Threshold of Uncertainty

Confession #1 – I’m writing this post with a wee bit of a champagne buzz. That bottle of Veuve Clicquot my husband bought for New Year’s Eve, when we thought we might be celebrating with friends, stayed chilled until this afternoon. Taking advantage of the brief break in the past twelve day polar vortex, he had just returned from visiting the horses at the stable, and I from walking Annie, when he suggested we pop the cork. Lovely sipping as we watched the weather turn, a north wind blowing steady, bringing another artic cold front, and reminisced about warm winter vacations, our last being the fabulous time in Andalusia in February 2019. Too, remembering today is the 42nd anniversary of our departing Ontario to drive across Canada to make Alberta home. Salut! Then, he asked what I was looking forward to this coming year. Hmmmm…

Confession #2 – I can probably count on one hand the number of new year days when I’ve felt “happy.” Typically, I feel a familiar free-floating anxiety in my belly that yesterday I admitted is fear. Fear of the wide-open expanse of unknown that a new year brings. Fear perhaps compounded by nearly two years’ living in the acute uncertainty with the pandemic. Fear with knowing the clock ticking with age, mine, his, parents and friends. Looking out that same window earlier today, I made this photo as it captured the feeling of me standing on the threshold of a new year.

I’ve long known that I need time with transitions and thresholds. That fear companions and tethers me on the threshold until I exert myself and take that first step across and into the new. Then curiosity and commitment, together with my enthusiasm for life and appreciation for its innate and diverse beauty shore me up and propel me forward. Today, I’ve seen evidence of others who feel a similar tentativeness with the new year.  

Helen, a blogger kindred in her age, life stage and perspective, we often echoing each other in our themes and simpatico in the wells from which we draw inspiration, wrote today:

“Over the past week, I have read many new year reflections. It seems that many of you, like me, are also stepping hesitantly into 2022… much like stepping onto a frozen pond, not sure if the ice is solid enough to hold me.”

“Skating on Thin Ice,” in Ageless Possibilities, January 2, 2022

And from an online contemplative community, one of its members courageously called out for prayers of support to help her navigate the edges of depression – a familiar-to-her mix of aging, seasonal affective disorder, and her introspective, reflective, sensitive nature.

My husband offered that in finding those kindred to me in what I notice, value and how I show up, I see more evidence of what might be called this “counter cultural” take on the new year: not so much happy but tentative, uncertain, fearful. I smiled when I read Parker Palmer’s New Year’s Eve Facebook post:

“New Year’s Eve is a curious fiction, isn’t it? As the ‘old’ year flows unimpeded into the ‘new,’ the hoopla we make at midnight seems just a tad over the top for one more tick of the clock.”

Parker J. Palmer

My champagne buzz has passed. I’m thinking about what’s at the root of my new year’s fear. That while “covid compounded,” there is more to it. I come, as did my blogger friend, to grief. And I know that means it’s about dying, and disappointments, and deaths. Too, about beginnings that are always about endings. And about resolutions, which typically made from perceived deficiency are inevitably doomed to fail and begin a cycle of disappointment, if not worse.

I’m thinking back to how I answered my husband’s question. How I looked out into the snow-covered trees and felt gratitude for so much, including this moment of returning freeze, the seasons I witness through this window and trees, the memories of times and places further afar.

I told him I look forward to returning to my practice of rising before dawn for that hour or so in silence before he wakes, to sit and watch the new day. To return – perhaps – to journaling (though I give myself a pass as I’ve been writing many words on many other pages these past many months.) To planting little container gardens of greens come summer. To writing a compilation of poetry. To more time, as much time together, healthy in our “pack” with Annie. And that for my family and friends. Yes, I have a yearning to travel, even some plans that I hold lightly. But more than anything, to hold myself lightly. Tenderly.

“Nothing spectacular,” I said. Simply to be thankful for all I have and all I am.

“We look with uncertainty
beyond the old choices for
clear-cut answers
to a softer, more permeable aliveness
which is every moment
at the brink of death;
for something new is being born in us
if we but let it.
We stand at a new doorway,
awaiting what comes…
daring to be human creatures,
vulnerable to the beauty of existence.

Learning to love.”

Anne Hillman

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends, as you cross the threshold into this new year.

Conspiracy Theory

CONSPIRACY THEORY

You could be right. Maybe
there is a vast conspiracy, a web
of lies wrapped around generations,
a fraud so vast and pervasive
that only the enlightened
catch glimpses in shadowed alleys.
Do you want to know? Do you dare
to tug on the smallest of those
tangled threads? Are you courageous
enough to look at the edges
of your vision? Begin with these questions:
Whose stories have I not been
allowed to hear? Who have I placed
outside the circle of my concern?
If I were to really listen,
what might crack open
and be born?

– Lynn Ungar –
November 29, 2021


With the new covid variant “omicron,” gaining traction and making global headlines, countries are responding, re-heating debate and dissent, protest and polarization. Ungar’s questions are wise reminders to help us hold the centre when there’s heat on the rim, to invite us into curiosity, to remind us of all we do not know.

re-Wintering

“re-wintering” – what caught my eye as Annie and I walked this week

Every other week I circle up virtually with some dear woman friends. It’s been a way to feel connection and offer support to each other during these continued covid times. We begin, as is our way, following The Circle Way practice, with a reading of some kind to help us land and settle in with each other and ourselves. A bell rung once, twice and we begin to check in with each other, often in response to what has been evoked by the reading, or by whatever is personally stirring and needing to be spoken aloud to the centre.

