Shelling Beans: An Earthbound Meditation

I realize that it has been two weeks since my last electronic post card went out into the world. Apologies for my absence, I’ve been away.

Needing an escape from the urban buzz of O’ahu and endless summer of Hawaii, I took myself on a writing retreat to the home of some dear friends on the mainland. My primary purpose was to draft a new, final chapter for the revised manuscript—a task I have found nearly impossible in my current environment—but I also yearned to connect with the earth and feel a sense of changing seasons. Not currently living where I belong, my wild soul hungered for nourishment and Nature. For a blessed week, I simply sat on my friends’ lovely deck, seated at a wooden table with notebook and fountain pen beneath a wide red parasol, and wrote for a good chunk of each day. Every so often, I stood up to stretch and invite movement into my body, drinking in the tranquil surroundings and natural beauty.

My hosts—two Soul Artists in a highly conscious relationship with each other and the beautiful land where they dwell— live in a quiet valley, a dozen miles from the Pacific Ocean. The home they have created is a lovely refuge, a sanctuary for the Wild Soul. I was utterly at home the moment I stepped through the front door, my entire being dilating in an easy expansion of breath and warm heartedness.

Truly, it was a perfect week. Most every morning, I rose early to greet the dawn, standing outside in the early morning light, opening my heart and soul to the moment when parasolopposites touch and become one. My hosts were away at work during the day, giving me space and solitude in which to create. To listen. To feel. When I wasn’t filling pages with words of scrawled black ink, I sometimes sat with a book and read. Each day, I walked the earth barefoot, often meandering up the road to a dry, wildflower meadow where I would bask in the morning sun, senses cast wide. Late afternoons found me in the kitchen, preparing a rustic but elegant meal for my hosts to welcome them home from their labors.

Quite deliberately, I took the week off from emails and online presence (and this blog). Apart from a few texts each day with my partner at home in Hawaii, I simply disconnected from the ‘wired’ world. Fabulous.

One of the seven key Soul Skills that I advocate is, “Disconnect to Reconnect.” Primarily, I mean that we must take time and unplug from our technological world in order to reconnect with Nature and the elemental soul.

Nearly every one of us has been afflicted with one of two modern ailments: stricken with ‘hurry busy syndrome’ or seduced into the technological trance. Frequently we suffer from both. The early promise of computer technology, email, and the Internet was that such developments would give us more time to spend on other things—the ones that matter to quality of life. Instead, these ‘conveniences’ have invaded and colonized nearly every aspect of our lives. They have gobbled us up. Even if we are not working constantly and responding to endless messages, we are glued to our smart phones, compulsively checking them and automatically responding to each vibrating prompt in our pocket or purse. Truly, it is an addiction. Yet how difficult to ‘disconnect’ and awaken when seemingly everything—and everyone—around us draws us further into the illusion of connectedness. Alas, we are ‘tuned in’ but ‘tuned out’.

The same could be said for our fascination with news, media, and entertainment. In a world flooded by information and man-made stimuli, the bulk of what is presented to us is mostly trivial and irrelevant. Like junk food or packaged, convenience meals and snacks, empty ‘information calories’ abound, and most of us are pretty well hooked.

Our daily consciousness is like a sponge, absorbing considerable amounts of information from television, newspapers, media, Internet, email, books, and general data. It may satiate our desire for novelty, stimulus, or distraction, but very little of mainstream media nourishes us in any tangible way. From time to time, we need to wring ourselves out. We would be wise to consider what we soak up on a repeated, daily basis, and most of us would be well served by a media break—becoming more selective about what choose to give our attention to, what we choose to fill our mindbody with. Rather than merely stuffing it like bytes of data in a computer hard drive, what builds and expands the mind? What offers perspective?

As I always ask, what nourishes the soul?

Last autumn, on my way to a mentor’s wedding in Utah (“A Soul Artist Wedding”), I passed through the Salt Lake City airport. As I walked down a concourse, my gaze was drawn to an advertisement on the wall where large words read, “Imagine what it’s like to really connect.” The sign was an advert for a technology company promising faster and seamless Internet connection (as I recall), but I found myself musing on the irony of the phrase. Most of us have come to believe that our addiction to technology brings connection, when so often it actually delivers the opposite. At airports, hotels, and restaurants, I see couples and families sitting together, wordless to each other at a table, each individual glued to their various electronic device, communicating with someone else… somewhere. Meanwhile, everything except the most blatant and intrusive goes unnoticed.

Imagine what it’s like to really connect…

It begins with taking a breath and paying attention to what surrounds. Descending from the head into the body and breath. Opening the senses. And heart.

Repeatedly in these posts (and in my general writing) I query, to what will we give the gift of our attention? When we disconnect from our technological world and our habitually analytical mode of cognition, we can shift into another pattern—a soul oriented, heart-centered way of being that is intuitive, relational, and depth oriented. This mode of being, where our seat of consciousness becomes the heart rather than the brain, is the most normal thing in the world. Indeed, until the past couple hundred years and the rise of mechanistic thinking, it’s the way humans have lived for eons. It is the way of Nature, through which we are guided in a language older than words.

Although I’m not wired into television or most media at home, for the past week I chose to disconnect even more completely; eschewing email, phone, and Internet so that I might give full attention to the task at hand—steeping my soul in the beauty of the natural world, descending into my bones and breath, and writing a new chapter for the nearly completed book.

Seated on the deck or standing in the garden, I watched the maritime clouds ride up the valley on an autumnal breeze, as red-shouldered hawks circled overhead. In the wordlessness of my days, I savored the susurration of wind in the trees and listened to noisy neighborhood gossip of scrub jays and obsidian-winged crows, while every so often I would be loudly zoomed by an emerald hummingbird. (Miraculous creatures, these flying jewel boxes don’t live in Hawaii and I miss them dearly.) For hours, I sat and observed the honeybees come and go from their stacked Langstroth hives at the bottom of the garden—little darting golden missiles of love—or alight near me upon the potted flowers on the deck, busily gathering nectar to create their autumn honey (their primary food source to carry them through the winter).

It was a beautiful retreat, nourishing on every level of being: bodysoul, mind, spirit and heart. I was fed not only by the environment and tastes of autumn arriving, Peter and Cristin’s lovely house, my daily solitude and the creative work I accomplished, but also by the privilege of being with kindred Soul Artists. Together we shared delicious meals, well-crafted wine, engaging stories, soulful poems, deep thoughts, and heartfelt laughter. Repeatedly, we circled back to the question I had posed to them early in my visit, what does it mean to be a wild soul in the modern world?

One afternoon, my writing work for the day completed, I sat outdoors and quietly shelled a large basket of dried, dappled, anasazi beans from the garden. For how many millenia have our ancestors gathered and shelled beans? An ancient, timeless quality exists to this ritual, I think. Splitting open the thin, straw colored husks, dislodging the mottled, cranberry and cream-colored legumes within, and letting them drop into the wide bowl in my lap, offered its own tactile meditation. Breathing in, breathing out. Occasionally halting my work simply to run my fingers through the beans, I savored their cool texture and the sound of their collective movement through the bowl, edible pebbles rolling over each other. As I opened each pod, I silently blessed it with gratitude.

Wind whispered secret stories in the tall conifer nearby and, every so often, another hummingbird zoomed close, my entire body vibrating briefly with the rapid trill of its blurred-in-motion wings.

Imagine what it’s like to really connect…

Jean Houston, PhD., a scholar, philosopher, and pioneer in the Human Potential Movement, sometimes instructs her workshop participants to engage in the following exercise:

“Throughout the day, several times an hour, stop whatever automatic, ordinary thing you’re doing and become luminous… experience the moment as one in which all of creation is blooming and you are a part of it… and do it not in the high moments of ecstasy, but when you are engaged in trivial acts.”

In essence, what Ms. Houston offers is a Soul Skill—a nuanced variation of ‘Disconnect to Reconnect’—applicable to the moment. Irrespective of technology, we need to pause and connect to something larger… much larger. Repeatedly.

Among their many defining characteristics, Soul Artists take time to reconnect via their open senses and heart. They join with the beauty in their environment (which, in a home, they have often created themselves), to the Earth, to their body, to the food they’re preparing, eating and sharing. They fuse with the creative essence of their soul, their passion, and to their allurement and Eros. Certainly, in a conscious relationship they take time to connect with each other in an open-hearted manner.

Gentle reader, here’s hoping that you find simple ways that you can ‘disconnect to reconnect’ and draw closer to your soul. It needn’t be a week of retreat; there are many smaller, more realistic, everyday ways to unplug and reorient. I know a woman on Maui who, one day each week, has a “no drive day” when she simply stays at home and doesn’t go out for errands or entertainment. Consider turning off your phone… or simply leave it at home (you’ll survive, I promise). Take a day (or longer) away from email and work. Get up and greet the dawn, or savor a sunset. Step outside and stand barefoot on the earth, or go for a walk in a place that nourishes your soul.

Throughout the day, take a moment to notice your breath, to inhale deeply into your belly, allowing it to soften, and to experience the sensory world around you. Be luminous. Expansive. Open your senses wide.

Hearts and senses ajar, ensconced in the vivid moment, we can do more than imagine what it’s like to really connect… we can feel it in body and breath.