If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be. We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happens better than all the riches or power in the world. It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.
Mary Oliver, Devotions (2017)
“There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be.” Posted by a friend mere days before Russia invaded Ukraine, I saved this gem for its reminder, and the abundance of joy described, never imagining the mind-numbing poignancy of its prescience.
My writing here has been episodic, due in part to Russia’s horrific war on Ukraine, for which I am at a loss for words. So as you may have read, I have relied on those from others (again, my plug for Mark Gonzales’ In Times of Terror, Wage Beauty – please consider buying and sharing it far and wide.)
Too, I’m quite full of my own words, preparing a manuscript of poetry for publication, riding the slipstream created at the start of the new year, when I submitted 22 pages for a chapbook contest. Both longshots. Both labors of my love. Both my ways of fighting back. Both my ways of saying,
Beauty made from love matters makes a difference during days of such madness.
“But this week, we entered yet another hard, shocking chapter in the life of the world.”
Krista Tippett, The Pause, March 5, 2022
Yes, here we are, the global community, again trying to keep our collective hearts open in the hell that is war. These weeks in Ukraine. Before that…and before that…and before that…In a recent poll close to 70% of Canadians believe we are poised for a third world war. (Global News, March 3, 2022) With the invading leader stating that all sanctions levied by the west are akin to a declaration of war (Reuters, March 5, 2022), anxieties, already exacting their cost during the pandemic, continue to manifest in myriad ways within and among us.
“Trauma isn’t limited to the mind or body of a singular person. It has the ability to have a cumulative impact on an entire people…When an entire society is desecrated, demonized, invaded or imprisoned, it reshapes the cultural gene pool of that entire generation. What is trauma then, but a collective and cumulative phenomenon.”
Mark Gonzales, In Times of Terror, Wage Beauty, 2014
Last week I wrote in my regular Friday photo and poem feature that I had been reminded by a friend with whom I had shared Mark Gonzales’ In Times of Terror, Wage Beauty. Selecting a piece for that post, I scanned other of his entries in preparation for my virtual women’s circle, wanting to offer into the centre a “start point” inviting us to each speak to the impact of the current world events:
“In this moment, an echo is occurring across the globe. It is the human spirit craving to be reminded one does not need permission to grow.
In this moment an echo is occurring across our hearts. It is the realization that love has its own logic.
Live. Love. Grow. Even if one cannot make life more beautiful, at least make it more bearable. This should be considered the base for being human.
May the passion continue. May the circle expand.”
Mark Gonzales, In Times of Terror, Wage Beauty, 2014
We felt deep resonance and relevance with Mark’s words as each of us took our turn speaking, passing our virtual talking pieces through several rounds of conversation. Our time together marked easefully with several substantial pauses for silence. One by one, we shared evoked images and memories, silent tears and fears, wisdom borne of dreams, intuition and lived experience. By the end of our two hours together, soothed and more settled. Life made more bearable.
In my imagination, I see copies of Mark’s book, translated so all can read, dropped from the skies into the hands of every person on earth, much like the millions of propaganda leaflets dropped from planes during World War II. Instead I’ll end with more of his good words, medicine to heal our aching souls and make life more bearable:
“What better way is there to shift a paradign than by speaking in ways that encourage dreams, laughter and imagination. For those acts of creativity are not luxury, short sighted or simplistic, they are essential.”
“In this collective environment, an isolated story transforms into a personalized submission into an anthology of shared experiences and unique memories. With each new telling, we cocoon to butterfly that sees each breath we have left in this life as an exercise in evolving our own narrative.”
“This is way for you who battle with self-doubt and hyper criticism, I remind you we are a generation experimenting with healing in public. Be fierce. Be forgiving. Hardcore is a façade and a trend.”
“Educate the human heart. Elevate the human mind. Grow the human soul. This will be our generation’s idea of a multi-taking model of learning.”
Look up. Look around. Listen. See and hear the echoes of your wounds and dreams all around you. Know that you are never as alone as you think. We may even be in the majority. Each point of connection with another transforms them from stranger into ally in the healing process.
If you read this and still feel abandoned, walk with head high knowing there are generations of ancestors inside of you. We will survive this era as we did the eras before: using the skills we have, inventing the ones we need.
On those days when the spine or soul become tired, imagine all of humanity whispering a twelve word prayer inside your ear: “we are not the children nor the descendants of a weak people.”
Mark Gonzales In Times of Terror, Wage Beauty 2014
Several years ago, I “met” Mark Gonzales via this remarkable collection of piercing, pithy poem essays. Last week, as war in Ukraine grabbed hold of our world by its throat, a friend reminded me that I had introduced her to his work. Any page would have been perfect today. I expect I’ll turn to Mark’s words for my Monday blog. In the meantime, if this sampling touches you, buy his book, In Times of Terror, Wage Beauty. There is no better time.