Last week I as I walked past my bookshelves to fetch my bells, grabbed by the title on the spine, I grabbed “The Wild In You: Voices from the Forest and the Sea” (2015) by Canadian poet, Lorna Crozier. (Lovely synchronicity in that as I’m sitting here tapping away, in the background I hear The Road Home’s Bob Chelmick read from Lorna’s 2018 volume, The God of Shadows.) A beautiful compilation of poetry and Ian McAllister’s photography, I quickly flipped through the pages, arriving at “A Winter’s Sleep,” companioned by a magnificent wolf sleeping on the seaside sand.

A Winter’s Sleep

So much sleeping
in this place. Think of all
that lies beneath the snow, lake trout
below the ice, bears in their dens,
their warm snores drifting above
the treetops that are sleeping, too,
high above your own long sleep.

Even raven, with so much
to say and do, closes his eyes,
tucks his beak under his wing
and sinks into the season’s
dream-rich dark where all
his stories start.

Lorna Crozier, 2018

As is our way, we meander in a conversation punctuated that evening by long pauses and the shared recognition of how fatigue, grief and the need for Nature’s stillness were embroidering our days of late. One shared another poem, another mentioned a book, Wintering, the title of which evoked a memory that I’d written about it. When I read aloud from the post I’d written last February, I knew it was an idea worth repeating here. That even though my interior state has shifted from what I described then, today, as the winds blew a constant icy cold, the temperature plummeted, and too, the hours of daylight here on the Canadian prairies, it is wintering.

WINTERING, originally posted February 1, 2021

“Dashed and disheartened – again,” I emailed a friend. What with last week’s winds having blown in Arctic cold temperatures and flat light skies, reading up on my country’s vaccination rollout debacle and delays, virus variants that are proving to be highly contagious and perhaps more deadly than the original, and a speculated move to mandated mask wearing outside, this might be an understatement. Certainly enough to have been stalled again in writing here, having missed two of my usual Monday postings. Plumbing a bit deeper, what with my husband having celebrated his first “Covid” birthday two weeks ago, we realized with age, and life as we’ve known it “on hold,” we’re feeling quite wistful. Most apparent for me is missing traveling and all that it gives me, more fully appreciated now in its absence. I’m resigned to the probability that this will be another year, and most likely then some, of staying put. Too, the whisper of a question held this past year, “Will I – we – ever travel again as in the past?”

A few days ago, somewhat warmer with soft snowflakes fluttering down, Annie and I walked, she happy for her full-length coat, and NOT having to wear her fleece boots. I plugged into a recent On Being podcast, curious having read Krista’s weekend letter:

“Katherine May, in her book, Wintering – The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times (2020), meditatively explores ‘wintering’ as a season of the natural world but also as a place our bodies and psyches need to go, a season that recurs again and again across a life. We cheat and dismiss this in life as we’ve been living it, but it has presented itself insistently in a pandemic year we might reimagine as one long communal wintering.

We can’t move forward without grieving all we’ve lost in the past year. Closer to the ground, this means we have to let in the fact of sadness — a precursor to pain and fear — with some reverence. If happiness is a skill, Katherine May says, so is unhappiness. Winter embodies the strange complexity of reality. It is the bitterest season, we blithely say. And all the while it manages not to be the death of the life cycle, as Katherine May reminds, but its crucible.”

Krista Tippet, The Pause, January 23, 2021

Wintering.

That would be the odd place in which I found myself last spring and summer. Whereas I’d used the words “fallow” and “lost”, as I listened to Katherine May, I recognized in her words a fuller, more accurate description of those several months lying cold and low, when all around me blushed and blossomed.

“…wintering is a metaphor for those phases in our life when we feel frozen out or unable to make the next step, and that that can come at any time, in any season, in any weather; that it has nothing to do with the physical cold…”

Katherine May, On Being podcast, January 21, 2021

Not bound to season as we know it, but a necessary and recurrent place to drop into when we appreciate the cyclical nature of our lives. Thinking back, during an actual winter fifteen years ago, I dropped into depression. Not major, but enough that I and others noticed I was not myself. Little energy and enthusiasm, waning concentration, major exertions of effort to get through a day of work and home chores. Enough that once on the other side that spring, I’d mentioned it to my family doctor, and upon closer examination, recognized its cyclical nature. Perhaps a bit of seasonal affective disorder with some inherited family predisposition towards the winter “blahs.” Never since as severe, though I have a letter I wrote to myself then, upon the suggestion of my doctor, “to be opened in the dark days, to remember.” I’ve never needed to, though I know it’s perched on my desk amidst a collection of mementos. And that brings reassurance enough.

