The Book

Now available!  The book, Finding Our Way Home: A Spiritual Journey into Earth Communityis being published by my own imprint, Small Bird Press, and available through lulu.com via this link.title-page 

What others are saying:

“Myke Johnson’s beautiful stories from her own journey illuminate the way to reconnecting with ourselves, each other and the entire Earth community. The practices that punctuate the end of each chapter help embody and guide the path of reconnection. A book to savor, it is also a compelling reminder of the legacy of stolen land and genocide, and of the urgency to face the past as a necessary step toward healing and finding our way home.”  Anne Symens-Bucher, Executive Assistant to Joanna Macy and facilitator of the Work That Reconnects

“Myke Johnson’s writings are inspiring, transformative and grounded in the mystic contemplative way of life.  Reading her reflections and meditations gives you a deep sense of connection not only to Mother Earth but to her own personal journey. This is a companion book for all that are seeking a simple but conscious choice of living in peace and harmony on our planet with all of creation.”  Rev. Virginia Marie Rincon, Episcopal priest and Curandera

From the back cover:

In this time of ecological crisis, all that is holy calls us into a more intimate partnership with the diverse and beautiful beings of this earth. In Finding Our Way Home, Myke Johnson reflects on her personal journey into such a partnership and offers a guide for others to begin this path. 

Learning from the Indigenous philosophy that everything is related, she found in her plant and animal neighbors generous teachers for a way back to connection: a chamomile flower, a small bird, a copper beech tree, a garden slug, a forest fern. Their lessons are interwoven with insights from environmental science, fractal geometry, childhood Catholic mysticism, the prophet Elijah, fairy tales, and permaculture design. Each chapter includes practices for further reflection and experience.

This eco-spiritual journey also wrestles with the long history of our society’s destruction of the natural world. Johnson investigates its roots in the original theft of the land from Indigenous peoples and in other violent oppressions between human beings. Exploring the spiritual dimensions of our brokenness, she offers tools to create healing. Here is a map into a new relationship with earth, with each other, and with the Spirit within and between all. Lyrically expressed, Finding Our Way Home is a ceremony to remember our essential unity with all of life. 

You can now order the book for $17.99 (plus shipping) via environmentally-friendly Print-on-Demand at this link:  Finding Our Way Home 

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Photo by Margy Dowzer

Myke Johnson is a Unitarian Universalist minister and earth activist, serving a congregation in Portland, Maine, while practicing and teaching ecological spirituality. She holds a Master of Divinity from Chicago Theological Seminary and a Doctor of Ministry from Episcopal Divinity School.

More recommendations:

“I work with Unitarian Universalist congregational, environmental leaders across the United States. I am keenly aware not only of my need, but what so many seem to experience as a lack, a daily rift between functioning well on Earth, and Living with All Earth in ways that sustain our core. The messages and ceremonies of Finding Our Way Home are as essential, I think, as sleeping. But like sleeping, we try to do without as much as our hearts, bodies and souls need to meet demands in these times. This book is welcome medicine for the beautiful, difficult work and love of our lives.”  Rev. Karen Brammer, UUA Green Sanctuary Program

“As a student of Naiyantaqt, I have, over the long journey of my life, come to appreciate the rhythm of the Great Mystery; the wondrous Consciousness, the empowered understanding and meaning of Manitou, that exists everywhere and in all living and immobile matter. Such connections are profound, relevant, and mark the passage to the future awaiting the enlightened. I am aligned to such kinships and Myke Johnson is a long-time kinship, a seeker of the Divine, a companion in the awe of the Great Mysterious. She boldly embraces the Divine and her quest to connect with the All-Encompassing Mystery. Her book is the re-telling, the sharing of her wondrous spirit, life, and the path to her awareness. Her book will empower true seekers on this Path of Life, a path she confirms by our friendship and mutual journey together.”  gkisedtanamoogk, Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth & Reconciliation Commissioner and author of Anoqcou: Ceremony Is Life Itself

