“I walked across an empty land
I knew the pathway like the back of my hand
I felt the earth beneath my feet
Sat by the river, and it made me complete.
Oh, simple thing, where have you gone?
I'm getting old, and I need something to rely on
So tell me, when you're gonna let me in
I'm getting tired, and I need somewhere to begin.”
-Keane, Somewhere Only We Know
Have you ever stumbled onto a place you’ve never been before and experienced a strong sense of familiarity—like you were home, like this place was peace to your soul? That is what happened to me three months ago when I visited a goat farm on Maui. It was a very special trip with my aging parents, growing daughters, and beloved husband. Out of all the breathtaking places we saw during the trip, the goat farm was most impactful for me.
Nestled on a picturesque Hawaiian mountainside was a rustic farmhouse surrounded by several small barns. From the creaky screen door, to the overgrown wildflowers, to the prominently displayed signs of love and inclusion, I was in my element. My affection grew as well-loved farm cats frolicked on the grounds and a fluffy sheep dog guarded three baby goats, just hours old, as ballcap-wearing caregivers fed them with bottles in the grassy field.
After feeding one of the adult goats in the pasture named Pancake and tasting the divine chevre, my immediate connection to this place was confirmed. This goat farm was my place of peace, and I knew I’d come back again and again… if only in my mind.
A few weeks after the trip, I was dealt a serious blow professionally – a troubling violation began to play out over a six-week period.
One day, early on in the trial, I decided to recreate the feeling of the goat farm as much as I could. I set aside my work, my phone, and my computer and made a hearty salad with goat cheese crumbles to eat on my back porch. As the sun warmed my face, I thought about the goat farm, but I also remembered a forgotten place of peace from my childhood: my aunt’s farmhouse porch.
Every summer, my sister Rebecca and I would spend a week at my uncle and aunt’s house. While there was much work to be done—green beans to be snapped, berries to be picked, animals to be fed, and floors to be swept—there was also immense refuge to be felt.
Each afternoon, I’d swing on my aunt’s front porch in quiet solitude. The sound of freshly-washed bedsheets fluttering on the clothesline, made me feel safe. The pressures of school and friend drama were a million miles away. They could not touch me here. My aunt’s porch was peace to my soul.
Throughout the trying month of May, I practiced self-preservation by eating lunch on my back porch where I could visit the goat farm and my aunt’s porch in my mind.
My daughters’ schools released on May 23rd and summer began. When you work at home, sacred breaks get covered up in the summer. And in between the shuttling, the balancing, the planning, the working, and the living, I completely forgot about my places of peace.
On June 17, Father’s Day, I was forced to remember. My husband had an early golf game and the house was quiet. I stood in the kitchen taking in the heartbreaking news of the world, my friend’s rapidly declining health, an emergency room visit with my cat, and a full inbox of painful pleas and demanding requests. It all felt like too much.
As I longed to hear my father-in-law call me “Rach” one last time, I leaned against the kitchen wall. I wasn’t sure I was going to stay upright. That’s when a desperate plea entered my head:
I wish I could fall off the face of the earth.
Go where no one knows my name.
Go where there is no noise.
Go where I can breathe.
There is a time in my life when I would have shamed myself for wishing that. But I’ve learned it is imperative to listen to the barely audible, heartbreaking pleas of the soul and find out more.
I hear you, Rach, I said to myself. What do you need right now?
That is when I did the oddest thing. Still wearing my pajamas, I walked outside to the hydrangea bushes that were given to our family as potted plants when my father-in-law passed away a little over a year ago. At the time, the giver casually mentioned I could plant them and they would grow into beautiful bushes. I wanted to laugh. She didn’t know how many plants had withered on my watch.
But with high hopes, I planted them anyway.
With heavenly help from my father-in-law and plenty of water, I’ve managed to grow the most beautiful periwinkle blue hydrangea bushes.
And in my moment of despair, I sat with these flowering bushes. As birds chirped around me and my pajamas pants became soaked with dew, it felt like solace to my soul.
The only thing that would make it better would be to have little baby goats surrounding me, I thought to myself.And that thought made me laugh and laugh until tears ran down my face.
I was so sorry I’d forgotten about the Surfing Goat Farm and my aunt’s porch in the midst of all the summertime stress and juggling.
I was so sorry I’d forgotten to take short breaks and dream of new places I have yet to see that will feel like home to my soul.
There is actually a word for this phenomenon. My friend Susan happened to post it on social media last week. The timing of this term becoming known to me was so incredible that I knew I needed to share it:
Sielumaisema, meaning “soul landscape.” It can be described as the landscape that “hits you in the center of your chest, the one you always carry with you, the one that immediately feels like home.” (source)
How tragic to live a life… a summer… or even a day without finding our places of sielumaisema.
But how easy it is to do.
Each day we are inundated with information, opinions, expectations, and responsibilities. We are overwhelmed with tragedies and text messages and daily minutiae and mass suffering, and it can feel futile and hopeless to tend to it all.
That is why we must be on the lookout for our sielumaisema – places of peace we can carry with us and visit in our minds when we need restoration.
