All the old signposts have fallen,
wood cracked and rotted,
atlases crumble, a pile of maps
flutter and dart like hummingbird
wings, the GPS signal is out of range.
Her compass slips from her hand,
the only thing she knows is that
she walks in circles now,
the trees ahead familiar
but really nothing is the same.
She wanders for hours, days,
weeks, loses track of the nights
as one tumbles into another.
Finally, she stops, builds
a bonfire from all the old maps
still in her pack, invites others
who wander by to gather,
each of them savor warmth
from flame and kindness,
laugh while they tell stories
of how they once knew the way.
Her eyes meet another,
hand outstretched, together
their breath rises in white spirals
into cold air and they
stay still long enough
to learn to love the quiet ache,
the old longing to be sure,
to see the country of certainty
as a memory receding
like an evening horizon until
there is only the black bowl of sky.
They begin to hear the whisper
of breezes, the secrets of birds,
follow the underground stream
that runs through each of them,
and they no longer ask
which way to go,
but sit and savor this
together, under night sky
illumined by fire and stars.
Today’s blog is late. Moved to write, I got up at four, and while I finished before my usual 7 am posting time, I needed to sit awhile with this before pressing “publish.”
I think this might be, in part, why I’ve been having a hard time finding words, why I’ve been feeling fallow of late. Realizing this, admitting this, to myself, here, feels vulnerable. Yet it’s absolutely true. And perhaps in doing so, words might now come easier for me. I don’t know.
I do know, that when I walked Annie last week and I listened to Brene Brown’s podcast with Dr. Vivek Murthy, the 19th Surgeon General of the United States and author of Together: The Healing Power of Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, I felt a big penny drop deep inside. In mid-April, a month into the global COVID-19 lockdown, they talked about loneliness and its huge physical and emotional toll on social connection. Three months later and I’m feeling its price.
The early days of COVID-19, when winter hung on with its snow and cold, the days had not yet appeared significantly lighter and longer, I enjoyed the prolonged cocooning it invited. While odd to see few cars on the streets, and even fewer folks around, I felt comfortable and at home in the stillness and quiet that would only come during those occasional holydays or snow days when everyone stayed home. But now, four months later, into summer with its longer days, and our staged re-entry, I find it harder to navigate. Each week it becomes more apparent that life as I have come to know it, with its felt rhythms and routines, conversations and connections, is no longer, at least not yet. Too, the utter uncertainty as to what I might next conjure in the way of work baffles and confounds.
Grief. I’ve spoken of it here on this platform over the months.
But when I heard Dr. Murthy define loneliness as the gap between the connections that you need and the social connections that you currently have, I knew “I am lonely.”
Murthy describes three dimensions of loneliness to reflect the particular type of relationship we might be missing:
Emotional loneliness is missing that close confidant or intimate partner with whom you share a deep mutual bond of affection and trust.
Relational or social loneliness is the yearning for quality friendships and social companionship and support.
Collective loneliness is the hunger for a network or community of people who share your sense of purpose and interests.
“Loneliness is not a concept, it is the body constellating, attempting to become proximate and even join with other bodies, through physical touch, through conversation or the mediation of the intellect and the imagination.”
David Whyte, “Loneliness, ” in Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words, 2015
So despite, blessedly, having a loving, steadfast husband of forty years, and family including my healthy, alert, fully engaged parents, I feel lonely.
I have dear friends, near and far. We stay in touch. Yet, I feel lonely for the in person, physical, face to face, exchange of energy and ideas and feelings and smiles and tears and embraces. For that “mediation of the intellect and the imagination.”
Now living into a different age and stage of life, my felt sense of community has shifted. Those ready-made places and affiliations, conveniently arrived at through work, are no longer. So how to create new connections? And how to do so under these peculiar circumstances induced by the pandemic?
As I’m writing this, I feel my body sigh in relief, with recognition. And, too, the toll. Anxiety that hurts. Insomnia, most often for me early morning waking at two or three. Lethargy. Lack of focus. Aimlessness.
