“Some of us don’t want to be tough alpha leaders. Some of us just want to write and wander the garden and breathe in the sky and nourish and nurture and quietly create new pathways and live our lives as our art. To know the earth as poetry.”
Victoria Erickson Rhythms and Roads
A few weeks ago, lunching with a friend, and then in conversation with another, I realized again how differences in our ages and life stages ebb and flow. Sometimes barely noticeable in how we find companionship journeying through life. Sometimes the gap more apparent, like a chasm requiring fancy footwork to bridge, or, as I discovered, simply noticing and letting be.
Finding myself more fully in that place beyond career and the professional aspirations that held my attention and directed my days, I realize, too, how that focus gave me many gratifying and validating dimensions of identity, regard and respect. How it helped me know that my gifts and talents, cultivated over decades, were being well used. I had always said, to quote Kahlil Gibran, that my work was my love made visible, and how wonderful it had been to have worked with people I cherished and who I knew cherished me.
Landing with the deep thud of truth in my body, I no longer have the energy, nor the desire to be – not that I ever was – “a tough alpha leader.” I am giving myself over to writing (having made eight poetry submissions in January), living into the slogan I created a few years ago: my life as poem and prayer. I am learning, repeatedly, how an aspect of an artist’s “stock in trade” is the often lonely leaning into rejection, and digging deep within for the valuing, regard and respect that had once so readily come from outside. Chuckling with my friend, I said somedays I hit pay dirt, other days it’s rock bottom.
I’m not complaining. It is what so many of the wise elders on whose words I’ve rested and relied have said about the second half of life: when some of us, brave and taking heart, deciphering the signs and listening to the truth in and of our bodies, find ourselves in that more nuanced landscape marked by light and shadow. Lonely perhaps. Messy even. Occasionally bereft of the familiar. But always of earth and its ways. And it is from this place and our relationship to it, that we make our way.
Meanwhile, flowers still bloom. The moon rises, and the sun. Babies smile and somewhere, Against all the odds, Two people are falling in love.
Strangers share cigarettes and jokes. Light plays on the surface of water. Grace occurs on unlikely streets And we hold each other fast| Against entropy, the fires and the flood.
Life leans towards living And, while death claims all things at the end, There were such precious times between, In which everything was radiant And we loved, again, this world.
His self described “written-during-breakfast” poem, has garnered viral attention on social media. I first learned of Tom there, and then heard him speak at the Rewilding Mythology course I participated in last fall. From my notes, his words:
What happens when we speak truth with natural skill, craft and grace?
Spoken language allows the fibres of reality to shimmer and vibrate and resonate making many things possible – healing, transformation, journeying.
“And we loved, again, this world.” Such shimmering I simply love.
(If I could strike over this blog’s original title, Opening to the Bittersweet, as I have in a paragraph below, I would. Instead I’ve simply re-titled it.)
“This world is radiant with beauty. This world is also capable of bone-chilling brutality and the small, corrosive daily cruelties that salt our days with sorrow. For a sensitive person to live with the duality, to keep the light aflame without turning away from the darkness that needs illumination, may be the most difficult thing in life — and the most rewarding.”
Maria Popova, The Marginalian, Sunday, January 1, 2023
And so began the theme that echoed across several “love letters” waiting in my inbox on New Year’s Day. With an americano steaming in a cherished hand-thrown cup made by Italian potter Giulia Sbernini – one that brings joy every time I hold it and that naturally makes my espresso, or vino rosso taste better – and Annie waiting patiently for me to take my place by her on our loveseat (true in every sense), I begin scrolling and reading in the still dark dawn of this first day of this new year.
Echoed, too, in the Joy Harjo poem I shared on Friday, wherein she commands us to “help the next person find their way through /the dark,” just as we have been helped by – I offered – the ancients, ancestors and angels, all the beings seen and unseen, and those more than human.
