“Make of yourself a light” said the Buddha, before he died. I think of this every morning as the east begins to tear off its many clouds of darkness, to send up the first signal — a white fan streaked with pink and violet, even green. An old man, he lay down between two sala trees, and he might have said anything, knowing it was his final hour. The light burns upward, it thickens and settles over the fields. Around him, the villagers gathered and stretched forward to listen. Even before the sun itself hangs, disattached, in the blue air, I am touched every whereby its ocean of yellow waves. No doubt he thought of everything that had happened in his difficult life. And then I feel the sun itself as it blazes over the hills, like a million flowers on fire — clearly I’m not needed, yet I feel myself turning into something of inexplicable value. Slowly, beneath the branches, he raised his head. He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.
– Mary Oliver –
From poet-theologian Pádraig Ó Tuama, I learned different ways to read and hear a poem. This one below, a re-created, very abridged version from Mary Oliver’s above offering, using the last word of every line. A poem becomes a poem.
light Buddha died morning begins clouds first fan violet green down trees anything hour upward fields gathered listen itself air every waves everything life itself hills fire needed turning value branches head crowd
“I keep having variations on the same conversation with friends and strangers and colleagues. How extraordinary it feels, for those of us in places of the world that are opening up, to do ordinary things like hug people and walk unmasked into common spaces and even just be at the office. Yet: how strangely, puzzlingly unnerving it all also can feel.”
Krista Tippett, The Pause, July 17, 2021
Yes. Yes. Yes. How extraordinary to hug my friends; to dine out last night inside a favourite restaurant, one buzzing with the energy and enjoyment of patrons at every table. Yet strange, puzzling and unnerving. Yes.
I continue to vacillate between wanting full out engagement (in my introverted, socially anxious way) to remaining cocooned in my backyard. The once ordinary still suspended, not yet settled. Last night we were shown our table, the only one remaining, positioned at the entrance, one I would have typically refused for its situation on the threshold between its comings and goings. However, it had the most space around it, wasn’t as noisy, and oddly enough, provided comfort consistent with my lived experience of the world on a threshold, between its comings and goings.
A lesson in this for me: that what I had previously relied on and looked for – both out there and in here (I type, pointing to my body) – for comfort and confidence, to have capability and competency, for helping me to show up well in my life, is now up for review, reconsideration, and revision. That there’s an invitation in the subtle discomfort arising from being and doing that no longer feels quite right.
“We are, on many levels, in a new chapter — following on the multiple chapters of the past 18 months. This is a time of transition. It’s a liminal space emotionally, psychologically, physically, institutionally, relationally.”
Krista Tippett, The Pause, July 17, 2021
In the past few weeks, since my province “opened up” and relaxed all public health restrictions, I’ve had several anxious filled dreams each with the theme of identity – lost, stolen, awakened – from being confronted on the “conflict of interest” within myself and with community; to having my wallet with my driver’s license and health cards, and my passport stolen; to having my home overtaken by technicians and researchers, there to rewire it and me. This, as my country awakens, yet again, to its history and horrific impacts of the identity “theft” and “rewiring” of its First Peoples via the Indian Act and residential schools. This, as our world awakens in the aftermath of the life altering pandemic.
“Part of what we need to do now is rest, as we are able. To let ourselves fall apart, perhaps. Throughout the pandemic, it’s been hard to fully articulate what was happening inside us and how that was ricocheting between us. Now, we are in a new moment, called to feel what we need to feel, to find words and new intelligence of practice in all the spaces we inhabit and work in and relate in. To acknowledge what we’ve survived, what we’ve lost, what we’ve begun to learn.”
Krista Tippett, The Pause, July 17, 2021
In the past few days I have been incredibly tired. Perhaps a run of nights of fitful sleep under a “heat dome” is finally taking its toll. Too, I have been filled with sadness beyond plausible attribution. While I have been pretty good at processing throughout the pandemic – here, in my journal, and in conversation – as the once immediate focus on covid is wrestled away by staggering climate catastrophes near and far, and other innumerable violence and tragedies, grief – in all its spaces and places – continues to seek my acknowledgement and its expression.
To help me find the wisdom in this liminal time. To shape anew myself, my relationships with others, and with my world. To do so without quite knowing how.
