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How to Heal
We aren't much different than the beds of our garden or a wild field in what it takes to heal
I mentioned on Wednesday in The Beginning of Devotion Essay how November connects us back to versions of ourselves from years prior. I noted how I see these versions of me, like the layers of leaves that lie on the forest floor. Existing, important, yet giving new life as they degrade. I still think a lot about the versions I have been in past Novembers.
The thing is, though, I have been less willing to reflect on the version of me I knew last November. The one who was anxious, fearful, and struggling with the weight of what I now understand was unhealed parts of my childhood. The world was heavier than it needed to be.
I often think of myself very much like a garden. I think of the ways we start new and fresh, and it takes time to build something out of the soil in ourselves. Seeds are planted as we intended and don’t intend. My past grief as a child had created legs and roots over time that needed removal, and last November, that version of me felt it had revealed just how important this shedding and removal was to my well-being. Last November was a low and dark moment. There were existential moments that felt soul-crushing, and I knew it wasn’t normal. Yet it was also the ending and beginning of where I am now. I think that’s important to understand in this process of the landscape and self.
I couldn’t talk about what I was holding and realizing at the time. Even now, it still is raw and personal to digest sometimes, but it led to me promising myself I would shed what no longer was serving me, and that looked like therapy for me. I landed on a couch every other week to unravel my childhood and my inner family systems and uproot and heal the broken places that needed me to do so. I knew that it was time for a healthy garden to grow in myself to uproot what had taken too deep of a hold.
This work for the last 9-10 months has been easy in some ways and scary and hard in others. It truly has been like shedding my leaves, pruning, weeding… however, you want to put it. Working on healing this grief, loss, and the seeds it had planted in my soil has been a labor of love to myself. There are parts of me that served me when I was little, but I hadn’t progressed past or realized I needed to close the door on. Things that once served me have been released into my soil to degrade, and I feel the space left now. I feel the light reaching to parts of myself I hadn’t seen before.
I know as a gardener that if an invasive plant has taken over, the work to remove it is tedious. I have experienced managing our land and rebuilding the landscape around our home. This is no different in ourselves, but what is also the same is that the work is worthy and valuable. The rewards are larger than the work it takes.
Now, reflecting on the woman I was last November to the woman I am now, I am able to see just how much energy and space was used to exist as an adult and parent because of my past. I can see all the tightness she held that she didn’t even know she was. I would never have seen these things if I hadn’t shown up to heal the way I have now. I see it no differently than the work I do every fall to clear invasive plants on our land; clearing and making space for the things that need to grow, but not realizing the amount of energy that takes from everything around it till they are gone.
I think it is easy sometimes to believe that not doing the work is easier than doing it, but as I have learned not just in my life now but as a gardener and land steward, the work is far easier than what the untended garden and land can create. Cutting down and removing what no longer serves us, laying fresh compost, or doing the work to protect the soil we have built is not easy on a cold and windy day, but what it will create come spring will remind us just how vital and important it is to show up in this way. This year has been a reminder of just that in my life.
I see myself now as a healthy garden bed. One cleared of all the things that were taking space I didn’t fully understand. There is space for new things I couldn’t hold before. New things that never could have held space in a bed that had no room.
I am thankful for that November last year in a way I wasn’t at the time. I am thankful it revealed the roots of the past that needed my attention. I am thankful for the landscape around me for holding me this year as I have done this work so I can now tend in new ways to her as well.
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This week, I also shared these posts for subscribers:
How to Pay Attention This Week - The Seeds Being Sown
The Beginning of Devotion - The story of how a Mary Oliver quote changed my life.
Reflecting on October - Last week’s free newsletter
11/10 Reflection - Broken Ground
The land around us is all portioned into various sizes. This year, a few new parcels sold, and with it, I have been highly aware of the shifting landscape around us. These lands I have skied in the winter only guided by the curiosity of the deer paths through the snowy landscape and the chickadee chirping in January will or have begun to change with development.
This last week, one of the parcels broke ground. My daily run to prep me for winter skiing has a new view, and though this isn’t the first time this has happened, I know best that it also won’t be the last. There are trees that lie by the side of the road, and I am thankful I didn’t hear the chainsaws taking them from their homes and lives; I still feel the brokenness of it all. This landscape with broken ground wasn’t mine to choose its fate, and the idea of land ownership is complicated to me. Yet here I am, looking at a place where I have listened to birds, inspected the lichen, marveled at the layers of wild fields, and silently watched the deer feed and feeling its loss. Knowing land is both a beautiful and heartbreaking thing in this day and age.
