Posts by Jill Elizabeth

The one thing that will always slow your mind

All summer I’ve been reading Barry Lopez’s book, “Arctic Dreams” — it’s very, very long and I still have a ways to go — and the other night, I read this line which I’m very grateful for:

Watching animals always slows you down.

As someone who is always looking to slow down on multiple levels, I was really struck by by the suggestion that there’s something out there that will “always” slow me down, at least according to Lopez. In my own experience this has been quite true, even though I’d never thought about it this way.

I was up at our family’s cabin the night I read this line, and the next day, I noticed that indeed, every time I saw wild animals — butterflies, bees, moths, hawks, salamanders, toads, rabbits, deer, many different songbirds, crows, and even a bear in the distance — my interior mental world suddenly downshifted into something slower and more focused.

I wasn’t actively bird-watching or tracking or anything like that, just sitting on the porch or driving or walking along. I realized that the animals I saw were actually changing my interior world by disrupting the mental noise and rushing thoughts with a sudden dawning of slow and quiet focus.

It was such a blessing to notice this, to receive this gift of deeper awareness from Lopez and from the animals around me. I think it’s interesting and lovely that just “watching” them can do this.

It was lovely, too, to note that this has been happening all my life, soothing, healing, calming me beneath my conscious awareness. Perhaps this is one of the reasons I am so drawn to wild places and the natural world.

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What the death of an animal can teach us about the power of ritual

a ceremony to help children process a death

I am fascinated and touched and inspired by the deep love many children have for wild animals. It’s a love that seems natural, and sometimes more immediate than what many adults (including me) have to offer, at least on the surface.

Yesterday, my nine year old saw from the front porch that a raccoon had been killed by a car on our street. It was a terrible sight. She called her siblings out to see. The littler one, who is six, was very sad: “I just feel so bad for the raccoon.”

I felt bad too, and tried not to let the experience become a symbol for all the sadness I have about these sorts of things.

I suggested we light a candle for the raccoon. It occurred to me that the driver who hit the raccoon probably felt awful about it, so I shared that too and wished that person well.

And then, though that was all I had at the moment, my kids took it from there.

They gathered a wreath, the nine year old making the label “raccoon,” and the 6 year old making the picture above, which includes an assortment of vehicles with a big X through them.

“Why can’t everyone just ride bikes?” he asked (although in the picture I think the bike got an X too.)

This whole thing happened and the candle burned for the next couple hours and they told dad about it later … and all of this helped them work through their feelings. Me too.

It was a sad situation, but I felt comfort witnessing their feelings of love and connection, their care for another living being and for one another, AND the seeming effectiveness of this ritual.

It taught me about what I can do to manage my own sadnesses. It taught me that these rituals and gestures can be effective and meaningful. And it taught me about the loving kindness that lives inside us and is right there to tap into.

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