Now we will count to twelve and we will all keep still for once on the face of the earth, let’s not speak in any language; let’s stop for a second, and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment without rush, without engines; we would all be together in a sudden strangeness.
Fishermen in the cold sea would not harm whales and the man gathering salt would not look at his hurt hands.
Those who prepare green wars, wars with gas, wars with fire, victories with no survivors, would put on clean clothes and walk about with their brothers in the shade, doing nothing.
What I want should not be confused with total inactivity. Life is what it is about; I want no truck with death.
If we were not so single-minded about keeping our lives moving, and for once could do nothing, perhaps a huge silence might interrupt this sadness of never understanding ourselves and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us as when everything seems dead and later proves to be alive.
Now I’ll count up to twelve and you keep quiet and I will go.
Terry Tempest Williams, Finding Beauty in a Broken World, in Abbey of the Arts, “Give Me a Word for 2021”
NATURE. My word for 2021. Again, not so much chosen as received through the twelve-day process of deep listening and discerning hosted by the Abbey of the Arts. If this word – NATURE – has even a portion of prescient relevancy as last year’s word – HOME – I’ll become converted to this as an annual process.
“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language, And next year’s words await another voice.”
T. S. Eliot in Abbey of the Arts, “Give Me a Word for 2021”
By registering and dedicating time to the daily lessons, I crossed a threshold into that liminal, imaginary space where symbols and signs, whispers and words, prayers and dreams have potential to bear fruit for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.
“A door opens in the center of our being and we seem to fall through it into the immense depths which, although they are infinite, are all accessible to us.”
Thomas Merton in Abbey of the Arts, “Give Me a Word for 2021”
In an early lesson derived from the practice of Lectio Divina, I reviewed last year (yes, that year!) as a form of sacred text over which to meditate and select an image or event that “shimmered.” Without question it was my time outdoors – whether in urban nature by the river, suburban treks through the golf course, sitting in my treed back yard, walking through villages and cities in Andalusia, or getting lost on the Lost Lake trail in my provincial park – that inspired, soothed, challenged, settled.
Another day’s lesson of taking a contemplative walk has become so much a part of my daily routine during these many months of pandemic life, satisfying both Annie’s and my need for fresh air and movement and giving reassurance there is life beyond our house, that it simply confirmed my knowing of Nature’s promise and powers.
Still, to stay open and not prematurely settled, I noticed my dreams as per another day’s lesson, and when consulting a soul friend was prescribed, that day I just happened to open the “year in review” e-letter from beloved friends – they whose practical life wisdom and deep reverence for Nature serve as meaningful mentoring – and read their closing words which echoed and amplified my knowing:
“May the bigness and mysteries of Nature carry our hearts through all concerns. Let us trust the stones, the waters, the trees, the fungi. Let us befriend the birds, the fishes, the animals, the plants. Let us befriend one another.”
Allowing the word time to “ripen” by holding it gently while still wondering what else; illustrating the word visually through phone photos that caught my attention as we walked the snow-covered park paths; and committing to a “word rooted” practice, which for me is simply a re-commitment to heed Annie’s after lunch nudge, I feel settled that this word has come this year for me.
Writing a poem was the final day’s lesson. Today, my haiku in tribute took form:
This new year my word. NATURE, my holy Teacher, Healer, Guide, and Friend.
All my friends are finding new beliefs. This one converts to Catholicism and this one to trees. In a highly literary and hitherto religiously-indifferent Jew God whomps on like a genetic generator. Paleo, Keto, Zone, South Beach, Bourbon. Exercise regimens so extreme she merges with machine. One man marries a woman twenty years younger and twice in one brunch uses the word verdant; another’s brick-fisted belligerence gentles into dementia, and one, after a decade of finical feints and teases like a sandpiper at the edge of the sea, decides to die. Priesthoods and beasthoods, sombers and glees, high-styled renunciations and avocations of dirt, sobrieties, satieties, pilgrimages to the very bowels of being …
All my friends are finding new beliefs and I am finding it harder and harder to keep track of the new gods and the new loves, and the old gods and the old loves, and the days have daggers, and the mirrors motives, and the planet’s turning faster and faster in the blackness, and my nights, and my doubts, and my friends, my beautiful, credible friends.”
