I spent some time listening, this morning, to this essay byCraig Childs https://emergencemagazine.org/story/on-being-alone/, about his experience of solitude while paddling the Green River canyon inUtah. And while, from my few visits to Utah, I can picture the Red Rock cliffs through which he and his canoe meandered in concert with the river, it is his experience of being alone, out there, away from conversation with others but in a deeper conversation with life and earth, that echoes its resonance like a healing tone waved over the cells of my body, causing them to vibrate inharmony.

Earlier, I spent some time paging through a photographic site. Like slowly turning the pages of an old family photo album, I was transported by memory and feeling. Dedicated to images from Algonquin Park, my own beloved landscape, familiarity flooded my vision with joy and peace. Like this one, for instance, taken along the Arowhon Road

photograph by Sarah Tee

 I can feel the silence in it, the crispness in the air, the cleanbite of fragrance. I see the beaver dam in the foreground and know well the pond that lies still,  behind it, frozen over and blanketed, surrounding a beaver’s lodge.

I am transported to that flooded plain, drawn into its invitation.

As if I am actually there, each of these virtual realities carries me to some place deep inside of me where I am flooded with the medicine of wilderness solitude. Sometimes, I think it must be oxytocin that has been released during my times in a canoe, particularly in Algonquin, for the bond in me to (mother) nature floods my being with the bliss of falling in love even in recalling it.  As if it is setting all things right in my body around my primal bond with my physical/biological mother,this bond to my true biological mother, including the watery womb in which I once was bathed, re-minds me (or should I say, it re-bodys me?) of my belovedness.

This is a flooding that is not at all about being overwhelmed. Overcome perhaps, by peace. I am re-aligned with love and belonging. I feel it in my heart, closing my eyes, breathing it in. 

I once read that the vibration of the earth is the same one we mirror in our bodies when we are engaged in prayer or meditation. Perhaps then, my trips to those wild places … within and without….are one long act of prayer.  

This morning, I also read a brief essay on the value of hibernation for the human animal. (**see below). With these feelings of healing resonance swimming in me now in the quiet of a slow, attentive morning, I am, even moreso, affirmed in my instinct to pause, be still, listen, receive. Upon awakening this morning, I’d felt something I suppose I could describe now as ‘dissonance’, before I followed by body’s pull- its alerting wave of fatigue, or was it sorrow, that swept over me (or did it rise from within me?) , compelling me to sit awhile. 

This time spent, rooting out the stories of shame and unbelonging, feeling them fully and then flooding them with the balm of love and deep belonging (for self –and theother, though I am not ready to do that quite yet) may allow me to lay to rest, at last, those residual unresolved, buried alive, griefs in me.  No longer fearing that darkness, perhaps I might also bring forth gifts, less blemished by pain, that I have been blessed with by their presence. Gifts transformed by healing.

This feels something like waving a magnet over a field of chaotic iron filings. My wounds, my sorrow, and my pain has disturbed the field of my self, shaken it asunder. These experiences of deep belonging put them back in line with Belovedness.

Perhaps that is truly who I am.

