THE SPIRIT OF SUMMER

THERE is something about summer that frees our spirits. Something that insistently beckons us to look at life and nature more closely, more intently. And, indeed, more extensively. The lake we’ve never visited. The trail we’ve never walked. The plant we’ve never grown. The important project we’ve managed not to “see” or acknowledge. The book we’ve never read. The artist we’ve overlooked. The recipe we’ve wanted to try for the longest time. The daring article or poem we suddenly want to write. You have your own examples, I’m sure.

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Feeling freer, less confined and withdrawn, we seem to almost merge with the spirit of summer.

Growing … doing … exploring … experiencing … creating.

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees,
just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning
over again with the summer.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

But sometimes things happen that dampen our spirits, and we struggle to find our usual enthusiasm for summer’s endearing vibrancy. It can make us feel pretty miserable to want to do the usual things (or new things) without the energy or desire to make it happen.

Who hasn’t been there?

Unless you live a one-dimensional life on a one-dimensional planet … you’ve been there.

We lost our beloved schnauzer, Noah, in June of 2015. My beloved son, Matthew, in June of 2007.

So I’ve been wondering about this fanciful month of June. Why has it delivered such harsh blows amidst the greens and blues and pastels that flow like rain during a month when many parts of the world seem reborn. Promising, comforting, and certainly pleasant. And then I noticed a quote on a good friend’s (thanks, Cynthia!) Facebook page that gave me pause yet again.

  • “I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where it was always June.” ― L. M. Montgomery
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NOAH … the Zen master
SRS
NOAH                                                                       

If the world was always June … yes, there would  be the magic of nature … but, for me, there would also be poignant and powerful reminders of loss. Days very difficult to peacefully, and fully, remember; days when beating hearts grew still: the silence deafening. But June takes me there anyway, even as I resist, cringe, try to run away.

So do I turn away from the lovely month of June, or embrace it?
What would you do?

“It was June, and the world smelled of roses.
The sunshine was like powdered gold over the grassy hillside.”
Maud Hart Lovelace

To say I have mixed feelings about June would be true. The calendar, the season, draw me closer to events that feel “outside of time” … but the days of June also sharpen those painful memories anew, serving them up like a sad story ending one can never quite escape. Matt_FruitFarmOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA_Matt_Lake

I guess the only thing I can do is broaden my view, allowing June to merge with my memories of summer, in general. By acknowledging the month of June as intrinsic to summer’s spirit, I can consider it from a slightly different vantage point. Reflecting on this … I am also reminded that summer’s spirit is not entirely blissful. When summer ends, it takes with it warm, carefree days, and announces the arrival of a new season. Cooler weather, a more subdued season, less fresh and invigorating. By framing June this way, it becomes part of a bigger story—one less focused on daily events, specific time frames, and so on.

  •  ” … the final twist descended like a malicious fire. An unyielding weapon and an uncompromising shot shredding time, and all variations of hope, as it penetrated and absorbed the utter fragility of a precious human life in a secluded meadow on a faded summer night. An unbearable image. An anguished landing during the seductive month of June–nature in full bloom–made death even more startling, incongruent. I wanted to hate the sixth month of the year.” —D.A. Hickman, The Silence of Morning: A Memoir of Time Undone

When painful memories surface, try to frame them anew … bring them into a slightly different light, look at them from a perspective that isn’t quite as personal. After all, nothing happens in isolation and everything is connected. Dreaded days on a calendar can be looked at in a broader context … allowing for space around the event, the moment, the feelings we instinctively shy from. So here’s to the breezy days of summer, the tantalizing mix of life and loss the season ultimately delivers. Matt and Noah, for me, you ARE the spirit of summer. ~

How do you feel about June, about summer?
Any complications around this particular landscape of time?
What memories do you shun, or treasure … or simply not understand?

Thanks so much for stopping by this sunny space for kindred spirits.
See you again Friday, July 1st.

