When I Returned From Rome


WHEN I RETURNED FROM ROME

A
bird took flight.
And a flower in a field whistled at me
as I passed.

I drank
from a stream of clear water.
And at night the sky untied her hair and I fell asleep
clutching a tress
of God’s.

When I returned from Rome, all said
“Tell us the great news,”

and with great excitement, I did: “A flower in a field whistled,
and at night the sky untied her hair and
I fell asleep clutching a
sacred tress …”

Francis of Assisi
as rendered by Daniel Ladinsky in Love Poems from God

The photo was taken during our last day of sauntering in Rome a couple of weeks ago. I was surprised to see in the foreground of iconic” Rome -the Colosseum and Arch of Constantine -the bird perched in the tree. I loved our five days there, wandering with minimal places to be – me with the paper map and keen eye for detail helping us orient, my husband with Google Maps on his phone inevitably losing the way when it lost the signalan evening food tour in Trastevere

…a late morning at the Galleria Borghese…

...and a serendipitous meetup at Piazza Navona for aperitivi and dinner with traveling compani0ns from Morocco.

When I returned from Rome, I didn’t do as Francis did, though I did feel with great excitement the sacred tresses of earth and daytime sky as I walked with Annie in our neighbourhood.

It’s good to be home.
Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.



Starkly Beautiful Truths

It’s early Sunday night and I’m sitting in my usual space for writing. Hot cup of tea to the side. My radio station playing low in the background. The space heater blowing warm, taking off the foreboding chill. Last week I read that here in Edmonton we were having the longest run of October +20 C degree days since 1944, and today tied the record for the latest first frost. But this weekend, winter made its arrival in other parts of the province and I know it’s simply a matter of time. The wheel turns…

It’s been nearly three months since my last post, one wherein I’d announced the need for a pause…to settle into my breath, body and bones after my month long Camino, to prepare for traveling to Italy with my husband, to re-centre to purpose. Since returning from Spain in early June, I’ve had the felt sense of standing yet again on a cusp. It was an atypical summer, late in coming, the hottest August on record giving us warm, sultry, bug free evenings, and one of illness: my lengthy recovery from Covid; then my husband developing a viral infection – non Covid but with a similar symptom pattern leaving him fatigued and coughing for weeks; and I succumbing to the same a few weeks later. Our Annie dog sustained sprains and pulled muscles. My elderly father’s ever robust and vital presence began to dim.

“I’ve lost my edge,” is how my husband put it, and for the first time I saw glimpses of a wavering frailty that comes with aging. While we’ve both recovered, and are feeling well having enjoyed our unstructured time sauntering in Rome, and then touring the exquisite landscapes of Puglia (albeit in overcast skies and rain), 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.

In readying myself to write tonight and to return to it as my vocation, I spent a couple of hours today catching up on the myriad of e-newsletters in my inbox, a cursory glance telling me they held a pearl or several. Below are some of the more salient bits holding my attention:

“I have this belief that an internal monoculture of peace and clarity and smooth sailing is what normal people experience, so it’s what I should experience. And if I don’t feel peaceful and clear and focused, then there’s something that needs fixing inside me…
I want to reframe messiness as holy. I want to slide down and immerse myself in the murky waters of my messy heart.”

Barb Morris, “a messy mind is a healthy mind,” e-letter, September 29, 2022

“I’m curious to know if you have a line you repeat to yourself when you’re trying to sink into that necessary solitude that is at the heart of every human relationship: the relationship of yourself to yourself.”

Padraig O’Tuama, “the solitude at the heart of human relationship,” Poetry Unbound Newsletter, October 2, 2022

“We reach for hope as the antidote to despair,
but actually hope is the cause of despair.
The problem with hope is that it’s bipolar.  Every time we rely on hope, we always bring in fear. Buddhist wisdom teaches that hope and fear are two sides of the same dynamic.”

Margaret Wheatley, “We Have to Talk About Hope,” October 19, 2022

“The rhythms of the seasons play a significant role in my own discernment. Honoring the flowering of spring and the fruitfulness of summer, alongside the release of autumn and the stillness of winter, cultivates a way of being in the world that feels deeply reverential of my body and soul’s own natural cycles. We live in a culture that glorifies spring and summer energies, but autumn and winter are just as essential for rhythms of release, rest, and incubation. When we allow the soul’s slow ripening, we honor that we need to come into the fullness of our own sweetness before we pluck the fruit. This takes time and patience.”

