Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Why "The Green Bough" ?

About a year ago a friend of mine, Jean Eng, had an art show in Toronto. Her promotional postcard showed a painting of a large spectacular bird landing on a tiny potted bonsai, and the words of a Chinese proverb: If I keep a green bough in my heart the singing bird will come. Something about the words hit home, made my chest ache and my breath catch. And I thought, "This is my statement of faith."

Faith is different than hope or belief. Hope is generally future oriented and often specific. When I'm ill in bed I hope I'll feel better tomorrow, and I believe that that is more likely if I take care of myself in ways that seemed to have worked in the past. I have hope we can foster peace, justice and environmental sustainability, and I believe that both individual and collective reflection and action are crucial to achieve these ends. Sometimes we need hope just to get out of bed in the morning, and although beliefs about what we need to do (or not do) change with information and circumstances, it would be hard to take any action without them.

But faith is different. Faith is about the ground we stand on in every present moment, regardless of changing conditions, no matter what hopes or evolving beliefs have our attention today. Faith is the green bough in the heart, the thing in us that chooses life with every breath, even when we have lost hope or feel our beliefs have failed us. Faith is our connection to life, to the sacred, the mystery, the spark of creation. As the proverb reminds us, our business is to keep a green bough at the centre of our being, to know and provide that which cultivates our felt connection to life, the people, places and practices that help us say yes to the gift of this day.

And what might the singing bird be? A guiding song from something larger than us, or from deep within ourselves. The tune that helps each of us become all of who we are. Sheer joy. However we describe it, it is what we ache for, and it comes by grace. We do not make the singing bird come, we simply provide a place where it can land and sing its song. Our business is to keep the faith- to cultivate the green bough.

The primary way I cultivate the green bough of my heart is by writing. It's how I respond to, pray for, struggle with and co-create meaning from what crosses my path. It's how I mull over the mystery and work out how to live with the vastness of what I do not know. Sharing my writing, helps me keep writing, supports me in keeping the bough of my heart green.

So, this is the first of a year long commitment to posting a weekly blog. I will write about what stirs, confuses, guides, excites and challenges me. I may write about books I am reading, movies I have seen, world news, personal encounters or spiritual practices. I write as an act of faith, trusting that those who read may, on occasion, find something here that helps them tend the green boughs of their hearts. I write because I am most alive when I write and I can feel the truth in the words of the American philosopher and civil rights activist Howard Thurman when he wrote:

"Don't ask what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, because the world needs people who have come alive."


  1. I like the Thurman quote, and used it in Tikkunista last week. I think it's converse is also true...we need to leave things that don't make us come alive, even if they're doing good for the world. And that's hard.

  2. The green bough is an inspiring metaphor for embarking on this new channel of unfolding. I am delighted that you are experimenting with this medium!

    Your writing and speaking (in books and audiobooks) has inspired many of my own blog posts, including Your Heart's Blog: The Practice of Unfolding - in which I note "Yesterday, I blogged about blogs as the ideal platform for sharing love; today I want to say a little more about blogs as the ideal platform through which to receive love ... or, as Oriah might put it, for receiving the warmth of encouragement we need to unfold" - and Blessing and Wounding: Longing, Loss, Pain and Transformation - in which I invoked poems by Rumi, Rabninranath Tagore and Leonard Cohen that I first discovered through you.

    I want to offer my warmth and encouragement - and hope - that blogging will promote your own lifelong process of unfolding!

  3. Always an encouragement. By you sharing your thoughts, feelings, and words, you help me in sorting out and deciding my own life and how I want to honor my energy. Thank you.


  4. I knit and crochet to keep the bough green.

  5. Oriah,
    The very thought that the bough is green to me represents something that is alive and the fact that "like attracts like" inspires me to be vibrant and alive with the joy Faith brings to my life.I have always heard a song in my heart therefore I hope she continues to land on the "Green Bough". Peace, Sacredflower

  6. My copies of The Invitation and The Call are dog-eared and well-loved.

    And I second Joe: I'm glad you're here.

    P.S. I'd subscribe by e-mail in a heartbeat if you added the option.

  7. I am really happy to have stumbled upon your blog. I am one of those who have been touched by your words. I resonate with your writing because I feel the same such that writing brings me to keep up with my own journey of faith and living the authentic life. I hope to find and resonate with some more of your entries and rekindle my own writing life as well.