– Christopher Wiman –
As we begin to live our way into this long awaited new year, I reflect on friendships… near and far, here and “home”, past, present, and yet to be known, lapsed and tended, cherished and challenging, liked and loved, beautiful, credible. Your presence in my life matters, immeasurably.
Listen hear to Pádraig Ó Tuama’s beautiful recitation and considerations of this poem.
With love, kindest regards, and best wishes for a New Year shimmering with all that is good and true and beautiful.
Today, January 6, is the fortieth anniversary of our arrival in Alberta. Too, it is the first anniversary of this blog – A Wabi Sabi Life.
A year ago, in my first post, “Epiphany,” I briefly described that life-changing road trip to here, and the world of possibilities it opened for my husband and me. Too, I sensed that the launch of my newest blog was following my own star in support of a new life direction in writing. Ninety-seven posts later, at least half of which are my own musings and poems, I’ve honored that self-made promise to show up every week to write.
It continues to be a momentous time. Around the world, as the global family, we are ten months into living life in a pandemic. In much of my country, masks are mandated, lockdowns continue, curfews have been issued to curb the continued climb in cases of Covid-19. Too, many of us are outraged at the enactment of privilege by elected officials who took international Christmas vacations while we had been told to stay home and not socialize with family and friends outside of our homes. And while vaccinations appear to be a light at the end of this long, dark, and winding tunnel, it can’t be considered a silver bullet nor panacea, despite how it’s being touted.
Today, turning my eye south to the United States, hell is breaking loose, again, as supporters of the current president take on his claim of a fraudulent election by storming the Capital building as the process for transferring power to the new president was to occur.
Yet I continue to cast my vote for finding and upholding all that is good and true and beautiful in this imperfect, sometimes broken, but mostly well-lived life. My commitment to the no-choice choice, I suppose.
“Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let the pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.”
Thank you for following along this past year, dear readers. With love and kindest regards as we journey together into this new one.
the year is done. i spread the past 365 days before me on the living room carpet. point to the one where i decided to shed everything not deeply committed to my dreams. refused to be victim to the self-pity. here is the week i slept in the garden. in the spring wrung the self-doubt by its neck. hung your kindness up. took down the calendar. danced so hard my heart learned to float above water again. in the summer i unscrewed all the mirrors from their walls. no longer needed to see myself to feel seen. combed their weight out of my hair. i fold the good days up and place them in my back pocket for safekeeping. draw the match. cremate the unnecessary. the light of the fire warms my toes. i pour myself a glass of hot water to cleanse myself for january. here i go. stronger and wiser into the new.
– rupi kaur –
Cheers, dear friends, and wishing you all that is good and true and beautiful for this new year. With love and kindest regards.
This has been my word for 2020. Remarkable that when it “arrived” a year ago as my word for this year’s soft focus and intention, it would have been so utterly prescient and enbodied. For me, and most everyone on the planet! I wrote in late January of 2020:
Not chosen but invited, it arrived early in a simple, elegant process offered by Abbey of the Arts, called “2020, Give Me a Word.” Developed for the twelve days of Christmas, but available in early December, I’d received an email invitation to “create some space each day to listen and see what word comes shimmering forth from the dailiness of my experience.”
At first, “at home,” which evoked being home and staying put. Perhaps wise counsel given I’d had another autumn full of travel. This time I’d become quite ill during my last trip in early December, a visit with a friend I’d not seen since the passing of her husband. A disappointment for us both when first, our great plans for trekking in the desert mountains became dashed by my excruciating case of plantar fasciitis. Then, a viral infection contracted days before departure had me reach for the emergency cipro to be well enough to get back home without an ear-blocked, cough-racked flight. Just recovered and now into a serious grip of Arctic winter cold, staying put, at home, has been the order of the day.
But as the twelve days passed, with a new practice offered each day to evoke or ripen – a contemplative walk in Nature, writing a poem, illustrating the word visually, attending to my dreams, consulting a soul friend – “at home” became distilled to “home.” Still that comfort with being at home (the best place to be when you’re sick and it’s ridiculously cold outside), but now with a spaciousness that allows mystery to unfold, shadow and surprise to emerge, dreams to awaken.
Last week, browsing somewhere, I came across these wondrous words in an essay, “To Find Your True Home Within Your Life.” Home came knocking.