**We are approaching thethreshold of winter.
Life is being drawn into the earth, painlessly descending down into the veryheart of herself.
And we as natural human animals are being called todo the same, the pull to descend into our bodies, into sleep, darkness and thedepths of our own inner caves continually tugging at our marrow.
But many find the descent into their own body ascary thing indeed, fearing the unmet emotions and past events that they havestored in the dark caves inside themselves, not wanting to face what they haveso carefully and unkindly avoided.
This winter solstice time is no longer celebratedas it once was, with the understanding that this period of descent into our owndarkness was so necessary in order to find our light. That true freedom comesfrom accepting with forgiveness and love what we have been through andvanquishing the hold it has on us, bringing the golden treasure back from thecave of our darker depths.
This is a time of rest and deep reflection, a timeto wipe the slate clean as it were and clear out the old so you can walk intospring feeling ready to grow and skip without a dusty mountain on your back& chains around your ankles tied to the caves in your soul.
A time for the medicine of story, of fire, ofnourishment and love.
A period of reconnecting, relearning &reclaiming of what this time means brings winter back to a time of kindness,love, rebirth, peace and unburdening instead of a time of dread, fear,depression and avoidance.
This modern culture teaches avoidance at a max atthis time; alcohol, lights, shopping, overworking, over spending, bad food andconsumerism.
And yet the natural tug to go inwards as nearly allcreatures are doing is strong and people are left feeling as if there issomething wrong with them, that winter is cruel and leaves them feelingabandoned and afraid. Whereas in actual fact winter is so kind, yes she pointsus in her quiet soft way towards our inner self, towards the darkness andpotential death of what we were, but this journey if held with care isessential.
She is like a strong teacher that asks you toawaken your inner loving elder or therapist, holding yourself with awareness offorgiveness and allowing yourself to grieve, to cry, rage, laugh, & facewhat we need to face in order to be freed from the jagged bonds we wrappedaround our hearts, in order to reach a place of healing & light withoutgoing into overwhelm.
Winter takes away the distractions, the noise andpresents us with the perfect time to rest and withdraw into a womb like love,bringing fire & light to our hearth.

•Italicized words Brigit Anna McNeill•

heartfelt humanity

I’ve begun watching the series Alias Grace, based upon the novel by Margaret Atwood.  The lot of peasant women in the middle of the 19th century is a stark theme –the trauma they experienced makes my own feel insignificant.  Young girls watching their mothers die, left motherless in charge of a litter of children and a drunken father, young women taken advantage of  at the hands of the entitled ‘gentlemen’ who are their masters, then butchered (I understand now the slang for ‘doctors’ who performed abortions) because that was the better option than being turned out into the streets, and left to hemorrhage to death,  adolescent girls made to clean it up/make it disappear all the while being told that the one who was butchered to death was a disgrace.

I cannot imagine surviving such a barrage of pain. It makes my own traumas feel small. (and yet was I not also young… not yet 18 — with 3 dead babies having been torn from my weeping womb). No wonder women crack(ed). The series makes me feel such empathy, the terror and subsequent swallowing of grief, the defenses built around the heart in order to survive, the deep and underlying sadness that lay beneath the going through the motions, the cool exterior adapted (in order to dissipate the fire of rage?).

Which makes me feel the need to clarify my thoughts, expressed here, about the importance of feeling pain.  My most recent posts have described my deepening acceptance of feeling pain as a normal thing, a vital thing to feel, as a part of being human.  Please know that this is NOT to say that the traumatic experiences in our lives should in any way be considered normal (or even human(e) ), but that to feel intense pain as a result of such experiences is a normal human response.

To NOT experience such atrocities as painful, to deny the anguish or pretend that the causes of it  are a merely part of being human, is to live severed from my heart. Pretending that the horrific, the traumatic, or the painful experiences of life are acceptable, asserting that ‘all is well’, is to live a life of pretense, behind a mask of numbness. I can accept and/or hold it all only by being willing to see it all with a wide open heart, a heart that might break almost daily at the reality (the beauty and horror) of life.

And that is what I have been noticing in me. Witnessing the dis-ease in the broken relationships at a family function and feeling the distress there- in myself and in others- or watching this series and feeling the pain in my own body, feels like an awakening of my heart to compassion. It is the feeling of it that humanizes it.  The cold veneer that was necessary to keep the fire at bay melts away and the vulnerable woman beneath is revealed as tender.

Now, I don’t know how one walks about with a heart unprotected. That feels overwhelming (and of course, who am I kidding, it is my feeling self that is always the source of my overwhelm… I really have not been un-feeling) though, perhaps, I may be allowed to feel other emotions too—like rage, for one — something other than anguish, please.

