listening to the trees…

November 18, 2012

My dear friend Nicki Peasley guest posts for me today…I often lean forward when she speaks, just waiting for her wisdom and goodness. She holds space in a really tender way, you can read more of her soul magic here and here.

Listening to the Trees

 I have been hugging lots of trees lately.  In gratitude for their unconditional love for us crazy humans.  No matter how careless we are, the trees continue to offer us their beauty, inspiration (literally), solace from the rest of the world… their lives.

Trees have no ego.  While I sense their acceptance of human appreciation, they don’t expect it.  They don’t need it. They are here to watch over us.  Still and all powerful.  Yet so very vulnerable.

Before Hurricane Sandy came through, my kids and I went around our neighborhood hugging the trees, infusing them with our compassion and wishing them strength through the storm. And once again, even on the brink of what could have been their destruction, they offered us their compassion, their strength.  No fear, only this amazing sense of calm and acceptance for what is, what will be.

There are conversations among the trees.  And if we listen with open hearts, we can even hear them speaking softly to us.   This is what they tell me.

“Slow down. Take a moment to stop. Plant your feet in the earth.  Intermingle your roots with ours.  Extend your branches and feel yourself filling with the sun pouring in through your crown. Allow any leaves that are no longer serving you to fall to the ground. And hold loosely the leaves that still adorn your being.  For they too will fall in time.  Trust… and surrender. “

I carry the tree’s wisdom with me throughout my days.  I watch the world through the eyes of our wooded friends to see the endless human race and all of its dynamics.

The champion, leading the pack with easeful and brilliant stride; those determined to be the champion, passion in their eyes; the walkers, who just keep moving, unattached to any outcome; the cheering crowd, dancing and merrymaking on the sidewalks; the injured, defeated and hopeless… and those tender souls who care for them.

We have all played each of these roles at some time in our lives, perhaps even several at a time.    But unless we take time to stop (even the champion can stop for a moment) to honor the raw vulnerability of every human experience, we are missing out on the message of the trees.

I’ve had a cramp (to extend the metaphor) the last few months. And while it has loosened its grip on me, I am still not quite ready to start running again.  Often, I veer off the course entirely, finding myself in the woods… with the trees.

And then I return to the streets, to the activity of living.  The people run by me, toward their next achievement, their next accolade, the crowd cheering for them. And I notice the volume of my ego increasing.  “Get moving, girl.  You’ve got stuff to do. You’re wasting time.  Make your vision a reality.  This just being isn’t enough. Go. Go. Go.”

But I am quick to catch myself in this destructive pattern. And I am learning to find great contentment in being the tree. Appreciating each season of release, stillness, rebirth, and awakening.  Watching and acting with intention, without attachment to ego, and manifesting simple gestures born of Spirit.

At the beginning of the month, I started a Grow Gratitude movement at my youngest child’s school.  I experience gratitude as the purest and most profound way to connect to self and other.  To focus on what’s right in our lives and in our world, instead of what’s wrong. To appreciate others not for a gift but for being the gift.  To open ourselves up to all the little miracles of every moment.

And to see this understanding unfold at an elementary school is nothing short of magic.

Ms. Campbell’s Class, getting primed for a whole school Gratitude Gathering in which they use their voices and sign language to express the community’s collective appreciation.

On the playground making gratitude chains (to wrap around the cafeteria) and gratitude bracelets. What is making your heart sing in this moment?

A lucky ladybug joining the Lovefest.

“Fox Rocks,” hidden around the school.  When you find one, express your gratitude to another and pass it on… (these rocks had been soaking up the wisdom of the trees forever… and agreed to leave the woods to spread some love among the humans)

For faculty and staff, a message attached to a love stone. (Suzanne Vinson’s amazing art work)

Love leads us to beautiful places when we allow it to.  And on that journey, we are wise to stop every now and then to hug a tree and listen to the message it has for us.  Then, when we are ready to start running again in that crazy human race, it will be with joy and ease and Heaven in our feet.

A meditation to do with your children on Thanksgiving Day…which is really any and every day.


Close your eyes or look down.  You may place your hands on your heart or rest them on your legs.  Take a slow deep breath, in through your nose and out through your mouth so that a very soft sound is made.  Picture yourself surrounded by beautiful light.  As you breathe in, inhale the light and feel your body filling with it.   And as you breathe out, exhale all the yucky stuff that has taken up space in you—any pain, any anger, any worries.. let them all go in your breath. So that you feel completely at peace in your body, in your mind, in your heart, and in your spirit.