"The mystic Thomas a Kempis said that when you go out into the world, you return having lost some of yourself. Until you learn to inhabit your aloneness, the lonely distraction and noise of society will seduce you into false belonging, with which you will only become empty and weary. When you face your aloneness, something begins to happen. Gradually, the sense of bleakness changes into a sense of true belonging. This is a slow and open-ended transition but is utterly vital in order to come into rhythm with your own individuality. In a sense this is the endless task of finding your true home within your life. It is not narcissistic, for as soon as you rest in the house of your own heart, doors and windows begin to open outwards to the world." - John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes (1999), 93.
With hindsight being 20:20 – forgive the pun – as I read these words now, I’m awe stuck. Last December’s onset illness persisted for over two months and many times since, I’ve wondered, as have many who suffered similar symptoms then, was this an early iteration of COVID-19? While I’ll never definitively know, because the blood work done in December was before we knew of the virus, I do know I don’t remember ever having felt so wretched and exhausted for so long, and thankfully, none of the people I encountered during that period became ill.
There have been gifts during this near year of sheltering in place, being home with minimal distraction and the noise from society. One, paradoxically, amidst losses and griefs – experienced and sensed, personal and collective – has been a deeply felt contentment and joy that manifests most obviously every morning, and several times a day, in “kitchen dancing.” The unabashed delight in a new day, unscripted, unfettered by obligation or need to muster myself. The simple pleasures of tending to Annie. Our daily walks in the neighborhood where she sniffs and I see Nature’s subtle and not so changes. Planning and preparing dinner to enjoy with my husband. Home care. Writing. This in marked contrast to years of waking with a feeling, albeit habituated, of anxiety and dread. Except for the three months living in Germany while I travelled through Europe in 2011, I don’t recall feeling such sweet enthusiasm for my life.
And that perennial guiding question of what now to do with my wild and precious life, has now, ever so subtly and gradually, given way to trust in its gentle unfolding.
Perhaps it’s a function of age, and my commitment to a conscious tending, but a most profound gift of this year, of living in this memory-making pandemic time, has been coming into rhythm with my individuality, of finding my true home within my life, of resting in the house of my heart.
Tomorrow is Solstice. Here in the northern hemisphere, we mark Winter’s formal arrival with the longest, darkest night. In the past month, much has been written about the unusual planetary alignment between Jupiter and Saturn, apparently coming so close together as to give the impression of one large and most brilliant star. Making its first appearance in over eight hundred years, it’s being called the “Christmas Star,” even the “Star of Bethlehem.” I’m praying for clear skies around the world so we can each take in a bit of the magic and miraculous. God knows we’re in need of some…
As is my pattern, it’s Sunday night after dinner and I’m comfortably alone in our office tapping out my thoughts for this post. I’m listening to excerpts of Handel’s “Messiah,” truly one of the western Christian world’s most beloved Christmas oratorios. Every time I hear it, I wonder if Handel and librettist Charles Jennen had any idea of the timeless magnificence they created.
Yesterday I attended a Facebook live “sing along” hosted by the historic Bardavon Opera House and Hudson Valley Philharmonic. Close to 10,000 people from around the world watched and sang. How remarkable to read of the many people who have sung their part in choirs – large and small, community and professional – every Christmas for decades. My own memories evoked…including the time I missed that long rest in the Alleluia chorus and rather inadvertently, took my own solo! For 10,000 of us to have clicked and arrived, being “alone together” for an hour, sharing memories, joy, and even tears as we stood in unison for the Alleluia chorus, time and distance magically collapsed as our hearts rang open. Truly, one of the pandemic’s paradoxical gifts.
In keeping with tradition, once again I offer my annual Solstice blessing, this year reworked with words I wrote during the pandemic’s early days, during our first pervasive “lockdown.”
May this Holyday season bring time to cherish all that is good and true and beautiful.
May its dark days invite reflection and renewal.
May you be well, and safely tucked in with your beloveds at home.
May deep rest, fresh air, and sunshine restore you and be like the warm embrace of longed for family and friends.
May any moments of anxiety and sadness be held in tenderness, with the support of others.
May strength in body, mind, and spirit allow you to embrace life’s uncertainties.
May good health be your companion, relationships enliven and encourage, work and pastimes fulfill, serve, and affirm.
May good food nourish your body, favourite memories and meaningful conversations your heart and mind.
May Nature welcome you to its beauty, magic, and wisdom.