“It’s a piece of deep psychological acuity, carried in many religious traditions: that each of us is defined as much by who our enemies are and how we treat them as by whom and what we love.”
Krista Tippett, On Being, October 31, 2013
Fitting food for thought as we, the world, contemplate the current circumstances unfolding in Ukraine. A simplistic response to vilify the invaders and yet…
We see Russians courageously take to their streets and squares in protest. We read of notables resigning from posts refusing payment from their government. We know people who know people, Russians whose roots run deep and like us all, whose hearts bleed red.
Over the past few days, scrolling social media and participating in online seminars, I’ve been struck with the extent to which we are calling forth the balm found in poetry and prayer, in the arts, dance and song. Evoking the highest good in us, for us all. With poetic irony and prescience, this published in 2009 by Ilya Kaminsky, a poet born in Odessa, Ukraine, now living in the United States after being granted asylum with his family:
We Lived Happily during the War
And when they bombed other people’s houses, we
protested but not enough, we opposed them but not
enough. I was in my bed, around my bed America
was falling: invisible house by invisible house by invisible house—
I took a chair outside and watched the sun.
In the sixth month of a disastrous reign in the house of money
in the street of money in the city of money in the country of money, our great country of money, we (forgive us)
lived happily during the war.
Let us hold the centre, dear friends. Present with what is unfolding. Poised amidst conflict within and without. Persistent in remembering the best in who we are.
Let us take note of the ever-present beauty around us. Remain open to the mystery in the mundane. Tenacious in our tenderness. Committed in our care.
Living our lives as poem and prayer.
“Do you think it’s an accident that you were born at a time when the culture that gave you life is failing? I don’t think it is. I think you were born of necessity with your particular abilities, with your particular fears, with your particular heartaches and concerns… I think if we wait to be really compelled by something… something big, well… we’re going to wait an awful long time and I don’t know if the state of our world can tolerate our holding out until we feel utterly compelled by something. I think it’s more like this, that we have to proceed now as if we’re utterly needed given the circumstances. That takes almost something bordering on bravado, it could be mistaken for megalomania easily, though I don’t think it is. It had a certain amount of nerviness in it or boldness for sure, something that’s not highly thought of in the culture I was born into unless you’re a star or something… regular people aren’t supposed to have those qualities. I say they are of course. That’s what we’ve got to bring to the challenges at hand, not waiting to be convinced that we’re needed but proceeding as if we are. Your insignificance has been horribly overstated.”
If you don’t feel like starting a new project, don’t.
If you don’t feel the urge to make something new,
just rest in the beauty of the old, the familiar, the known.
If you don’t feel like talking, stay silent.
If you’re fed up with the news, turn it off.
If you want to postpone something until tomorrow, do it.
If you want to do nothing, let yourself do nothing today.
Feel the fullness of the emptiness, the vastness of the silence, the sheer life in your unproductive moments.
Time does not always need to be filled.
You are enough, simply in your being.
– Jeff Foster –
Reflecting on my current involvement in another online offering from The Abbey of the Arts – an 8 week exploration of the archetypes of Visionary, Healer, Sage and Warrior – this recent Facebook post spoke to me. Over the past two weeks, we’ve considered the Healer. I shared with the group The Nap Ministry, the creation of Tricia Hersey to uplift and give legitmacy to the radical act of napping and resting, as embodied resistance.
I’m thinking about how our now noticeably longer days engage our energies and invite more activity. I’m thinking about how easy it is to be seduced by that outward pull and upward rising, when the body-mind-spirit might still need the deep rest encouraged by winter. I’m thinking within the archetypal energy of Healer, that I need to remember “time does not always need to be filled” and that I am enough, simply in my being. And I’m thinking, so are you.
“It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them. I was so preposterously serious in those days… Lightly, lightly – it’s the best advice ever given me…So throw away your baggage and go forward. There are quicksands all about you, sucking at your feet, trying to suck you down into fear and self-pity and despair. That’s why you must walk so lightly. Lightly my darling…”
Aldous Huxley, Island, 1962
Reading this quote last week it landed, more than lightly. Funny thing is I thought Huxley was advising “slowly my darling.” Musing on that for several days, recalling nearly a decade back, when at a weeklong movement intensive – I there quite literally to “sweat my prayers” (Gabrielle Roth) – I met a woman recently retired though pursuing her independent coaching practice. She told me she never scheduled herself before 11 AM, preferring to enter each day slowly. I’m sure I countered with something like me being a morning person, liking to rise early, getting a good start on my workday.