“During times of chaos, whether private or public, the human psyche/spirit seeks inner and outer grounding as its home base. Using her own life as a prism of refracted insights, Myke Johnson has created a tool-kit for the rest of us to use in our personal and/or political struggle to survive, and perhaps even thrive. As she shows as well as tells us how to concentrate and tap into our deepest energy and then send it out into the universe in order to affect change, she does exactly that with this book, her own special gift to the world.”  Gail Collins-Ranadive, author of Nature’s Calling, The Grace of Place

“In Finding Our Way Home, Myke Johnson names the many disconnections that modern people constantly experience as the core spiritual issue of our time.  And then through wisely chosen stories from her own experience, she shows us how we might reconnect the inner pieces of ourselves, our relationships in genuine community, and our relationships with the earth into a more integrated whole. She helps us remember our deep belonging with all that is. And that as we engage this process, we are finding our way home.”  Rev. Deborah Cayer, lead minister, Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Durham, North Carolina

Paper

Innu Ally Work filesIn my sorting and packing and decluttering quest, I was all set to start tossing old file folders from the basement into the recycling bin, but it is proving harder than I first expected. I haven’t looked at these papers for at least ten years (since we moved into this house). Because of my allergies, I would have to wear a mask and gloves to go through them.  So the simplest thing would be to just toss them out.  But when I start to take a peak, they are like windows into the history of my life as an activist.  Here is a whole file cabinet about ally work that I was involved in, related to the struggles of the Innu of Nitassinan in Quebec, most of it from when I lived in Boston.

Boston Political workThen there is the box I haven’t opened in over 16 years, with this evocative label: “Boston/and Peace Camp Time: Political Groups /Resources/Issues/Conferences.” I am guessing I threw stuff in there as I was packing to leave Boston, but I don’t even know what it might include.

I also have a box from over 30 years ago, simply labeled “Politics, Etc.” from the time I lived in Grand Rapids and Chicago in 1980 to 1984.  I’ve moved it so many times.  My intention to simplify is crashing into my interest in the older stories of my life.  When I look at these artifacts, I remember activities and connections and struggles that I had almost forgotten.Grand Rapids Political work

I think about moderately famous authors and activists whose collections of papers end up in libraries and archives.  But I am not famous, and who knows whether any of this would have any value for anyone besides me.  Do I really want to carry around boxes and boxes of old paper? I want to live in a small house, and keep doing activist work in the present rather than to document the activist movements of the past.  But I just recently read about how one of my favorite authors, Octavia Butler, saved everything.  Her papers are now available for research use in a library in California, I think.

When we give ourselves to the work of social change, we are “one in the number” (as Ella Baker said) of thousands of ordinary people lending our strength to a new vision.  Are our ordinary activist stories an important part of a history that someone may want to write in a future we cannot yet imagine? Or will that future itself be the only record of our work that is needed?

I do have some boxes of paper that I have already labeled “Archives.”  I would probably sort things differently if I had time to do it today, but when we moved to Maine, I made some filing and sorting choices about what to save and what to toss.  It is just that that sorting never gets finished, and some things came along without that kind of careful attention.  The boxes I always feel absolute clarity about saving are the boxes of my journals and writings and poetry.  During our last move, I even purchased archival quality boxes in which to store my old journals.

When I go deep inside, I know it is okay to let go of some of this paper; but perhaps it is also okay to wait, to bring along some of these old boxes, stash them in another basement or attic, and revisit them in a quieter time.  I don’t know.  What do you think?

We are planning to move in two and a half weeks.

 

What is hidden

Attic/before photo

The Attic–Before

Insulation work on our new house started on Monday with the attic!  The plan is to take up all the plywood flooring, remove the old pink fiberglass batts, then frame up another 8 inches. They will make a box around the doorway as well, and create an insulated cover for the door.