May gratitude, generosity, and grace be your friends.
May patience, love, and kindness – given and received – be yours in abundance.
When Laurens van der Post one night In the Kalahari Desert told the Bushmen He couldn’t hear the stars Singing, they didn’t believe him. They looked at him, half-smiling. They examined his face To see whether he was joking Or deceiving them. Then two of those small men Who plant nothing, who have almost Nothing to hunt, who live On almost nothing, and with no one But themselves, led him away From the crackling thorn-scrub fire And stood with him under the night sky And listened. One of them whispered, Do you not hear them now? And van der Post listened, not wanting To disbelieve, but had to answer, No. They walked him slowly Like a sick man to the small dim Circle of firelight and told him They were terribly sorry, And he felt even sorrier For himself and blamed his ancestors For their strange loss of hearing, Which was his loss now. On some clear night When nearby houses have turned off their visions, When the traffic dwindles, when through streets Are between sirens and the jets overhead Are between crossings, when the wind Is hanging fire in the fir trees, And the long-eared owl in the neighboring grove Between calls is regarding his own darkness, I look at the stars again as I first did To school myself in the names of constellations And remember my first sense of their terrible distance, I can still hear what I thought At the edge of silence where the inside jokes Of my heartbeat, my arterial traffic, The C above high C of my inner ear, myself Tunelessly humming, but now I know what they are: My fair share of the music of the spheres And clusters of ripening stars, Of the songs from the throats of the old gods Still tending ever tone-deaf creatures Through their exiles in the desert.
– David Wagoner –
Astrologers are saying that come Monday, December 21, Winter Solstice, a rare astrological alignment of planets, not seen since the 1200s, will occur. Jupiter and Saturn will align so closely that it will appear as a radiant point of light being called the Star of Bethlehem or the Christmas Star. Here in the northern hemisphere, we’re being instructed to look to the southwestern sky about 45 minutes after sunset. As the next such great conjunction won’t happen again until March 2o80, this would be the time to witness such a “miracle.”
“Look how calmly the trees abandon their autumn leaves, scattering jewels on the ground, soon to become mulch. These serene beings are apt teachers for us. Just see how they send their life-essence down into their roots as the days shorten and darken.”
Pir Zia Inayat Khan, The Zephyr Newsletter, December 2020
Last Monday, when I walked with Annie to centre myself and find my words, when I listened to the poem that released the floodgate of tears and cleared the way for the inchoate to become articulate, I found myself attracted to Nature’s images that evoked a “hanging on.” Despite all that gives way to a northern winter – daylight and warmth, green grass and foliage, garden fresh vegetables, robin song – still there is much that persists.
And I thought, how fitting a metaphor for this year’s Advent. Now in the third week, the one characterized by the rose-pink candle of joy, I wondered how do we hold the tension, no, how do we live and be in the tension of hanging on expectantly, when so much has let go? How do we negotiate our familiar and counted upon traditions of joy and celebration, in the face of myriad losses and uncertainties, persistent isolation and loneliness? How do we wait in joy for the promise inherent in this season, given so many shattering impacts of 2020? Not an intended pun, but truly a pandemic paradox, of pandemic proportion.
While I don’t have answers to my own questions, let alone any “sage” advice, I am reminded of Rilke’s wisdom to not strive for answers…to live the questions for now…though admittedly, not quite able to love them. But perhaps there are some hints from others, whose words have shimmered as they’ve crossed my screen this week, in remarkable resonance and synchronicity.
“I’m feeling a bone deep exhaustion now, yet I’m also feeling a resistance to the softness and rest that this season urges. There is too much to do to rest. And to be soft in the face of all that has happened in 2020 — that is a world of hurt I’m not sure I can bear. My experience of this season’s impulse to look back and take stock has a new intensity too. There is a great deal I long to recover about pre-pandemic life. But I don’t want to go back to a “normal” that would lose all that this year taught and gave us to live into.”
Krista Tippett, The Pause, December 15, 2020
In the past few days, I walked and listened to another of my favorite podcasts, Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us. In the most recent episode, she looked back over all she had learned from reading and prepping for two seasons worth of interviews, to more fully understand her very first episode on “FFT’s” (friggin’ first times) dropped in the early days of Covid-19. Her recent neuroscience “expert,” David Eagleman, confirmed Brené’s emergent hypothesis that our brains – and we – are exhausted with mapping so many new responses to this year’s unprecedented number of FFTs. The antidote to so much changing so fast is our attention, our acknowledgement, and rest, plenty of rest that restores us, and our brains. The image that comes to mind after today’s snow showers: clearing the walks and roads of snow that keeps falling. No sooner do you get it clear, then you need to do it again, and again, and again.