“Drugs and guns aren’t the real problems; they are only symptoms.
The deeper issue is the human condition, the trauma of life on this planet.”
9780990842361-Front-TheSlienceOfMorning13_RGB_300dpi_6x9“Despite a crushing loss … here we have a warmth of spirit,
understanding and compassion in a distancing world.”
Madeline Sharples, Leaving the Hall Light On
My recent book interview on Richard Gilbert’s blog,
can be found here
WE NEED MEMOIR.
Thanks again, Richard!

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EYES OF NATURE

Nature quietly teaches us < Happy Earth Day > that nothing is as complicated as we try to make it. And yet, given the paradoxical realities of life, everything is more complicated than we assume or imagine. How do we navigate such treacherous waters — avoid the extremes, the habitual reactions, the angst and anxiety that flow from ineffective and counterproductive personal patterns?

Acknowledging paradox is an excellent initial step, but that takes awareness and presence and mindfulness, doesn’t it?

If we don’t realize that we’re always standing right in the middle of the yin and yang of things … how can we hope for insights or change or anything more than the status quo?

Each time dawn appears, the mystery is there in its entirety.
— Rene Daumal 1908 – 1944

We started this year focusing on smallish changes with life-enhancing potential. So here’s another idea along those lines — observe the paradox of any challenging situation before doing anything else. Sense the dynamics at work around you that aren’t remotely personal. Pause deeply. Step back. Reflect. Consider. Accept contradiction, confusion, the pull of opposite yet, complimentary, forces.

Just this can make a big difference in our perceptions, our judgments, and our attitudes. Even in how peaceful we feel.

  • Nature can be extremely helpful in this context. Look away from what is troubling you, annoying you, distracting you … and look into the eyes of nature instead. A budding tree. A flower in bloom. A breeze against branches. A sky that looks like infinity. When we step away from the conditioned mind, it’s easier to acknowledge a deeper reality … then paradox becomes more obvious. And we can see into situations and challenges and opportunities with a fresh sense of creative possibility. Perhaps … with greater wisdom, acceptance, and understanding. Maybe even compassion.

A good friend of mine shared these lovely spring pictures recently. She referred to them as the “night and day of tulips,” which seemed to fit this blog post quite well. The yellow ones, nearly three feet high, seem filled with light and spirit; the purple ones (queen of the night) are intense, moody, compelling. One gardening site described this variety of tulip as velvety, deep maroon-black blooms on sturdy stems.

  • However you describe themthe key is to pause long enough, look deeply enough, to describe them at all.
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©dacotahkromes
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©dacotahkromes

“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” — Jack Kerouac

If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair. C. S. Lewis

IF… you’ve noticed the repetitive nature of most conversations, along with the habitual way of perceiving the world, you’ve probably wondered how any of this ever changes. Only when there are internal changes … does the world begin to “look” different. Only by deepening our life experience can we see the paradox that is always before us. So whatever you do … try not to let a dysfunctional, malcontent culture define you. Your own innate sense of life meaning is a far better guide than a hyped up, heavily glamorized, artificial (and struggling) society. Choosing to tune it all out and look within … is the gift of a lifetime. –dh

Thanks so much for stopping by this sunny space for kindred spirits.
See you again Friday, May 6th.
I will always be a student of society looking for the deeper story and the universal message
to derive a better understanding of the human condition.
— D. A. Hickman, The Silence of Morning
If you missed my recent interview on Richard Gilbert’s blog,
here is the link to
We Need Memoir.
Thanks again, Richard!

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JUST A FOGGY MORNING

WE’VE had some foggy mornings recently when everything seems hidden by a thick winter blanket. Looking out a window reveals familiar landmarks still recognizable despite a shroud of white-gray fog. How do you react to foggy mornings? Or do you really notice them?

We know they are temporary. The sun will burn through eventually, the fog will lift. Yet, somehow it’s easy to let a dreary morning seep into our veins … when we aren’t mindful.

I began this shiny new year in SunnyRoomStudio by considering how smallish changes can deliver significant impact, often in ways that surprise us with their staying power. And already we’ve considered a couple of things that fall under this lovely umbrella: taking frequent sky breaks and giving something away as often as possible. Small changes really are the magic of our lives.