Christine Valters Paintner, Love Notes, Abbey of the Arts newsletter, October 22, 2022

My synthesis, in poem…

the necessary solitude
that is my messy heart and mind
that I sink into as an antidote
to the bipolarity of hope and fear

seasons’ rhythms
a discernment where now autumn’s release
and soon winter’s stillness allow
my soul’s ripening

I took time and patience
the needed pause
to recover and reveal
life’s holy starkly beautiful truths

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends. It’s good to be back.

Language of the Present Moment

Portuguese Coastal Camino
Stage 3: Apulia to Esposende
Stage 4: Esposende to Castelo do Neiva

abandoned house, abundant flora – Fao, Portugal

I’m glad you are writing in this form. And, woo, there is a book in this also, given the insights you share.”

A friend emailed me this note after reading these photo stories on my walk. Kindred in our love of a good poem to now penning and publishing our own, and in looking at life in a way I describe as “before, beneath, and beyond words,” I appreciated and felt encouraged by Tenneson’s words. He recognized that “this form” is my way to access, coalesce, and give words to sensory impressions gathered along the Way…to all that is before, beneath, and beyond words…necessary to the further distillation that is poetry.

“Since time immemorial, there has been a belief that language is one power that can tap, even trigger, ‘divine events,’ and that pilgrimage, what was called in old Gaelic turas, ritual circuits, was a way to participate in the flow of energy between the two worlds.”

Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998

Another gift of “this form” has been the invitation to remain in this flow of energy between two worlds. I’ve long noted how when traveling by plane, it takes several days for all of me to arrive home. I’ve learned to give myself transition time, realizing a threshold is crossed too, when returning to my everyday life, with its signature rhythms and patterns. Particularly mindful this time, given both the nature and length of time away, I kept my calendar clear for June. Coming home sick with a chest cold and cough that became Covid-19, has meant for an even longer, slower reengagement. Writing here, I re-read my journals, and skim through books that inspired my preparation. Editing photos – this time going beyond cropping and straightening to applying creative filters (a shoutout to “camiga” Elizabeth Cheung whose Camino Facebook posts and photos attract hundreds of followers) – I re-immerse body, mind and soul-sole, and relive my walk.

From my journal, Thursday, May 12, 2022, STAGE 3: Apulia to Esposende:“Leisurely start after a deep, physically tired sleep. Walked to see the beach at Apulia: fishermen coming ashore, surfers, and to the north, in the morning haze, windmills. Retraced our steps though the still quiet main street to find The Way. Corrected by the older woman who had just stepped out of her home, we walked, as the guide book described, past garden plots and through forests to the school yard with children playing at recess, and the football stadium in Fao. Sat by the river a bit, then through the urban to the beach front hotel in Esposende where its azure pool beckoned, and I made my first pen and ink water colour sketch.”

“The beginning of wisdom is the same as its attainment: wonder…
In the presence of that wonder, the head has no answers and the heart has no questions…”

Quote written on the page of my journal, Thursday, May 12, 2022, STAGE 3: Apulia to Esposende

Friday, May 13th, the fourth stage to Castelo do Neiva, was sunny and hot as we walked inland, with only brief glimpses of the ocean. That dark chocolate bar I’d purchased at the grocery store en route to satisfy a hankering, and wisely put in a ziploc bag, became a melted mess within minutes. Cafes along the way made for cool respites where café con leche chased with icy fruit juice refreshed. (For some it was a beer mixed with coke – an international iteration of the shanty, I suppose.) More evident along the route were various styles of markers, including statuary and the ubiquitous scallop shell, pointing the way.

Crossing an old stone bridge on the River Neiva, we began climbing in earnest.

pilgrims crossing the River Neiva

Arriving at this stage’s lodging took some doing. The guidebook, customized for our stages and accommodations, gave clear directions, but obviously not for us. Maybe it was the heat, or misinterpreting distance given in meters, but we found ourselves going in circles, despite asking for help at the local garden centre, consulting my GPS and notes. Walking further, now into what more closely resembled a village, I was just about to enter the local school to once again ask for directions, when a woman walked by and pointed out, off in the distance, the church steeple beside our destination, Quinta do Monteverde. Approaching, where was the entrance????? The old locked gate by the vacant church? Walking around the corner, which by this point felt a long distance, we finally arrived at a more formal entrance with a buzzer. Pressed, the heavy door silently opened to reveal the magnificent grounds and mansion.


