Living, Perspective, Spirituality

Soaring and Grounding

As a child, I looked to the towering clouds, capped with billows, and imagined walking atop them like I’d watched the Care Bears do. I imagined that’s what heaven would be like when I got there someday. As a teen, Jonathan Livingston Seagull brought me such joy, such heights to which to aspire, the tips of his wings touched with light as he soared to such transcendent levels. As an adult, I watched birds glide on the wind, effortlessly floating above the rest of the world and its worries. I dreamed my own body could fly and always felt great disappointment when my legs started to drift back toward the ground. I gathered images and ideas for tattoos with silhouettes of birds, wings spread, to serve as a physical reminder of opening up, letting go, and ascending.

There is a line, though, where metaphysical musings turn into depression and anxiety.

I began to feel a great sadness watching birds wheel through the sky, their wide open wings and swooping motions a freedom I would never have. Watching the clouds edged with light filled me with a longing that I would never have the peace I imagined lived among their water crystals. No amount or configuration of ink etched on my skin would seep that sense of freedom into my soul.

And then as I sat on a shaded deck this morning, forcing myself to focus on a wisp of cloud and nothing else, staring into the middle distance, forcing all thoughts from my head or repeating a prayed mantra – a pair of birds streaked across, running a parallel line with the shore in front of me. Their pointed wings reminded me of the swallows with which I’ve been obsessed. They darted and swooped and disappeared behind a house a few doors down.

It occurred to me then that I can continue to stay focused on the peace and quiet in front of me while noticing the promise of freedom. I can long to be truly free, but that doesn’t stop me from embracing the joys in the here and now while I wait. I will not be free until my soul flies up to heaven, but I can open my heart now to accept what this life has to offer. I can use this time between now and then to wait and lament and be miserable or live in each moment mindfully soaking up what is there instead of not seeing it because I’m so fixated on what I don’t have.

Photo by Jennifer Butler Basile

Living, Weekend Write-Off, Writing

At the Intersection of Love and Passion

If a human being closes her eyes hard enough and for long enough, she can remember pretty well everything that has made her happy.  The fragrance of her mother’s skin at the age of five and how they fled giggling into a porch to get out of a sudden downpour.  The cold tip of her father’s nose against her cheek.  The consolation of the rough part of a soft toy that she has refused to let them wash.  The sound of waves stealing in over rocks during their last seaside holiday.  Applause in a theater.  Her sister’s hair, afterwards, carelessly waving in the breeze as they’re walking down the street.

And apart from that?  When has she been happy?  A few moments.  The jangling of keys in the door.  The beating of Kent’s heart against the palms of her hands while he lay sleeping.  Children’s laughter.  The feel of the wind on her balcony.  Fragrant tulips.  True love.

The first kiss.

A few moments.  A human being, any human being at all, has so perishingly few chances to stay right there, to let go of time and fall into the moment.  And to love someone without measure.  Explode with passion.

A few times when we are children, maybe, for those of us who are allowed to be.  But after that, how many breaths are we allowed to take beyond the confines of ourselves?  How many pure emotions make us cheer out loud, without a sense of shame?  How many chances do we get to be blessed by amnesia?

All passion is childish.  It’s banal and naive.  It’s nothing we learn; it’s instinctive, and so it overwhelms us.  Overturns us.  It bears us away in a flood.  All other emotions belong to the earth, but passions inhabits the universe.

That is the reason why passion is worth something, not for what it gives us but for what it demands that we risk.  Our dignity.  The puzzlement of others and their condescending, shaking heads.


from Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman


The Simple Things ARE the Things

A toasty bagel oozing cream cheese

A crinkly wrapper compressed solidly in your fist

Sun light streaming

Fears, panic, stress receding

From a simple soul baring followed by an authentic affirmation

Jennifer Butler Basile

Jennifer Butler Basile

The joy and light of crisp fall leaves all around me

Radiance enters my soul and sings

Living, Spirituality

We are Pilgrims on a Journey

As I sat there listening to music being created right before my eyes, manufactured by human hands up on the stage two tent lengths away, it struck me how amazing the moment was. How lucky I was to be alive and experiencing it. A resounding hum roiling behind my breast bone – the hum of music another om of humanity.

And it is no coincidence that the space music swells is the same place that aches with longing for life, the unnamed.

For where there is a lack, there is also largess.

A void with the ability to be filled.

An ebb and flow

A sacred space that the filling and emptying of reminds us of the balance of life.

For every pain, there will be achingly beautiful joy.

For every time we feel bereft, there will be the overwhelming beauty of belonging, of certainty.

Seeing such music flow from the source brings the magic to life even more. It is the shared experience, the affinity between and among all humankind: a common ache for the sublime, a beatific high when we attain it, and the lonely muddling through when we don’t.

