“Go outside. Find something in nature; an acorn, mud, clouds, a stream, or howling wind. Whatever. Imagine it possesses special communication. Ask and then listen for its message for you.”
These were Elizabeth’s instructions to those of us in her eco-psychology class. I chose to walk the boulevard on a bright day, my eyes drawn to a highway of sunlight dancing on Back Bay. “Hello,” I said to the sparkles. I named them water sprites.
They twinkled back. I said, “I love your shine. I want your advice. How do I find body-peace in this thin-obsessed culture? How can I feel good about eating in a diet-crazed world?”
The response leapt from the ocean’s surface and landed on my soul. The water sprites flickered, “Take good care.”
I ran home to my pre-teen children, young enough to be enchanted by good ideas that come from beyond minds and egos. I told them about the sprites. My daughter winked at her brother. “Weird, but cool.”
My son rolled his chocolaty eyes. “Water sprites? Really?” He turned to my husband and said, “Mom’s losin’ it.”
I didn’t know what “Take good care” meant, nor did I understand the “listening for messages” process. But I acted as if I did. I began posing my tough questions to the natural world and to a made-up sprightlier-than-human Force. I repeated as a mantra, “May that Force be with me.”
My “special communication” practice deepened and evolved. One day, my funny wise Dad’s Dad died. He had played nine holes of golf, came home, fell asleep in his favorite chair and stopped breathing. Just like that. I never said good-bye. I railed, “I don’t get it. Death? Not my grandfather.” Then I had a thought: “Maybe ‘Take good care’ means I can talk to him, wonder with him how I can go on living. He’ll know what I don’t.”
To seek my grandfather’s advice, as I had the water sprites, I walked the boulevard, cried and pleaded with him: “Help! I’m not sure about anything. What am I going to do without you?”
His voice giggled back: “Spanish peanuts.”
“Yes, buy Spanish peanuts. I loved them. I’ll be with you.”
This makes no sense, I wanted to argue. Spanish peanuts are full of salt and fat. What good would they do, anyway? But I remembered a line from St. Exupery in “The Little Prince”: “In the face of an overpowering mystery, you don’t dare disobey.”
By then I was used to chatting with the Whatever, so I obeyed. I drove to Hannaford’s, bought a tin of Planter’s, brought them home, pulled the aluminum protection from the can and whiffed the red skins. As soon as I broke the vacuum seal and heard the whoosh, my Pepere appeared with his jokes and his strong, boiling, almost non-drinkably-hot coffee. He told me he was here, that his force was with me, that the Force was with me. I felt less that I was losin’ it and more that I’d been finding a way to pray.
These days, I wake up and open myself for communication with the I-can’t-explain-it Force. If I hear a message, I scribble it on my “to do” list. Often I hear only silence. Now “Take good care” means for me what Mother Teresa said to an interviewer who asked her, “What do you say to God when you pray?”
“I don’t say anything,” she replied. “I just listen.”
“And what does God say to you?”
“He doesn’t say anything,” she said. “He just listens. If you don’t understand that, I can’t explain it to you.”
Susan Lebel Young is the author of “Lessons from a Golfer: A Daughter’s Story of Opening the Heart,” and “Food Fix: Ancient Nourishment for Modern Hungers.” She can be reached through www.heartnourishment.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.