Now imagine yourself in a safe and happy place.  Maybe you are on beach, in the forest, in a cozy room, on a mountaintop.  Sit comfortably in your special place and feel the peace it offers you.  Now, as if you are watching a movie that is your life…

See all the places that bring you joy (your home, your school, the swimming pool, the beach…) What places make you smile?

Now see the things that bring you joy (pizza, your bike, your computer, your favorite stuffed animal…)  What things make you smile?

Now see all the experiences that you have enjoyed in your life (vacations, soccer games, birthday parties, holidays…) What experiences make you smile?

Now, most importantly see all the people you are grateful for (your parents, your brothers and sisters, your friends, your teacher, your coach…) Who makes you smile?

Allow that smile to show on your face and feel the gratitude that is bursting out of your heart.  Offer the sign for thank you.  Give yourself a hug.  And slowly, open your eyes.  May you hold this feeling of peace and gratitude in your hearts always.


Nicki Peasley is a student of life and a teacher of love.  In the past, she developed curricula and worked (played and learned and told stories) with elementary and middle school youth.  Now, she is living in the question of what’s next.  Perhaps just being human is more than enough.

She’s back…oh, how we need her bravery and kindness. My dear friend Nicki Peasley guests posts for me today as I recover from a crazy run of kindness stuff, just trying to follow her lead in love. You can read more of her goodness here.

Love is my favorite 4- letter word (although my children would tell you I have a fondness for many others).   If I had to claim the skill set of which I am most proud, at the top of the list would be kindness, compassion, and gratitude (and the ability to share these gifts authentically and creatively with others).   Yep, my whole life, I’ve been pursuing the art of being human, well on my way to becoming a master “love teacher.” (Yes, I’ve really introduced myself that way).

But as it turns out, my love train was missing a critical source of fuel. While loving others kept my engine going for a long time, I had forgotten the most important ingredient in navigating the journey through life…loving myself.

About 6 months ago, I began to spiral into a dark hole of depression and anxiety.  Despite my obvious unraveling, I kept practicing Love with a vengeance, (there’s an oxymoron)—desperately seeking to defeat the spiral with kindness, compassion, and gratitude—for others.  If I could just do a little more for the world, I would be ok.  I would be enough.  I refused to listen to the voice within that was crying out,  “Stop.  Rest.  Eat a bag of Cheetos. Watch a Desperate Housewives re-run!”

Until Self refused to be ignored any longer.  And she went on a sleeping strike.  Now, when you mix a case of insomnia with a biochemical imbalance (that I’ve managed since my early 20’s), a type A personality (I can always get one more errand, one more e-mail, one more chore in before car pool), extreme tendencies toward perfectionism (Damn, I forgot a comma in that blog), an excessive need for approval (ask nicki—she can’t say no) and my own soul story (which includes a martyr, an empath, and a warrior)— you’ve got recipe for big batch of breakdown brownies.

I should share, too, that 9 months ago, I gave up my 18- year affair with anti-depressants.  I thought that at 40 years old, certainly, I had all the experience and wisdom and skills and tools I needed to keep myself thriving.   And, of course, Love conquers all, right?  Wrong.

Back on meds, my mind is beginning to settle.  I am seeing some light again—within me and all around me.   And there are still times when I feel as if my body has electric currents running through it.  While I once resisted this feeling with every cell of my being, I am now able to greet it with softness, curiosity and acceptance.  Knowing that it will pass, just like all emotions do.

I read a passage by Pema Chodron (a brilliant teacher of loving kindness) in which she described her experience with anxiety.  When she went to her teacher for solace, he told her that what she was feeling was actually a form of spiritual bliss! And its intensity, albeit painful, was nothing to be feared.  And as she learned to lean into the pain, she discovered the bliss.

Amazing how a shift in perspective can allow one to hold the human condition (whatever it is) is a whole new light. Could it be that anxiety is really Love in disguise?  A painfully deep and beautiful connection to self and other, to the earth, to Spirit, to the light and dark of it all?  That, perhaps, there is great power in raw vulnerabilty?  Hmm…I’m open to the possibility.

Like all challenges, this episode in my life has come with a huge gift.  The gift of learning to love myself.  To practice kindness and compassion and gratitude—for myself.  To bathe in the healing energy of the sun, listening deeply to my true voice, whispering sweet nothings (that are really everythings), “May I be safe.  May I be strong. May I be healthy. May I be happy.  May I accept what is.  May I be free of suffering.  May I be at peace.“

And it is from this place of being peace that I can easily set aside my infatuation with goals and to do lists and high self-expectations.   And realize that it is my imperfections that make me beautiful.  That my presence is enough.  That my worth is not defined by my achievements.  It is defined by Love.