“Plants and animals don’t fight the winter; they don’t pretend it’s not happening and attempt to carry on living the same lives they lived in the summer. They prepare. They adapt. They perform extraordinary acts of metamorphosis to get them through. Wintering is a time of withdrawing from the world, maximizing scant resources, carrying out acts of brutal efficiency and vanishing from sight; but that’s where the transformation occurs. Winter is not the death of the life cycle, but its crucible.”

Katherine May, On Being podcast, January 21, 2021

I wonder if because we are mostly acculturated out of such natural rhythms and rituals, those embedded deep within our DNA and beneath our consciousness, we find ourselves in “winter” out of season? That if we heeded Nature’s signs and stirrings, we’d ready ourselves, with each other, for wintering’s alchemical invitation. I feel a growing love and appreciation for winter, the season, since being unfettered by work’s imposed schedule, demands, and need for driving. And as many of us have felt during the pandemic, in lives slowed and diminished of obligation, its paradoxical gifts.

“It’s a time for reflection and recuperation, for slow replenishment, for putting your house in order. Doing these deeply unfashionable things — slowing down, letting your spare time expand, getting enough sleep, resting — is a radical act now, but it’s essential.”

Katherine May, On Being podcast, January 21, 2021

Recently I came upon these words from Toko-pa Turner’s book, Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home. They echo the hidden transformative gifts in this crucible of winter and wintering:

“Like the bowl that has yet to be filled, there is an emptiness that precedes creativity that is alive with potential. With ordinary eyes, it’s easy to mistake this emptiness for stagnancy. We may think, “I have nothing of substance to offer! I have no original ideas!” But down at the invisible base of things, there is a holy dance taking place. Though we may want to run from the tension, the polarities are in constant motion, readying themselves into harmony. Far from dormant, this dance is the active receptivity that calls things into form. We are such a vessel. These times of nothingness are actually busy with living into a new capacity.

Originality comes when you stay close to that emptiness, making it a welcoming place, adorning it with your divine longing, learning the shape of it, and filling it with your questions. Every great artist I know is obsessed with a question, and their artworks are less attempts to answer that question than they are exaltations of asking. As Jean Cocteau says, ‘The poet doesn’t invent. He listens.'”

I listened last summer as I wintered, lost and fallow. I remembered it as a familiar season of my life and followed its nudges to find my way through. Walking with Annie. Reading and writing. Photography and painting. Making love notes to friends. Cooking and circling up with women friends. And now in the fullness of its season, I sleep longer, nap more, give myself permission to pause the writing until I feel stirred. I let myself feel, once again, dashed and disheartened, trusting them to be worthy of these times. And I wonder.

“I recognized winter. I saw it coming a mile off, since you ask, and I looked it in the eye. I greeted it and let it in. I had some tricks up my sleeve, you see. I’ve learned them the hard way. When I started to feel the drag of winter, I began to treat myself like a favored child, with kindness and love. I assumed my needs were reasonable and that my feelings were signals of something important. I kept myself well fed, and I made sure I was getting enough sleep. I took myself for walks in the fresh air and spent time doing things that soothed me. I asked myself, what is this winter all about? I asked myself, what change is coming?”

Katherine May, Wintering – The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times (2020)

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Any Small, Calm Thing

“Ours is a time of almost daily jaw-dropping astonishment and often righteous rage over the latest degradations of what matters most to civilized, visionary people…”

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D., Letter to a Young Activist in Troubled Times

I’m not sure where this post is going. I only know the starting place is one of a vague worry, discontent and gnawing frustration, riding the surface of a deeper, less articulate grief. All mixed with genuine awe and appreciation for the remarkable autumn weather – still colour, still sunny, still without snow.

It is Hallowe’en evening as I write. Samhain in the Celtic tradition, it is the time of thinning veils between the worlds of living and dying. A threshold into the liminal, poised on the cusp of seasons changing from the fullness of harvest to hibernation’s cold and dark.

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone,
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own…

David Whyte, Sweet Darkness, excerpt

My husband just got off the phone. His friend from southern Alberta, a long time, multi-generational beef rancher, said his calves sold for a ridiculously low price, despite beef selling in our grocery stores for a king’s ransom. The $87,000 he and his son just spent on hay to feed the cattle over the winter, because they couldn’t grow any due to a record-breaking drought – yes, the one that persists, giving us, paradoxically, this remarkable weather – might not be enough if the forecasted La Nina hard, cold prairie winter comes to be.

This week’s news was featured headlines on the backlogged and broken supply chain – container ships on fire, hundreds of containers lost in the sea off the west coast when a storm bomb hit, extreme staffing shortages compounded by inconsistent vaccination policies – soaring inflation rates, something any of us shopping for anything knew months ago. Perhaps more of Covid’s unintended consequences. Too, Facebook’s announced its rebranding as “Meta,” a potentially ominous Orwellian empire.

Last week we returned to live theatre to see the award winning, evocative, and masterfully written, produced and acted production, BEARS, “the story about a Metis oil sands worker and his perilous and transformational quest through the Rockies.” (The Citadel playbill notes)

Last night I finished reading Stephanie Land’s memoir, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive (2019), a first-hand description of navigating domestic abuse, poverty and its numerous Catch-22 ‘support’ services, single parenting without familial support, undergirded by her unrelenting need for an education and to write.

