Communing with Trees

IMG_1871Have you ever sat on a park bench in the middle of a circle of trees, inhaled their scent, enjoyed their shade, gazed up through their branches… and felt loved?

That’s what happened to me just now, out on a walk in Ballard, where I’m housesitting for two weeks. I had found a little green rectangle on my map and made for that. It turned out to be Salmon Bay Park, one square block of rolling hills and meandering paths, picnic area and playground on the east side, trees and benches on the west. I picked a bench and sat.

I watched people pushing baby carriages. I listened to muted playground sounds. But most of all, I loved the trees. It was a hot day, and their spicy scent was in every breath. I took in their shape, their movement, their colour, and, all of a sudden, I felt them loving me back.

I don’t mean literally. At least, I don’t think I do. They’re not Ents, after all. But they were shading me, cooling me, making oxygen for me to breathe, filling my world with beauty. I felt their grand stillness, their solid rootedness, their openness to wind, to rain, to drought, to whatever came.

There’s wisdom in all of that. And somehow there’s kindness too. And IMG_1869love. I know. I know. I’m giving my imagination too much free rein. But I also know that few things are more healing than communing with trees.

Do you take good breaks?

IMG_1868I’m on a sort of a writing retreat right now: two weeks of dog sitting for my sister- and brother-in-law in their apartment right in the heart of Ballard—a neighbourhood in the northwestern part of Seattle. Within hours of arriving here, I found myself gazing at a window display of adult colouring books in the lovely independent bookstore down the street. Gazing is the wrong word, actually.


The next day, I was brave and attended a free African drumming class. And I mean very brave. I almost turned tail, but a woman was coming in behind me, and she drew me into her wake. Drumming was scary and hard and fun and powerful and I went back yesterday and found it scary and hard and fun and powerful all over again. (And I burst a blood vessel in my hand and the teacher gave me blue tape to put over it so I could go right on drumming.)

Anyway, after class that first Saturday, I stopped in at the bookstore (Secret Garden Books) and bought myself a colouring book. I texted my artist sister-in-law far away in Iceland to see if she had any coloured pencils. Turns out she had a big shiny new box of 128 colours in the bottom of a drawer. So now I have a colouring station: Good lighting. 128 colours. Electric pencil sharpener. I got the idea for a station from Barbara Sher’s Refuse to Choose! Use All of Your Interests, Passions, and Hobbies to Create the Life and Career of Your Dreams. A station means that I can colour for five minutes. I can even colour for one minute and get a break from my brain. I don’t have to get out the coloured pencils each time, clear a space.

I enjoy just seeing the pencils and the book waiting for me. The colouring gives me a true break, a chance to do something completely unrelated to my work, a chance to play with colour combinations, to create something that I enjoy, and something to do instead of turning to Facebook, where I tend to go when I want a short break, but Facebook breaks are always longer than I mean them to be, and I don’t come away as refreshed.

I’m thinking about what other stations I could set up for myself once I’m home. A drumming station would be pretty amazing, but I don’t have a drum. Yet… How about a dancing station? All I need for that is the floor space in my office. And I do love to dance.

What do you love to do?

What provides you with the most refreshing breaks from your work?

Writing Coach and Mentor: a Mini Launch

Certified Martha Beck Life CoachI’ve been quietly working as a life coach for a while now, letting my practice grow slowly, alongside my teaching and writing careers. And I’m glad of that slow pace, because along the way I’ve discovered a kind of coaching that draws on all my strengths and fills me with energy and excitement.

In a dual role, as coach and mentor, I’m working with people who want to write about their lives. Many people have important stories to tell and need a book to support them in their work. I coach and mentor people who want to write about their lives in order to make a difference in the world.


At the launch of my latest book

Life coaches and public speakers in particular often build their work around their own stories. They coach people who are going through what they’ve been through; they speak to groups with needs like their own. Many speakers and coaches would like to have a book to support their work: a memoir of sorts, their message embedded in their own story.

Along with all their other amazing skills, some coaches and speakers have the skills and perseverance to write that book. Others would like help with structure, with shaping their stories; they would like someone to hold them accountable all the way through to publication.

Mentorship from someone like me can be just what it takes to turn an idea or a dream into something real.

Some people, even though they’ve been coaching and speaking around their issues for years, still have blind spots and tender places that need to be explored if their story is to do all it can.

That’s where coaching comes in. As we explore those blind spots and those memories that still hold a lot of pain, three things happen. Healing takes place, the writing grows stronger, and the work deepens.

I’ve updated my website to reflect this new focus, and now, with this post, I’m beginning to spread the word. Just a little bit.

The Miracle of the Body

A friend of mine told me the other day that when we were in our twenties, I told her that I live only above my neck. I don’t remember saying that. And I don’t really remember feeling that way. I was a bit hurt, actually, that she remembers that about me, because it means that she believed me, that that comment rang true enough for her to remember it for thirty years.

Hurt or not, I have to admit that I still do a lot of my living in my head, and the moments when I come into my body, when I’m here in all my physicality, can be profound. So many things are better in the body. Walking. Stretching. Watching. Hearing. Smelling. Tasting. Sex. And the realness, the flesh, the bones, the blood, the way we are put together… Coming into the body, into presence, coming into the here, the now, is, I believe, essential if we are to live fully, because we can only experience life in the present moment through our bodies.

I recently heard part of a documentary on CBC radio about a woman named Mary-Jo Fetterly, who was a yoga teacher when an accident left her a quadriplegic. Now, some years later, she has a lot of mobility back and she teaches yoga from her wheelchair. In the documentary, titled “If You Can Breathe,” Fetterly talks about the importance of the breath and leads a class through breathing in inspiration and breathing out release.

I have recently been yearning for yoga, and the few minutes of the documentary I caught as I drove from Van Dusen Gardens to Safeway convinced me that I’m on the right track. I remember getting frustrated with the emphasis on breath when I took Hatha yoga years ago. It seemed so irrelevant. I just wanted to do the poses and be done with it. I remember seething with fury. Later, I took restorative Iyengar yoga and each time when we got into our initial pose on the ground with a bolster down the centre of our backs and extra support under our heads, my body would open up and tears would trickle down the sides of my face.

Now, it strikes me that during Hatha yoga, I was staying in my head. During Iyengar yoga, the opening up of my chest drew breath into my body and pulled me out of my head. And the tears came.

It’s been a couple of years since I attended those Iyengar classes. A friend asked me the other day if I would like to sign up for one with her in the fall. I do believe I will.