“Finding our way through the dark.” “Living with the duality of beauty and brutality.” “Keeping death daily before your eyes.” (St. Benedict)
Back in August, when I announced my need and knowing to take a pause from writing, I concluded that post with a Facebook find which eloquently described me and how I show up in the world. Later, having borrowed from the library, read, returned, and then purchased Susan Cain’s Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole (2022), I felt quietly affirmed in that way of being. From her epigraph:
“Gregory the Great (ca.540-604) spoke of compunctio, the holy pain[,] the grief somebody feels when faced with that which is most beautiful…The bittersweet experience stems from human homelessness in an imperfect world, human consciousness of, and at the same time, a desire for perfection. This inner spiritual void becomes painfully real when faced with beauty. There, between the lost and the desired, the holy tears are formed.”
Three months later, when I resumed this blog, I wrote in a post called Starkly Beautiful Truths, after experiencing an unusual season of illness, one that has persisted into the new year, “there’s the indelible realization we have entered a new life stage. Grief with facing the endings of ways of living and being, we are staring – starkly, undeniably -at our mortality and that of those we love and cherish.”
“…we all have our vulnerable seasons, and our contemplative practice is not a shield against struggle. It can certainly help in coping and enduring and discovering the grace at the heart of it all, but it will never exempt us from our humanity…
…The Underworld journey – sometimes called the Dark Night of the soul – comes for each of us and is ultimately in service of stripping away our old attachments and coming to greater clarity about what is ours to do in this world and how we are to be.”
Christine Valters Paintner, Abbey of the Arts Love Letter, Sunday, January 1, 2023
Of course, this echoing back and forth, within and across me and my love letter writers, is not a coincidence. I gravitate towards and seek out those whose radical takes on living I find utterly refreshing and a much needed counterpoint to the “just think positive and be happy” binary. Holding ourselves in the mess of it all is – to my way of thinking – living, taking fierce tenderness, tender fierceness and much love. But I had to laugh when even in my horoscope, penned by Vancouver’s saucy, yet remarkably prescient Georgia Nicols, I’m told I’ll be entering a two-three year period of giving up what is holding me back, and letting go to streamline my life for new beginnings, losing for lightening.
All this by way of saying I’m becoming more skillful in hearing the echo and seeing the synchronicities. Much as I have during this recent holyday season, where more than ever I heard many more voices across all platforms disclose the grief, disappointment, pain and disillusion with the decades’ long deafening “Hallmark Christmas,” happily ever after, consumer campaign. Finally a shift to naming and living the mess of it all.
Having long abandoned goal and resolution making for a new year, instead I love the process of discerning a shimmering word or phrase to serve as my north star for the year. Thanks to a break in the weather, walking in nature these past two days, reading, and writing this post have helped me arrive at “opening to the bittersweet.” Yes, like appreciating my wabi sabi life, the key here is in the opening to…and trusting in.
It’s now nearly 5 am, two hours before this post is scheduled to drop into your inboxes and onto my social media platforms. Awake at 4, I nestled under the covers musing on a dream and knowing I simply have no idea about my shimmering word, phrase, or much of anything about this new year. I kept coming back to something I read by Toko-pa Turner in her Solstice letter, Return to the Way:
“While it may feel like a lack of progress, return is always developmental. When we have grown too distant from our true nature, we have to stop, retrace our steps, and reconnect with the essence of who we are. The ancient Confucion philosopher Zhou Dunyi described this kind of progress as a “slow return to original sincerity.” Like drawing down into the stem of one’s character, return pulls us into our origins…
…If Solstice were a question, it might ask, ‘“’From what have I strayed too far?’”’ In the haste of activity and progress, what essential values have I left behind? What did an earlier version of me know better than I? As we transition from the active, outward life to an inner opening, we may discover a disconnect between our aims in the world and the way our soul longs to sing.”
There is something about returning – re-turning – in this way that speaks deeply to me. The question, while uncomfortable, begs of my time, and Winter’s invitation of to nestle into its darkness to discover. Perhaps it is the opening to the bittersweet. The giving in, once again, to what Life is asking of me. Trusting as I am, right in this moment, in its mystery. Admitting to myself, once again, and again, I simply don’t know. Yet. Or ever.
The paradox of this practice of living, especially as the stakes grow steeper as I grow older.