In the last few days, I’ve begun to talk about this.
I’m reaching out to friends to find ways to “safely” meet together, in real time, in our real bodies.
I have “professional” support. When I arrived home from three months living in Europe, culture shocked, rattled to the bone by family upheavals, destabilized with the news my position at work had been “abolished,” grieving the passing of our Lady dog, I sank. And from that place I reached out to make an appointment with a therapist I’d once recommended to friend. I knew I needed to take my own advice. I’ve been seeing her ever since. Ten times a year. Like a zen sitting – calming, soothing, regulating. Having myself worked as a therapist, and years ago been involved in analytic process work, I recognize how the practice has changed, now informed by research in trauma and its neuro-physiological-emotional impacts. That hour, with me and her, helps me show up well in this world. I smile imagining I’ll maintain this part of my self-care practice for the rest of my days.
“Allow your loneliness time To dissolve the shell of dross That had closed around you; Choose in this severe silence To hear the one true voice Your rushed life fears: Cradle yourself like a child Learning to trust what emerges, So that gradually You may come to know That deep in that black hole You will find the blue flower That holds the mystical light Which will illuminate in you The glimmer of springtime.”
John O’Donohue, “For Loneliness,” an excerpt in To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008
Loneliness. One of the hidden, insidious impacts of life during this pandemic. Even more so. Because of it.
Paradoxically, I know I’m not alone with loneliness. So, let’s not suffer this one alone. Talk about it. Reach out. Get help.
Memories of traveling to Newfoundland five years ago were evoked this week, thanks to photos I’d posted on Face Book coming back to remind me, and viewing the beautifully shot episode “Strange & Familiar: Architecture on Fogo Island.” I didn’t get to Fogo Island then. Hadn’t even known about it. But it’s been on my list since, and visiting may come sooner than later as international travel might now be a thing of the past.
That trip, with its magnificent vistas of land, sea and sky, awakened a deep love for the wild and inspired words that remarkably won me a writing contest sponsored by the tour company.
It’s been good during these my fallow days – when the only vistas I’m seeing are those in my back yard and community, and the only words that come are few and far between – to remember back then, to trust in now.
Seeing Newfoundland in Six Vignettes
I The Table Lands, Gros Morne June 20, 2015
The vastness of this Island’s spirit, holding the Earth’s very own heart exposed to all the elements.
A paradox of deep beauty, magnificence and awe, with a cutting desperation for survival.
A people who, fierce and proud – despite what we mainlanders think – know what matters.
II Woody Point, Gros Morne Early Sunday Summer Solstice Morn June 21, 2015
A Bonne Bay full of Sun on this Sacred Sunday Summer Solstice morn.
Shhhh… the only sounds…
A choir of birds. Robin singing, thrilling, trilling. Black Crow cawing. Meadow Lark warbling. Red winged Blackbird wooing.
Blood red blossoms about to burst forth on the front yard crab apple tree.
Water softly lapping on the stony shore.
Locals sitting on their front porch stoops, sipping coffee, smoking the day’s first cigarette.
The “from aways” their laughter and chatter break the spell.
I stand on yet another threshold looking for the middle way.
III Norris Point, Gros Morne Our Summer Solstice Prayer June 21, 2015
Intention held in the hearts and minds of twelve women wild to witness the whale, grand dame of our species.
A blow…once, twice seen along the rock and tree faced cliff.
Colour full kayaks skim the surface, carry us Home.
Our hands drum the chant of welcome, invoking her wisdom, calling her in.
A tail sighted…once, twice breaking though the glassy bay.
A sudden breach.
Our collective Heart leaps with the closeness of her show.
A prayer received and delivered.
IV Woody Point, Gros Morne Last Breakfast at the Granite Cafe June 22, 2015
“I’d be nervous all the time,” explains the sweet young server (can’t be more than twenty-two, eyebrow piercing twinkles a delicate blue, matches her eyes), sharing a bit about her baby girl, why she’ll stay put on Woody Point, where the closest traffic light is in Corner Brook, so Adrianna can run free.