Sent by a dear friend, yesterday I watched a two minute video, Don’t Choose Extinction, produced by the United Nations Development Program – an organization fighting to end the injustice of poverty, inequality, and climate change – to precede the current UN climate summit in Scotland.

“You are right in your assessments. The lustre and hubris some have aspired to while endorsing acts so heinous against children, elders, everyday people, the poor, the unguarded, the helpless, is breathtaking.”

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D., Letter to a Young Activist in Troubled Times

Like those disparate chips of color in a kaleidoscope, a slight shift brings into focus, in my pattern seeking way of being, an image that, as Dr. Estes writes, evokes jaw-dropping astonishment and righteous rage.

“Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good. What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts — adding, adding to, adding more, continuing.”

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D., Letter to a Young Activist in Troubled Times

Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul…

Like persisting with fiddling to remove my earbuds to say hello to the neighbor I’d met last winter as we both walked our beloved aging dogs on the golf course. I’d seen her and “Sunny” a couple of times over the summer as Annie and I walked down her street. I always stopped to say hello and catch up a bit. Last week as I approached her house and saw her talking to another couple, I held Annie in, persisted and fiddled when it might have been easier to wave and walk on by. The couple asked if I wanted to pass them, all of us still Covid cautious, and I said no, that I wanted to say hello to my neighbor. Finished with their conversation, thanks and farewells expressed, they graciously moved on. Looking at my neighbor I asked how she was, and then I heard her story: that her Sunny dog had been put down Thanksgiving weekend, the outcome of a sudden visit to the emergency clinic after taking a turn for the worse and not eating. Too, her mother had died a few weeks earlier, but she was sadder about Sunny. Was that awful of her, she asked. I assured her it wasn’t, that Sunny had been her constant companion, her mother aged. Had they made a mistake because in that last hour at the clinic, Sunny had rallied, full of energy, eating handfuls of the “chocolate kisses” in the quiet room where the final injection would be administered.

It was another of those glorious autumn days, brilliant blue sky, trees full of colour, her gardens still beautiful in their waning. I invited her to look around and consider how it is that autumn pulls out all the stops, gives us such glory and colour, rallies before all dies for the winter’s rest. Her eyes filled with tears of understanding. That, she said, was something she could hold on to when doubt returned and sadness threatened.

In hindsight I knew why I had persisted and fiddled, how it was that I had responded to soul’s subtle signal to help another.

And again, today walking the golf course with Annie and my husband, as we passed by the bench at the first tee, I spotted a woman sitting with beverage. Ushering them ahead to wait, I quietly approached and asked if she regularly sat here. Would she be the same woman who had helped me last winter, when sitting there she’d seen me slip on the ice and fall smack on my keester, Annie startled by the suddenness? That during the time I heeded her advice to sit still and rest, make sure I hadn’t injured myself, she told me that her husband had passed two months earlier and that she came most days to sit on the bench with her tea, they being devoted golfers? Yes, it was her. Yes, her husband had died a year ago this month. Yes, it was still, after a year, a tender time, I had offered.

Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul…

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about my new gig as co-editor of SAGE-ING: The Journal of Creative Aging. I mentioned that while I was thrilled to have a ready platform to publish my poetry and pieces of contemplative, non-fiction impressions, what especially delighted me was the opportunity to invite others to submit their stories of creativity’s impacts and influences. Writing to a friend who accepted my invitation and submitted several of his poems for consideration:

“What was most lovely for me about receiving your email yesterday was that it helped coalesce and give words to something that’s been cooking inside – the moving through loss and grief I’ve felt this past year with not working to “feeling” this as a beauty-filled opportunity with SAGE-ING to be of service in another way – by inviting others to submit their stories. It means I can offer the gift of “seeing” another – and I know how deeply valuable that is for each of us. So thank you! I feel as if I have come through the eye of the needle so to speak…”

Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul…and be helped in so doing.

“One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires … causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these — to be fierce and to show mercy toward others, both — are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.”

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D., Letter to a Young Activist in Troubled Times

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Walking

“I suspect that the mind, like the feet, works at about three miles an hour. If this is so, then modern life is moving faster than the speed of thought, or thoughtfulness.”

Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust, 2001

Text on Friday night from my friend: Are you planning on walking tomorrow? It’s supposed to be raining all day.

Me: Yes, I saw the forecast, and yes, I plan to walk. I made the commitment to myself to walk every stage, come rain, sun, sleet or snow. So, yes, I’ll be walking.

Friend: Thumbs up emoji

Text on Saturday morning – well before dawn – to my friend: Hmmmm, I’m reconsidering walking. It’s been raining all night, the forecast is for rain all day. I don’t want to get chilled and cold and sick. What about you?

Friend: I’m up and already dressed.

Me: Well, then…

Friend: We can always go, see if anyone else comes, and what’s happening.

Me: Good idea. Thumbs up emoji

“Go out and walk. That is the glory of life.”

Maira Kalman, My Favorite Things, 2014

So at 7:35 am I drove the short distance to the park for the 8:00 am rendezvous for Stage 7 of the local Camino de Edmonton, amazed at how much darker it was from a week ago, due to heavy cloud cover and the shortened days.  We’re now past the midway point, with twelve stages in total, ending the last Saturday in November at the city’s west end of the river valley, when my drive will be much further. A repeat of last year’s camino, now with the stages in reverse order, we’ve had glorious fall weather every weekend until now.