We all are passengers on the same journey, all trying to find our way.

On nights like this, our souls travel together.

"Servant Song" by Richard Gilliard & David Haas

“Servant Song” by Richard Gilliard & David Haas


Catch a Fire

I can see why the discovery of fire was such a watershed moment in the history of mankind.

Not only for its life-giving (or preserving) qualities – warmth, cooked meat, and protection from becoming raw meat are all good things – but for its mesmerizing abilities.

In the past few years, having moved to the country, built a fire pit, and acquired a wood stove, I’ve spent a lot of time staring into flames. There is a certain magic to the seemingly alive tongues of fire; the dance, the movement, the consumption of material, the production of charcoal, the transformation to ash.

It also teaches a lot of life lessons.

Building and maintaining a fire takes a lot of work. Steady attention. Checking in. One cannot get distracted or fully immersed in some other project. Until it’s rip-roaring, your job is the fire. You must focus. You must settle into that state of mind that allows you to do the task at hand and nothing else. It’s quite freeing, actually. Poking, prodding, turning, and nudging – worries, urges, outstanding obligations fall away in the tedious, tactile action.

As does the guilt that usually accompanies the exclusion of other tasks. While only focusing on one, this task is keeping your family, your house warm. It is providing a comfort, a safe haven – it’s even saving on fuel costs 😉

Maintaining a fire teaches other lessons as well that aren’t as easy or pleasurable to learn.

Like patience.

Sometimes you don’t need to throw another log on the fire; sometimes you need to shut the door and watch the roiling smoke. Watch until it produces enough heat on its own. Watch until the flames burst forth seemingly spontaneously – only they don’t. There’s lots of quiet build-up and warming-up that lead to it – all without your interference.

The agonizing part is knowing when these moments of holding back are needed. Will you lose the fire altogether if you mistake its need? Or will you squander the heat by opening the door and fiddling with it too much?

This give-and-take, this mental questioning seems like the opposite of the mindless joy in minding a fire I described above. But only if you let it be. Through practice, through trial and error, such decisions will come instinctually. And focusing on the fire is always better than obsessing over the machinations of your own life.

Sitting by the fire, the warmest, coziest spot in the house with a cup of tea, has become my favorite spot to be, thing to do (or not do) on these cold winter days. The voice in the back of my mind tries to tell me I’ve fallen into a pattern of leisure that is not good. But a louder, happier part of me thanks those prehistoric peoples who discovered the wisdom of the flames and learned from it.

Reflecting on fire

                Reflections of fire (Jennifer Butler Basile)

anxiety, Living


The mosquitoes actually held off long enough the other night for me to do some weeding in our vegetable garden.  In that time shortly before the gloaming, when the heat of the day was finally fading as the sun dipped between the trees and the wind rose up to fill its space, I loosened the earth all around my feet, gently extricating snap pea tendrils from crab grass claws.  There were weeds with plump, red stalks that looked like they would ooze moisture if I snapped them.  There were delicate rounded leaves with lacy white flowers.  They were under and around and throughout – an integral part of my garden – perhaps more numerous than the plants that were supposed to be there.

At times, I had to stand back and survey the leafy patch below me.  Bent over in the worst possible posture for my back, it was hard to distinguish the plants from the weeds.  At eye level, all the leaves blended into one range of green.  It was hard to tell where the clover ended and the pea leaves began.  The heart-shaped leaves of the green beans melded with tall stalks of pointed leaves.  There were even imposter marigolds with tiny yellow buds.

It almost scares me, the uncanny ability of nature to so closely mimic ‘actual’ plants with its weeds and then to germinate them right next to the others so they have the best possible chance at survival by blending.  Think about it, the first weeds a gardener pulls – even if it’s in the five-second walk to her driveway – is the tall spindly one sticking out like a sore thumb.  These others are stealth, imposters of the best kind – or most insidious depending on whose side one takes.

It’s no wonder, then, that I have a hard time distinguishing my bad habits from productive practices; destructive behaviors from healthy ways of being.  The roots of the less desirable plants of my life are invasive, wrapping themselves around my more likeable attributes and behaviors, making themselves almost impossible to extricate – or at least harder to distinguish or even notice.  Without stepping back to take stock, my life is one solid plane of green, weeds and all; the different shades and shapes indistinguishable.

Making the rounds at our local farmers’ market, I stopped to talk with a woman who had woven some beautiful baskets (who also happens to know a thing or two about gardening; she harvests worms for composting).  One skinny, oblong one with a graceful arch of a handle caught my daughter’s eye.  The woman directed my attention to a small ceramic plaque stitched to its front.  ‘Weeds’, it said.  She told me of the Native American tradition of placing their worries in a basket such as this to put them away; make them go away.  I joked how you could also take weeds as a literal worry as a gardener.

