My Hermit Neighbor; a Mystic in the Making

“The human spirit holds strength beyond measure, the kind that will break down the walls of all the blocks that come our way.” Nikki Rowe 

I have always loved unique eccentric people who are unapologetically themselves. So many of us are people pleasers who are not very honest with others or ourselves, especially when it comes to who we really are. Most of us want to fit in or hide behind a façade. I love people’s stories, especially those who show up in their life who are not carbon copies of the rest of the world around them. They dance to the beat of their own drum, as the saying goes. I have learned a lot over the years from these idiosyncratic souls. They have taught me to let go of what others think more, and as I age, it becomes easier. Here is one individual who was only in my life for only a few days a year but has played a role in showing me what gut honesty and genuine gratitude looks and feel like.

When we moved into our home over 28 years ago, I learned that up the road from us lived Paul, a hermit, or at least that’s what some in our community called him. He was rugged, very thin but had a considerable presence. He was a local auctioneer and enjoyed collecting.

Paul’s small home was about a half-mile from our house on a large forested property he owned. I’m not sure, but I would say his home was not much more than 300-400 square feet. He had no running water and was not connected to the grid for electricity. Later after a few years, he had a solar panel that provided enough solar power for his satellite radio which he passionately enjoyed. Its where he collected information for his debates 🙂 . He had some chickens and a cat; he loved them all dearly. They were not just pets; they were his companions, and he affectionally cared for each of them. He had a name for all of them. He also had a couple of beehives for honey.

The first time I first met Paul, we did not connect very well. He cursed like a pirate and had no problem speaking his mind, and loved to challenge me from the first time we met. 

“I suppose you are one of those religious people who believes in God?” he says 

Daring me to say so. Before I can even answer, 

“I don’t believe in all that God shit; that is nothing more than a god damn fairy tale!”

And so it began. 

Over the years, I did not see Paul that often, but he would drop by every now and then. Usually, for another challenging conversation about God or some other controversial subject. He loved a good debate. After a few times, I came to enjoy these little bantering’s as I got to know him. I saw something in his eyes; they had sadness and pain in them, yet when he was excited about something, his eyes twinkled like a little boy. 

I came to see through all that bravado to a gentle soul inside that crusty gruff exterior.

I would not hear from Paul for months as he usually worked away in the winter and would show up out of the blue, but usually only a couple of times each summer. 

He would also do thoughtful things; one spring in my hothouse I found two full bags of composted chicken manure mysteriously appear. Those of you who are gardeners know this is a gold standard fertilizer. Best tomatoes I ever grew that year! Another time we had just built a new home next to our old one. We had thrown out an old small kitchen wooden table for the garbage truck to pick up. It was long past what I thought was of any use; it was old, beaten and full of stains and scratches. Shortly after we had moved into our new house, we came home one afternoon to find our table on the patio and had been exquisitely refinished. It looked brand new; I knew in an instant who it was from, Paul. I called to thank him. 

Oh, that’s nothing; I saw it out by the side of the road and thought it had more life in it. I refinished it for you guys as a housewarming gift.

Paul invited my husband, me and our two young sons over one summer to watch him extract honey from frames in a manual spinner and then bottle it. We all found it fascinating. After a tasting test or two or three, he gave us a couple of bottles of honey to take home. He took such pride in everything he did. He later sold his hives after a bear tore them apart one too many times. 

That was the first time I had ever been in his home. I felt honored that this very private man invited our family inside his sanctuary. It was packed full of nick-knacks that were all around his house. It was clear that each item had a particular place, and he enjoyed every piece as he shared stories about a few of them. On his walls were beautiful paintings that he spoke passionately about. The scent in the air was mixed with the fresh-cut flowers, herbs and leftover smoke from the woodstove. It was so cozy. I could tell that he loved and cherished every corner of that little home. That was the only time I was in his home until years later after Paul had been diagnosed with a horrible illness called Lou Gehrigs Disease. 