  8. I love you Oriah! I am happy that you have a blog and cannot wait for more books!!!

    Wishing you wellness and much Peace,


  9. I definitely got it (the green bough)! The proverb, and your always lovely explanation, guided me to thoughts of my girlfriends clumsily cared for plant collection. She has had periods of taking great care of these very ordinary looking plants on a daily basis (one even started off as just a stick). After some time these plants that never solicited a second glance, became the most extraordinary pieces of artwork with the blooming of flowers bathed in the most beautiful colors of red, orange, and white. But then my wonderful girlfriend would fail to continue with caring for her plants, in turn the plants would wither and the beautiful blooms would fall away.
    Thanks for adding beauty to my life Oriah!

  10. This is what stood out the most for me: "We do not make the singing bird come, we simply provide a place where it can land and sing its song. Our business is to keep the faith- to cultivate the green bough." The transformation in my writing these days is that I just write, and with pen and paper, which I feel closer to for memoir writing, and I don't look back to see what I've written. I have no urge or desire to do so. I write without editing, censorship or judgement. It feels great and sometimes it is a beautiful healing. As I show up and follow the scent (Virginia Woolf), I cultivate the green bough. I don't expect to see the birds land while I write. My job is to write. The birds will show up eventually, and I'll sing along with them.

    Thanks, Oriah.

  11. To borrow from the lyrics of the great band, They Might Be Giants: "Make a little birdhouse in your soul."

    I look forward to reading your blog as I have enjoyed your books over the years. Hugs to you, fellow journeyer.

  12. Oriah!

    I am delighted to see you here and am touched by your comments regarding the reasons why the quote inspired you. Will come here and visit often.

    Jean Eng

  13. I am so happy about your new blog. When I first read The Invitation it sparked something inside of me that had long been dead. Questions, questions I always wondered about but never spoke of.There is something about your writing that gives this faithless soul hope,it resinates in my head and keeps me thinking. It is like a life line for me.Sometimes when I am at my absolute emptyest I will just come across something of yours, it's like something throws it in my path just to give me that last boost so I don't wither away. I guess you might say your like the last greenness on my bough. And just the other day I was empty again and then I read my email and there it was a link to your new Blog.I have all your books and they are worn and tattered,but precious to me, they are my life line.Keep writing,thinking and asking and I"ll keep reading, hoping and believing that someday the song bird will sit upon my torn and battered green bough.

  14. I'm currently going throught burnout fatigue and looking at some of these long held passionate beliefs of mine. I no longer want the role of warrior or educator (same thing really) for justice. It is time to consider what is next. My body in cooperation with my spirit tells me to stop. I believe this is a time to listen and care for myself.
    I enjoyed reading your words and will, as usual, gain continued self-acceptance and support from your thoughts and shared experience. Thanks for keeping me on your list.

  15. Where I have been in my life over the last few months I had no green bough and no faith-I could not remember when I lost them both.
    But today I decided to have faith in life , I will have a green bough.
    Thanks Oriah, your book "The invitation" is one of my favourite and reading this blog and other people's comments increased my faith.
    The bird will soon sing for me.


  16. Thanks for the link Oriah. I was particularly moved by the distinctions between faith, belief and hope. I think I've always focused on hope (looking to the future) and believed that I could DO something to control my circumstances but now find myself in place where it makes more sense to cling to that green bough and listen, quietly, patiently (so hard!) for that singing bird. (Will I hear it? I hope so. I believe so... no, no,I'm trying to cultivate faith that I can remain still enough not to frighten it away.)

    Thanks! I love your grey hair. Although this shot of you is less "glam" you look far more beautiful and wise.

  17. What a gift to read your words and be inspired to move forward on my path. Thank you for being willing to share ..
    Be well ... Dawn

  18. Dear Oriah,
    I´ve called you my spiritual guide for the last three years. I came across your books by chance just at the right time. I am 40 years and I´ve had a difficult time with my career- For the last 2 years I´ve dedicated myslf to meditating: Give up your desires and ambition-just do what the world asks you for. With this I could establish a good base for my life-but I´ve realized a big wound in my heart because I gave up my passion , since it seemed that this passion was not appreciated and not what the world asked me for. Now, I just sat in front of Thurman´s words- which I hadn´t heard before- crying.-Thank you so much for telling me!!!I´ve always taken your advice seriously!
    Thank you for being there!
    Mia from Vienna, Austria

  19. You always do it! I shiver; you speak to my ache within the ache. Bless your tender, vindicated heart! I may be in love with your spirit.

  20. LOVE this quote Oriah! For me it's also writing, which makes me come alive. It is the only time I feel like 'this is exactly what I'm supposed to be doing right now.' :)

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