And there we were, ten of us hardy “peregrinos” ready to embrace the day, stepping through puddles, agreeing it would be a good day to test our gears’ waterproofness. Mine – boots, pants and jacket – failed miserably by the end of the 13.5 km circuit, my feet and quads wet to the skin. Once home, showered and dried, wet clothes laundered, boots aired, I began researching remedies and replacements. Several pairs of boots ordered, a couple of jacket styles eyed and waiting, hopefully, for a Black Friday sale (yup, those Arc’teryx jackets are an “investment” to quote my friend ), and waterproofing wash and spray purchased to renew the life of my pants.

“The pieces that I chose were based on one thing only — a gasp of DELIGHT.
Isn’t that the only way to curate a life? To live among things that make you gasp with delight?”

Maira Kalman, My Favorite Things, 2014

Every week I post pictures of the week’s walk on social media. Last week in response, another friend asked if I ever wrote about my “camino” experience, relaying how my posts brought to her mind the hauntingly beautiful composition, “camino,” by the late Canadian violinist, Oliver Schroer, created in May and June, 2004, as he walked one thousand kilometers of the Camino Frances, with his partner Elena, and two friends, Peter Coffman and Diane Laundy.

“In my back pack, I carried my violin like a wooden chalice, like my own precious relic, carefully packed in its reliquary of socks and underwear and waiting to work a miracle. My pack also contained a portable recording studio. When I found a church or cathedral that was acoustically enticing…and open…I played my violin and recorded in those spaces. I played some of my older fractal and spiritual pieces. I improvised a lot. Walking for weeks, new pieces came to me – one hill, one valley at a time. In two months, I played and recorded in twenty-five different churches…

…The music still sings on these recordings. The sense of place is strong here – pilgrims praying, children playing, birds, bells, footsteps, passing snatches of conversation, the sounds of the buildings themselves. Each space has it sown distinct character and resonance.”

Oliver Schroer, “camino” journal notes, 2005

My photographs are glimpses into the sense of place I encounter as I walk – “that magical stuff of ‘the moments inside the moments inside the moments.’” (Maira Kalman). What shimmers – audaciously or subtly – and has me gasp with delight, or stop and turn around to really take in the moment? What is different or the same this year, from when I walked the same stage last year? What memories are evoked, impressions stirred, conversations silently replayed, or spoken anew now?

“With the utmost love and attention the person who walks must study and observe every smallest living thing, be it a child, a dog, a fly, a butterfly, a sparrow, a worm, a flower, a man, a house, a tree, a hedge, a snail, a mouse, a cloud, a hill, a leaf, or no more than a poor discarded scrap of paper on which, perhaps, a dear good child at school has written his first clumsy letters.”

Henry Thoreau, The Walk, 1861

Last year walking, it was a friend’s question about what I did with my photos – having watched me pause many times that glorious Saturday, to frame the image and focus my camera, fall behind the group and then catch up – that planted the seed for creating a photo journal of how I experienced my life during the pandemic. The first volume of one hundred pages, from March to December, 2020, and now a second volume almost at capacity with three months of this year still to enter. Too, my husband suggested I make a photo book exclusively of my Camino photos in appreciation for the co-ordinator’s efforts in planning and hosting all thirteen stages last year. As our host didn’t follow along on social media, it was the first time he saw in its entirety the beauty of what he had envisioned and coordinated for us, through the beauty I had captured and created for him.

“…the genius of walking lies not in mechanically putting one foot in front of the other en route to a destination but in mastering the art of sauntering – which word is beautifully derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going a la Sainte Terre, to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a Sainte-Terrer,” a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander. “

Henry Thoreau, The Walk, 1861

Since 2000 I’ve waxed and waned with the dream of walking a camino, ever since I read Shirley MacLaine’s memoir. She brought to mainstream consciousness the ancient pilgrimage through France and northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela, today known as The Way, or Camino Frances, the same one walked by Oliver Schroer. There are many camino routes, ending at Santiago, or Italy’s Vatican, or through the forests and shrines of Japan. Last year, walking the Camino de Edmonton I learned that my way of walking is to saunter. I need to take my time to notice, to observe, to photograph, to hum a tune, sing a made-in-the-moment, soon-to-be-forgotten lyric. I enjoy conversation, and have had some delightful, edifying ones. And then what I notice – the shiny and the shimmer, the magic that suddenly catches my eye and speaks to my heart – shifts my attention.

And so, thinking more intentionally about a long distance “saunter” to Santiago, through Portugal, next year, the “easy walk” – taking several more days than the typical two week allocation – with ample time to rest and appreciate the ambiance of local villages, having my accommodations with breakfasts pre-booked, and luggage transferred, viscerally has me gasp with delight and settle my covid concerns. New impressions…the moments inside the moments…the magical stuff…the glory of life.

And hearing inside my heart, Oliver Schroer’s homage to the Camino de Santiago, “Field of Stars.” (Click the link to listen.)

“I went because I knew others who had gone, and the experience filled them with wonder.”