V Western Brook Pond, Gros Morne June 22, 2015
That long-awaited landscape. The one I first saw on TV. You know, the one that grabbed my Heart and fired my Imagination. The one with the cliffs.
“I’d like to go there one day.”
So what fired the Imagination of those ancient mariners? The ones whose fjords evoke the very one I’m travelling down right now?
VI Long Time Home L’Anse aux Meadows and Home July 7, 2015
Two days travelling then waiting. Anticipation grows with the wish to be settled back home. Thankful all uneventful, as a day later, and for several more, re-routing, premature landings, delays, all in response to bomb threats on my airline.
The world’s madness – is it more than ever, or the consequence of instantaneous connection – hits my consciousness broadside, closer to home.
And what of those ancient mariners and the many days’ and weeks’ and months’ anticipation and sailing across the ocean? What bold imagination and steel-hearted courage, madness even, drove them from their Nordic homeland to what we now call Iceland, Greenland? And then further south, to be the first of their kind, my kind, to settle on this, my home and native land?
L’Anse aux Meadows, the very tip of Newfoundland’s northern most shore. One thousand years ago. We now know centuries before the likes of men we call Cabot, Columbus, Cartier.
When I recall the day I disembarked from the van, set foot on and looked out over that first “from away settlement,” over the bare expanse of naked land and sea and sky – cold and windy and grey and raining – I can hardly imagine, in a thousand years, their first reaction to seeing and setting foot. Unless I search in my own DNA and evoke that of my father’s, when he first saw, from the ship carrying him across the ocean from post-war Germany, and set foot on the land that he would claim and make home, that day over a mid-century ago.
For the past few weeks I’ve struggled to find any words that might matter both inside and out there. A few weeks back, the words of others helped me find my way through to some of mine. But right now I need to admit, as I did in reply to a friend’s ever thoughtful and beautiful blog post, that I am feeling emptied of words that might matter.
Quite paradoxical, that with the bigness, muchness, fullness of everything in the world right now, for this past quarter year living in this Covid-19 pandemic, now doubled-down with as insidious and deadly a pandemic, racism, I am empty.
I read, I watch, I listen to people whose voices I need to hear and need to learn from. And in response, I have lost mine.
Perhaps it’s a matter of laying fallow, much as I have felt myself to be these past weeks, when I suddenly realized that for the first time in my five decades’ long working life, I am now without and see no “what next.” Again, the paradox that with the full blush and burst of spring, and now summer’s arrival, at least by the calendar’s indication, I feel myself more to be in the late fall, early winter. One of life’s many liminal spaces and places.
Or perhaps it’s like this. An excerpt from John O’Donohue’s blessing for a father, sent in reply to a long lost friend, and to my own father for today, Father’s Day.
“There are many things We could have said, But words never wanted To name them; And perhaps a world That is quietly sensed Across the air In another’s heart Becomes the inner companion To one’s own unknown.”
John O’Donohue, To Bless The Space Between Us, 2008
Dance, when you’re broken open. Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance, when you’re perfectly free.
– Rumi – translated by Coleman Barks in The Essential Rumi, 1995
Sweet synchronicity – no sooner had I written this post when I heard a musical interpretation of these verses. Composer Anna Clyne created an orchestral arrangement featuring the cello, titled DANCE. Listen to the fourth movement, “in your blood,” with cellist Inbal Segev and the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
I heard it said last week that it’s never going back to the way it was. While said in the context of the current Black Lives Matter protests and uprisings in our cities, communities, and consciousness, I think it could also be said of the other deadly pandemic, COVID-19. For both, in our news and conversations, on social media platforms and our minds, words and images of updates and opinions, reactions and responses feel like waves breaking on the shoreline. Constant, rhythmic, one after the other. No sooner does one recede when another rolls in. Sometimes soothing me with optimism and hope. Sometimes pounding with a storm’s fury and rage.
“Your fidelity to love, that is all you need. No day will then match your strength.
