We cannot be truly alive without maintaining an awareness of death. She is the secret teacher hiding in plain sight. She helps us to discover what matters most.
-Frank Ostaseski, The Five Invitations
Each day I sit and watch them out the windows, whether I want to or not. In fact, one just leapt from an impossibly small branch to an even smaller one, at least 30 feet off the ground, outside my office window. How do they do it? How do they manage to move so gracefully, these tree rats? How do they not end up dead a lot more often? How do they outsmart every bird feeder we’ve ever owned?
Living in the woods, I have ample opportunity to observe all kinds of wildlife. The birds bring beauty, the squirrels bring comedy, the coyotes bring tragedy. The vultures are God’s cleaning crew. All of these creatures work in synergy together to keep the ecosystem balanced. It’s me, with my trash cans and my compost pile and my bird feeders that upsets the system and brings potential disharmony. The sheer number of squirrel nests around my yard, where there is always a source of bird food, attests to that. Apparently, the squirrel condo association likes the amenities here.
The truth is, death is everywhere. Without death, there is no life. There’s no garden, no humus in the woods, without death. No seeds. No room for new squirrels in the condos. We as humans have so sanitized death - so pushed it out of our lives, that it terrifies us. We are about to come face to face with death in a very large, very obvious, very important way. Like it or not, it’s wake-up time, and we’ll need all the skills we can muster to be with that. We’re mighty out of practice.
I sat on the deck yesterday, a few yards from the unfortunate baby squirrel, and thought about this for a while. The sun was moving lower in the sky. I looked up, and the beauty of the golden sun on the brand-new leaves at the tops of the highest trees made me catch my breath. I watched until the sun disappeared, awed.
Think UP! (adapted from the work of Alexander Teacher Peter Nobes)
- Go outside and find a place where you can see the sky, and some distance in at least one direction.
- Notice how you are in your body, but don’t try to change it. (Are you slumpy? Are you trying hard to stand up straight? Don’t know? Check in and see.)
- If you’re trying hard, let go of that.
- Notice you have both a front and a back, and also sides.
- Now, look around you. Notice the sky, the trees or tall buildings. Consider that you could allow yourself to float effortlessly up to meet them.
- Take a breath and “think up”.
- Now, notice distance all around you.
- Take another breath and “think big”, allowing yourself to widen into the space in all directions.
- Take your expanded self for a walk.