Love that is made manifest in the contemplation of a leaf; in the mindful eating of an apple; in a roadside conversation with a homeless woman; in a meal prepared for a neighbor; in some early morning snuggling with a beloved child; in coffee and tears shared with a friend; in the embracing of a tree; in offering a simple smile to a stranger.

And it is from my meditation for self- healing that I send on the wind loving kindness for the world. “May all creatures be safe, strong, healthy, happy, free of suffering, at peace…”

I am a work in progress. There are many times when I find myself shifting back into old and destructive thought patterns… and I have to begin again.  To hold my heart with gentle hands.  To breathe.  And watch a mindless tv show with a bag of Cheetos.

During this season of stillness, I am learning to live in my body in a graceful and

loveful way. To trust and surrender. To hold fear and shame and anger with as much

tenderness as I hold joy and sadness.  For to be an authentic love teacher,

I must cultivate the courage to hold it all.  And to love myself unconditionally—in

darkness and in light.


Nicki Peasley is a student of life and a teacher of love.  In the past, she developed curricula and worked (played and learned and told stories) with elementary and middle school youth.  Now, she is living in the question of what’s next.  Perhaps just being human is more than enough.

Hello Loveful Human Beings.  I’m Nicki and I have the beautiful honor of calling Patience my friend.  When she asked if I would do a monthly post on her soul shaking site (while she is creating magic in hardback), before my voice said yes, my heart sang, “oh yeah!”  So this is me.  Raw. I’m lucky that I get to be raw as part of my job at The Bounce Collective, a leadership development and coaching company.  I do the youth development stuff there and have been known to call myself a “love teacher.”  (not on paper, just in the moment).  Because that’s what it all comes down to. Love.



Ubuntu.  I am because we are.

Everyday, I embody this African philosophy a little more fully.  Because of the village in which I live—the North Side of Richmond.

Last spring, I was sitting in a circle of women at a North Side coffee shop. These girls have been meeting for coffee and conversation every Friday for years.  And I have never been a regular attendee.  Most of the time I miss because life gets in the way.  And sometimes I miss because I just don’t make it a priority.

On this particular morning, sitting at this round table in the window, the sun shining in to create beacons of light over the heads these vibrant women, I was overcome with emotion.   A truth emerged.  I was missing my WE.

I navigate life through a me, we, world lens of relationship.  And at the end of each day, I do a soul check, of sorts.   The big question, “How did I show up today in my relationships with self, other, and community, at large?”

My ME check (just a taste… I dig pretty deep here): How aligned were my body, mind, heart, and spirit today?  What did I learn about myself today? What was asking to be seen in the shadows today?  How was I better today?  How can I be better tomorrow?

And then, generally, I move right into…

My World check:  What was calling for my voice today?  How did I rise to create impact today?  What did I produce today? What ideas are asking to be born in me tomorrow?

And usually (not surprisingly) by this point, my soul needs some rest.  And my WE check gets a glimpse, at best.

Who did I reach out to today?  What did I contribute to their world?  What did they offer me?   What was between us?

On that morning in the coffee shop, I sobbed.   In the safety of my tribe’s bosom, a painful revelation was born.  I had not been reaching out; I was not actively contributing to these relationships; I was not open to receiving the bounty surrounding me; and I was desperately missing the loveful abundance that, despite my neglect, would always exist between us.

My obsessive focus on ME and World was eclipsing my connection to the individual members of my tribe, a tribe that extended beyond this round table to include a whole village of amazing human beings.

And my beautiful friend, Amanda, an aura of white light embracing her, looked deeply into my eyes and said, “You are here. We see you. “

And, in that perfect moment, I realized that the work of ME and World begins with WE.   It is in the faces of individual people that we find our mirrors… and our purpose.

Ubuntu.  I am because we are.

Fast forward to last week, 2 days before my 40th birthday.  I am standing in my kitchen, a deluge of family activity around me.  And, as if it were coming from the Heavens, I hear my favorite song, “This Little Light of Mine.”

“Where is that coming from?”  I ask in dismay.

And then I glance out my window to see Amy and Suzy (of the coolest girl band in town, “Dirty Blonde”) leading a parade of 50 angels– men, women, children, dogs…singing out their light-filled hearts, strolling down my street with flowers and tears and birthday love…for me.

I sat on my front porch in a puddle of tears, drinking in each divine face.  If my heart could have spoken the depth of emotion in that moment, it would have said, “You are here.  I see you.  Each of you, in your unique brilliance.  I am.  Because we are. ”

“Nicki done made me cry… I’m gonna let it shine…” was the last verse I heard and it made a permanent imprint on my soul.  For it is in the reflection of our tribe’s tears that we can truly see ourselves.  That we can heal.  That we can know love.

