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offering kindness to our healing bodies

graffiti on a wall, surrounding a door. On one side of the door, a green-blue hummingbird hovers over a pink rose in full blossom. On the other side of the door, another, smaller, hummingbird hovers, head upright, wings outstretched. Good morning good morning. Outside the day is thickening into itself. Outside there is something to make yes of, and maybe. Outside the hummingbirds match the hummingbirds in the living room. We make flowers out of a glory hole. Yesterday you said, what is that bird? and I said, that’s crows doing cartwheels in the fog, and you said, write that down.

This morning, while waiting for the tea to steep, I go to do my sun salutations, and for the first time since I started this morning routine, my fingers went all the way to the floor. The loosening does happen. The tight places can relax, can come to trust relax. The tight places can lengthen you, allow you to lengthen. I thought about how I have valued a flexible body, wanted to be limber and loose, where others have valued strength and endurance.

I stretch, feel what wants to loosen in these muscles, feel what wants to relax. For the first week my back hollered at me each time I folded myself over at the waist, reaching hands toward the floor. At first my hands didn’t go much past my knees without my back complaining into tomorrow, without my back yelling no. So I just let my arms hang there, swinging a bit, feeling the pull in the muscles around my spine, where I have gone tight, where I hold things in.

The next day I do it again, and my fingers reach a little further down toward my feet. What’s the message in this? The patience, the waiting. It’s not a metaphor, it’s a body. But sure, it’s a metaphor, too.

Stretching a tight body is like building a new garden is like healing from violence. Patience, sustained practice, showing up, nurturing the soil the muscles the psyche, breathing deep into the anxiety, the place in you that says it’s never going to happen, we’re never going to see anything change, it’s always going to be this painful and this barren. Stretch again anyway, water again anyway, be easy with yourself again anyway.

The plot of land I’ve been gardening started out empty, a lot of it hard-packed clay and weeds. Yesterday I harvested cucumbers and zucchini and green beans (which in this case are purple) and one strawberry for a little boy who loves them.

There’s something about being limber, about being able to stretch backwards and feel where we were, about being able to stretch enough that we can ease into a different future. Maybe the stretch isn’t what’s the past, maybe it’s the tight that’s the past, holding muscles in, reminding us about fear and ache and pain. I try not to push my body too hard. If you pull too hard during a stretch and you are not warmed up, you can tear something, you can do damage. The body doesn’t need any more of that. She doesn’t need rough and hostile when she’s being asked to ease open, release. She needs tenderness, kindness, generosity. We’re so good at offering those things to other people. How often do we offer the to ourselves, to our own difficult and grieving and joy-laced bodies?

The stretching is about rhythm and routine. The sun salutation that I learned (from a book) is this: hands pressed together in front of chest, then press up, arms reach overhead, then lean into a backbend. Lean forward again, all the way over, hands to feet, to floor. Right foot back, lunge or whatever that’s called, then plank, then cobra, then downward dog, then left foot forward in lunge. Then back foot forward, hands on floor, again, then rise up, spine straightens, hands up and over the head and reach into another backbend, then hands part, arms swing down to the side. Bring hands together once more, pressed in front of chest. Thank you, morning. Good morning, sun.

This has been the fight for so long: How to keep going? How to trust that one more layer of healing will come soon, that the stuck parts will loosen, that you will continue to grow? What is the part of the universe you want to clean up, you want to help make better?

How to center, to take deep breaths, to ease into something you love, to be in the moment instead of in tomorrow or the day before yesterday. to promise to write, to love in the right now, to believe you deserve to be in that love, to trust the sun and the growth of plants. The garden reminds us about the long work of healing, and the fruits of our patience. Watch what grows, what doesn’t. Notice the places where nothing seems to be able to grow. What does that soil need, what nurturance, what promise, what nutrients? Then offer those things to the earth, to yourself. Trust the process, just for this minute.

