (and concurrently learning a new language), they are also dealing with past trauma that is nearly incomprehensible to me. I’m grateful for the blessings of being an American and having access to so many diverse resources, and Pipher’s book offers lessons in compassion as well as resilience.

I have spent a lifetime shying away from conflict and yet, not surprisingly, still find myself occasionally in the midst of it in one way, shape or form. Pipher says that, “Community does not mean ‘free of conflict.’ It’s inevitable and even healthy to have great differences. Diversity in community is as healthy as diversity in any ecosystem. Without diversity in age, ethnicity, and ideas, we don’t have communities; we have lifestyle enclaves. Even conflict can lead to closeness.” I find myself wondering if this is true. Can conflict indeed lead to closeness? I try to recall examples of this in my own life but come up empty; maybe I need to spend more time on this one. However, I don’t see that diversity has to result in conflict. Am I naive?

I am encouraged by Pipher’s expression of how cultures can flow, because it reflects my own desire to understand all sides of a situation. She says: 
“Cultural traditions are not set in stone. Cultures are not monolithic. Rather, they are processes, or sets of negotiations between members. Cultures are practical, active, and creative responses to specific conditions. They are constantly changing, and within any given culture there are many points of view and many different groups and members. 
“Culture isn’t the property of just the leaders or the powerful. The right to interpret the cultural values doesn’t belong to any one group. It is important to ask whose interests are sever and whose are violated by a tradition. Who profits from maintaining the status quo in a culture? Who stands to gain with change?”
The above is great to ponder because it invites into the conversation the theories of cultural evolution. These theories, in turn, provide new ways of looking at the difficult and sometimes violent gaps between the Northern and Southern cultures of America.

The further we move into a global society, I agree with Pipher that “we need a home to hold our lives in place” because I have felt this deep need in my bones the older I’ve gotten. Pipher quotes Bill Holm: “The love of your own country hasn’t to do with foreign politics, burning flags, or the Maginot Line against immigrants at the border. It has to do with light on a hillside, the fat belly of a local trout, and the smell of new-mown hay.” This emphasizes how important individual landscapes and their communities are to our identity. America is a huge country, populated over hundreds of years by immigrants from diverse cultures who created their own unique communities. Many of these original communities have all but vanished, and those of us who moved away during our youths can often feel like we are displaced or culturally-bereft when it comes to specifics. Pipher goes on to say that “The refugee experience of dislocation, cultural bereavement, confusion, and constant change will soon be all of our experience. As the world becomes globalized, we’ll all be searching for home. There are two intertwined components to home: people and place.” 
I seek somewhere I can call home again. 
Me with Mom, younger brother, and new puppy in Missouri in the late 1960's

1 Culture is defined as: “the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group” and “the attitudes and behavior characteristic of a particular social group.” [Apple Dictionary]
2 Community is defined as: “ a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common” and “a particular area or place considered together with its inhabitants.” [Apple Dictionary]