“May you be guided and held and may you come to know the great Friend who is alive inside you, longing to walk with you into the inner chambers of the Heart. Not only the heart that is open and filled with joy, but also the one that is tender and shattered with grief. For it is inside the shattered pieces a new world is born.”
Matt Licata, New Year’s Greetings, Sunday, January 1, 2023
Always, with much love and kindest regards, dear friends.
Put down that bag of potato chips, that white bread, that bottle of pop.
Turn off that cellphone, computer, and remote control.
Open the door, then close it behind you.
Take a breath offered by friendly winds. They travel the earth gathering essences of plants to clean.
Give it back with gratitude.
If you sing it will give your spirit lift to fly to the stars’ ears and back.
Acknowledge this earth who has cared for you since you were a dream planting itself precisely within your parents’ desire.
Let your moccasin feet take you to the encampment of the guardians who have known you before time, who will be there after time. They sit before the fire that has been there without time.
Let the earth stabilize your postcolonial insecure jitters.
Be respectful of the small insects, birds and animal people who accompany you. Ask their forgiveness for the harm we humans have brought down upon them.
Don’t worry. The heart knows the way though there may be high-rises, interstates, checkpoints, armed soldiers, massacres, wars, and those who will despise you because they despise themselves.
The journey might take you a few hours, a day, a year, a few years, a hundred, a thousand or even more.
Watch your mind. Without training it might run away and leave your heart for the immense human feast set by the thieves of time.
Do not hold regrets.
When you find your way to the circle, to the fire kept burning by the keepers of your soul, you will be welcomed.
You must clean yourself with cedar, sage, or other healing plant.
Cut the ties you have to failure and shame.
Let go the pain you are holding in your mind, your shoulders, your heart, all the way to your feet. Let go the pain of your ancestors to make way for those who are heading in our direction.
Ask for forgiveness.
Call upon the help of those who love you. These helpers take many forms: animal, element, bird, angel, saint, stone, or ancestor.
Call your spirit back. It may be caught in corners and creases of shame, judgment, and human abuse.
You must call in a way that your spirit will want to return.
Speak to it as you would to a beloved child.
Welcome your spirit back from its wandering. It may return in pieces, in tatters. Gather them together. They will be happy to be found after being lost for so long.
Your spirit will need to sleep awhile after it is bathed and given clean clothes.
Now you can have a party. Invite everyone you know who loves and supports you. Keep room for those who have no place else to go.
Make a giveaway, and remember, keep the speeches short.
Then, you must do this: help the next person find their way through the dark.
– Joy Harjo –
For the new year… May yours be filled with promise, good health, and joy with family and friends. May you find your way through the dark, and help another to do the same. Call upon and trust the ancients, ancestors and angels…those beings seen and unseen…and those more than human.
Even this late it happens: the coming of love, the coming of light. You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves, stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows, sending up warm bouquets of air. Even this late the bones of the body shine and tomorrow’s dust flares into breath.
– Mark Strand –
This poem’s beautiful simplicity touched me as an elegant “gift” for these Holydays of darkness and coming light.
Dear friends – near and far, known on the page or felt in the winds – thank you for companioning me as I write what it’s in my heart and on my mind, and share my photography and some fine poetry – all the bits of a wabi sabi life.
May the season’s days and nights bring you time to pause and notice and savor what brings you joy. May you rest in the knowing you are loved. May you have more of each – joy and love –as the light comes again andthe new year beckons.
In the dark depths of long winter nights, spirits slumber, too, and allow their stories to be told – these are the storytelling moons. Elders and storytellers who have been given tales to carry speak softly, reverentially, and the people hear them. The people do not merely listen – they hear. To hear is to have a spiritual, mental, emotional or physical reaction to the words. Sometimes, at very special times, you have all four reactions and are changed forever. Share stories, fill cold nights with the warmth of your connections, your relationships; hear each other and be made more. That is the power of storytelling.
– Richard Wagamese, Embers (2016)
A couple of nights ago I sat in virtual time and space in a fundraiser for The Circle Way. On the screen I saw with joy filling my heart, several of my mates from when I sat on the governance council. There, too, were our beloved founders, Ann and Christina, together with practitioners from around the continent. The bell rang once, twice, and once again I felt deep gratitude for such a simple, yet powerful practice and its invitation: to pause, breathe, shift from social to sacred space, and settle into presence. As our “start point” – an offering to align with the evening’s agenda – the above story from Richard Wagamese was read aloud.