From my journal: “Heaven on Earth. Quinta do Monteverde. Country manor home to Fatima and her family since the late 1400s. So as da Gama and Colombus were off “discovering” North America and the Caribbean, this elegant Portuguese home was already standing and lived in…Splendidly, we have rooms in the manor house vs the more modern apartment suites alongside the pool. I selected the twin room, beautifully furnished with a full, spacious bath, the window seat. Could anything be more elegant??? Surrounded by exquisite antiques, sumptuous linens and scents, plush towels and robes, tea, cookies, port. Another azure pool, quiet except for birdsong…”

As dinner wasn’t offered, our host Fatima suggested we either walk the kilometer or so into town (no way as it was still hot!), or down the road to the local tapas bar most of her guests opt for, O Tasco Regional. WOW! The best meal to date, with the first of what would be several samplings of pimientos de padron and, too, razor clams simply prepared with garlic, EVOO and lemon to enhance their sweet, fresh sea brininess; tomato salad; perfectly grilled octopus; coquille with salsa; bread, and that Portuguese signature tinto verde, the best wine with fresh seafood. So enjoying our dinner and the owner’s hospitality, we reserved for the next night once we learned a cab drive would be only 15 minutes from our next destination.

Quinta do Monteverde wall mount

The seventeenth century Japanese poet Basho, renowned master of haiku, devoted his adult life to writing poetry and walking pilgrimages. Contained within the form’s seventeen syllables, he synthesized the art of pilgrimage’s “skill of observation, soul of attention, and heart of intention.” (Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998)

While certainly not haiku, “this form” here attempts to echo that of Basho. By making the ineffable conscious and evident through my words and photos, making what another poet, James Wright calls “the language of the present moment.”

And that melted chocolate bar…soon enough hardened in the cool of my room at the quinta, it became the perfect after dinner complement to the port! A perfect present moment!

Esposende at sunset

“Make the universe your companion, always bearing in mind the true nature of all creation – mountains and rivers, trees and grasses, and humankind…”

Basho in Phi Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

You Start Dying Slowly

Portuguese Coastal Camino, from Oia to Baiona


YOU START DYING SLOWLY

You start dying slowly
if you do not travel,
if you do not read,
if you do not listen to the sounds of life,
if you do not appreciate yourself.

You start dying slowly
When you kill your self-esteem;
When you do not let others help you.
You start dying slowly
If you become a slave of your habits,
Walking everyday on the same paths…
If you do not change your routine,
If you do not wear different colors
Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.

You start dying slowly
If you avoid to feel passion
And their turbulent emotions;
Those which make your eyes glisten
And your heart beat fast.

You start dying slowly
If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job,
or with your love,
If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,
If you do not go after a dream,
If you do not allow yourself,
At least once in your lifetime,
To run away from sensible advice.

– Martha Medeiros –

This says it all.
Why I took five weeks to walk everyday on different paths.
To travel, and be enthralled with the sounds of life.
To remember, to embody, that life is short, energy is precious, and that it is up to me to go after my dream, and appreciate myself.
To feel turbulent emotions which make my eyes glisten and break my heart.
To ask for help and let others help me.

Not to delude myself that I won’t die, but
to live my life well.
And in this way, to prepare for a good death.

Thanks to my friend, writer-poet Shawna Lemay for quickly advising me of this poem’s common misattribution to Pablo Neruda, who I had originally credited.

“Bom Caminho”

When you travel, you find yourself
Alone in a different way,
More attentive now
To the self you bring along…

John O’Donohue, Blessing for The Traveler
Iceland Morning

A decade ago, I wrote a post about the Camino. Titled “Buen Camino” (the Spanish wish, above is the Portuguese), I described gathering with my friends to view “The Way,” a beautifully shot film about a bereaved father, played by Martin Sheen, trekking the Camino de Santiago, in devotion to his son who’d fallen to his death on the trail. I recalled meeting with two American hikers in Vernazza, Italy, where walking the trail high above the Ligurian coast towards Corniglia, they regaled me with their stories of having walked the Camino and shared a piece of wisdom I’ve held close and spoken forward on countless occasions. I wrote then “I know deep in my bones I’ll make that pilgrimage one day,” and so I am.