What nurturance, what promise, what nutrients, what rhythms, what practices, what trust can you offer yourself this day? Write into that limbering, just let the words flow, practice releasing them exactly as they want to arrive onto the page. Thank you for your patience with yourself today, for being as easy with you as you are with others. Thank you, too for your words.

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the patient work of the garden

Consider the hands
that write this letter.

Left palm pressed flat against paper,
as we have done before, over my heart…

from “Consider the Hands that Write this Letter,” by Aracelis Girmay

This morning the city sounds are loud and vibrant: the kids alive over in the schoolyard, the traffic rumbling steady as a lobster boat heading back in from checking the traps, the birds a persistent undersong – still here, nature says. Still here. Still here. Still here.

This weekend I planted cucumbers and watermelon. I put in a splash of carrot seeds. This weekend the bush beans put up their first true leaves. The rain was steady and sure on Friday, and everything in the garden appreciated the feeding. When I run through this city neighborhood, I scan every wild garden — how did they get their nasturtium to grow so full and lush? Maybe I should plant some hens and chicks, bring a little succulence into the front garden patch that’s growing so steadily. I steal ideas freely as I trot by — foxglove, daisies, tall (Roman) chamomile, more salvia, more mint. I tuck them into the spaces between my breaths. I run steady, imagining how my garden could be as fresh and bright as these. When I get home, I do my most important stretch — savasana — out on the driveway while the puppy bangs around me, ball in her mouth, thinking that this is some kind of new game. I practice relaxing: practice releasing. I practice letting the earth pull me to her. I practice letting go of the tension that builds in the right side of my body. Breathe into the tightnesses, exhale release. Try to stay here for two minutes at least. So difficult to let the mind go, stop the spinning and anxieties, the drive to hurry up and get to the next thing. Breathe into the tighenesses, exhale release. An inside-out kind of massage.

Then, while I am still sweaty and cooling, the puppy and I go over to the garden. How is everything looking? There’s another flower on the zucchini plant! The cucumber and watermelon and tomato plants don’t seem to have been phased by the cold snap we got the other night, after the rains. I check the little makeshift greenhouses I’ve made for my dahlia and broccoli plants — something’s been munching them right down to the stems at night, so I took a couple of clear plastic containers, poked holes in the bottoms, and covered the plants right up. I think it’s mr. squirrel, who does not seem to be at all phased by the puppy’s presence or scent in the backyard. I check the groundcover plants I set in around the walking path in the — are they taking root, starting to spread? I smooth out the fat puppy footprints in the soil. Someone isn’t using the walking stones. I pull some purple oxalis from around the strawberries, and pick a few ripe berries before the snails take them over, then push a tendril of nasturtium vine up under one of the threads of twine I’ve strung along the post I’m training the bright orange flowers to grow around — later this season, I hope it’s grown enough to mingle with the grapevines at the top of the trellis. I see that the yarrow is coming back– the whatever-it-is that’s eating the dahlia and broccoli also took some of my newly planted yarrow plants down to the nubs. And some of last year’s wildflowers reseeded and are returning — is this calendula? And maybe one of the gerbers, too! The butterfly weed has put up sprouts, as has the echinacea. The puppy mostly seems to know not to walk where the plants are, at least in the (low) raised beds. Keep your fingers crossed that these tender little plants get established steady before she’s driven to chase a ball through all of our hard work.

This is my office work, my daily gossip, my tendings. The puppy drops down into a splotch of sun, stretches long and folds her front paws one over the other, falling asleep with the ball still in her mouth, ever hopeful. Bees rumble in the orange tree while I weed around the poppy and borage (trying in vain not to get covered with hives after touching the borage leaves). Inhale the tensenesses,  exhale release. Bring water and food where it’s needed, and leave most of it all well enough alone — pay attention to how life tends to life, and to how very much I don’t have any control over. Inhale, exhale. Grin at the mourning doves come to rest up at the top of the grape trellis, and let her song open up something new in my body.