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Photo, Julie Kingery-Conner *

So today I wanted to suggest yet another smallish change that came to me when I woke up to the fog of a mid-February morning that included a dense-fog advisory from the weather channel. Instead of pining for spring flowers or a bright summer sky … let “what is” become a welcome point of surrender, in a deep kind of way.

“If we surrendered to earth’s intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees.” ― from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Book of Hours

We waste so much energy “wishing it otherwise” … so much energy pining for a different reality. Something we are certain is “better than” whatever is right in front of us. But when something is deeply accepted, without reservation, a degree of emotional liberation is attainable. Some call it liberation from suffering … even from smallish things that simply drain our energy.

So the third smallish change for 2016–something we can easily build into our spiritual practice–is just this: stay mindful, peaceful even in the face of what seems “negative.” Try to allow “what is” to be enough, and to be okay. When we remember to do this we are less likely to cut ourselves off from the very life force that is inherent to each breath, each ray of sunlight, each moment in time.

And if it helps … consider what is still possible given the circumstances. If it’s the dead of winter, for instance, there are still great photographs of flowers, green grass, sunny skies. Seek them out. Enjoy them fully, not as “it’s just a picture,” but in terms of “this is beautiful.” The colors are vibrant and full of life; there is “completion” of something glorious right in front of me.

Deep in their roots, all flowers keep the light.
— Theodore Roethke

When you try this, let me know how it goes. I’ll be back Friday, February 26th with another smallish change that holds the promise of something more. And if you have ideas along these lines, please share them. Thanks so much for dropping by!

I’ve always loved taking pictures growing up in South Central Illinois, but the love of photography came to me after transplanting to Sioux Falls. I became inspired with the state, and claim it as my own now.” — Julie Kingery-Conner, Jewels Photography 

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TRUSTING EXPERIENCE

I AM FAIRLY certain most of us begin a new year with mixed emotions. Whenever we grapple with elements of time, the emotional back and forth–the reluctance to let go and move forward, coupled with excitement about a new year–is there. Most of us probably enjoyed a break from routine in December, and now we are faced with returning to that routine in whatever form it manifests in our lives. A little reluctance is normal. Maybe even necessary. Maybe we should be asking ourselves, in fact, how much of our routine can be updated, revised slightly, or even greatly modified. But sometimes it’s the smallish changes that surprise us the most, offering more impact than anticipated.

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So I’m starting off a new year with one very simple change … I am going to look at the sky more often each day. I hope you will join me! A sky view is always expansive (as opposed to narrow, or based on fuzzy logic or past conditioning) and, nearly always, beautiful. Even if dark storm clouds threaten, there is MUCH to see … when we pause to look.

And though the sky itself may feel mysterious and magical and mystical all at once … it’s always there for our eyes and souls to consider whenever we take that deep breath, that deep pause. In the spirit of slowing down … even this can make a big difference.

We are living with a grayish winter sky these days, but maybe this is the sky of “hope” … knowing the light is there, just not revealed through the eyes.

“I can see the sun, but even if I cannot see the sun, I know that it exists. And to know that the sun is there – that is living.” ―Dostoyevsky,  The Brothers Karamazov

Best wishes to everyone as we venture into uncharted territory this year. May you find inspiration, joy, and peace in the days ahead. And let me know if you are considering any smallish changes that hold the promise of something more. –dh

  • My memoir, as many of you know was released in December. KINDLE edition now available for pre-order, forthcoming February 2016.
  • You can also visit my book page here in SunnyRoomStudio or visit Amazon to learn more about THE SILENCE OF MORNING.
  • The Silence of Morning, a compelling story of life and loss, culture and society, reveals why the author, in the face of profound tragedy, decides to confront the mysteries of existence in search of deeper understanding. For one thing, as a spiritual thinker with a sociological bent, Hickman’s looking for the universal message … a path through the wilderness that speaks to every living soul. But the author is also seeking safe, even fruitful, passage through the throes of intense grief.
  • EACH LIFE is a reflection of the many mysteries we are born into. Mysteries lodged in silence. And ambiguity. Yet this fascinating memoir manages to penetrate that silence, as the author initially survives its fierce echo in the face of her son’s sudden death, and then realizes she must, one day, embrace it. Hickman notes, however, that she wasn’t remotely prepared for the curious demands of loss. But then, who is, she wonders. Would a saint be prepared, someone braver than I, perhaps, or someone who simply moved on with a heavy shrug of the shoulders, a fierce sigh, a wistful expression? 