A week from today, I’ll be airborne for Lisbon, Portugal where, with a friend, I’ll settle and sightsee for a few days there and in Porto before a week later beginning my trek along the Portuguese Coastal Camino, returning home in early June. Last fall, walking my second local Camino de Edmonton, my twenty year dream of walking – one that has waxed and waned many times over many years – became re-ignited. In a more recent blog I wrote about that experience, what I had learned about myself, and how I’d need to apply it when making my dream come true:

“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.

In response to that post, a friend told me about Portugal Green Walks, a company specializing in designing treks through Portugal, including an “easy” coastal Camino. I loved that I’d be “living local with love,” investing in Portugal and her people, post pandemic. After several weeks corresponding with Paola, their customer service rep, despite being in our 5th Covid wave, in need of bringing the Christmas promise of joy into my life, I metaphorically struck the earth with my warrior-walker’s staff by making the 25% deposit, thus signaling to the gods and fates my commitment and requesting their support in helping me pull this through.

A customized 20 day itinerary, in contrast to the typical 12 or 14, with an average 10-12 km per stage, accommodations booked, bags portered, breakfast served, giving me ample time to take in the vistas and villages along the way. Meeting with people, savoring the food and culture, time for writing, photography, painting…walking alone and together with my friend who is “simpatico” in this way of wanting a more immersive, esthetic experience. And while I had weighed going solo, I am happy for her companionship, particularly as it will be our first time travelling internationally since the pandemic.

A journey can become a sacred thing:
Make sure, before you go,
To take the time
To bless your going forth,
To free your heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life,
And the urgencies
That deserve to claim you.

John O’Donohue, Blessing for The Traveler

In the spirit of “freeing my heart of ballast,” I won’t blog and hold only lightly the possibility of posting on social media. Not from a desire or need to get away from it all, but rather to enter more deeply into what this is – admittedly not really knowing what this is – wanting instead to give myself over to “the urgencies that deserve to claim me.”

May you travel in an awakened way,
Gathered wisely into your inner ground;
That you may not waste the invitations
Which wait along the way to transform you.

John O’Donohue, Blessing for The Traveler

What I know most of all is by taking flight next week to realize my twenty year dream, I am going to walk my Camino “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. I’ll be back here sometime in June.

olive trees and stone paths hiking in Corniglia, Italy


Don’t Hesitate

Don’t Hesitate

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.

The Base for Being Human

“But this week, we entered yet another hard,
shocking chapter in the life of the world.”

Krista Tippett, The Pause, March 5, 2022
beauty in a hard place

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.

Agrigento, Sicilia

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.”

“Long live the children of fierce vulnerability.”

“In times of terror, wage beauty.”

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

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.”

Thich Nhat Hahn, On Being with Krista Tippett, September 25, 2003

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.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

your true colours

Weaving

WEAVING

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.

– Lynn Ungar –
Breathe, 2020

Call it synchronicity or coincidence, I quickly picked up one of two poetry chapbooks I had just received from Lynn Ungar and the page opened to this poem, the perfect companion to Monday’s blog post, Spinning the Sacred Feminine. I’d been inspired to feature a poem on weaving today, thinking back to one I had “composed” as the conversation harvest from an activity designed in collaboration with a textile artist-community developer eleven years ago for our professional community of practice. I don’t recall the specifics, but we provided strips of fabric for the group of facilitators to weave together as a way to consider our work grounded in conversation and story. This was the result:

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.

Berber Carpets, Chefchaouen, Morocco



Spinning the Sacred Feminine

“Women are spinners and weavers; we are the ones who spin the threads and weave them into meaning and pattern. Like silkworms, we create those threads out of our own substance, pulling the strong fine fibres, out of our own hearts and wombs.”

Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted, 2016
sisters weaving in Errachidia, Morocco, 2019

Gently teasing threads to weave together this week’s post, most vivid are my impressions from the deeply soulful virtual spaces in which I’ve been sitting this month. To name a few:

  • The monthly Poets Corner Sunday gathering featured Ellen Goldsmith and Lynne Ellis reading several of their poems for healing;
  •  “Chai, Love and Prayer,” monthly space hosted by my friend and Sufi scholar, Omid Safi;
  • A masterfully facilitated introductory meeting for thirty women each writing a chapter in an anthology on women leaders in education;
  • A consultation with our local library’s new writer-in-residence, Rayanne Haines, to help me understand judges’ feedback on several poetry submissions;
  • A book salon on Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass hosted by educational leader, instructor and friend, Kathy Toogood;
  • “Reawaken the Joy, Meaning and Sacredness of Being Alive” – a conversation between authors Sue Monk Kidd and Terry Helwig on Terry’s newest book, Shifting Shorelines: Messages from a Wiser Self;
  • My bi-weekly women’s circle;
  • A brief exploration of the wisdom of Mary and the sacred feminine presented by a favourite teacher-writer, Christine Valters Paintner, over at the Wild Luminaries series from Seminary of the Wild.
silk and wool threads and pattern for carpets in Kusadasi, Turkey, 2014

Spinning together these threads, the pattern emerging is my noticing how, in each gathering, women figured predominantly as sources of inspiration and wisdom – either in founding and-or hosting the groups and conversations, or in presenting, writing, teaching, sharing. Noticing how they, their process, and their offerings to the world, reflect and embody qualities of the sacred feminine as described by Christine Valters Paintner:

  • following intuition
  • attending to synchronicity
  • listening deeply to the natural world
  • surrendering striving
  • trusting the wisdom of underworld of shadow
  • honouring vulnerability as strength
  • embracing slowness and spaciousness
  • valuing being over doing

Struck by the conversation between Sue Monk Kidd and Terry Helwig – long-time friends and supports to each other’s writing – each described how shedding what no longer matters, simplicity, and literally driving in the slow lane to avoid the felt obligation of rush, make it easier to see, hear and embrace what matters now. How women make each other braver to follow their intuition, honour their vulnerability, do their inner shadow work.

“I think midlife is when the universe gently places her hands upon your shoulders, pulls you close, and whispers in your ear:

‘I’m not screwing around. It’s time. All of this pretending and performing – these coping mechanisms that you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt – has to go.’

Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. You can’t live the rest of your life worried about what other people think.”

Brene Brown

In her words written and spoken, Robin Wall Kimmerer poetically teaches students and her readers how to listen deeply to the natural world, to appreciate indigenous world views and the truth in “all my relations.” Echoed in our book salon conversation, rich in individual perspectives, impressions, and associations, I came away with deepened regard and much deeper regret for all that had been taken away and lost through the colonization and residential schooling of our First Peoples.

“It’s time to make some new threads; time to strengthen the frayed wild edges of our own being, and then weave ourselves back into the fabric of our culture. Once we knew the patterns for weaving the world; we can piece them together again.”

Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted, 2016
fabric woven in Errachidia, Morocco, 2019

On Saturday I woke to an email announcing that my ekphrastic poem written in response to a track from an electronic music album had been accepted for its anthology. For payment! With a contract coming! The feedback and edits from my writer-in-residence were terrific, just what I need to help this self-taught poet-in-process develop, and realize my innovative contribution to the leadership anthology: “poetic” process observation-recordings of our meetings, and synthesizing chapters into poetic “pauses” to introduce or close chapter sections.

Right about now, two years ago, we were getting ready to leave for a winter sojourn in southern Spain. A couple of weeks, mid to late February, travelling by bus and train through Andalusia – Sevilla, Aracena, Cordoba, Granada, Malaga and then back to Sevilla. And then upon our return home, the world would change. Today, nearly two years later, unprecedented impacts from the pandemic continue to roll out like an endless line of falling dominoes.

In response to a friend’s blog last week, I wrote “this seems to be the time and the place where the art, the poem, the story, the prayer, the silence, the conversation, the thank you, the kiss, the embrace may comfort, soothe, sustain and help us find our way.”

“Women can heal the Wasteland.
We can remake the world.
This is what women do.
This is our work.”

Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted, 2016

And so we do, as we do.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

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