Peter Coffman, Camino, 2017

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Creative Sage-ing

“For years I had felt some kind of internal pressure to get going…However I had come to a point where I realized this intention was ego based and not what I wanted my creativity to be about. Letting go of old beliefs was painful and I grieved deeply, but I decided to let my dreams go. I let my ambitions go.”

Julie Elliot in Creative Aging: Stories from the pages of the journal Sage-ing with Creative Spirit, Grace and Gratitude, 2015

Every now and then, I feel the need to let go and release the trappings of what had been an earlier identity, pastime, or life experiment. A couple of decades ago I found a counselling agency that gladly received my collection of clinical social work texts and kindly gave me in exchange a charitable donation income tax receipt. Several years ago, under the guise of being the “librarian” for our community of practice, I passed on to a colleague the then iteration of my professional life, volumes dedicated to leadership, community development, conversation process, and group facilitation. A few summers ago, I gathered up the art supplies used for the intuitive painting sessions I had hosted and took them to our local “Hodge Podge” upcycle hut. My timing was perfect as there was an art teacher looking for supplies for her classroom in Fort McMurray, ravaged during the spring fires when the entire community had been evacuated. In the meantime, I regularly cull files, both paper and electronic, the former being easier to “erase” as I see them in the filing cabinet. Every time the act of letting go is guided by the maxim of making space for and trusting that something new is emerging.

Last week again the mood struck. Learning that a friend is intent to shift the focus of her consulting, I asked if she’d like my facilitator “tool kit” consisting of all those items that helped me engage groups in meaningful dialogue and purposeful activity. As she sorted and asked me questions about how I’d used the bits and pieces, it was a way of looking back over a skill set and expertise I’d cultivated for several decades. It became an opportunity to “pass it forward” and do a bit of mentoring. While she offered me a bottle of wine in exchange for the lot she took, what I really need are opportunities to share the stories, the bits and pieces of that skill set and my life that were meaningful, valued, where I’d been of use and in service.

For nearly two years I have been letting go of old beliefs, ways of being, professional identity. It has been painful, and I have grieved deeply, albeit a grief that ebbs and flows. I’ve come to realize that what I particularly miss are the connections and relationships I had because of my work. I cherished those people and the work we did. In a way it was effortless, the result of my own inner work and integration, and of the trust we shared. Of course, the pandemic with lockdowns, physical distancing, social isolation has exacerbated this loss and loneliness, accentuated the grief.

And so, in letting my dreams and ambitions go, my intention is now about learning to listen into what is being asked of me from someplace and someone other than me.

“This world needs us more than ever. It needs our skills, our caring, our perseverance. We still want to contribute. We still want our contribution to be meaningful. But who gets to define meaning? It is the world, not us. Meaning is defined by the situation, the person, the moment. To discover what is meaningful, we need only ask this simple question:

What is needed here?
Am I the right person to contribute to this need?

This is a huge shift. We stop asking the world to give us opportunities to fulfill our purpose.
Instead, we look to the world to tell us what it needs from us. Such a profound shift requires our deep attention. This Contemplative Journey offers you the time to go deeply into yourself—past, present and future—to discern where you are needed. And then determine where you can best contribute.”

Margaret J. Wheatley

A few months ago, I sent a story off to Sage-ing: The Journal of Creative Aging. A writer friend shared she’d had a poem and some of her photography published by them. I felt my story, one that had been invited by another online journal and then rejected, might be suitable. Not only did I receive a wonderfully affirming “YES” from the founder, Karen Close, but it sparked what has now become a meaningful new relationship as I accepted her invitation to meander together in conversation, to help her co-imagine the journal’s next decade, and to eventually land as her co-editor. Having given a decade to this labour of love, a manifestation of her commitment to honour the transformational power of creativity, especially as we age, Karen sees in me someone while a decade younger, kindred in valuing the journal’s motto: Know Yourself. Be Yourself. Love Yourself. Share Yourself. And I recognize in Karen a deeply self-aware, elder creative who lives life to the brim with unabashed curiosity and compassion, someone to inspire in me the same.

While the journal offers me a place to write, as importantly I am seeking out and inviting stories that depict how the creative process shows up in, informs, and enhances one’s life – not merely in the typical ways of making art – but in how we live our lives fully, meaningfully. By encouraging first person anecdotes, insights, questions, wonderings, experiences these stories illustrate a principle and value of Sage-ing – that of how we grow into and feel more comfortable sharing our personal vulnerabilities. It becomes more about how we “show up” in our lives as told through our stories – and less about the “wisdom” we directly impart – that inspires others, cultivates wisdom, and nurtures our inner sage.

This is a shift – looking to the world and listening to what it needs from me. I asked and Karen said yes. She asked and I said yes. I recognize this is an opportunity where my past and present are coming together to be of use, in meaningful service, where I am needed. And I trust the future will take care of itself.

“It is from this place that one can allow the magic of creative spirit to indeed create you. Allowing creative spirit to expand your wisdom invites deep personal scrutiny and challenges one to act from a place of honouring and sharing one’s self.”