A couple of years before Paul’s diagnose, I noticed he had begun to believe in a Higher Power. He spoke of his time in nature and how it deeply affected him. How over the years, he had come to believe there had to be something bigger than just coincidence that created this magnificent earth and all its beauty, interjecting a few expletives here and there as he spoke with a softer tone. Paul had not become religious but deeply spiritual. Paul spoke about how his land had healed him of a great deal of pain from his past.

Before he died, I asked him if I could come to his home and record his story because by this time, Paul’s heart had become more tender, and I felt his story was important. 

That following week he invited me over. As I sat down across the table, Paul looked pensive. He shared about his life, about the pain and suffering he had endured. He shared about his regrets, the loss of the “Love of his life,” taking full responsibility for losing her along with other regrets and other painful memories. I listened as he shared his life and the lessons he had learned from the school of hard knocks. When he finished, I asked him to share what it was like living here on this tiny piece of paradise. 

He speaks of his land knowing that he was just a steward and somehow understood that it was not his to own, for it is an entity that has a spirit all on its own; he had a deep respect for every acre. He shared how much healing it had given him over the years. He spoke of his home and how much he loved living and caring for it. At one point in our conversation, he starts to describe how he makes his bed. I will never forget the essence of his words. My eyes began to tear as he described every detail as a spiritual experience that he felt every day when he made it. This is more of a paraphrase, but it went something like this.

I never take it for granted that I get to slip into a comfortable bed each night and have blankets that keep me warm. We forget this is not a luxury for everyone in this world; therefore, each morning, I take my time pulling each sheet tight and tucking in the blankets. I thank God or whatever that creative force is in those moments for this soft place to lay my head each night. It’s important to remember.

His voice was gentle and humble as he spoke. I felt every word. 

We went outside for a walk. Paul had magnificent tall flowers in structured beds around his property, lovingly all caged to protect them from his beloved chickens. This was so his rooster, hens with chicks could wander around freely in his yard. His incredibly manicured property was his pride and joy. From his stacked firewood to his outhouse was a thing of beauty. He spoke about how being meticulous with each task was so important to him as we walked through his yard, from repairing his barn to edging the simple walkways that lead to his outhouse and the chicken coop. They were done with precision and a kind of reverence. At that moment, I realized he is not only a hermit but a mystic—someone who lives an ordinary life in extraordinary ways while living in a state of gratitude for his life. I had not ever witnessed this kind of living with such deep gratitude before; it was a teachable moment for me about my own life. His life experiences had given him a tough outer exterior, but inside, he had found peace on the land. He taught me so much that day, and anytime I forget those lessons, I often hear him remind me, especially when I am making my bed. 

On that day, before we went outside to walk around, I asked him, “In three words how would you describe yourself now Paul?” I was delighted by his response, “Good little boy” with that twinkle I had seen before. It seemed that Paul lived his life on his own terms, and in the last years of his life found a poetic authentic grateful way to be present to each moment.

“The highest art is the art of living an ordinary life in an extraordinary manner” Tibetan Proverb

He died in his sleep. I believe Paul transitioned with his heart healed and went into spirit feeling like a “Good Little Boy”; His spirit found love and freedom on the land, and it feels like his soul left this world at peace. He was a rich man indeed in the end.

I have grown to love the human spirit and its capability to heal. Paul was just one of those spirits.

At sixty years old I have learned a lot, but this message seems to have the most wisdom. The key to a peaceful life is living an authentic ordinary life in extraordinary grateful ways.

Paul’s story is just another story that bears witness to this very thing.  

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Solitude & Silence of the Winter Forest

“Only when one is connected to one’s own core is one connected to others I am beginning to discover. And for me, the core, the inner spring, can best be re-found through solitude.” Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

It’s January 1991. I am a young 30-year-old wife and mom of two little boys who are 10 and 7.