But as the day went on, I marveled at how symbolic that little basket and the word etched on its front were.  If I don’t take the time to stuff those weeds into a receptacle of some sort, they will crowd out the good in my life.  The weeds of worry, perfectionism, over-catastrophizing, unrealistic expectations, not prioritizing, not slowing down enough to come to a gentle stop rather than a screeching halt.  I need to cultivate my garden in such a slow, gentle way that I see the weeds as they pop up and handle them one by one, rather than waiting to turn the earth over and start over because they’ve taken over.

I think I need a bigger basket . . .

I think I need a bigger basket . . .


Have To

Do you have to go away to realize where home is?
Do you have to go where it’s loud to discover quiet?
Do you have to ask questions to realize there are no answers?

Do you have to mentally and verbally vomit to free your mind and start fresh,                                                  to get any sort of meaning,                                                                                                                                      clarity,                                                                                                                                                                               peace?

Do you have to hear the tiny squeak of baby birds or the squall of a newborn to remember that life is fragile and once was new and precious?

You don’t have to do anything.

There’s that thing described so simply as free will, but which so complexly screws up life.

But if you want to –

If you realize you need to –

Life is infinitely better.

Living, May is Mental Health Month, Mental Health

An Imperfect Porpoise


The very word makes me twitch.

It’s supposed to be peaceful, magical, that neutral territory where the heart sings and your psyche lies in savasana.

That is, if you can attain it.

I’m forever striving.  I want to show that boulder who’s boss, shoving it up the mountain for good.  But if it doesn’t roll back over me on its way back down, it’s got so much momentum it just goes over the other side.

I lamented to my therapist that I just want to conquer depression.  I want to beat it into submission and be done with it.  I like closure.


Depression is not an open-close case.  It is full of decisions and appeals, a juggernaut of self-imposed juries.

For every bright spot, there is a chance of dark days.  For every low point, there is an arc of highs.  And sometimes it’s all over the road like a reading of the Richter scale.

Unfortunately (or not), this same concept applies to life.

Whether I like it or not, I have to take the good with the bad, the ups with the downs, the victories with defeat.

While Sisyphus has been the poster-child of my life as of late, a friend tried to introduce me to someone new. She said,

Here’s to imperfect progress–a gradual improvement of mood and attitude despite life’s natural ups and downs.

I’m trying to frame this in terms of my buddy Sisy and his vertical hangout.  I can’t.  A long, gradual slope comes to mind, maybe strewn with boulders along the way.  Or maybe it’s like that part of the trail where you hit the tree line and think the summit is just over the next hump, but it stretches on and on and up and up.  The view improves, but the trek is still arduous.

Rolling this new idea of imperfect progress around in my head, the words transmuted themselves into ‘an imperfect porpoise’, which not only made me laugh, but kind of fits.  I’m happy, but I don’t chirp like Flipper; can’t.  Some days I flit about the surface, skimming the waves, others I plunge into the depths.  And all the time, I like to turn words and things on their heads and see what comes about.  Porpoises are intelligent; I wonder if they over think things as much as I do.

What IS the porpoise of life, anyway?

What IS the porpoise of life, anyway?

“An Imperfect Porpoise” is my modern-day myth.  It is about the ever-elusive balance.  The disgruntled admission that this is what I need to seek, rather than domination or perfection.  And maybe that a moving target has less chance of being flattened by a boulder ;-).  Hey, old habits die hard.  This new guy and I are just getting acquainted.  Sisy and I go way back.  This whole life is imperfect anyway, right?

anxiety, Living

All You Can Eat Buffet

Buffets are not the best means of eating for anxious people.

So many choices, so much activity, so many chances for E. Coli and bacteria.

Then the bus loads of people coming in, adding to the tumult.  Kids cranky from traveling.  Everybody wanting food at the same time.  Not unlike the distractions of life, pulling our attentions from our goal: homing in on the buffet line.

The myriad choices are like our choices in life.  So many desirable options.  Mac n’ cheese.  Fried chicken.  Tostadas.  Sweet and sour pork.  Then what we should eat: the salad.  Also a lot like life, no?  We can choose what we know we need and is usually more cost effective (i.e. veggies) vs. what we want or think we should have (bacon-wrapped filet).

In the world of an anxious person, who cannot prioritize, who perseverates over decision-making, who gets overwhelmed easily, the all-you-can-eat buffet is a microcosm for life on a very bad day.

Unfortunately in real life, we do not have a Reina, the queen of bussing, to clear away our messes – or watch us to decide when that’s needed.

Or an all-you-can-eat ice cream bar.  Damn it.