Next they seal all the joints, and then blow in cellulose insulation. Oh, and before that the electrician will do a bit of work on the bathroom exhaust fan, and also some other electric work that is easiest to access from the attic.  After that they will put down the plywood flooring again on half of the attic so we can use it for storage.  At completion, we will have insulation value of R-50.

IMG_0554But then we got the news yesterday that there was an area of mold on the ceiling of the attic, over the bathroom area.  We were surprised because we hadn’t picked up any mildew odors. IMG_0556But it was all hidden beneath some rough plywood which you can see in the photo on top as a partial ceiling, and the next photo shows where they took it down. (And look, there are the new framing boards :)) And next: a picture of the mold. (These two photos sent from the crew, to keep us in the loop.)

The good news is that our crew found it, and contacted the remediation company they like to work with and today they came right over to the house to check it out, and also checked out the rest of the house.  They will let us know how much it will cost.  Everything always costs more than you think it will. But happily, they use ecologically safe methods for removal–basically baking soda in a soda blasting process.

So we are waiting to see what has to happen with all of this before the insulation process can resume. But the other good news is we really like the folks we are working with.

Tomorrow morning I will go over to meet the electrician; he will be continuing his work during the hiatus of the other work. Along with the bathroom exhaust fan, he will be fixing the doorbell, adding the wiring for future lighting in the living room, and adding a switch for the kitchen light next to our back door. Every day a little more is accomplished, in this second phase of our search for greener house.

The Beautiful Backyard!

Our new backyard

Our new backyard (Listing Photo)

We are under contract! We looked at a house on Halloween, made an offer the next day, and last night signed the Purchase and Sale agreement with the sellers. It has a beautiful backyard!  It is in Portland, just a 13 minute walk to the Evergreen Cemetery Trail, a 17 minute walk to a bus line, and a 51 minute walk to the house of one of our friends! (I love the “walk and bus” feature of Google Maps) And did I mention it has a great backyard? It is .43 acres, and resonates so deeply with our desire to be in the city, but also connected to nature. I am already imagining what a great permaculture design we will create for this land.

As we have looked at houses during the last three months, we’ve come to better realize what was most important to us in our search for greener housing, and what we could let go. We realized that location and connection to nature were vital.  This place feels just wonderful in that regard.

The house itself is a very simple and well maintained ranch style. It is on the small end of the range we’ve considered–just 1025 square feet of one level living.  We hesitated a bit on that–could we really downsize enough to live in half the square feet of our current house?  But isn’t that just what we are trying to do in this journey?  Reverse course from the bigger-is-better mentality?  (And luckily, it also has a partly finished basement that will offer extra space as we make this transition, and offer room for guests and projects, and probably lots of boxes.)

As I look back at our list of hoped-for features, there is no laundry on the first floor (that is in the basement) and no mud-room.  We also need to convert the garage door from a one-car to a two-car–the garage is wide enough, but has been used as one bay and storage. We hope to add a couple more windows toward the back yard to let in more light and create a better interior connection to the beautiful back yard. But everything else lines up. It has a fairly south facing roof for solar, seems like an easy layout to add air-source heat pumps, and has a wood stove insert in a fireplace.  It has wood or tile floors throughout, and a feeling of peace and beauty. You sense that it has been crafted with care.

I am feeling a deep sense of joy this morning.  I want to say one more thing about this part of the journey, though, something that I learned yesterday, when I was caught in the exhausting anxiety of the offer/counter-offer real estate process.  I often feel guilty about feeling anxiety–like I should be more peaceful and trusting if I am flowing in the River of Life. But lately I have been reading about how being present to the moment is being present to all that emerges.

So I took some quiet time to be open to the anxiety as well, to pay attention to it. When I did that, there was a deep intuitive feeling that told me–act now! Margy and I talked, and we told our realtor we wanted to accept their counter-offer, even though we still agreed it was a bit over-priced. My intuition seemed to be saying, there will be other parties interested in this house, and you must act now for it to come to you. So I trusted my anxiety this time, and here we are–ready to continue on the next chapter of our search for greener housing!