I am just waking up. It is barely sunrise outside; I am looking out the window from a cozy bed in a cabin with no running water or electricity; I am in blissful heaven. I am alone in the woods at a Monastery called Nova Nada. I have been here before. I see my breath in the billows of steam as I exhale into the chilly morning air, even though I am toasty warm underneath all these blankets. I finally get up the nerve to crawl out of bed to the wood-burning stove. I put a few small logs onto the now small amount of hot coals on the bottom and open the draft. I soon hear the crackling of the wood catching fire as the flames are fanned by the air blowing on the coals through the draft. Ooooh, the heat feels good on my face and hands. Soon the tiny room is warm again. I get dressed and go to the well and draw some cold crystal spring water. I had forgotten to do this last evening before I went to bed. I love the sound of the bucket as I draw it back up the well as it hits the stones on the way up. I run inside with my splashing cold water, wash up, and make myself a hot cup of herb tea and toast for breakfast.

Sitting here at this small table, I gaze out the window and watch the snow outside floating gently down to the ground; I am still mesmerized long after my tea is cold. Later, I walk through the woods along a well-worn path; If the trees could talk, they would have many tales to tell. There are some older trees here that have seen many generations in this forest. Each step feels like I am on holy ground. The ground is sacred because, first and foremost, nature is sacred no matter where I am, but secondly, it feels holy today because I am feeling the presence of God’s love everywhere. The only thing I hear on occasion is the jarring crunch when I step on some hardened snow. This stillness is settling deep inside me.

I love my family and friends dearly, yet I love time alone in silent prayer and reflection. Here at Nova Nada in the winter, stillness lends itself to a kind of silence that goes deep inside me. When it is extra cold like today, snow blankets the ground; there is no wind or sound. The hardwood trees are bare in contrast to the evergreens that are especially green in the winter against the backdrop of the snow. Most woodland creatures are tucked away in the trees or dug in the earth, snuggled in the nesting material that keeps them warm. The stillness is vibrating in my body. It may sound strange; this silence is almost deafening.

There is a silence here that opens up the heart and soul if I allow it. It was here that I began this love affair with silence. A silence that at times gave me great joy and a sense of inner peace I had never felt before. But this silence was also and can still be painful at times because I am alone with my thoughts.

“Solitude can be frightening because it invites us to meet a stranger we think we may not want to know-ourselves.” Melvyn Kinder

Sometimes it takes time and practice to be alone in our thoughts. In time though, I began to hear the song of my soul over the loudness of my “monkey mind” self-deprecating thoughts and childhood memories; that is when great healing began.

When I came home, I started to create snippets of time in silence. I would walk on the beach or in the woods for silent reflection. Some mornings I would rise before my family, even just for 15 min and later created a prayer room. Once I understood the importance of silence for me, it became a regular part of my life.

During that time of my life as a young mom, I began to voraciously read and listen to books and poetry by Mystics from different religions, spiritual teachers and inspiring everyday people from all walks of life. The first book I listened to at Nova Nada was “Gift from the Sea” by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. One of my favorites, the message this book left me, was life-changing. She was a young mom of six who went away to a private beach for a retreat alone. It was where she began to write this book.

“Women need solitude in order to find again the true essence of themselves” Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

This lesson was almost unheard of in my time as a young mom. To me, my essence is my soul song. I began to hear it in the silence of the winter forest.

I also found like-minded friends at Nova Nada who were on the journey of living ordinary lives in extraordinary love-filled ways. I am glad to say some of whom became lifelong friends. These kinds of people have lifted me, inspired me and helped me grow and quite frankly get over myself on days I need to soften my hard edges. I worked hard over the next few years as my children grew. I went into therapy for a few years, went on many group therapy Shalom retreats and later trained to become a Shadow Life Coach. These collectively taught me to let go of most of the pain of my childhood, forgive myself and those who had harmed me. I found contentment for many years long after our sons were grown and had families of their own. Life will still give us plenty of opportunities to grow, and it certainly did for me. The ebb and flow of life continues as long as we are alive.

In recent years, after coming out of my dark night of the soul, I began time in silence again with a gradual practice. I started by guided meditations and then later sitting 5 minutes in silence, and that increased over time until I could easily sit for 20 minutes. Or simply walking outside for a short distance without headphones on. By doing so, my heart expands and with it so does my eyes and ears. There is a awareness in my body that I was numb because of so much time numbing myself with food or in front of a screen. When I just stayed present on my walks, I began to see things in nature that I had not noticed in many years again. Also becoming the observer of my thoughts in the beauty of nature began a profound shift back to my soul song .

