Stone Circle

At the Earth Sanctuary on Whidbey Island there is a stone circle. It is a modern interpretation of the ancient structures that dot the northern European landscape, about which little of certainty is known. It’s safe to say they were communal structures that served to bind groups together as central gathering places for social rituals, funerary and other wise. 

I took this photograph in May of 2019. I wanted to capture the shadowed “reflection” of the basalt columns in contrast to the columns themselves. Those bold straight lines were intoxicating to my amateur perspective; rectangular pillars arranged in a perfect circle, holding their defined space while the sunlight provided an alternative point of view for anyone willing to appreciate the slowly shifting contrast.

We are living through a period of social deprivation; it pains me to acknowledge. Our communal spaces are no longer safe, the foundational columns of our society threatened by charlatans and their highest bidders. There is no patience for the “slowly shifting contrast” of differing perspectives, there is only the rush to the simplistic, the banal and the grotesque expressions of the worst we have to offer. 

Worse than that is the systemic abuse of the central principle of any highly functioning society: the common good, the care and concern for all, especially the “least of these.”

It has become exceedingly difficult to imagine, in the fall of 2020, a gathering of diverse voices within a communal structure designed to bind and unite us, that would not immediately disintegrate into a battle of hateful rhetoric and harmful aggression.

I am not hopeful. 

And, and…I am just naïve enough, just old enough, just desperate enough to choose to believe that the strong, straight columns of our historical inheritance will bear the weight of our collective mass once we have spent all our rage, and find that the only consolation left to us is to lean against them, cooling in their shadows, waiting for the slow and shifting sun to come again.

That Time, Again

I’m a little over a month into this very specific morning ritual:

1. Wake up! (No email. Very important!)

2. Light a candle as a focal point for my experience.

3. Ten minutes of what I will loosely call “movement” – a series of Qigong exercises to wake up my body and brain.

4. Five minutes to read a daily meditation passage. (This is found on my phone – in my email inbox – so the potential for distraction is massive. Most days, I do OK but the overnight headlines, text messages or “alerts” can be tough to get by.)

5. Ten minutes of breathing meditation to reflect on the passage I just read.

6. Blow out the candle.

7. Pet the dog who has inevitably come over to hang out with me.

8. Pour first cup of coffee.

9. Sit down to write my daily blog post. Usually beginning with a review of photos to stimulate my thinking.

10. Pour second cup of coffee.

11. Pray for inspiration now that time is running short.

I am gratified to report that this routine has become exactly that, a routine. At home or on the road it is something I can replicate. It is reliable and meaningful, mainly I think because it works. It helps me start my day with the kind of intention and focus I want to have throughout the entire day. And when I am inevitably thrown off course during the day – either because my thinking gets polluted or my energy flags – I can call back to the memory of the immediate past and find consolation there for what I have already accomplished. I will readily admit, I have fallen back on that consolation many times.

What I began to notice this week, however, is what I call the “Groundhog Day” effect. Every morning, the same. It’s a little weird to wake up each day at precisely the same time knowing that I am about to do precisely the same thing in precisely the same way. Of course, the meditation I read is different each time and what I end up writing is different each time but the process itself, the same. Just like in the movie it feels both strange and unsettling and, in moments of revelation, deeply comforting. At its essence it means that I am here, again, with another chance to get it right.

Yes, that’s evaluative. Please don’t hear it as self-critical. There is a significant difference between the two. I am proud of myself for developing and sticking to this ritual. Because I am beginning to feel the very real benefits of doing so I am hungry to keep making more of it, to keep improving my attention so that I can create even more space in both my head and my heart for the opportunities, both human and otherwise, I will encounter throughout the day.

One last thought, and it is directly connected to item number one above. This all started in a decision I made last fall not to check my phone – email, texts, news, etc. – until I had started my day in a more “thoughtful” way. Since I use my phone as my alarm clock it was so seductive – once that device was in my hand – to lie there, half-awake scrolling through the overnight ephemera. Honestly, searching for some validating note of opportunity on which I could hang the purpose of my day. Tired of this habit I began to build a new one, creating a sequence of events that could ultimately provide a new, more powerful source of purpose.

Like everything else worthwhile in life, it started small – grounded in a simple and clear intention – and slowly became something I could build from and rely on. As I see it, as long as the “wake up” part keeps happening I have a responsibility to do my best with it. Right now, this is an essential part of bringing my “best” to life.

Tomorrow, again.