Finding Our Way Home

I am acutely aware right now of the parallel journeys I am walking these days. The central purpose of this blog, and of the book I am hoping to publish, is to articulate the spiritual journey into earth community, finding our way home to connection with earth, with each other, and with the Mystery within and between all. And now, Margy and I are trying to “find our way home” in a literal way, to a house that can function more in tune with our ecological desires. Experiencing the ups and downs of that process–the search for greener housing–teaches me so much about the spiritual journey of finding our way home to earth and spirit and each other.

I realize that it is a journey of grief as much as of beauty.  It is a journey of letting go of the things we thought we needed, some of our accumulations of material property, to make room for a simplicity of heart. It is a journey of following the deep desires of our hearts, and sometimes only learning what those desires are when we feel the pain of losing something we didn’t know we desired. It is a journey of many searches, many turn arounds, many disappointments, and yet some surprises that delight.

It is a journey in which we get to know kindred spirits along the path. It is a journey of learning what kinds of systems actually help a house to function more gently on the earth, and what kind of systems help us as human beings to live more beneficially with our planet. It requires great initiative and stamina, but also demands that we cultivate patience, and that we wait in darkness as we experience the contradictions between what is, and what is not yet–what we dream about.

Today I voiced to myself the realization that the spiritual journey into earth community will likely not be completed in my own lifetime. It is a collective journey.  I can give it my voice and my love and my energy, but it will require so many more voices and so much energy from so many people. But most likely I will live in this liminal zone–this space between the world as it is, and the world that is not yet–most likely I will live here all of my days.

So I appreciate more deeply all that I am learning in our search for greener housing. Because experiencing this smaller liminal zone is bringing to me what I need for the larger liminal zone.  Most particularly today, I appreciate that it cultivates in me an open heart to all of the emotions it brings–the anxiety, the excitement, the hope, the disappointment, the grief, the emptiness, the beauty. So when I write of such emotions in this blog, there is a kind of equanimity in me, like a river flowing through my heart. I am glad to be on both of these journeys of finding our way home.
Path in Woods

Stuff

Vase on Mantel DSC00542Today was one of those days when the idea of actually sorting through and giving away or packing our stuff seemed pretty overwhelming. Part of our search for greener housing includes this process of dealing with our stuff. How did I get so much stuff? I remember being able to put almost everything I owned into a backpack, along with a tent, and carrying it on a bus when I went to join the Women’s Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice in 1985. I must have had a few boxes of stuff stored with a friend back in Chicago, but not much. Now, our stuff fills a house.

Maybe some people feel happy having lots of stuff, but I often feel uneasy about it. I grew up with St. Francis of Assisi as a role model, the patron saint of voluntary simplicity. I had to learn to appreciate the value of creating a beautiful and welcoming household. I was reminding of that value when a friend visited this weekend and remarked about how wonderful it was to be in such beauty. And I do love our home, and the stuff that helps to bring it alive. Some of it is practical–a kitchen table, chairs, beds, desks, bookcases, dishes. Some of it is sentimental–gifts from friends or a few cherished pieces from family. Some of it is just for beauty–the pitcher and cups on our mantel, a wall hanging of the tree of life.

But when I think about having to move it all from one place to another, it feels daunting. Today we were cleaning up some of our clutter in preparation for a visit from an appraiser. Not quite as daunting as preparing the house for showing to prospective buyers, but that will be coming up too. It is funny that as Americans have become more mobile, we have also accumulated more and more stuff. Is our attachment to our stuff trying to make up for our loss of attachment to land and community?

There are a lot of guides out there for helping to get rid of excess stuff. Common questions to help in the process include these: Have you used it within the last year? Does it give you joy? I have added another: Is this worth saving for my permanent personal archives? That one covers the fact that as a writer I am attached to keeping all of my personal journals. The last time we moved I even purchased archival quality boxes to store them in. I understand the process we need to go through. I just can’t imagine how we’re going to find the time to get it all done.

