Holiday Gifts For the Heart & Soul: Everyday Magic, Day 461

I believe in giving gifts whenever the spirit moves us as well as giving ourselves whatever gifts feed our souls and lift us up to live out our callings. In this tune, I want to recommend these possibilities for you to give others and/or give yourself, all of which are home-grown (benefiting the 99% and not just the 1%) and offered by people I believe in.

  • Writing as a Way of Healing: Ourselves & Others, an online class with Sharon Bray: Sharon is fabulous at helping people connect with their deepest truths, and she’s very experienced at offering superb online classes. She writes of this one, “What is the story you want to tell? In ‘Writing as a Way of Healing: Ourselves and Others,’ we begin with you. Your experience. Your story. We will work together to create a virtual community that has as its ground rules an atmosphere of safety, support and mutual respect, one that allows you to write authentically and deeply from painful life experiences. In this way, we will experience and model the ways in which writing can be healing, for ourselves and for others.” This class is offered by the Transformative Language Arts Network.
  • The Music of Kelley Hunt, Greg Greenway, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Leonard Cohen, and Others: Music keeps speaking through us and to us, and a gift of music goes, like the song, on and on and on. These are some of my favorites, but feel free to ask people around you who their favorites are, and then investigate! Also, Kelley has an amazing New Year’s Eve Eve concert coming up on 12/30.
  • Great Books!: I recommend these books I’ve read in the last year and loved: Chris Offutt’s The Same River Twice, Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa, Harriet Lerner’s The Marriage Rules, Betsy Sholl’s Rough Cradle, Katherine Towler’s Island Light, Dick Allen’s Present Vanishing, two anthologies I edited (so of course I love these poems!) — Begin Again: 150 Kansas Poems, and An Endless Skyway: Poetry from the State Poets Laureate, Stephanie Sandmeyer’s Broken for You, and anything by Pema Chodron.
  • Solitude & Beauty: Consider a retreat, particularly in Kansas at Shantivanam, a beautiful center just an hour from Kansas City or Lawrence. It’s a great way to recharge and relax.
  • Brave Voice: Writing & Singing For Your Life: This six-day retreat I offer with Kelley Hunt is all about recovering and celebrating your creative spirit. Past participants have gone on to write and publish books, release CDs, perform and read, and most of all, make enduring community with others who support their art and share the riches of their voice and vision. We have a solstice sale — $60 off if registered by 12/21 — here.

Into the Woods and Back Out Again: Everyday Magic, Day 441

Every year, we go into the woods of Shantivanam, the forest of peace located on the eastern edge of Easton, Kansas. A Catholic retreat center focused on contemplation and solitude might seem an odd place to find a Jewish girl and her sweetie having their anniversary get-away, but it’s been perfect for us for the last 20 or so years.

We usually go in overlapping shifts, me hauling my cello and little suitcase to a small cabin in the woods on a Thursday, Ken showing up late on Friday, and me leaving before him on Sunday so that he can have some alone time too. But we always go with the intention of returning to the deep woods (not just a notion at Shantivanam, but a whole forest just south of the forest that holds cabins spaced far apart) and to each other. It’s our refuge, our time to just hang out without much interruption (although we do walk to high points in the field to call home and check with the kids), our space to just be alone and together.

The first day there, I’m more than a little all over the place, all the racing thoughts come home to roost and peck each other to death. It usually takes a good 24 hours before I calm down enough to stop spinning out thoughts about imaginary scenarios. What helps are the trees, sky, small pond where we can sit in the little tea house and watch what water does under the influence of wind. What helps is how much this place is imbued with decades of peace, the trails well-walked for years by people like us simply coming home to themselves. What helps is the big house — the main building — where we go to enter into a mostly-meditative stretch of prayer before meals (breakfast together although I always sleep through it, lunch communally, and a soup dinner in a thermos along with crackers and fruit we take back to our cabins).

The days are spent, when it’s cold or warm, in the woods as much as possible. We walk up and down hills, balance ourselves in leaves to see how quietly we can step, and occasionally lie down under tall trees and watch the brilliant sky. If it’s especially cold, we walk fast, take breaks to drink hot tea and read poetry or Pema Chodron aloud to each other, and head back out again. We sometimes watch sunsets or moon rises, and we always go to sleep when we like and wake when we wake.

Mostly we talk, tell stories, re-tell stories, walk paths, share soup and crackers, and marvel at the woods at the precise place they travel in the season. Sometimes we write to each other. Sometimes we watch a movie on our laptop, and then analyze every nuance of it. And we usually do yoga on the little deck. When we come out of the woods, we’re still ourselves, but more so, free of some of some of what distracts from the real.