“Grief is not so much a process that we “make it through” and come out the other side fully intact, but a non-linear, purifying midwife of the unknown.”
Matt Licata, personal blog, June 16, 2021
Another one of these posts that pauses to simply notice and somewhat name.
When I don’t write, I scare myself by thinking I’ve forgotten how. Like the first day in a new season back on a bicycle, or snow skis.
I know they say it’s simple, like riding a bicycle – you never forget. But I forget that when I simply take my favourite fine black ink pen to write on simple white lined paper, words, which have been patiently waiting for me, arrive.
Sure, they might need some dusting off, some spit and polish.
But words, carrying and conveying feelings and emotions, images and impressions, questions and doubts, come tumbling out
often in a coherence that startles me revealing a wisdom reminding me I am paying attention even when I think I’ve forgotten how.
The moment when, after many years of hard work and a long voyage you stand in the centre of your room, house, half-acre, square mile, island, country, knowing at last how you got there, and say, I own this,
is the same moment when the trees unloose their soft arms from around you, the birds take back their language, the cliffs fissure and collapse, the air moves back from you like a wave and you can’t breathe.
No, they whisper. You own nothing. You were a visitor, time after time climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming. We never belonged to you. You never found us. It was always the other way round.
– Margaret Atwood –
This poem’s wisdom reminds me of that found in David Wagoner’s poem “Lost”– the need to stand still and let the forest find me, for to do otherwise will only guarantee my lostness. Both impart the knowing held by our First Nations’ peoples – being in “right relationship” with Nature; surrendering to its wisdom and power; trusting its medicine to heal and realign us. In the Mountains, we settlers climbed and claimed and named peaks – ususally after people -which for hundreds, if not thousands of years before, had been named by the land’s first peoples in honor of the powers and gifts, the placeholding for tradition, ceremony, and travel direction. As an act of reconciliation, many people today are asking that we restore those original names – to acknowledge the Mountains never belonged to us, we didn’t find them. That it was and always will be the other way round.
The new post lockdown t-shirt slogan nicely sums up my experience this past week. I loved having coffee with my friends, sitting close, al fresco, one morning last week. Wept as we hugged – the first time in a year and a half. The next day I showed up the courts eagerly hoping to play doubles pickleball with the women – the first time in a year and a half. Eight courts full of folks with others hanging around, waiting to rotate on. As the morning cool gave way to the buzzing of pent-up energy, I sat for a few minutes and then had to leave, suddenly uncomfortable and overwhelmed by the intensity of it all. It’s an odd feeling – that part of me wanting to throw a year and a half of caution to the wind, to be out and about with friends, see people without masks, tempered by the sobering reality Covid is not done with us yet, if ever. Another tension, another threshold space into another unknown reality.
“It’s been such an unprecedented year (or two) and I know many of us are just now starting to sense into the real possibility of rebirth and renewal. Some sort of new guidance or new way of being is beginning to emerge, but in some ways we’re still in that middle, liminal period… The reality is that many of us have been shaken, thrown off, or even shattered by all of the transition over the last year or so, where our nervous systems have been or toned or cued away from an embodied, felt sense of safety, and have shifted into subtle – or not so subtle! – states of restlessness, fear, loneliness, and stress of all kinds.”
Matt’s email arrived this morning. I find him to be a wise and gentle soul. As psychotherapist, author and independent scholar, he brings to his practice, writing and online courses, an embodied, trauma-sensitive approach to psychological growth, emotional healing, and spiritual transformation. Occasionally I share his Facebook posts as he so compassionately reminds us to “welcome to all of our sensitivities, eccentricities, and wildness… which are all so needed in this world.”
I’ve been cranky this past month. Angry and impatient. Feeing lonely on one hand, saying I don’t like people on the other. I suspect some anniversary reaction stuff as self doubt about my worth and value swirls in the void left by the last year’s loss of my professional identity. And as many of us have acknowledged, forgetting to factor in the impacts – subtle and not so – of being socially isolated for a year and a half.
“Perhaps now, more than ever, it is essential to find ways to rest our nervous systems, a journey that will be unique for each of us, not only to manage traumatic stress and this core soul-level exhaustion and disorientation that many of us are experiencing, but to deepen our relationship with the earth and the natural world, with our hearts, and to reconnect with the sacredness of what it means to be a human being alive on the planet at this time.”