Karen Close in Creative Aging: Stories from the pages of the journal Sage-ing with Creative Spirit, Grace and Gratitude, 2015

We’d love to receive your stories. Please contact me via comments, including your email, so I can send you our submission invitation and guidelines. And here’s the link to our September issue – we publish quarterly, on the solstices and equinoxes – where my story – “Aging with Grit and Grace” – was published. It was a lovely way for me to celebrate the arrival of autumn, and this new life direction.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Thanksgiving

Last week I received a friend’s monthly newsletter update. GG and I met at my first ever writer’s retreat. She is also an artist who made the umber clay rattle stamped with the dragonfly I received at my first ever quest. If I lived closer, in the same country, I’d regularly visit her in her studio to partake of her wise and soulful classes, to bask in her warm and joyful spirit.

In preparation for her upcoming SoulCollage class, she’ll use this video of Joanna Macy as inspiration. As I watched and listened, I was struck by Joanna’s description our gladness for being alive – our thanks for life – as a politically subversive act. Too, for using our gratitude as the ground for being present with our suffering, our mourning, and our grief.

JOANNA MACY: Climate Crisis as a Spiritual Path from Old Dog Documentaries on Vimeo.

So from my country of Canada, where we celebrate Thanksgiving today – again under a pandemic public health state of emergency – I share Joanna’s words, and those she has translated from the poet Rilke’s Book of Hours – with gratitude to GG. May we love it all, and let life through in the biggest doorway of our being.

With much love, kindest regards, and gratitude for your presence in my life, dear friends.

How To Be Alone

It all begins with knowing
nothing lasts forever.
So you might as well start packing now.
But, in the meantime,
practice being alive.

There will be a party
where you’ll feel like
nobody’s paying you attention.
And there will be a party
where attention’s all you’ll get.
What you need to do
is know how to talk to
yourself
between these parties.

And,
again,
there will be a day,
— a decade —
where you won’t
fit in with your body
even though you’re in
the only body you’re in.

You need to control
your habit of forgetting
to breathe.

Remember when you were younger
and you practiced kissing on your arm?
You were on to something then.
Sometimes harm knows its own healing
comfort its own intelligence.
Kindness too.
It needs no reason.

There is a you
telling you a story of you.
Listen to her.

Where do you feel
anxiety in your body?
The chest? The fist? The dream before waking?
The head that feels like it’s at the top of the swing
or the clutch of gut like falling
& falling & falling and falling
It knows something: you’re dying.
Try to stay alive.

For now, touch yourself.
I’m serious.

Touch yourself.
Take your hand
and place your hand
some place
upon your body.
And listen
to the community of madness
that
you are.

You are
such an
interesting conversation.

You belong
here.

-Pádraig Ó Tuama –

“I’m OK Drinking Alone”

I copped this line from a friend’s recent blog. It was how she closed her essay on the impacts of living for eighteen months with a pandemic. When it arrived in my inbox last week, a quick glance told me – and I emailed her – this was one post I’d need to take slowly. That her candor deserved my time and reflection. And while I didn’t read it with the glass of wine I’d suggested, or our mutually enjoyed prosecco, sitting here on a cool fall afternoon, with Annie napping beside me, the space heater on, and a mug of now cold tea within reach, I was right. “So poignantly on point. Evoking what’s both deep inside and right on the surface,” is how I ended my reply to her.

Yes, I am OK with drinking alone and yet after cancelling another dinner with friends as our “best summer ever” descends into the hell of a “WTF” fall I’m not so sure I should be – drinking alone, or even drinking, that is.

Alberta is a mess. Last week our premier – absent for the better part of August – finally made a public appearance to announce – guess what – we’re re-instating a fourth wave public health state of emergency and imposing another round of restrictions. While his $100 a jab incentive announced a few weeks ago didn’t get much uptake, this week’s commencement of a vaccine “passport” resulted in vaccination rates soaring 300% in 24 hours. We have the highest numbers of hospitalizations and ICU admissions across the country and since the pandemic was officially announced eighteen months ago. And this didn’t just happen. We the people made this mess with decisions and choices made, or not made, and actions taken, or not taken.

This past week I was politically vocal every day on social media, angered by the impacts on our beleaguered health care professionals, people I know and don’t having medical interventions and surgeries cancelled, protests happening outside our hospitals. Atypical in that I am purposeful in using social media to uplift the good, the true, and the beautiful, believing, akin to John O’Donohue and others, that beauty is an antidote to the tragic, terror, and destructive in our world. After a few days, I deleted those posts, my outrage tempered by my intent and vision.

In response to a recent Facebook friend’s plight while travelling, we sensing a kinship, I offered:

“…with covid and all that stuff, I feel I have lost myself – the woman I knew myself to be – pretty confident, kind but fierce, irreverent at times…now I can hardly make a decision, and the anxiety, free floating and homed in – so much I am not doing. Many days any pretense of discipline and commitment gives way to ennui. …I think covid has messed with many of us in very insidious ways, and it’s not until we attempt “re-entry” that we feel how significant the impacts….

And what I have a very strong hunch about, that no one is talking about, is that all the virtual stuff – Zoom and such – while it has been very helpful and necessary, I think it is activating deep attachment trauma anxiety – seeing you and yet, not feeling you…that confusing abandonment. I once wrote after a women’s circle that I hosted – for myself and 4 others – “I miss you in my bones and by my body” – that ZOOM just didn’t do it for me, though better than not, or was it???”