In less than a week, the northern hemisphere will enter into the darkness of Winter Solstice. Its long nights, like that bell, invite pause and rest; a remembering of the shift from social to sacred; and a settling into presence with ourselves and in relationship with others, including those “more than human beings.” Stories read, and shared aloud, bring the gift of being made more by the telling and the hearing.
Sometimes, what’s important will be repeated three times, explains the old woman in Wagamese’s book:
“You listen the first time. You hear the second time. And you feel the third time… When you listen, you become aware. That’s for your head. When you hear, your awaken. That’s for your heart. When you feel, it becomes a part of you. That’s for your spirit. Three times. It’s so you learn to listen with your whole being. That’s how you learn.”
Wishing you time for stories, alone and together, during these long winter nights. May you be made more by the telling and hearing.
And it was at that age … Poetry arrived in search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where it came from, from winter or a river. I don’t know how or when, no they were not voices, they were not words, nor silence, but from a street I was summoned, from the branches of night, abruptly from the others, among violent fires or returning alone, there I was without a face and it touched me.
I did not know what to say, my mouth had no way with names, my eyes were blind, and something started in my soul, fever or forgotten wings, and I made my own way, deciphering that fire, and I wrote the first faint line, faint, without substance, pure nonsense, pure wisdom of someone who knows nothing, and suddenly I saw the heavens unfastened and open, planets, palpitating plantations, shadow perforated, riddled with arrows, fire and flowers, the winding night, the universe.
And I, infinitesimal being, drunk with the great starry void, likeness, image of mystery, felt myself a pure part of the abyss, I wheeled with the stars, my heart broke loose on the wind.
– Pablo Neruda –
I’ve held this poem post in the draft file for a few weeks and love the synchronicity at play. Much of Monday’s post disappeared after two hours of writing, ready to add photos, and press “publish.” I’d been writing about the creative process, and preparing myself to prepare my poetry manuscript for the next round of submissions. I’d quoted Neruda talking about the what and why of poetry: “Poetry is an act of peace. Peace goes into the making of a poet as flour goes into the making of bread.” And it reminded me of my Facebook profile tagline: “Making prayer, poetry and beauty is hold alchemy for social change.” I mused that perhaps my involvement in that rewilding course was having an effect.
Today I enter the third week of “Rewilding Mythology,” hosted and curated by contemporary writer, Sophie Strand, who focuses on the intersection of spirituality, storytelling, and ecology. Compelled by several inspirations including a night time dream; Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation actions; the writings of Robin Wall Kimmerer and Richard Wagamese; and the valuing of the dark, decayed and dead in essays by Perdita Finn and Matt Licata, I enrolled in this 8 week online course, and only afterwards read its description:
“For most of human history, myth was a durable mode of knowledge transmission, kept alive and resilient by the breath-laced web of communal storytelling. Just as we plant a seed in soil, so were vital pieces of agricultural and ecological lore planted into stories that were built to survive environmental and social collapse.
Myth-telling, as primarily oral and embodied, was revitalized by the same ecological cycles that depend on a balance of decay and regrowth: breaking down dead wood to generate new soil. Our culture-creating cosmogonies rarely grew stale because they were refreshed and adapted to new conditions each time they were retold. Myths were the maps of communities intimately dialoguing with their environment. Most importantly, they were contextual.
But the rise of empire depended on the deracination of mythologies. Just as landscapes were stolen and terraformed so were whole pantheons uprooted from their social and ecological contexts, coopted by the very cultures that ensured the demise of their originating cultures. Galilean magicians were turned into militaristic figureheads. Serpentine divinities were transformed into gorgon-headed monsters. Uprooted from their context and from the renewing respiration of communal storytelling, these stories ossified into abstraction and reinforced the anthropocentric hyper-individuality and colonial capitalism of today.”