I need to conscientiously tend to what and how I rest my nervous system. I realize it might mean not engaging in some of what has been postponed since Covid. As eager as I have been to travel, to play pickleball, to attend live music festivals and concerts, to join the throngs watching fireworks, it might be a matter of “no, not yet” or even… never. And while I always knew this time would never be a return to normal, this feeling my way through the tension of wanting what was, to doing or not doing what’s now feels right, to trusting the embodied knowing, is liminal and fluid.
“In order to experience the deep healing, joy, and aliveness that so many of us are longing for, it’s essential to be able to have our baseline or our psychic center of gravity within a felt sense of safety, where safety is the “neural scaffolding” you could say, or the experiential foundation from which we’re able to open, explore, play, connect, and create with one another. To really live.”
It’s time to check and adjust my neural scaffolding. Then it might not feel “way too peopley outside.” And you?
May the Angels in their beauty bless you. May they turn toward you streams of blessing.
May the Angel of Awakening stir your heart To come alive to the eternal within you, To all the invitations that quietly surround you.
May the Angel of Healing turn your wounds Into sources of refreshment.
May the Angel of the Imagination enable you To stand on the true thresholds, At ease with your ambivalence And drawn in new direction Through the glow of your contradictions.
May the Angel of Compassion open your eyes To the unseen suffering around you.
May the Angel of Wildness disturb the places Where your life is domesticated and safe, Take you to the territories of true otherness
Where all that is awkward in you Can fall into its own rhythm.
May the Angel of Eros introduce you To the beauty of your senses To celebrate your inheritance As a temple of the holy spirit.
May the Angel of Justice disturb you To take the side of the poor and the wronged.
May the Angel of Encouragement confirm you In worth and self-respect, That you may live with the dignity That presides in your soul.
May the Angel of Death arrive only When your life is complete And you have brought every given gift To the threshold where its infinity can shine.
May all the Angels be your sheltering And joyful guardians.
– John O’Donohue – To Bless the Space Between Us
In the past week as I’ve created “love notes” to friends – for birthdays and retirements – I’ve turned several times to my much loved, dog-eared copy of John O’Donohue’s To Bless the Space Between Us. In that search, several times I encountered passagesthat resonated so deeply, that for a moment they took my breath away. This was today’s and one I knew I had to share with you.
Much love, kindest regards, and my your angels bless and shelter you, dear friends.
Maybe I have been languishing a bit. It’s been a month since I last wrote here. While most Fridays I’ve managed to post my photo and poem features, sometimes offering a bit of explanation as to why this poem now, I haven’t had the jam to write much else on this platform.
I have been writing. A couple of pieces for EdmontonEats (that sweet official writing gig), magazine submissions, poetry contests, and an application to an online summer writing session where, if accepted, I want to learn what it means to be a writer and hone my skills. Cover letters, bio notes, project proposals. At times I feel daunted by the newness of it all, and too, with the solitary, at times lonely space in which I am crafting this new identity, word by word. And it comes.
I thought about writing a piece describing last month’s felling of our Willow. I would have titled it “Beloved Willow Be Gone,” for in eight hours, with a three person crew of master arborists roping, climbing, cutting, grinding, and carrying, that magnificent fifty year old tree was no more. I now see too much of the backsides of garages, sheds and houses, and feel exposed unlike ever before during the near forty years we’ve lived here. But I do see an expanse of sky unlike I’ve ever seen, and we have more sun in the morning, making coffee on the deck a lovely start to the day. Winds have blown very strong many days since, and I am relieved not to wonder and worry would Willow finally give way, crashing into those garages, sheds and houses. Soon the stump will be ground and we’ll plant a new tree…a Mayday with its signature prairie spring perfume and white wedding bouquet blossoms…a quick growing canopy that will eventually begin to fill the still, stark void.
I simply didn’t have the gumption to write more than my “four word sad story” about the recent “discovery” of hundreds of unmarked indigenous children’s graves on the grounds of a residential school. The original reported number, 215, is now over 1000 after other grounds were explored, and is expected to rise significantly as all school sites across Canada are examined. My country’s dark secrets are literally being unearthed and coming to light. It is time, long overdue. I knew my words would be trite and so commit to listening, learning, and being open to being disturbed into wise and respectful action.