The thing is, though, we did this years ago too. Even though we chose a place to break the ground that we believed offered nothing much to the ecosystem, nothing is still something when it comes to nature. I sometimes regret the decision in the most nature-sensitive parts of my being. I wonder who we uprooted even if we tried not to. Even if our goals were for the betterment of the land, what was broken for us to rebuild?
I don’t fault others who follow suit in this action, but I won’t lie that I feel the brokenness in these moments as a milkweed seed pod sits on the road, trampled by the nearby excavator. I feel the immensity of it all, yet I also know the resilience of the land. I see how it can be rebuilt. I know personally how to heal the wild places we break, just like I am learning how to heal these things in myself.
That pod of milkweed, despite its trampling, will plant itself, sprout, and grow a new generation. I have seen how the Ash trees are beginning to return even after the ash bores took them. I see how quickly a sapling can grow. I see just how broken ground can lead to something new when tended to properly.
As much as the brokenness of this place I loved is being ripped into something new, I have faith in what it means to heal what is broken. Nature is far more powerful than we offer it any credit for, and seeing the way our land has not just healed but become better than it ever was before we met it, I know that all things can heal when given time, space, and adequate attention. I take that note for myself, too. That even broken ground can heal.
*** These reflections are intended to help you see the truth from the land I hear throughout the week and spend time with it. Longer-form essays have moved to paid subscriptions on Wednesdays. ***
This section is intended to give you a way to look at this season every week. They are high-level ways to connect to the rhythms of your daily life.
Reflective Thoughts for November
As I mentioned above, this is a great time of year to work on shifting our attention toward our personal changes and growth. Something about the more bare landscape gives generously to looking inward. Here are a few questions to meditate on wherever the space finds you this month:
Think back to who you were this time last year. Sometimes, looking at photos from a year ago can be helpful. What do you notice that is different? What shifted to create the changes in you?
What parts of this year felt really good? Why did these things feel good?
What parts of this last year were really hard, and what did they offer you?
Where do you see things that can be released, healed, and given space in the next year?
How do you feel you are shifting?
How have the things you are letting go at the end of the season tied into how nature is releasing things?
You don’t have to answer all these questions, but they can be a wonderful guide to evening walks in nature or when doing daily meditative tasks.
Here are the things this week that I have been holding at the top of my mind and enjoying right now. Feel free to comment below anything you also love! I would love to hear in the comments. You all usually have some amazing things.
Reading: The best thing I read this week was from the Loma Farm CSA box. Every week, Loma’s CSA has a letter from the farmer. It’s brilliant, witty, and beautiful. Nic is an excellent writer. I am including a snippet from another November newsletter that was on the calendar his work is included in.
“November has a noteable taste. Produce that has experiences hard times tastes more interesting: subtle changes to texture and flavor from repeated stings of frost and pangs from light freezes. Roots sweeten, leaves thicken, and the rules of supply and demand make everything a bit more wooing.”
Nic Theisen - Loma Farm Time Waister & Other Autumn Pleasures, Issue 2, Season 9.5
Listening: The wind. November in northern Michigan is known for its “gales of November.” As Gordon Lightfoot mentions. Very fitting for this anniversary of the boat going down in Lake Superior in 1975.
Wearing: This time of year, I am prepping my entire being for the days of winter sports. Our family spends much time doing winter sports, from downhill skiing to cross country to snowshoeing. Everything is on the table. This means I am prepping for the days ahead by doing some runs. I don’t love running, and I don’t run with any goal but to up my heart rate and then recover and up it again. It is more like a casual run/walk for 30 minutes 5 days a week, but I swear by these shoes for cold and wet conditions as the days get colder, damper, and more. I love them.
Doing: Planting garlic. It’s cold, and it’s time. Getting in the four different varieties and nearly 500 cloves into the garden.
Thinking about: Skiing. Yeah. Pretty much constantly. I am ready for skiing. I got new boots this year for the first time, and I just want to rip down the hill on a fresh-groomed trail with the control of a new boot.
Cooking: Radicchio. It is a contentious veggie, but I beg you to play with it. I cooked it with the recipe from Loma Farm CSA this week, but others have said to make a dressing with anchovies and lemon and some parm or to toss it with a Dijon mustard dressing as well. The recipe from Loma involved sauteed onions, browned delicata half moons, and a dressing of garlic, olive oil, balsamic, and salt. It was outstanding! The balance of sweet to bitter could make anyone question why you want to eat radicchio.
Paying Attention: The floating of the leaves. It always feels like it is prepping us for the snow that is coming in the next few weeks.
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