Following intuition. Knowing little. Not knowing a lot. Catching wisps – from last week’s poet story-teller, and the depth psychologist featured in Friday’s bonus session – that are coalescing into some kind of vague, embodied comprehension. Yet already it’s been informing what I’m hearing and seeing and talking about. Already, it’s re-shaping my context.
Quoting the host from her invitation: “I can’t wait to see how I’ll be changed by it.” And I wonder, too, “How can we reroot, rewild, and retell?“
I’m far from integration, synthesis, or even a coherent articulation about any of it, but from my notes, right now this excites me and grabs my curiosity:
“When you uproot a myth, dogma is the result.”
“Reading our alphabetic language makes it available for capture rather than response, while speaking we feel the energy vibrations in our body.”
“Is there a mode of writing that allows for space, breath and context?”
“Consider anthropomorphism as courtship to learn how to be in conversation and communion with the land and interior world, so that we can cultivate subjectivities that are less commodifying.”
“What if magic wasn’t supernatural but the most natural experience?”
“Magic is the logic of the world when the world is experienced from its own depths.”
“We’re used to listening in an habitual, usual way in the body. Let’s awaken the ancestral faculties of listening through the body to then become hollowed out for lightening to pass through…to be seized by a flow…”
“What stories are living us?”
Last week a friend invited me to his podcast conversation centering on wisdom, creativity, and living with uncertainty. As prompt, he referenced a meme he’d seen posted on my Facebook timeline:
“The ghosts of all the women you used to be are proud of the woman you’ve become.”
@the global sisterhood
He asked what wisdom I’d have for those ghosts.
As is often the case with such a thoughtful question, in such beautifully contained conversation where we listen and are seen beyond habit, a conversation that is generative and holds the possibility for emergence, I found myself saying out loud things I’d never quite thought about before, let alone spoken. The stories living me. Asking to be spoken and shared.
After a lengthy pause, for his question deserved consideration, I responded that I’d ask about what excites them, grabs their curiosity, incites their wonder.
Theirs and mine. Then and now. To help us “reroot, rewild and retell.”
While a week late, and a post missed, I’ve kept my promise to myself to “stick to the knitting” and my writing practice here. During the interim, two rejections from the group where last year I’d been invited to read my submission to their ekphrastic poetry contest (beginner’s luck?) – I was sure I had a good one – and another written in the wee hours of Wednesday’s dawn to meet another contest deadline. Fingers crossed and regardless, I’ll get feedback from the judges. Always a boon.
Too, after a record-breaking long and warm and sunny August, September and October, wherein I was playing pickleball outside until Hallowe’en, winter – apparently fed up with waiting – suddenly, unequivocally barged in with November. Blowing and blustering throughout Alberta, it dropped nearly a foot of snow in a matter of days, wreaked highway havoc, and gave us the dubious distinction of being among the coldest spots on earth this week. Add Tuesday’s full moon lunar eclipse; peculiar and powerful planetary alignments wreaking their own astrological chaos; news from home that a high school chum has been seriously afflicted by dementia; another friend coping with pneumonia and two small children; a frozen vehicle; Annie down with a GI tract infection (she’s better now)…
Neither complaining nor making excuses, I’m simply noticing what now has the capacity to knock me sideways, crawl deeper into the covers, and, despite the sun and blue sky, colorfully renounce my gratitude for the seasons, especially this one. I refuse to call it a symptom of age…more the wisdom that comes with…a finer attunement to the nuanced…the paying with attention in my body, and not over-riding it with my thinking. Saturday’s Camino walk in the river valley with a reprieve in temperature, and later with Annie, restored my appreciation.
Last weekend I took the bus to Calgary to attend a Friday poetry evening and Saturday workshop with Pádraig Ó Tuama. Such a treat to physically sit in his presence and hear him do so brilliantly what I’d only ever heard him do through Zoom and podcast space…recite remarkable poetry and invite us into how to listen to its structure for its meanings. Thank God, I knew to book the bus when I’d made the arrangements during early September’s golden glory. (I have a kind of prescience when it comes to weather…that finer attunement thing.) Both of us walking alone as we approached the venue, I introduced myself, said a few words as we climbed the stairs to the entrance, and then made our separate ways. Pretty neat for this enthusiastic fan. Too, I was standing in line to purchase his “hot off the press” Poetry Unbound collection, only to recognize immediately behind me award-winning Calgary poet Rosemary Griebel. We have a virtual friendship initiated when she wrote me a lovely compliment on my blog. Knowing she’d be there, I’d brought my copy of YES, her most recent collection, for her signature. Again, pretty neat for this appreciative fan. And then at the Saturday workshop, of all the coincidences, by way of her friend, Peg, we discovered we share a birthday. How neat is that!?! A bit of kismet perhaps…especially as we talked about Camino walking and her interest in Portugal.