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Thanks for stopping by. I’ll return by Friday, January 29th with another smallish change that holds the promise of something more.

Always Returning: The Wisdom of Place is about digging into our surroundings to unearth an organic, timeless wisdom. If you’re looking for inspiration or want to lean more about a landscape, a place, that helped me to unearth my spiritual roots, this is a book you’ll enjoy. We are much wiser than we imagine; it’s only a matter of tapping into what we already know. ~ D.A. Hickman

LEARNING TO WRITE

Here’s the thing about writing a memoir — it’s extremely challenging. When working in the captivating land of memory, emotions, and time … how could it be otherwise? There is much to write about, yet, paradoxically, there is little to write about. As writers, we have to tease out milestones, memorable dialogue, fading landscapes sketched somewhere in our mind, and then we have to discover the relevance of this — to ourselves, to those who eventually read our books.

I think most memoirs, though they purport to be about this
particular time or this person you met, are really about the effect
that person or time had on you.
– Rosemary Mahoney
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Apple trees are weaved into the memoir I’m working on.
Significant as a young girl, and again, as a gift to my son one Easter weekend.
Three trees he planted and cared for — trees that outlived him, and that I
still enjoy seeing. Somehow they made it, somehow … they survived. And that
simple feat has inspired me in countless ways.
2014072695101021 As you can see, they weren’t pruned or shaped because we lost Matt about a year after he planted them. Nonetheless, the trees are alive; they are bearing fruit. But writing about them was challenging because my grandmother also had apple trees that I loved as a young girl. Three bountiful trees right outside her bedroom window that are firmly lodged in my memory. Their fragrance in spring; their shade in summer; their fruit in fall. So I had to figure out the connection between her trees, and the ones we gave Matt.
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“Write about small, self-contained incidents that are still vivid in your memory.
If you remember them, it’s because they contain a larger truth that your readers
will recognize in their own lives. Think small and you’ll wind up
finding the big themes in your family saga.” ― William Knowlton Zinsser
This is an excellent point, from Zinsser. Intuitively, I also sensed a “larger truth” lurking in the small, seemingly insignificant moments that are carved into my soul like a small sculpture. I remember certain facial expressions, words spoken by the eyes alone … and as a writer of memoir, I’ve dug further to see why such memories are still with me. What are they telling me? How can I write about them so others feel what I felt in that moment?

“We tell the story to get them back, to capture the traces of footfalls through the snow.”
― Gail Caldwell, Let’s Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship

Starting work on my memoir during the summer of ’08, the book has been a steady and demanding companion for the past seven (almost) years. A few drafts along the way felt “complete,” but as the days ticked by, and I waded into the manuscript again, I ran across areas that weren’t quite finished. I’m still doing that. Something long forgotten suddenly comes back to me. Working with memories is unpredictable to say the least. And the well never runs dry because we don’t forget love; we don’t forget a son who only lived to be 27.

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Sadly, the world would have us “move on” after loss, yet, there has never been greater nonsense. Certainly, if you are still locked into a narrow, linear mindset, as opposed to a spiritual viewpoint, you might think time changes things. But not really. Only the surface changes, external forms and such. Spiritual connections, profound and true, don’t end, and can’t be replaced by what is “current” or “here” on a purely visual level. Instead, the past, present, and future (given the illusion of time) continually merge into something that encompasses the “all.” Unlike fads and trends, new this and that, we don’t leave people behind–certainly not those we’ve loved and lost–like yesterday’s car or cell phone. They, too, are part of the mystery that never dies. – dh

What is a lasting spiritual connection really pointing to; what do you think?

The universe, I’d learned, was never, ever kidding. It would take whatever it wanted and it would never give it back.
― Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

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