Huge gratitude to my friend Amanda, who birthed this tribute.   I have no doubt that its ripple will forever impact MEWE, and our little North Side World.



Nicki Peasley-  I am the CEO of my home, managing a team consisting of a 40 year old, an 11 year old, an 8 year old, and a 6 year old. In my spare time, I am the YOUth development director for Bounce, writing curriculums and working (playing and learning) with elementary and middle school youth.

I go to her work to be reminded of everything true. She has a magical way of showing it to us,  even the things that are hard are full of beauty. Her honor of living all of life is palpable and rich. I am honored to have my dear friend Cynthia Henebry share her art and life with us today. 

This guest post is for Patience, in honor of the darkest time of the year. Darkness is essential to our noticing the light.

“To go into the dark with a light is to know the light
To know the dark, go dark, go without sight
And find that the dark, too, blooms and sings
And is traveled by dark feet and dark ways”
-Wendell Berry

Girl in the woods

Brothers’ hideout

Looking for stars

After the bonfire

Early winter moon

Cynthia Henebry can be found at and also on flickr at

the perfectly imperfect…

November 22, 2011

I don’t even know how I found her, maybe she found me or I saw her on twitter, but I instantly fell in love with her. Her work, her life, her writing, her graffiti…this is my kind of girl in every way. Erika Ray is one of those people you just wish was your neighbor, because you know you could sit at her kitchen table and spill your guts while we ignore children that are deep in lego play in only their super hero underwear.  

I was so stoked when she agreed to guest post for me…thank you new friend. I am so grateful for the art of you and your perfectly imperfect life. 

From Erika to you:

Comparison is evil. Isn’t it?  We all do it.  We all wish we didn’t.  It’s sort of like the last drink at the end of a big party.  You know it’s going to hurt in the morning, but you still tip it back.  Comparison makes you feel like your life could be better if things were just different.

My house isn’t big enough.  It’s in the wrong neighborhood.  Our schools are awful.  Why don’t my kids behave like her kids?  Clearly she’s a better parent.  Why can’t my youngest fall sleep at 7:30 p.m.?  It must be because she’s better at discipline and I’m a push-over.  Why can’t I make more money?  How does she do all of that stuff when I can barely clean the spit-up off my shoulder?  Shouldn’t our son be reading at this level?  Their kid does.  I need that camera and I’ll be as good as he is. Etc., Etc., Etc.,

As I’ve gotten older, I feel like I’ve learned something really valuable.  Don’t do it.  Comparison – not the last drink (haven’t learned that yet).  When you play the comparison game, you lose.  You’ll never even come close to winning.  But life isn’t a competition.  In my opinion, most of life’s goodness is about being happy with what sits in front of you.  It is what it is.  You have to find the goodness even when it’s crappy, or less than beautiful.  Because aren’t most days pretty ordinary?  And if you spend those days comparing your life to someone else’s, you miss out.  Your life isn’t your neighbor’s, SIL’s, brother’s, friend’s, model’s, mother’s, or even that crazy blogger’s.  If you fall into the comparison trap your head is stuck in a future that will probably never happen.

Photography has taught me to slow down and capture life’s ordinary moments.  Appreciate what I have.  Not all of it is pleasant.  There are days I wish my kids didn’t tantrum.  There are days I wish my dog didn’t eat grass and then throw it up.  There are days I wish we lived in a better neighborhood.  But for the most part, photography allows me to find the beauty in what has been given to me.

Golden light at the end of a crappy day.

The tears from my son because he desperately wanted show his independence.

The beautiful light that lives in my bathroom.

I try really hard to accurately showcase the beauty of my life.  I try to write about life in a way that is completely honest and just hope someone can relate.  And I refuse to only share the most pleasant moments of my life. That might lead people to falsely compare their lives to the version I decide to share. That isn’t fair.  My kids don’t always say “Please”.  My youngest jump-stomps when he’s really mad.  And more often than I’d like to admit, I give in.  My husband and I argue more than we should.  But I believe we’re normal, happy, and completely loved by our family and friends.  I hope that my photography inspires people to find the beauty that lies in their own walls.  Because believe me, it’s there.  You just have to stop comparing and put your current life on the pedestal it demands.  It is what it is.  You own life is badass.  Find, show, and live in its beauty.

Erika Ray blogs about her perfectly imperfect life at Erika Ray Photography.  You can find more photos of her bathroom light, shopping excursions, and more ordinary acts on her Facebook page.   And follow her random, sometimes snarky tweets at @erikalray.