And then there’s the pandemic which, by the sounds of it, might become history next month, which is only a few days away. My province is intent to remove all safety measures come July 1st. Other provinces are following suit sooner than later. Vaccinations feel like a “get out of jail” pass. And while I’ve received both shots, I’m hesitant, skeptical even with this abrupt and arbitrary “end” while cities around the world are going back into lockdown as more virulent variants take hold.
Last week we drove to the mountains for a few days. Our first trip since this all began last March. Sitting on the dock our first evening, a balmy summer solstice, I felt myself decompress with every sigh, releasing months of anxiety and uncertainty. I imagined Nature having a mighty big job ahead as she transmutes everything released by people letting go of all we’ve carried these many months. But I don’t think we’re out of the woods yet.
“The world — as it is envisaged in Rilke’s letters — is not a tame place. It is filled with pain and potential; joy and separation; war and wonder. These are not meant to be easy companions, and this is part of the marrow of the letters to a young poet: find a way to hold yourself while being in the world that is around you.”
We should have a land of sun, Of gorgeous sun, And a land of fragrant water Where the twilight is a soft bandanna handkerchief Of rose and gold, And not this land Where life is cold.
We should have a land of trees, Of tall thick trees, Bowed down with chattering parrots Brilliant as the day, And not this land where birds are gray.
Ah, we should have a land of joy, Of love and joy and wine and song, And not this land where joy is wrong.
– Langston Hughes –
In my country and around the world, the notion of “our land” being safe and welcoming – where life is not cold, the birds are not gray, and joy is not wrong – is not the reality for too manypeople, for too many reasons. War and terrorism; domestic violence; racial injustice; bullying, abuse and violence due to sexual and gender identity, faith and culture, ageism; income disparities – the list is endless for the traumas created and held in our bodies, minds and spirits, and then acted out each other and on our land. It has been so for centuries. May we pay attention. May we act responsibly, with equanimity, and loving kindness towards all beings, human and non human, animate and inanimate, born and yet to be born. May we heal.
I’ve been watching stars rely on the darkness they resist. And fish struggle with and against the current. And hawks glide faster when their wings don’t move.
Still I keep retelling what happens till it comes out the way I want.
We try so hard to be the main character when it is our point of view that keeps us from the truth.
The sun has its story that no curtain can stop.
It’s true. The only way beyond the self is through it. The only way to listen to what can never be said is to quiet our need to steer the plot.
When jarred by life, we might unravel the story we tell ourselves and discover the story we are in, the one that keeps telling us.
– Mark Nepo –
I’ve been thinking a lot about what comes next as vaccination rates around the world increase, countries “re-open,” and people resume life as they’ve known it. I’ve been thinking about what we learned over the past fifteen months, when “jarred by life” by the pandemic. Have I unraveled the story I tell myself enough to discover the story I am really in? The story that keeps telling me? And how will I know?
“Write a sad story…in only four words.” This was the prompt I spotted on Facebook a week ago, posted by actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I wrote what immediately came to mind, being immersed in media, conversation, and reflection on the week prior’s news of the undocumented remains of two hundred fifteen children found on the grounds of a since closed residential school in Kamloops, BC. An unearthing revealing the underbelly of my country’s colonial past – Government policy, from 1883 to the 1990s, enacted by its agents and police, whereby First Nations children were forcibly seized from their parents and placed in residential schools to have the Indian schooled and worked and punished and abused out of them. And we wonder what else is hidden and how many more remains of innocent Indigenous children are to be found?
I’ll close with the lyrics of a song I heard recently by folk singer-songwriter-activist and all around fine person, Maria Dunn.
You are that little one Sacred as the morning sun In your mother’s arms Your father’s heart the same Taken from your family By brutal, bared, bureaucracy Instead of opening your mind They shut you up in shame
You are that little one – hold on
What child denied her mother tongue Underfed and preyed upon Who among us could survive A stripping to our soul? In waves of rage that rock you now Any other might have drowned But you’re still here Determined to be whole
You are that little one – hold on You are beloved – hold on
How slow to open up our eyes Say out loud “we spun those lies” Sorry’s but a start upon the road It’s not enough Until we walk the path that shows To every child who suffers so Your life matters You are truly loved