Monday, July 20, 2015

Introverts, Misfits, and Community

My Brothers & Me in Missouri:
A Tree Planted When We Were Toddlers
I have been puzzling over the curious concept of community. How has it changed or remained the same in the past five decades? How much of community is fed by our similarities as compared to our differences? More specifically, how does community manifest for deep introverts (like me)? 
A lot of my curiosity has arisen because of an epiphany I had while writing Desert Fire, which was the realization that I had slowly and gradually become part of a community in Maine. And that it’s only upon reflection that I’ve realized how my soul was nourished by that subtle ebb and flow of community. I lost most of those tangible threads when we moved to Arizona, and, after nearly four years, have been unable to feel welcomed into a strong sense of community here.
Is that loss of community why I feel this tug to return to the landscape where I was born? To return to the land where both sides of my family-of-origin have lived for generations?
It feels strange to me to want — or at least be open to, for the first time in my life — to place myself in the midst of a culture that is predominantly the opposite of my own belief system. For me, as a pagan-liberal, to consider the value of living around Christian-conservatives is an enigma swirling in my mind. Will I be welcomed or ostracized? And yet, to continue growing in my understanding of Self and humanity through conscious placement into diversity holds a tantalizing energy. It’s almost like choosing to live in a  foreign country as an observer, an anthropological endeavor, while unable to detach from my emotions. Yet, within the southwestern Missouri Ozarks reside my own genetic and blood-roots, foreign as they may seem.
Big Spring, MO
(courtesy Wikipedia)
It is easier in many ways to settle in a place where everyone, or at least the majority, thinks as we do (Oregon, a state we are also considering moving to) than to be where the mindset is alien (Arizona and Missouri). And yet, if one’s purpose is to grow and share the beauty of diversity, what better way than to live on the edge, at the perimeter? If we live in separation — segregated — the gap becomes wider and the bridge more flimsy due to the distances between us. How do we nourish community within diversity? Precious Diversity in her “coat of many colors that my Mother made for me.” Will I be able to stay focused on my path and also find the community’s core goodness, our commonality?
Will the land support and soothe my fears and nurture our differences? At least in the Ozarks, I would be living in a moderate, lovely landscape (in spite of the occasional tornado) and climate where my husband and I can afford to live comfortably as we age closer to retirement. I want to walk barefoot upon the land and within my own mind — free from aversions to my past. 
My Grandparents' Farm in MO
I yearn to sink down, to ground — even if it is into my own blood-roots that I swore I would never return to. I never felt I fit in — with family or culture or religion — and yet, now, I also feel a kinship arising within me like the ancient sap of an ancestral core. Is it the simple process of aging that does this? Or is it self-realization? An acknowledgment and acceptance that I am spirit; genes, and uniquely woven — all of these? What are the gifts held within genetic memory and the people who are my family-of-origin?
Is it possible for the moist verdant rolling hills, the vibrant vegetation, and the multi-generational roots of family and community to be nourishing enough to offset the strain of living a culturally misfit presence?

During the past couple of months, as the potential for moving has become clearer, I’m reading a variety of related sources that touch upon family, community, diversity, and how we view our historic past. The books written by psychologist Mary Pipher have been extremely helpful; they have provided me with insights I’d not previously considered regarding our American views of family and community. (I wholeheartedly recommend her books, I’ve read all of them, though I find myself disagreeing with some of her more rigid views.)
For me, this research also entails trying to understand why some of us attach so strongly to the past and its symbols, while others can detach, even when we are born into the same families.* Most southern Missouri people were allied with the Confederacy, and yet, somehow, from a quite young age, I personally felt more like a Yankee. Because of this desire to comprehend a different perspective, I’m also reading books like Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct by Michael McCullough, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt, and The War that Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters published this year by James McPherson. 


* I am an American hybrid, an example of the genetic melting pot; my ancestors are mostly 17th century immigrants from Ireland, Scotland and England, as well as from the Netherlands and Germany, blended with a couple of Native Americans. Is it possible that my different views (from my family) are also a product of genetic memory? In Beyond Revenge, the author points out that most of the American South was originally settled by “livestock herding” immigrants from Ireland, Scotland and Wales; these traditional cultures held a strong “honor mentality” due to their original way of life (their livelihood — herding animals — were portable and could be stolen away). This imprint has held firm even when they moved into agricultural pursuits. This is in contrast to the settlers of the American North who were a majority of European, England and Germany for example, established farmers in traditions (their livelihoods were predominantly agricultural and, therefore, could not as easily be stolen therefore emerging a different culture and mindset). Is it the German genes being expressed more strongly through me? McCullough’s book is absolutely fascinating, even though I don’t concur with all his findings. Nevertheless, it helped me to think outside the box.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Changes Coming

I say to the southwest landscape
"Soon, you will be a memory."

I bless the space where I live
"Thank you for your gifts."

I turn my gaze northeast and hear
"Your roots will guide you."

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