 Perhaps I do know the balancing antidote. Is it not what I have been doing for so long, seeking beauty, both in the midst of and in the escape from? Only an open, vulnerable heart also experiences the tenderness of beauty in this world. The bleeding womb is both a source of life and death, and the earth births flowers the same as it cradles the infants buried in her dark embrace.

And now I am feeling too much.

But I can step back and hold this me, open my heart to cradle her pain. That is different, I think, than severing myself from my heart. I think. I think…hmmm. Is that a coping mechanism then, these constructs of the mind, allowing us to think our way into separation from the pain of life? Or is it my mind, thinking far too much about the human condition, that gets me into this place of needing to be held in the first place?


Time to get into my body, then. Let it feel the joys of being human too…. healthy joys, as contrasted with unhealthy escapes into addictions – food, drink, drugs, sex. Let my senses fill my body with the healing medicine of the natural world, or a child’s laughter and embrace, or the embodied companionship of sister/friends.

Beauty. She has accompanied throughout my life, always offering her healing salve. ‘You are bound to beauty’, that is what she whispered to me once, in my ear as I awakened from my sleep. Here she is again, perhaps, whispering her therapy into this awakening, as well.

Now, I must go fill myself up, for I am feeling drained.

An old poem I once wrote (dated 2007, and that makes me wonder what was happening in my mother’s life at this time) surfaces as I search for an image for this post

one drop

One drop overflows

from the breast of god

or is it from her eye?

oh, now I see

it’s flowing from that wound

wait, is that a womb?

One drop

at once

red as blood

white as milk

transparent as a tear

and so i am her wetness

and she is moist with me

the drop so full

it falls

she drops herself into me

i drop myself to her

we catch the drop

upon our eager tongue

as we fill

each other, overflowing

with this

One drop


“Hiding is one of the brilliant and virtuoso practices of almost every part of the natural world: the protective quiet of an icy northern landscape, the held bud of a future summer rose, the snow bound internal pulse of the hibernating bear.
Hiding is underestimated. We are hidden by life in our mother’s womb until we grow and ready ourselves for our first appearance in the lighted world; to appear too early in that world is to find ourselves with the immediate necessity for outside intensive care.
 Hiding done properly is the internal faithful promise for a proper future emergence, as embryos, as children or even as emerging adults in retreat from the names that have caught us and imprisoned us, often in ways where we have been too easily seen and too easily named.
Hiding is an act of freedom from the misunderstanding of others, from mistaken ideas we have about our selves. Hiding is creative, necessary and beautifully subversive. Hiding is the radical independence necessary for our emergence into the light of a proper human future.” – David Whyte

I felt like hibernating this morning. Honestly, that’s a common feeling for me this time of year. My body feels so out of sync with the busyness thrust upon me, when my natural instincts are urging me to slow down, grow still, be quiet. ( I KNOW I’m not alone here, though we are told there’s something WRONG with feeling this way. It’s labeled as a ‘seasonal disorder’, but perhaps we are supposed to settle in to the darkness, grow slower, quieter, more introspective. Perhaps we have forgotten how, or are no longer given the tools, to be with the darkness we encounter there without perceiving it as something to run from. I wonder if it’s possible instead to name the darkness as embrace)

But this year, this season, in particular, with the freshness of this recent grief, I am even moreso feeling the pull of the earth, urging me to stillness. With the solstice just around the curve, the day where even the sun appears to stand ‘still’ to those of us on earth who are attuned to her trajectory, I am being drawn like gravity toward her wholeness.

And yet this morning, I awakened early, the grayness of predawn mirroring my grief, with another obligation on my calendar and few precious hours to myself before I was required to show up with my light on. There ensued, intitiated by me, an hour long, quiet and connective text conversation with a sister-friend that allowed me to reach out from within my solitary watery realm, to love and be loved. No, I am not in some sort of free fall into a pit from which I won’t emerge. There is nourishment in here for me.