Tomorrow we fly. Our first flight since returning from Spain two weeks before the world as we knew it changed. We’re taking one flight into a little airport, renting a car, and driving down the highway to visit our families. It’s been nearly two years. I’m anticipating change – in my elderly parents, blessedly healthy and still living in their own home; in great nephews growing from infancy to daycare, from toddler to kindergarten. And while we won’t be socializing away from home, I’ll enjoy toasting to life – as we know it now -together with family, in my bones and by my body.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

When Women Create

“There is a juiciness to creativity, a succulence, or a sensuality which both produces and is soothed by creating something. I think that creativity is pleasing to women on a very deep level, whatever form it might take – whether it’s the feel of clay in our hands, the colours that work on us as we knit, the meaning that we find in the words that we write, or the energizing feel of movement as we dance and the music moves through our bodies.”

Lucy Pearce in Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted (2019)

I had the unexpected pleasure of a working staycation at the Folk Tree Lodge in the foothill town of Bragg Creek, Alberta a few weeks ago. Invited to bring my scribing skills to a women’s creators retreat, I packed a few requisite mountain weather layers of clothing , and with my writing pens, paper pads, and camera, “caught” women’s words as we sat in circle to learn about, talk about, and play about living a creative life, about being creators.

Yes, one of our hosts, Theo Harasymiw, an established mosaic artist, invited us into activities and stations to experience different forms of creative expression – foraging, mosaic, collage, print and stamping, writing. But her constant, consistent message throughout was that of giving value and making time for the creative process as a way of living – a way of life.

So, prepare an area, make it accessible,
easy to invite Creativity into.
The product is the product. The process is the gift.

“At its most basic level, of course, creativity is about making stuff. Taking something like wool and turning it into a sweater. Or creating less tangible things, like taking the germ of an idea and turning it into reality. But more than all of that, creativity to me is a way of thinking and problem-solving, an imaginative approach to living. Creativity helps us to be more fully alive on every level, asking that we engage with life in a visceral and interactive way.”

Lucy Pearce in Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted (2019)

Each of us around the circle had plenty of experience creating – both in the traditional ways of making of art and writing, photography, crafting within cultural traditions – and in the less obvious ways of choices made in our professional and personal lives – the work we designed, ways we care for others, and serve our communities.

The healing question of one who cares,
to create in the voice of theirs.
If I could, I’d ditch this for that,
make the changes with my confines
choose quality, longer lasting imprints
beyond just the task.
Aware of children’s Souls and that
Souls need attention.

So, the constraints and confines in which
Creativity thrives
stoke an internal fire that’s unstoppable.

I write. I photograph. I dabble, especially when travelling, in pen and ink, water colour sketches. I collage. I call myself a kindergarten knitter. I stitch and sew, though not so much so. I cook with a self claimed specialization of making one-off silk purses from leftovers. Yet I know the extent to which I question and compartmentalize creativity, asking does sewing count? Or cooking if it’s not gourmet? It’s still something I do – if and when – and not yet always, a way of understanding “this is who I am.”

I “caught” that same struggle in the words of the women sitting in circle:

Not the visual art, but the Soul’s art:
Do we see it?
Can we be it?
Do we show it?
Do we value it?
Does it have to be just one thing?
Can we make our life a collage of it all?

The clarion call of Creativity:
I see it outside me.
I feel in inside me.
The obligation to hear my Soul’s calling
to live it out loud.

When our fear becomes our greatest obstacle
the offering from one who listens deeply
between the words
within the spaces
brings us all a peace.

“Reclaiming our own particularly female forms of creativity is a critical part of reinstating the undervalued feminine principle in the world, but it’s not as easy as it sounds to do that – the societal conditioning which pushes us in other directions can be so complete.”

Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted (2019)

How life as we’ve been taught, lived, worked, earned
pushed and pulled
squashed and beat
creativity into submission
imagination into flat line

Insists on a blue sky, a yellow sun, green grass, a red wagon.
“Stop playing.” “Get real.”

“Consciously or unconsciously we know that to be a creative woman can entail huge risk. And this is what we have to overcome…this is why my driving passion is to empower women and inspire them to get their work out there, so that the world is full of our vibrant voices, creations, dreams. Our world needs all the colour and innovation we can give right now.”

Lucy Pearce in Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted (2019)

This was the driving force behind the retreat – a response to hearing the yearning in women’s voices to reclaim that which through their lives had been lost. To invite a small group of women into a care-fully designed and lovingly hosted experience to playfully welcome back their vibrant voices, creations and dreams.

We’re in a new future
finding the strength
being the support
to innovate our way
to co-create a new space
to let our Souls soar.

We lift the veil of our beingness
to make the invisible visible.
That’s the voice of our Soul
when we let our Souls soar.

I never dreamt it could be so good
a pivot to a promise
the flow into what can be
when women pull together
.

Such a sweet pleasure for me to witness, to play, to catch our words and weave into poem stories…to be and bring my creative self in service of this gathering.

My love made visible…one of a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the earth.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

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