Looking back, I was driven in that first year of “retirement,” striving to make a success of my independent coaching practice, not knowing how it would all work out after the decades’ long security of a pay cheque arriving twice monthly in my bank account. In those early months, I remember saying I needed to “make hay while the sun shone,” and secured contracts with people I enjoyed, doing work I loved. But I was exhausted. I remember falling asleep at a Friday night cooking class a couple of days before we flew to China for what ended up being an intense two-week tour. That whole trip I was cold, with photos showing me bundled in toque, scarf, and coat. I suffered through a couple of migraines, and within weeks of our return, developed Bells Palsy, a condition that left its indelible mark. A mark that to this day reminds me to go slow.
In my experience, while going slow is akin to walking lightly, it’s not the same. Trusting last week’s confusion, when I follow its thread, I see how going slow reveals the extent to which I am not “walking so lightly.” Lately, when I slow down, stop, sit still, or simply pause standing to notice the sky, step outside with Annie and breathe in the new day, sadness suddenly arrives. Nothing too pronounced, so it’s been easy to dismiss as I start moving or shift my attention. Despite its subtlety, it’s a sadness that’s been here for several weeks. I’ve alluded to it in one of my first posts of the new year, and last week’s when I wrote about remembering the light in the darkness.
I’m not one who writes to impart advice. In ten plus years of blogging, I can count on one hand the number of posts wherein I’ve listed, recommended, suggested what someone else can do to make their life better. Nor am I “reveal all” writer. Instead, usually prompted by someone else’s words, I disclose some of my own internal meanderings – messy as they might be. It’s through my way of writing – a process that can take several hours – I begin to catch a glimpse of a thread that shimmers, that when I tug, brings me, and perhaps someone else, a bit more clarity.
I was a child taught to try hard and do well. Taking that lesson to heart, I tried too hard, grew too serious, and in ways, too hard. To “lightly let things happen, and lightly cope with them” was not what I saw, was never my lived experience. Fond of saying “it’s all true,” pithy wisdom from a long time ago therapist, helps me both to remember to hold the paradox of it all, and to lessen my need to try hard to understand, to fix, to make sense of it all. In the matter of my sadness – or perhaps the sadness that belongs to us all, and to the trees and the land and the sky and all the beings that have been holding our collective, unacknowledged, displaced grief of late, or since our beginnings – now to apply its wisdom to “feel lightly even though I’m feeling deeply.” Now to lighten my grip. No need to try hard despite the quicksands all about, especially as I try to fall asleep.
“Lightly my darling.”
Lightly, with much love and kindest regards, dear friends.
Have you not wounded yourself And battered those you love By sudden motions of evil, Black rage in the blood When the soul, premier danseur, Springs toward a murderous fall? The furies possess you.
Have you not surprised yourself Sometimes by sudden motions Or intimations of goodness, When the soul, premier danseur, Perfectly poised, Could shower blessings With a graceful turn of the head? The angels are there.
The angels, the furies Are never far away While we dance, we dance, Trying to keep a balance To be perfectly human (Not perfect, never perfect, Never an end to growth and peril), Able to bless and forgive Ourselves. This is what is asked of us.
It is light that matters, The light of understanding. Who has ever reached it Who has not met the furies again and again? Who has reached it without Those sudden acts of grace?
– May Sarton –
I’ve had this poem in my “draft” file since last November. I think the wise Parker J. Palmer included it back then in the monthly newsletter he co-authors with songwriter-musician Carrie Newcomer. Given my musings of late, shared in this week’s blog, coupled with current news, it feels like the right time to bring it into the light. To remind me of my own angels and furies. To help me see the light in darkness.
“One discovers the light in darkness, that is what darkness is for; but everything in our lives depends on how we bear the light. It is necessary, while in darkness, to know that there is a light somewhere, to know that in oneself, waiting to be found, there is a light.”
James Baldwin, Nothing Personal (1964) cited in The Marginalian, February 6, 2022
For much of January, my internal weather has fluctuated as rapidly as the external. Feeling flux and flummoxed, with waves of inexplicable sadness, and flashes of rage, these are times when deep in the belly, I don’t have words to write, hence a couple of missed Monday posts. Time this week in my virtual women’s circle, listening and giving voice to my inner meanderings, together with the words of others arriving in the last twenty four hours, have helped prime mine.
With last month’s passing of several luminaries – Archbishop Tutu, Thich Nhat Hahn, and even Betty White in her radiant, joy filled centurion way – I felt humanity had once again lost powerful visionaries who served to hold its centre. In response, I felt a deep wobbling, compounded here in my country by the ever-growing anger at our nearly two-year public health covid sanctions. Truck convoys, now being copied around the world, are barricading highways, border crossings, and downtown cores. As in many instances of late, here and elsewhere, what starts out as a demonstration of dissent becomes hijacked by far left and right agendas intent on spewing violence and hatred.