I am reminded of a quote by Wendell Berry. It isn’t really about stuff, but about anything that feels daunting or too big. I have it posted on the bulletin board next to my desk:

“It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”

Or perhaps it would be helpful to take the advice of Dory in Finding Nemo:  “Just keep swimming.”

The Search for Greener Housing, Part Two

After deciding it is the right time to start searching for a more ecologically friendly house, my partner and I sit down together and make a list of what we hope for in a home.

  • One-level living that can be made wheelchair accessible (because my partner can’t do a lot of steps, and we have friends who use wheelchairs, and universal design makes sense for a house we want to get older in.)
  • South facing roof that is solar energy suitable
  • Able to be retrofitted with more insulation and air-source heat pumps
  • Location closer to Portland and public transportation, near some sort of village center
  • Quiet street
  • An area safe for lesbians and people of color
  • Privacy in the back yard
  • About a quarter-acre lot, smaller than where we are now, but still room for permaculture gardening. Some parts shady with trees, some parts sunny, and flat enough for easy access. We want to get rid of lawn to mow, and have other kinds of plantings instead.
  • And, perhaps counter to our village center idea, a location close to woods and critters?
  • About 1200 square feet of house (this number to be adapted as we actually look at houses and see what the spaces feel like.)
  • Two bedrooms plus some office space and guest space
  • Living area that can hold ten people or so for gathering together
  • Some extra space, like a basement
  • Wood floors or equivalent–no carpet, no mold, no smokers. (We have allergies. If there is carpet, plan to replace with wood floors.)
  • Big windows, lots of light
  • Two-car garage (because of Maine winters, and for now we need two cars)
  • Laundry on first floor
  • Mudroom area
  • Fireplace or wood stove, more for the feeling of a hearth than for heat
  • Deck
  • No vinyl siding (That stuff is really bad for the environment! Watch the documentary Blue Vinyl!)
  • Electric appliances

Okay, that’s our list, that’s our desire. And of course, we want a sound, well-built house that will last. The other part of the equation is that we want the price to be enough less than our current house so we can afford to do the retrofits and add solar energy without taking on more debt. Our goal is to own it debt-free before we come to retirement, and to have the ongoing taxes and utilities and maintenance costs affordable to us on a low retirement income.

There is a strange magic to finding a new home. There are practical steps we need to take, but then, it all depends on what is out there. And what will emerge in the next day or week or month. I have moved dozens of times in my life, and it always brings up a lot of anxiety for me. Will we find a home that works for us? Will we recognize it when we see it? What is essential on our list, and where can we compromise? It took us four months to find our current home when we moved here to Maine. Will it take that long for this process? If we find a house we like, will we be able to bid for it successfully? My partner has her own list of fears.

In this magic of finding a new home, we are placing our desires up against our fears. That is why it feels important to me to name our very specific desires for a new home, and also to acknowledge and honor our fears. I know that magic works that way. But there is another deeper movement going on as well. It comes to mind again as I look at houses-for-sale online. In the listings, they don’t mention the orientation of the house, so I try to figure it out by looking closely at the maps. It is discouraging how few houses have a south-facing roof.

Then I remember that we are trying to do something new with this move–we are trying to re-orient our home environment into harmony with all life on earth. The current built environment is oriented around cheap oil and other fossil fuels. It can’t last. We are trying to take our own small steps closer to a whole new way of living that is about beauty and sustainability and a future for the generations yet to be born. There is a great Earth energy that is beneath our feet guiding our way down this path.

It says to me, “Remember to embrace the process. Enjoy the whole journey, right now! You don’t have to wait until everything is ‘settled.’ Keep taking small steps until you are ready to leap. Until the time comes when it is clear. You do not have to rush. Keep holding hands with the ones you love.”

Photo by Margy Dowzer

Photo by Margy Dowzer