Homecomings: Welcome Home to Your Place on Earth and Your Place in Time

Each of us belongs to places and landscapes that nurture our bodies, minds, and spirits. We also dwell in a home place in our hearts, a private inner landscape. As cycles of day, moon, and seasons pass, our inner and outer landscapes mirror and respond. When we are in tune with our own sense of time and place, we truly come home. Each month, I'll share words, images, and practices to inspire you to connect with ease to your life purpose; your family, friends, and community; and the wonders of the natural world. Over time, the Homecomings series will expand your capacity to integrate scientific and spiritual ways of knowing. Whatever aspects of joy, wellness, or learning you seek, all you need for getting there is found in your own heart and in your home, yard, and neighborhood.

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Anne Forbes

Anne Forbes

  I grew up with hands in the dirt, bugs in a jar, and tadpoles in a tub. Over the years, in support of environmental and community collaborations as a biologist, ecologist, consultant, facilitator, teacher, and spiritual seeker, I’ve designed innovative participatory workshops and forums. Nowadays as an elder, my passion is to create open, collective spaces for people to witness the natural world and creatively communicate what they learn and experience. I am the author of Wheels of Time and Place, a unique toolkit for tracking all sorts of cycles and seasons. One of my favorite creative pastimes is collage, and I am a certified SoulCollage® facilitator. My spiritual study and practice includes Quaker, Buddhist, and indigenous traditions, including lineages from Tibet, North America, and Peru. I will soon graduate from the Three Doors Academy and begin to offer selected meditation practices from the ancient Bön-Buddhist tradition of Tibet. These transformative practices for body, speech, and mind are now available to the modern world in a secular form through the generosity of Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche  

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Trees are wisdom keepers. They stand in a single place on the earth’s surface and faithfully witness the unfolding of time. Like people, trees observe their surroundings, root where welcomed, reach toward nourishment, and hold close where limited.  They form scar tissue when wounded and can adapt to change.  Examining the lives of trees offers critical insights for human wellbeing and survival, showing us when life thrives and falters.

“Witness tree” is an expression used for trees that mark boundaries, act as signposts and directionals, or witness key events in history and local culture – celebratory and tragic.  Trees also witness the in-between moments that are precious and informative in their own right. Through this collaborative witnessing of trees and people, we hope to foster a world that is richer and more sustainable for both.

My dear friends Rebecca Power, John Steines, and I partnered over a year ago to create Witness Tree, an art exhibit at Commonwealth Gallery in Madison, WI – with the two of them as artists (along with many others they invited) and me serving as facilitator of group activities and community conversations.  The above is our statement of purpose, and below is a picture of our world tree gallery where we gathered for circles of story, poetry, meditation, conversation, and leaf-making.


More recently Rebecca and John joined with other tree-minded artists in a fabulous follow up Tree of Life art exhibit at the Overture Center for the Arts in Madison, WI. Again, my role was to support the artists by facilitating a community conversation at the gallery to draw people into a more intentional experience of the Tree of Life exhibit. To kick of the conversation, we guided participants to reflect on their experience of the art and then to share in single words on slips of paper how the art inspired their personal connection with trees and the Tree of Life as metaphor for the connectivity of all living things.

We then collected the words to create a word cloud as a collective representation of everyone’s experience of the Tree of Life art.  Perhaps you can imagine the diversity of art in the exhibit through this “reverse experience” of viewing the visitor’s words rather than the works of art themselves.


As you view the trees in your home place over the next days and weeks, you might collect your own words of response and create a word cloud as an alternative, or in addition, to a journal. You can create your own word cloud with the tree or other shapes at http://www.tagxedo.com/

In alliance with the trees,

Credits: Thanks to Math Heinzel for the Witness Tree panorama, Amy Fenn for creating the word cloud, and the many others who contributed to the art exhibits and associated programming.