In this same episode, Brené shared a quote that succinctly sums up life as we know it now:
“‘History is the study of surprises.’ This line captures the world in which we live, we’re living history, surprise after surprise after surprise. And just when we think, we’ve had all the big surprises for a while, along comes another one. If the first two decades of the 21st century have taught us anything, it’s that uncertainty is chronic; instability is permanent; disruption is common; and we can neither predict nor govern events. There will be no ‘new normal’; there will only be a continuous series of ‘not normal’ episodes, defying prediction and unforeseen by most of us until they happen.”
Jim Collins, Beyond Entrepreneurship 2.0, 2020
Hmmm…grim news of foreboding, or the sudden, fresh wakening from somnambulant dis-illusion? Another paradox and invitation to find a middle way, perhaps?
I’ve lost track of the number of times this past year I’ve heard myself say aloud or think the wise words from a past, wise teacher: the trick to living paradox is knowing “it’s all true.” That both sides of the coin are the same coin. That 180 degrees is a straight line connecting what appear to be opposites. That the yin always contains a bit of yang and vice versa. And that there is a field between right doing and wrong doing where I will meet you.
“There is a time for stillness and empty-handedness, a time for holding vigil in the darkness. Winter keeps a secret that is vital to our soul’s knowledge of itself. Before long, the days will lengthen again. But now is the time to be rooted in the silent, patient earth as the planet heaves through the ebon emptiness of space.”
Pir Zia Inayat Khan, The Zephyr Newsletter, December 2020
Yes. This is so very true. And so too, for so many of us right now, is the isolation and loneliness that fills us with sorrow, worry, grief. That keeps us sleepless when we need rest for our bodies and brains and hearts, and to recover our resilience.
Last week, once again in my favorite Italian grocery store, as I maneuvered my cart into the checkout line, I looked up to see our dear friends. The last I saw them was a year ago, sitting at our cozy round table, enjoying a kitchen supper. Nothing fancy. Just simple Tuscan cooking, fine wine, and edifying conversation. It was a delicious evening, one we anticipated repeating sooner than later, upon our return from Andalusia last February. Sure, now we talk on the phone, exchange “love notes” in the mail or via text, but to lay eyes on each other, bundled and masked, brought tears to our eyes. There we stood, huddled among the pasta and olive oil – probably closer than two meters – impelled to express our love, our gratitude, the miraculous of our chance meeting, the angels that must have conspired for us then and there.
“…we need to accompany each other right now and beyond this season, in what none of us is called to bear and do alone. To honor the many losses we scarcely know what to do with. To dwell with reverence before our exhaustion and our resilience. To cultivate the expectant waiting that is the spirit of Advent. To ponder how we want to live once the virus releases us back to each other. “
Krista Tippett, The Pause, December 15, 2020
Since I last wrote, Covid-19 vaccinations are now being administered around the world. Here in Canada, the first to be inoculated was an elderly woman from Quebec. Here in Alberta, our health care workers are to be first in line. Touted as the light at the end of a long dark tunnel, it’s not lost on me that this hoped for miracle comes during our darkest hours, both literally and figuratively. Personally, I sit in another paradox: knowing it will be many months before I have access to this anticipated release from the virus’ silent, deadly grip and can let go of extraordinary vigilance and precaution, countered by the desire to hang on to the many subtle gifts of this time – a slowing down to savour simplicity and deepening stillness, noticing inner shifts and outer expressions, renewed appreciation and gratitude, a growing and steady contentment. Just as my love of winter’s darkness has grown over time, and I wince knowing that come next week, we’ll once again be on the upswing to more daylight, I hear a whisper of caution to not squander what has been so hard won, an invitation to make anew.
“We will not go back to normal, normal never was. Our pre-Corona existence was not normal, other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate, and lack. We should not long to return, my friends, we are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment, one that fits all of humanity and nature.”
Sonya Renee Taylor
Now, I literally wait for the linen and yarn and needles to arrive to start stitching.