What was once a fear or problem will see you coming, and step aside…or run.”
Daniel Ladinsky, A Year With Hafiz, 2011
At this moment, I’m on a live stream service from a church in my community. Centered on Pride Month, I watch the video story of how in 1999 it made the commitment to become an openly affirming congregation. Since the video’s production in 2006, I hear that while so much has changed, so much remains the same. Underscored is that protest is often the catalyst for change. That our ongoing attention, care and action is always needed. That the journey for justice never ends.
Marches have continued around the world this past week protesting racial injustice and police brutality. In my city, right now receiving the much-needed steady soaking from a weekend of rain, it is estimated that 15,000 people gathered during Friday evening’s sunshine and warm weather on the grounds of our provincial legislature. Wearing masks, carrying signs, “taking a knee”, all thankfully without the eruption of the violence other cities have recently seen, though social distancing protocols to stave off infection from the other pandemic, COVID-19, were hard to maintain.
Initially, I had planned to attend, but my best intentions gave way to accepting I was unable to put myself at risk due to chronic health factors, and a growing anxiety that signaled my need to pay attention. While I would miss the march, I would be in this fight for the long haul.
After concluding my participation in the eight week The Soul of a Pilgrim program this weekend, come Tuesday I’ll begin a twelve-week book study, reflection, and conversation of White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, hosted by a small group of thoughtful, seasoned practitioners of The Circle Way. Together, we will create a safe and strong container to do our real, hard, and necessary work of identifying both within and without the systemic impacts of white supremacy and racism. It is a beginning of a long and real journey.
“It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go we have come to our real journey…”
Mindful of so much that has been happening in the world around me, this past week had me thinking back to a year ago when I experienced my first Peer Spirit Wilderness Quest. Hosted and guided by the founders of The Circle Way, Ann Linnea and Christina Baldwin, with their quest guide colleague, Deborah Greene-Jacobi , the stars and my schedule had finally aligned to make the trek to the eastern slopes of Washington’s Cascade Mountains. With “hindsight being 2020,” I’m grateful to have gone last year because this year’s quest had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. Months before my departure, I was thoughtfully and carefully prepared with packing lists, activities to discern my intention, clarifying conversations, and closer to the date, travel and weather details. Once arrived, I joined a beautifully multi-generational, cross-cultural cohort of eleven men and women, some who had travelled from as far as Australia and Germany. Once settled, we soon began in earnest, readying our tent sites and ourselves to fast solo on the Sacred Mountain for three days and nights.
Sitting and sleeping alone, with the sun and moon, the stars and the clouds, the wind, groves of aspen, spruce, pine and fir, birds and bugs as my companions, created a mighty connection and opened a portal through which I felt the wisdom and life giving and saving gifts of Nature. I did not return with answers to questions, nor even clarity as to first step directions to take. Instead, I was filled to overflowing with gratitude and reverence for all and everything that had brought me to this point in my life. I felt a deep appreciation that was beyond words, with no regrets. And I experienced an inner consolidation of hard l/earned presence.
The wilderness quest is very much akin to the pilgrim’s journey. Both are predicated on a final stage of “coming home” to oneself and one’s community, and to incorporation (in corpus – in body) of lessons learned, questions discerned, gifts received. (Again a synchronicity with this first year anniversary is that this last week’s eighth and final practice in The Soul of a Pilgrim is “coming home.”) This to then to awaken to the next call to begin again. Last year’s quest still reverberates and compelled me to follow the energy to The Soul of a Pilgrim. Now both call me into the work of dismantling my racism, taking guidance from this kind and compassionate wisdom:
“What continues to be the deepest wisdom for me is the call to release my effort, the summons to fall into the embrace of the One who offers an abundance of nourishment. I’m learning to trust in the unfinished nature of things. This calls me to give my heart to my work, as I always strive to do, and then wrap myself in the shawl of humility to honor my own limitations.”
Christine Valters Paintner, The Soul of a Pilgrim , 2015