Winter’s Gifts

Posted on: January 12th, 2018 by PennyGill No Comments

It is deep and dark and cold.  Lake Superior is gamely trying to create an ice road for us, as the ferry stopped running ten days ago and we scramble now with a remarkable Wind Sled.  Not for the faint of heart, but the older children take it each day to school on the mainland. The ice road signals freedom.

Day after day I shelter more deeply in this solitude and silence.  Doing retreats in favor of being. Like the other big mammals, I have surrendered to the pull of the season, like gravity – forces we rarely are so privileged that we can recognize them.

I’ve been reading Rebecca Solnit, and came across a beautiful essay, Woolf’s Darkness.  Here is Solnit quoting Woolf in To the Lighthouse:

“For now she need not think about anybody.  She could be herself, by herself.  And that was what now she often felt the need of – to think, well, not even to think.  To be silent; to be alone.  All the being and the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated, and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others.  Although she continued to knit, and sat upright, it was thus that she felt herself, and this self having shed its attachments was free for the strangest adventures.  When life sank down for a moment, the range of experience seemed limitless. . . . Beneath it is all dark, it is all spreading, it is unfathomably deep; but now and again we rise to the surface and that is what you see us by.  Her horizon seemed to her limitless.”

There is deep sanity in all this.  Give yourself a taste before the days get too long!

Down the Spiral: Winter is Here

Posted on: December 11th, 2017 by PennyGill No Comments

We are hunkered down now, chased in by several powerful storms.  The winter chores are done: wood is in. Windows are tightened against gale force winds.  Food is stocked in pantries and freezers.  The island is now in the capable hands of the veteran year-rounders, and that is a delight to explore and savor.  Main Street is empty and silent.  The woods are silent too, except for an owl calling out to her companion, and a pileated woodpecker working away this morning.  Even the deer, now that the hunting season is over, are settling down in the most protected thickets.  Super Moon last week. Advent now. Solstice – the shortest day of the year – approaches swiftly.  It feels like the Original Silence, and I am sliding down the Dark Spiral at the very heart of all things.  Blessings to each of you, as your life and the life of our fragile planet lean towards the light.

Squirreling Away

Posted on: October 16th, 2017 by PennyGill No Comments

It is deep fall. I watch we two-leggeds mimic the geese and ducks, the deer and the bear, and the squirrels. Like the migrating birds, our seasonal resident island friends have packed up their SUV’s and headed south to their other lives. The island is strangely quiet, except for chain saws bringing down standing dead wood and the work trucks on the dirt road trying to get the foundations poured, the driveways repaired, and roofs tightened up before the first serious frost. Like the deer, we are fattening up – at least our pantries – and like the bears, we are taking care of our winter dens. My cupboards are bursting, and I’m wondering if I should make a list, lest I lose track, like so many squirrels. These are relentless instincts in all of us, to make ready for the long, dark winter. It is irresistible, and following its lead gives such satisfaction. I’ve been wondering what that is, that satisfaction: the relief of living out my animal life so much more fully and so easily, with so little mental organizing, just following that deep purpose of securing life and well being. Deep ease in all of this, deep ease.  And so much to learn!

A New Year and a New Blog

Posted on: October 2nd, 2017 by PennyGill 2 Comments

Hello, everyone…It’s been a long time since I last wrote here. Retirement is now behind me, and I am beginning a wonderful adventure – I will spend this winter, this new year, on my beloved Madeline Island. I’ve been busy getting my little house ready for the long, tough winter out here in the middle of Lake Superior. It will be a season of reading, writing, and settling into the presence of this stunning lake, this world of the north. I will be held within the warmth of the island community and my precious friends near and far. I’m wondering how all this will shape me and my understandings of these stunning journeys of ours and of our lives in these difficult and challenging times. After all: what in the world is going on??? I hope you will join me!

Reading at 2PM!

Posted on: March 26th, 2017 by PennyGill No Comments

So sorry I forgot to include the time for my reading from What in the World Is Going On?

Sunday, April 2, 2017


White Square Books
Cottage St
Easthampton, MA

Reading April 2

Posted on: March 24th, 2017 by PennyGill No Comments

Please join me for a reading and conversation about What in the World Is Going On?

Sunday, April 2, 2017

White Square Books
Cottage Street, Easthampton, MA

It is a stunning small bookshop; come to enjoy the ambience and the company!

Despair and Empowerment, Talk by Paula Green

Posted on: December 22nd, 2016 by PennyGill 1 Comment

Paula Green, distinguished teacher and practitioner of conflict transformation around the world, recently gave this talk. It is a deeply insightful analysis of where we are, as a country, and how to move forward. Very highly recommended!

Despair and empowerment 2 12-7-16

Penny Gives 2 Book Readings in January 2017

Posted on: December 18th, 2016 by PennyGill No Comments

Please join me if you are in the area; I will be reading from What in the World Is Going On?

Friday, January 13, 2017 7PM
Northshire Books
4869 Main St
Manchester Center, VT 05255

Friday, January 20, 2017 7PM
Northshire Books
424 Broadway
Saratoga Springs, NY 12866

Reframing: We Begin the Long Haul

Posted on: November 30th, 2016 by PennyGill 4 Comments

I have often been startled at how a radical reframing of a very stuck or painful place can release so much energy and focus and even confidence. Surely that is what we need now, in order to leave behind these swamps of overwhelming discouragement, astonishment at what we have learned about our country, and the profound confusion of what, if anything, we should be thinking and doing now. So, let’s try.