Paradoxically, within the relative quiet simplicity of my life – an ever-present gift of the pandemic – sometimes it’s challenging to block out the overwhelm from all of it. Not just anxious, frankly I’ve felt frightened with what’s continuing to unravel, exposing humanity’s underbelly. Perhaps more so because of the prolonged weariness with navigating the pandemic’s continued uncertainties, while revealing more of its impacts. Speaking virtually today to a dear friend a few streets away, I wondered how much at its root these are all the many manifestations of grief.
“The individual has to wake up to the fact that violence cannot end violence; that only understanding and compassion can neutralize violence, because with the practice of loving speech and compassionate listening we can begin to understand people and help people to remove the wrong perceptions in them, because these wrong perceptions are at the foundation of their anger, their fear, their violence, their hate.”
A hypothesis, not an excuse. A way to reframe, reconsider, and re-create space in my perceptions of myself and others. The means to a more tender response to myself and others.
FOR WARMTH by Thich Nhat Hanh
I hold my face between my hands. No, I am not crying. I hold my face between my hands to keep my loneliness warm — two hands protecting, two hands nourishing, two hands to prevent my soul from leaving me in anger.
Yesterday a chance scrolling through social media and I arrived at a lengthy post from Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, author of Women Who Run with the Wolves. Reading, I remembered that like those luminaries who have since passed, “dr. e” continues to hold the centre. Excerpted from her post:
…feeling tired of the whirl and sway of the needful world, which has ever been with us, perhaps far away or up close, nonetheless, the remedio is often to withdraw from the energy of outrage and ‘latest horrible thing ‘they’ are doing now’ and instead rest with the peace Beings, which are Beauty, the natural world of plants and animals , trees and sky and clear water and air… and Love, unhindered Love.
…Walking with those who are just and who work for thus, are billions in our world. Billions…Rather, they work daily as good, in good, for good. I know so so many. They are right there before you also.
…That our children and our fur children are treasures is exactly right.
…We are born gifted and every day, can create even in small ways, from what we truly are. Indeed, one massive creative act is to be kind to oneself…
…Strive to be sure every word from you, every art from you, every step is steeped and considered deeply through the lenses of Love, Mercy and Vision…
Creating even in small ways: Working on my poetry collection. An extended call with Karen to finalize the twelve submissions for the spring issue of SAGE-ING. Walking Annie in the sunshine. Hearing a favourite poet recite her work while being in conversation with another. Catching up on podcasts while doing my needlework project. Connecting with friends. Sitting in circle.
Tender balms bringing me back to myself. Reminding me the light is always there, somewhere, waiting to be found.
“The longer I live, the more deeply I learn that love — whether we call it friendship or family or romance — is the work of mirroring and magnifying each other’s light. Gentle work. Steadfast work. Life-saving work in those moments when life and shame and sorrow occlude our own light from our view, but there is still a clear-eyed loving person to beam it back. In our best moments, we are that person for another.”
Maria Popova, The Marginalian, February 6, 2022
May your opportunities to mirror and magnify such light for others be many. Your opportunities to receive the same, tenfold.
You darkness from which I come, I love you more than all the fires that fence out the world, for the fire makes a circle for everyone so that no one sees you anymore. But darkness holds it all: the shape and the flame, the animal and myself, how it holds them, all powers, all sight — and it is possible: its great strength is breaking into my body. I have faith in the night.
Rainer Maria Rilke translated by David Whyte
This gem came within an email this week where, in the Northern Hemisphere, various divinations by animals foretold of six more weeks of winter. Despite daylight hours growing, this pronouncement still means many more hours of darkness. I imagine that to “have faith in the night” that we will awaken come dawn, might have been one of those experiences that filled with awe our earliest ancestors. This photo, taken my first night on Morocco’s Sahara, could be the sun rising. Life’s circles and cycles, as too this week, Imbolc, the Celtic celebration of the first glimmering of spring, falling midway between Winter’s Solstice and Spring’s Equinox. Also, the feast day of Brigid, the patron saint of, among many things, poetry. Speaking of which, Whyte’s translation of this piece from Rilke evokes his own much loved poem, Sweet Darkness, read here by him.
First set the warp, the plain, stable threads that hold the pattern in place – the infrastructure of joy, the girders that hold up all we build of meaning, or justice, or peace. Use strong threads left by those who have gone before. Only then pick up the weft, the colored thread that you will use to weave accordingly to your plan. Choose carefully – this is what the world will see, each tiny act that builds the bright pattern of your life. Yes, the threads will tangle or knot or fray, and the flaws will show. Oh well. Tuck in the ends as best you can and start again. This is not the time to stop your weaving. So much is pulling at the great design.
WARP and WEFT An engaged community inspired by the virtues of beauty, hope and simplicity. Texture foretells of mystery and transformation. Beauty, the loom for creativity. Inspiration, the weft. We, the warp. Beginning.