How to Feel the Sap Rising
(a poem for summer)
Walk as slowly as possible,
all the while imagining
yourself moving through
pools of honey and dancing with
snails, turtles, and caterpillars.
Turn your body in a clockwise direction
to inspire your dreams to flow upward.
Imagine the trees are your own
wise ancestors offering their emerald
leaves to you as a sacred text.
Lay yourself down across earth
and stones. Feel the vibration of
dirt and moss, sparking a tiny
revolution in your heart
with their own great longing.
Close your eyes and forget this
border of skin. Imagine the
breeze blowing through your hair
is the breath of the forest and
your own breath joined, rising and
falling in ancient rhythms.
Open your eyes again and see it
is true, that there is no “me” and “tree”
but only One great pulsing of life,
one sap which nourishes and
enlivens all, one great nectar
bestowing trust and wonder.
Open your eyes and see that there
are no more words like beautiful,
and ugly, good and bad,
but only the shimmering presence of your
own attention to life.
Only one great miracle unfolding and
only one sacred word which is
—Christine Valters Paintner
Dearest monks and artists,
The days in the northern hemisphere are stretching out long and wide. Galway, Ireland where I live, now has only a few short hours of darkness each night as we approach the summer solstice. As days warm up there is a sense of ease and lightness.
Last weekend I was in London for a workshop and I spent some time in Regent’s Park on a contemplative walk (the kind I write so often about). I was paying attention to what was shimmering for me that summery morning, when I came across the fountain in the photo above. I sat down on the bench opposite and let my prayer be guided by the sound of rushing water and the visual delight of droplets dancing and diving. I breathed deeply into the
sense of life’s overflowing. I welcomed in the knowledge that this fountain exists within me, within you, at the heart of every creature. I knew this fountain would become a symbol for me as I move into some summer sabbatical time.
Summer is a season of ripening and fullness, when the blossoms of springtime turn to fruit. Peaches grow heavy on the branch, full of juice. Berries plump, expanding into brilliant shades of crimson and blue. Having worked in academic life for many years, I still love the rhythm of the school calendar when summer signals a move outdoors, picnics on the beach, more time
spent playing in the sunshine and eating ice cream, swimming in the sea, a return to childhood pleasures. Even if you work all summer the days of endless night beckon you out of doors in the evenings.
This is an essential aspect of becoming a monk in the world: Paying attention to the invitation of the seasons. Listening for how the world around us is shimmering forth with her call to a new way of being and moving in the world. Spring invites us to our own blossoming, while autumn calls us to release and surrender slowly into winter’s stillness.
But summer is a celebration of our ripeness, of pondering the places in our lives that have come to such fullness they are ready to fall from the vine, laden with sweetness, and shared with others. Of pondering the ways the fountain in our own hearts is rushing forth with freshness.
In St. Benedict’s Rule, he writes about the principle of contentment, which means to be satisfied with what we have rather than always longing for something more or different. Yoga philosophy has a similar principle called santosha, or contentment. This isn’t a kind of resigned feeling to being happy with what you have, but a vibrant, even ecstatic joy at the abundant grace of life. To feel gratitude and awe that we have anything at all, much less a
home, work, food, health, and friendship, knowing that any one of those is grace enough.
My birthday is in a week (and John’s is the day after mine, so much celebrating in the Abbey!) This kicks off a summer when I have time to ponder and dream and play, which is just as essential for the nourishment of the Abbey (and my own being) as the very hard work I do keeping everything going, and thriving. I enter this summer space of rest with a feeling of deep contentment, of knowing the incredible gift it is to have a community of monks
and artists with whom to dance and ponder. I seek the kind of deep restoration that comes with prolonged periods of silence, listening for another voice to speak.
As we near the summer solstice, consider how it is with your own soul:
Where are you experiencing the juicy ripeness of your own gifts?
What has become so heavy with sweetness that it demands to be shared and offered freely?
Where do you deny yourself this kind of generosity? And how might you shift this pattern?
Please hold us in your prayers. There continues to be much ripening in my own soul. I am going to sit down to the feast. I am going to drink from the fountain. I am going to feel the sap rising.
Will you join me?
With great and growing love. . .