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  • Irene bryson
    Irene bryson says #
    My name is Irene and I am new to this, don't know how I came across it but have always been interested would love to enter into th
  • Francesca De Grandis
    Francesca De Grandis says #
    Thanks so much for this! Your affirming the witnesses and caretakers of transitions is a healing for me. As a shaman, I often find

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Gathas continued: more about Water

Photo Credit: Dennis Holzberg

Gathas are short verses for the practice of mindfulness in our daily activities. In a previous post, I described ways to use gathas to connect us with the elements - earth, air, fire, water, and sacred center - in and around our homes. This practice leads to many more stories and endless new gathas! For example, I’m thinking about the story of water as it flows through me and my home. This story is actually more of a mental ramble. It’s the journey my mind takes when I connect with everyday gratitude for being alive. At approximately 60% water, I estimate that I contain about 240 cups of water in my cells and tissues, and this equals about 2 x 1027 water molecules. Of course, it's not always the same molecules. I continuously ingest and excrete. However, the molecules that are present in this moment help keep me upright, seeing, hearing, moving, feeling, and thinking. Water flows through my emotions, the expressions of my personality, and the pathways to my creative expression.

So to continue my ramble.

I open the kitchen tap, I start the washer, I water my plants. In my home place, I draw from a vast underground fresh water sea, a gift of the last ice age, delivered through the pressure of my city's subterranean pipeline highways.

I flush the toilet, I pull the sink plug, I watch the shower drain. These mini vortexes enter a different underground pipeline system to a waste treatment plant that cleans it up (mostly) and sends it downstream along the above-ground pathways of a creek to the next stream to river upon river and finally to the Gulf of Mexico.

"I wash my hands in flowing water. May I use them skillfully to preserve our precious planet." This is the gatha, or short verse of attunement from the earlier post. I'm sensing that this is a good practice, and I'm sensing that it is not enough. Yes, I receive the physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits of water as it flows into my cupped hands and splashes my face. However, I want my gratitude to be bigger and based in a larger field of knowing and connecting.

I want to write place-specific gathas that express my amazement that my community sources fresh water from a vast underground sea and returns it after use along a vast network of streams and rivers flowing hundreds and hundreds of miles to the Gulf of Mexico. I want to write place-specific gathas that hold awareness of what's really happening. Is the underground sea that serves my community being used faster than it is replenished? Yes. Is the "used" water sent away from my community completely clear of substances that affect the health and wellbeing of living things? No.

I have come to realize that I need to write gathas that reflect how water really ''works" with me and to encourage you to write your own place-specific gathas that fit the geography of where you live. Here’s a new one for my home place:

"Breathing in, my cupped hands receive water flowing from the tap. I connect with the vast underground sea it comes from.
Breathing out, the water flows from my open fingers. I connect with the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico.”

The results? I am aware and grateful. I am informed. I am active. Today I am taking leftover medicines to the MedDrop in my community rather than send them down the drain. I am reading about endocrine disrupting chemicals that endanger our water and wastewater systems and finding out what needs to happen to eliminate this danger to all life on Earth.

How does water flow through you and your community? You may need to do some research first.  Then, please write your own gatha, specific to your home place, and share it with all of us in the comments.

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Day 1. I hear the click of the computer clock. Click, whir, computer to CD player, here comes some music. Like the machine that it is, it's on time, and like life, it delivers a random shuffle. This sets the tone for the morning.

Turning inward, I connect with the stillness of my body. If sleep has left me soft, I enjoy the space that is open. I scan my body. If I find a frown, I invite a smile. I rotate my ankles to pull the smile through to my toes.

Next, I check in for silence. The music drifts around the edges of awakening. If inner self-talk begins to buzz, I allow the chatter to fade into the harmonies of a refrain. Ankles and legs entwined with those of my husband, I wonder what demons of his frequent sleeplessness visited his night and how he emerges. I allow this thought to join the notes at the edges of awareness. Having connected with stillness and silence, I feel ready.