Yes, there is pain, but it is not defining me the way I have at other times in my life allowed it to do. Nor do I need to label this pain as ‘brokenness’, as if there is something wrong with me for feeling, or even as if there is something wrong with pain itself. 

From this ripped opened depth in me, I have been noticing—there are a lot of other human beings who feel this pain too. Broken relationships, painful interactions, feelings of alienation and disconnection, tragic misunderstandings, feelings of invisibility and marginalization, loneliness, insecurity and outright rejection, are internalized by the precious individuals who experience them as a belief that they are tragically flawed for feeling them.  There are a lot of people feeling longing who are labeling it as brokenness. There are a lot of people who are feeling hunger who are labeling it as sickness. It’s hard to just sit with darkness and let it be what it is without judging it as worthy of banishment or shame, or conversely binging upon some remedial feel good fix. It’s difficult to accept pain without branding it as bad or assigning to it blame, to simply let it be human, with tenderness and compassion. 

By the time I reached out to my sister on the phone, much later in this slow morning, I was feeling more at ease. (The inclement weather outside my window had cancelled my plans and graced me with the unexpected time to be still and to listen, without judgment or expectation, a little while longer) She has been aware of my dis-ease of late and I wonder if she was confused by my seeming quiet contentment. I had awakened feeling weary, feeling sorrow, feeling dread, but by now I was feeling quiet peace, hope, connection, love, relief.

It might appear to be incongruous, to be experiencing moments of contentment and peace right in the midst of experiencing intense sorrow, to be feeling beloved in the midst of feeling despised, to experience peace in the midst of dis-ease. I suppose I could label that as inappropriate, dissociated (or at least divided), as if this being human is an all or nothing deal. As if there is one right way to feel or express. But being human is not an either/or; it is a both/and, where neither ‘side’ is right or wrong. 

We contain multitudes, and our hearts have the capacity to hold more than we have been taught is right or true or possible. At least for today, I am choosing to see the my capacity to gently hold all of these disparate parts of me as a sign of wholeness. I do not have to feel “good” to be ok. I suspect this gift of being still with it, of hibernating, if you will, to simply observe it, let it be what it needs to be, is essential for such wholeness in me to emerge. 

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
asa guide from beyond.


Beavers hibernate beneath the ice that blankets their underwater world, within that world of safety they so carefully tend. Before they turn inward with the freeze-over of the ice,  they are diligent to gather the nourishment they will need to survive those months of being cocooned within that darkness.  Cutting, dragging, and impaling branches of birch, aspen, willow into the mud at the bottom of the pond, just below the entrance to their hearth (notice the closeness of that word with ‘heart’), they are prepared for winter’s blast. They need simply dive to the bottom to retrieve what they have cached away for such a time as this.

My phone calls and texts to my sisters today were one way in which I accessed such a cache of nurture for myself, and when I had had enough paddling in those waters, I was able to swim back up into the protective closeness of the lodge for rest. Writing these words offers another source of nourishment. There is reading, walking, watching the rain (and the last of the leaves) fall, listening to soothing music, looking for beauty through the lens of loving awareness, moving into quiet stillness. In any of these ways, I can pay attention to the darkness without rejecting anything as unwanted or inappropriate.

This ice will thaw. That I can trust. Seasons come and seasons go, each, even the harsh ones, gifting me with a new ring of growth that will offer up its own nourishment one day, in time of hunger or of need.  I will trust my instincts today, that my body and my soul know exactly the shelter….and the nurture… that I need, and I will rest in this gentle, quiet stillness.

“Listen to your life.

See if for the fathomless mystery that it is.

In the boredom and pain of it,

no less than in the excitement and gladness…

because in the last analysis all moments are key moments and life itself is grace.”