First, remember that most of the predictions are rooted in deep fear, imagined by a small part of ourselves that is completely uninformed about the future. Admit that you just don’t know what will happen! When you see yourself drowning in predictions, interrupt those narratives, admitting to yourself they are simply the products of your imagination.

When you can do that – not only will you find some relief and probably sleep better and be kinder to those around you – you will also be able to shift to a stance of curiosity: These will surely be interesting times! For example, I was sure all summer I was watching the collapse of the Republican Party. Now I see, I am watching the collapse of TWO parties! Amazing. And that the possibilities for reconstruction and healing are legion.

Third: Find some way to support and protect the weak, the vulnerable, the marginal, all those most at risk from the horrendous language of the campaign. Do something concrete and local.

And last: We have learned an enormous amount about the deep fissures and toxicity in the depths of American culture, none of it new, really: it is an inheritance from decades and centuries of denial and self congratulation by powerful Americans. It is all visible now, so we can get to work. Come out of your safe hiding place now and join hands with others, to begin building the society we want to live in and the communities we want to leave to the next generations.

Please post your good ideas, your questions, your suggestions, and your hopes here, if you wish. I’d be so glad for more conversations, for we are many!

Manjushri on Post-Election

Posted on: November 13th, 2016 by PennyGill 6 Comments

Conversation with Manjushri, post election
November 11, 2016

Oh, Manjushri, these have been very tough days since the presidential election. Many have asked me if I have received a teaching from you about all of this. And though my grief is deep, and I have wept a great deal, I must say, the results – though shocking to me – did not give me new information about the deep values of a significant part of the American electorate. We are an immature society, a society that countenances violence while it tells itself a story about its own exceptional qualities and its right to impose itself on other nations. It often seems to me to be arrogant, self-congratulatory, and focused on the pursuit of wealth over many other possible values. We praise freedom from and ignore the possibilities of freedom for. Perhaps in some way, we deserve what we have done to our republic, for surely, we have done it. And surely there is a very great deal about how we govern ourselves and manage our affairs which could well be changed, often radically changed.

I come to you this evening with a very heavy heart, full of worry for our poor earth and the cascade of environmental destructions and for those Americans with the least access to power – people of color, the poor, Moslems, the ill, immigrants, the unemployed, and surprisingly, so many women and children. Once again, I am deeply concerned about the American role in the global world, our foreign policy, and our global economic institutions and policies. We are a challenging presence in the lives of many other nations.

And once again, I am impossibly stretched between these matters and the call of the Teachers to greater consciousness, to opening our hearts, to recognizing our interdependence with all beings, and to lives shaped by both wisdom and compassion. I wish I were brave enough to ask you to direct your shining sword against our ignorance, but I am not.

Perhaps you could grace us with some strong and clear advice about how to understand our grief, even when it seems self-righteous, and how to gather ourselves up to get back to our essential tasks in these precious lives of ours? Or is there another way to address our deep confusion? Anything you might be willing to say would be a very great gift to all of us.

Ah, yes, student whose energy I have come to know well, yes. Some words for you and your friends. First, and most important, do not be afraid! You have received many teachings about fear; they always remind you that fear is an enormous obstacle to clear thinking, deep understanding, and creating solutions to problems. Of course, you are afraid, all of you. So, take up the arduous practices of the fear-work: name the fear, most importantly, and say it to another. This slight moment of self-acknowledgement shifts the energy of fear significantly. Then, conversation may follow, or sending oneself compassion for the suffering that comes from fear, or inquiring into the roots of the fear; all are helpful.

Second, inquire into a simple question: what in my community or my country is an obstacle to recognizing your deep connections with each other and with all other species? This is the simple question about your awareness of interdependence, simple and extremely powerful, if you allow it to lead you deep into the many institutions and practices common in your society. Again, this may be done singly, but it is much more powerful to do this in conversation with others.

Third, ask yourself/yourselves, which relatively focused piece of this great puzzle will you commit to changing? Be clear about how it relates to the larger picture, but do not overwhelm yourselves with a grandiose goal. The possible projects are unlimited, but what matters most, at the outset, is that you join with a few others, promising to stay focused on some important dimension of change in your community and to support each other in the process. In all likelihood, the most important outcome will be to create seeds of resilient, open-hearted community, which in turn will begin to undermine the real sickness of American society, its embrace of competitive individualism.

Young people may need some assistance with this; elders may need support to trust their relevance, but all people, winners and losers in this election cycle and all the rest, can recognize there is much work to be done in their world. Becoming active, moving through the passivity and discouragement, is essential, before anything else can even be contemplated.

So: that is a brief outline of what you might do. I must once again re-frame the moment for you. You experience defeat, rejection, and powerlessness. You are appalled at those who would reverse much progressive social change from the last decades. Let go of all of that. It is not helpful. Instead, recognize that this very upset – a perfect word – suggests opportunity. Structures that seemed impossible to change now seem weak, even tottering. Normal practices and behaviors that seemed of little interest now carry much greater weight, in your view. Grand questions are on every page and in almost every beleaguered mind. All this is very helpful! Everyone is awake, on edge, at the same moment. It is a superb opportunity to re-evaluate, re-imagine, re-shape, and then, re-build.

And none of this is possible, unless you uncover and release your fear. Begin with that work, share it, and move to focused, achievable tasks, on behalf of yourselves and your community. It is a very pregnant moment. Do not waste it, please.

Thank you very much.