Where I Am Today

Shoveling Snow with Buddha

In the usual iconography of the temple or the local Wok
you would never see him doing such a thing,
tossing the dry snow over a mountain
of his bare, round shoulder,
his hair tied in a knot,
a model of concentration.

Sitting is more his speed, if that is the word
for what he does, or does not do.

Even the season is wrong for him.
In all his manifestations, is it not warm or slightly humid?
Is this not implied by his serene expression,
that smile so wide it wraps itself around the waist of the universe?

But here we are, working our way down the driveway,
one shovelful at a time.
We toss the light powder into the clear air.
We feel the cold mist on our faces.
And with every heave we disappear
and become lost to each other
in these sudden clouds of our own making,
these fountain-bursts of snow.

This is so much better than a sermon in church,
I say out loud, but Buddha keeps on shoveling.
This is the true religion, the religion of snow,
and sunlight and winter geese barking in the sky,
I say, but he is too busy to hear me.

He has thrown himself into shoveling snow
as if it were the purpose of existence,
as if the sign of a perfect life were a clear driveway
you could back the car down easily
and drive off into the vanities of the world
with a broken heater fan and a song on the radio.

All morning long we work side by side,
me with my commentary
and he inside his generous pocket of silence,
until the hour is nearly noon
and the snow is piled high all around us;
then, I hear him speak.

After this, he asks,
can we go inside and play cards?

Certainly, I reply, and I will heat some milk
and bring cups of hot chocolate to the table
while you shuffle the deck.
and our boots stand dripping by the door.

Aaah, says the Buddha, lifting his eyes
and leaning for a moment on his shovel
before he drives the thin blade again
deep into the glittering white snow.

– Billy Collins –

Click here to hear Billy Collins read with pianist George Winston.

2020 – Getting Perspective

Almost half way into this first month of this new year and how easy it’s been to riff on the “perfect vision” metaphor of 2020: clarity, focus, vision, insight, foresight, hindsight.

Lately though, I’ve been struck that this is a year where “forty” (20+20), with its symbolic significance across spiritual traditions, holds potential for deep personal growth.

“In spiritual literature, ‘forty’ is often used to indicate a term of learning or change, such as the ‘forty days and forty nights’ of Noah’s Flood. Forty is called ‘the number of perseverance,’ marking a period of growth through testing, trial and purification. After the exodus from Egypt, the Israelites endured ‘forty days of wandering’ in the wilderness before they were ready to enter the Promised Land. Jesus, following the ancient practice of the prophets, went into the desert for a great seclusion of forty days, which he described as a period of purification and preparation for the next stage of his work. The Buddha attained final enlightenment after forty days of continuous meditation.”

Henry S. Mindlin, “The Life and Work of Hafiz” in I Heard God Laughing: Renderings of Hafiz by Daniel Ladinsky, 1996.

Thinking to when I turned forty, it was ripe with finding meaning and making ritual to acknowledge a coming of age. Looking back at the months preceding that birthday, it certainly was a time of learning and change, of perseverance and growth. One of those “dark night of the soul” times where, following what could only be intuition, I went through a process that included finding a sacred space into which I would eventually co-create and re-enact the ancient ceremony of baptism and name change to formally honour my mothering ancestors.

These past weeks of Solstice, Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, and New Year reflection, with the interior image of dark desert lit only by moon and star, shine luminous with promise. Friday’s full moon eclipse and subsequent planetary alignments foreshadow powerful opportunities for tending to the inner work of one’s sovereignty. I feel the pull of “magic and dreams and good madness.”

“May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful. And don’t forget to make some art, or write, draw, build, sing, or live only as you can. And I hope in the next year, you surprise yourself.”

Neil Gaiman

 

 

A Gift from Winter

Perspectives with Panache, 2006

The Winter of Listening

No one but me by the fire,
my hands burning
red in the palms while
the night wind carries
everything away outside.

All this petty worry
while the great cloak
of the sky grows dark
and intense
round every living thing.

What is precious
inside us does not
care to be known
by the mind
in ways that diminish
its presence.

What we strive for
in perfection
is not what turns us
into the lit angel
we desire,

what disturbs
and then nourishes
has everything
we need.

What we hate
in ourselves
is what we cannot know
in ourselves but
what is true to the pattern
does not need
to be explained.

Inside everyone
is a great shout of joy
waiting to be born.

Even with the summer
so far off
I feel it grown in me
now and ready
to arrive in the world.

All those years
listening to those
who had
nothing to say.

All those years
forgetting
how everything
has its own voice
to make
itself heard.

All those years
forgetting
how easily
you can belong
to everything
simply by listening.

And the slow
difficulty
of remembering
how everything
is born from
an opposite
and miraculous
otherness.
Silence and winter
has led me to that
otherness.

So let this winter
of listening
be enough
for the new life
I must call my own.

– David Whyte –
The House of Belonging, 1997

Epiphany

January 6, the feast of the magi.

Thirty-nine years ago, after four days of driving from Ontario, with my husband and our first English Setter, Beckey, in our VW Scirocco in record breaking cold, we arrived in Edmonton, Alberta. Just married six months earlier, we made, what hindsight has proved again and again, the right decision to accept the offer of a new position for him which included moving expenses, and set up home east of the city.  I’m always mindful of the day and its portent of a new beginning for us. 

Fast forward.

Today, a day that looks and feels much like that day we arrived thirty-nine years ago – brilliant sunshine in an Alberta blue sky, light snow cover, cold but not too cold. Another English Setter (our fifth), Annie, keeping us company in our home office. Ubiquitous truck and SUV have long replacd that sports car. Still east of the city in a house that’s been a comfortable home for decades. Both of us self employed with consulting contracts that fulfill and affirm and leave time to pursue other pleasures and dreams.

Recent shifts in work and relationships have conjured within the persistent archetypal image of magi wandering in the desert, with only the star and intuition to guide them. Recalling that night thirty-nine years ago, driving across the cold, flat Saskatchewan prairie, lit only by a billion stars and luminous moon. Wondering, what new beginning harkens? Then? Now?

“Pick a date and do the thing. There is no rule that says
you have to feel ready before you say yes to your dreams.”

Story People

Today, a new year, a new decade, a new blog. Saying yes, once again.