-Frederick Buechner

beaver medicine


Each day that passes, the intensity eases. The earth within me grows quieter, pieces of my self return. Goodnesses that seemed wiped out, or at least diminished, in the wake of those floodwaters, return on my horizon, like the return of creatures after the fierceness of a storm, or the breach of a dam.

I have witnessed a woodland after a beaver dam let loose. The area that was once underwater, offering habitat for not just the beaver but the others who benefited from her capacity to engineer a place of safety and nurture for herself, all at once laid parched and barren. Rich in nutrients from all of those years underwater, supporting season upon season of life, the seemingly devastated and depressed basin soon will become a meadow, supporting other forms of life… grasses, sedges, flowering and berrying plants, and all of the subsequent reliant species of birds and mammals. Downstream, where a new dam has been built, trees find their feet suddenly feet underwater, their branches graying, their canopies thinned to let in light, soon to become the snags that will support cavity dwellers. Not just those particular waterfowl will follow the beaver’s dislocation and reorientation, but also the wading birds, warblers, marsh hawks, insects, amphibians, fishes, and small mammals, such as muskrat, and moose.

I find it fascinating and wonderful the way her need to survive, combined with her instincts, compel her to build something new, and the way that her subsequent and seemingly destructive flood in actuality offers shelter to others who need her particular gifts of survival.

Gifts have been flooding me. Loved ones — dear friends – old and new –children, grandchildren, sisters, and companions – have come bearing them. With a smile, I picture their arrival, marching over the dry land, carrying a branch or two to stuff into the breach, reminding me that this deep well I have crafted within me is a place of warmth and nurture, comfort and safety, love and blessing to them. My presence on their landscape has provided something important and vital. Precisely because of my particular wounds and gifts, my need for emotional safety, it seems that I provide a space of nurture for others, too.

As I began to explore in my journal yesterday, I am continuing to ponder my capacity to hold all of this… the fierceness of my pain alongside the depths of my grace, my mother’s rejection of me alongside the love that the rest of my world reflects back to me. Today, I’m thinking about that enlarged heart the doctors discovered this summer inside of my chest. I am thinking about my canoe trips… my resilience, my grit, my creativity…..and the way my body celebrates there.

Today, I wonder if I diminish the softness of my heart’s ability to hold all in compassion by labeling it as broken, or if i diminish the largeness of my soul when I label my well-learned and long practiced gifts of self-care as suppression or repression, or even ‘toughing it out’. Oh, perhaps that was what I was doing when I was ignoring my pain during earlier years, or even these last years/months of my mother’s life, when I was trying to fit back in to the dysfunctional definitions of ‘good girl’, but I don’t believe that’s what I am doing now in acknowledging the depth of these waters in me, waters that include both boot sucking, fetid muck and delicate, fragrant waterlilies.

My heart has the capacity to receive the one who comes raging from breached dams. It is a familiar event for me, for she has been dealing with the abandonment of dams for as long as she can remember, has learned to adapt and adopt and make of those waters a place of peace and plenty. I have learned well these ways to soothe myself, to create safety, find nurture, rebuild the dam. Learned to help her see that she can be a place of welcome, that she no longer needs to be alone with her pain.

Yesterday, i received these words.

“Needing emotional safety and support isn’t something wrong with you. It’s the sign of something deeply right with you. You were never supposed to learn to be alone with your pain”

Once upon a time, it was true that I was left alone to deal with devastating pain. Yes, it made me strong, it made me learn to be self-reliant and creative in order to survive, and thank Godde I had some innate instinct to do so gracefully enough, though there were years that could have spun dangerously into darker adaptations. But now I see that the dam I built around that pain, which for some time isolated me, has become a place of life, where gentle creatures thrive within its richness.

A beaver pond is a quiet, soothing body of water, after all, with so much life beneath the surface, so many beings drawing nourishment from its stillness, even along the edges, and so much song surrounding it. She’s quite clever that way, really, to have built for herself a such a environment of safety and support, beauty and bounty, love and light. I think I can love her for that

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