I had several takeaways from the weekend inspired by both Pádraig and Rosemary. With my own rejections fresh, I felt restored hearing Pádraig say how difficult it continues to be for him to find places and publishers for his poetry, still how many and often the rejections. Its antidote, he said, was finding a small, intimate group of writers with whom to share the work, so as to uplift each other in the efforts made, support each other through the process of editing, submitting, and receiving rejections and acceptances. In the acknowledgement of her book, Rosemary mentioned the friendship and support received from her regular local poetry writers’ group. Into my new vocation now for a couple of years, I know its solitary, often lonely nature. I returned home committed to putting a call out, both to the Universe (trusting my efforts are adding), and to some writers to ask if they’d meet me in the sandbox – virtual is fine – to support each other as we make our way with words.
And speaking of Camino, mid week I was invited to present “A Creative’s Way of Walking Her Camino” to the first, post covid, in person gathering of our local chapter of the Canadian Company of Pilgrims. Using a story I’d written for Portugal Green Walks and the upcoming issue of Sage-ing: The Journal of Creative Aging – a synthesis of my blogs – I shared my way of traveling in general, and in particular how I had walked the Portuguese Coastal Camino – using journal, painting, photography and poetry to grok within the experience’s impressions and memories. I was delighted not only with the feedback from attendees and planning committee, but more so to have been “seen” in this way of my vocation, to be, as one of the members said, the chapter’s “resident artist-poet.” Now this is very neat!
I am now inside the season’s cocoon, wintering. Despite the initial shock, I am surrendered to the inevitable, ready to savor having designed time for writing, studying Italian and “rewilding,” walking, cooking, hand work, seeing friends, sharing time with my “pack,” playing pickleball. Feeling life full in the midst of its fallow.
All women speak two languages: the language of men and the language of silent suffering. Some women speak a third, the language of queens. They are marvelous and they are my friends.
My friends give me poetry. If it were not for them I’d be a seamstress out of work. They send me their dresses and I sew together poems, enormous sails for ocean journeys.
My marvelous friends, these women who are elegant and fix engines, who teach gynecology and literacy, and work in jails and sing and sculpt and paint the ninety-nine names, who keep each other’s secrets and pass on each other’s spirits like small packets of leavening,
it is from you I fashion poetry. I scoop up, in handfuls, glittering sequins that fall from your bodies as you fall in love, marry, divorce, get custody, get cats, enter supreme courts of justice, argue with God.
You rescuers on galloping steeds of the weak and the wounded– Creatures of beauty and passion, powerful workers in love– you are the poems. I am only your stenographer. I am the hungry transcriber of the conjuring recipes you hoard in the chests of your great-grandmothers.
My marvelous friends—the women of brilliance in my life, who levitate my daughters, you are a coat of many colors in silk tie-dye so gossamer it can be crumpled in one hand. You houris, you mermaids, swimmers in dangerous waters, defiers of sharks–
My marvelous friends, thirsty Hagars and laughing Sarahs, you eloquent radio Aishas, Marys drinking the secret milkshakes of heaven, slinky Zuleikas of desire, gay Walladas, Harriets parting the sea, Esthers in the palace, Penelopes of patient scheming,
you are the last hope of the shrinking women. You are the last hand to the fallen knights You are the only epics left in the world
Come with me, come with poetry Jump on this wild chariot, hurry–
Quite simply, how could I not share this marvelous tribute to women?
Evoking myth and magic, ancestors and ancient, wild and wise ones throughout time…yes, women are the only epics left in a world still hell bent on trying to silence and destroy us.