I inhale and kick myself out of bed on the next exhale, landing and stretching into whatever this day will send me. Feet planted firmly on the floor, I check my connection with spaciousness. If I sense a restriction of mind or grip of ego, I breathe fully into my heart, reaching my arms upward and holding my breath. My heart space opens wide as I exhale and release. I am connected with my best self and the opportunity of this new day.

Day 2. I hear the click of the computer clock. Click, whir, computer to CD player, here comes some music. Like the machine that it is, it's on time, and like life, it delivers a random shuffle. I know the music coming, and yet I don't know. I'm stuck in a dream. I'm stuck in being stuck.

There is no stillness. I'm wound as tight as the trip wire on a snare.

There is no silence. My throat tries to force the whine voiced by a rabbit caught the snare.

There is no spaciousness. I'm so far from myself that my pelt hangs lifeless in the tangles that claimed my sleep.

The start to this day requires self-discipline. I straighten my arms, open them wide, and clap hard. I clap and shout at the same time "may all of my negative dreams disappear.” The shock waves rattle my angst and allow fresh space to open all around and through me. I become aware of my breath. I find stillness in the loosened space within my whole being. I rest there. I invite the voices and sounds of the dream to become silent and release me. I rest there.

I inhale and kick myself out of bed on the next exhale, landing and stretching into whatever this day will send me. I write in my journal, and shreds of the dream’s mental grip dissolve into spaciousness. As I reflect on this medicine, I remain aware of the gift of the dream and ask the story to fade into the edges of my open mind. When I feel ready, I connect with the opportunity of the new day, and the dream no longer claims me.

Practice Support for the Medicine of Awakening to a New Day
This way of awakening is one of many ways that I have come to practice what my teacher, Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, teaches as Inner Refuge. Whether I wake in a place of blissful ease, emerge from a peaceful dream, or stumble out of nightmare, the habit of “coming home to oneself” by connecting with stillness, silence, or spaciousness is a healthy recipe for starting the day – or for dealing with any challenging moment that arises at any time. This is known as informal practice.

Stillness, silence, and spaciousness are doorways for coming home to oneself at any time, in any place. The steps are easy to remember:
•    Connect with the stillness of your body. Rest here.
•    Connect with the silence of speech. Rest here.
•    Connect with the spaciousness of your open mind. Rest here.
Each of these three doorways will take you to the same place, the warmth of your natural state of being, the gift of your presence to yourself and the world.

As simple as these informal practice steps may seem, the greatest long term benefits come if we also learn the formal practice of Inner Refuge. During a three-year training in the The 3 Doors Academy founded by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, I was fortunate to delve deeply into these practices, leading to positive change in all aspects of my life. As an experientially-based educational organization, The 3 Doors Academy offers selected practices from the ancient Bön-Buddhist tradition to the modern world in a secular form. These practices offer everyone the opportunity to transform body, speech, and mind and bring a new perspective to their life.

To learn more, I recommend:

  • Online practice sessions (no cost)
  • A trilogy of books with simple and direct instruction to reflect upon our ordinary limiting experiences in a new way. This is medicine that is not owned by any tradition but is at the heart of all spiritual experience. All three are by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche: Awakening the Sacred Body, Tibetan Sound Healing, and Awakening the Luminous Mind. 
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  • gary c. e.
    gary c. e. says #
    Thanks Anne- Much appreciated - I am Taoist and your post warms my heart.
Gathas: A Practice to Connect with the Elements

Imagine . . . warm garden soil pressing between your toes, a gentle breeze caressing your face, luscious fruits ripening on the vine, sparkling dew drops decorating a spider’s web

Connect . . . with all the ways that earth, air, fire, water show up to sustain your daily life and life on Earth

Reconnect . . . to a playful and resourceful relationship with the elements of the natural world

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  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham says #
    Lovely! Thank you for your wonderful reminder to be mindful!
  • Ashling Kelly
    Ashling Kelly says #
    I kind of like the idea of reminders, mini-focusers through the day. I think this is something to try.

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