The other day, I felt compelled to call my friend Angie whose beloved husband John is receiving hospice care and trying to live his final days with as much love and joy as he can.
What began as a quiet and heartbreaking conversation became one of laughter, joy, and priceless advice as Angie began sharing memories with me. One of my favorite stories was how John and Angie would get in the car and drive if they had things they needed to work through. Not only was their connection restored by the time they returned home, but they'd come face to face with people and places along the way that gave their souls a lift.
The hairs on my arms stood up when Angie said, “Rachel, take the car rides… take the trips… even if it’s for a few hours or just a couple of days. In the end, those memories will be worth more than anything you have.”
The next day, I found myself scouring a local magazine for a fun Saturday family outing. Should we go to a blueberry patch? Swim in a lake? Take a hike?
My husband Scott spoke up. “How about we go to a baseball game?”
As my family and I sat in the stands of the baseball stadium on an unusually pleasant summer afternoon in the south, I couldn’t stop smiling. I listened as Scott shared his best baseball memories with Natalie and Avery. He also told unheard childhood stories about taking road trips with his family to see the Reds play as a special treat.
I noticed the peace on my husband’s as he watched the game while cracking shelled peanuts with his strong fingers that have thrown thousands of balls. It wasn’t until Scott had his daughters collapsing in laughter in the second inning that it dawned on me: the ball field is Scott’s sielumaisema—it is his soul landscape, his place of peace.
Do you see what I am getting at, my friends?
We must make time to visit our places of sielumaisema, and doing so is not as difficult as we might think it will be.
What I’m about to say may give you the motivation to start your search.
Today is the 183rd day of the year, and we have 182 days to go.
We are exactly halfway through 2018.
But no matter how you’ve lived the first half of 2018, you can still finish strong.
If just for thirty minutes… if just for a day… if just by leaving our usual spaces and shutting out the noise, we can give our souls a chance to breathe… our hearts a chance to connect… our minds a chance to remember the good times and make new memories.
We are halfway through 2018, and I am halfway through my family’s summer. I am not at peace with the way I’ve lived out the first half of the summer,
But it’s not too late to finish strong.
I intend to do that by finding soul landscapes.
Where these places are, I do not know, but I am going to relish the search.
I have been carrying around a comment that one of my friends left on a post I wrote in May.
My friend wrote: “You seem to visit ‘places’ we have all been, but you show us what we are missing or not able to see.”
Sometimes we know our purpose; other times, it is revealed to us right when we need it.
My purpose was revealed to me in that comment, and now I know why I carried it around for six weeks. It confirms what I must do now.
My blog is about to go quiet for a while. I will be seeing the world, and the world will be seeing me. Could there be anything more healing, grounding, restorative, or unifying than being face to face with people and places of the world?
It could look like:
watching the sunrise
helping an elderly neighbor
hiking up a mountain
helping to reunify separated families
growing a garden
fostering homeless puppies
throwing a tent in the back of the car
handing out bottles of water to strangers
picking blueberries and making pie with beloveds
driving and talking until you get things worked out, like Angie and John did for forty years
My friends, it is not necessary to fall off the face of the earth to find the peace we desperately crave; we only need to find our soul landscapes.
Let’s start the search,
and close the gaps between us along the way.
It’s not too late to finish strong.
I can’t wait for us to see each other in the world.
Precious friends of the Hands Free Revolution, thank you for supporting this online break tradition I started four summers ago. The results are deeply restorative and enable me to foster my most precious relationships and continue carrying out my life's work. If you would like to continue to be inspired and encouraged by my words in my absence, there are several ways you can do that:
- You can wear an exquisite paper bead bracelet containing one of four healing mantras that helped me get through a difficult spring:
BE HERE NOW
SHINE YOUR LIGHT
LET YOUR HEART LEAD
THE WORLD NEEDS THE GIFT OF YOU
This collection of bracelets is made by my new friend Merilee, who I met during my trip to Hawaii. Supplies are limited so don’t hesitate if you are interested.
- You can read one of the three books I have written:
HANDS FREE MAMA
HANDS FREE LIFE
ONLY LOVE TODAY
With every purchase, you indicate to my publisher that you would like my work to continue. I am so grateful to those who have supported my life’s work through a book purchase.
- You can listen to this beautiful hour-long FOR THE LOVE OF SUMMER podcast with the incredible Jen Hatmaker. In it, we are talking about practical ways to avoid staying closed up, separated, and disconnected. We are talking about saying yes to our loved ones’ contributions (no matter how messy or inconvenient), establishing healthy tech/life boundaries, and letting go of perfection and guilt so we can BE HERE NOW this summer. (There is also a written transcript of our conversation available here.)
A VERY special thank you to those who accepted Natalie’s virtual invitation last week as she and I go to East Africa to offer our presence, friendship, and belief to young Rwandan people who were the survivors of unimaginable tragedy in the Rwandan Genocide. Your loving notes have been added to the album she is taking to show our new friends and your donations have been added to the Goodness Fund that will help empower a community lifting themselves out of poverty. Natalie and I are truly grateful to carry your love and blessings with us as GO BE LOVE in Africa. I love you all dearly.