Today because of my knees, I can’t walk very far or sit on the ground, but each day I once again find much of my day is in silence again, even doing my daily chores. I love listening to a summer rain or the songbirds in the morning or simply gazing at the trees as they sway back and forth in the wind while at the table eating my meals. Silence and nature have helped me remember what I had forgotten and has brought me peace of mind once again.

“The earth is our origin and destination. The ancient rhythms of the earth have insinuated themselves into the rhythms of the human heart. The earth is not outside us; it is within: the clay from where the tree of the body grows. When we emerge from our offices, rooms and houses, we enter our natural element. We are children of the earth: people to whom the outdoors is home. Nothing can separate us from the vigor and vibrancy of this inheritance. In contrast to our frenetic, saturated lives, the earth offers a calming stillness. Movement and growth in nature takes time. The patience of nature enjoys the ease of trust and hope. There is something in our clay nature that needs to continually experience this ancient, outer ease of the world. It helps us remember who we are and why we are here.” John O’Donohue

This magical property is no longer a monastery but is now known as Birchdale. You can still walk this sacred ground of large older forest and quaint cabins, for more information visit https://birchdalelake.com

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Mystic Sunrise Memoirs

“Age has given me what I was looking for my entire life- It gave me me. It provided the time and experience and failures and triumphs and friends who helped me step into the shape that had been waiting for me all my life… I not only get along with me most of the time now, I am militantly and maternally on my side” Anne Lamott.

Our lives are like the ocean; there is an ebb and flow that can be a stormy wild ride filled with chaos, doubt, loss, struggles, and pain; other times, it can be a calm and beautiful journey filled with joy, love, confidence and contentment.

Life can change in an instant, and what comes next is sometimes not easy, but it can start an inner transformation that is a powerful reminder of the resilience of our Spirit. This blog is a collection of short stories about both the ebb and flow of my life and occasionally everyday people who have taught me life lessons along the way. I also share the many inspirational quotes and books that have, without exaggeration, helped form who I am today.

I call this Blog Mystic Sunrise. Every day is a new beginning, a chance to start all over again. If any resonates, join me on the journey and share, we can learn from each other. The one thing that has sustained me over the years has been hearing peoples stories, and through this, I discovered that I was not alone. So many amazing souls have shared their stories with me either through their books or in person. These stories seemed to show up at the exact right time when I needed them the most. This is dedicated to those people who created a path for me to follow and gave me the support I needed to find my own.

For as long as I can remember, even as a child, I have been on a quest, especially in my adulthood. To learn about life’s deeper meaning, spirituality and connection to a Higher Power I call God. Although I am a Christian, I have found inspiration from many spiritualities and religions. For I believe there are many paths to God. Our Higher Power is a profoundly personal journey and is called many different names. I respect and honor all, no matter what that looks like.

I still have shitty days; some lessons I still need to re-learn repeatedly, but I also share why I am way gentler with myself when I do; I share these in the hope that more people will learn these lessons sooner than I did. I finally like who I am most days. All of me, the dark and the light, I have learned to forgive myself and others along the way, and as Anne Lamott says “I am militantly and maternally on my side.” Age has given me the privilege of living long enough to figure some of this shit out and I am grateful.

Dates are factual as much as my memory remembers; the essence of what I share is all true. At the heart of these stories are lessons I learned along the way as I was and still am “broken open” at times. This quote sums up this journey; it’s from one of my favorite books.

“The promise of being broken open and possibly of being opened are written into the contract of human life. Certainly, this tumultuous journey on the waves can be tiresome. When the sea is rough, and when we are sufferings, we may want to give up hope and give into despair. But brave pilgrims have gone before us. They tell us to venture forth with faith and vision.” Elisabeth Lessor in Broken Open

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This one of my favorite places to be in Nova Scotia, Boulder Cove Cottages. Every year a women’s group I have been a part of for over 25 years goes here on a retreat weekend. www.bouldercove.com

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment