Today I’m flying low and I’m not saying a word I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.
The world goes on as it must, the bees in the garden rumbling a little, the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten. And so forth.
But I’m taking the day off. Quiet as a feather. I hardly move though really I’m traveling a terrific distance. Stillness. One of the doors into the temple.
– Mary Oliver –
“I hardly move though really I’m traveling a terrific distance.” – How this line resonates. A week ago I learned about a live stream virtual travel tour company and have been literally around the world, in real time, sitting still. Paris and Lyon, Florence, Venice and Pisa, Cusco, the desert in Dubai, Dubrovnik, Istanbul – 30, 45 and 60 minute tours hosted by professional guides on a “pay what you will” tip basis. I take photos “postcards”, ask questions, and delight in this remarkable use of technology that is providing a livelihood for guides, and “green” travel for me. One of the guides, Mike from Peru, shared the unforeseen, but countless benefits of this “pivot” for him, his company and community, making it all the more worthwhile. It’s been a door back into the worldand the people living in it.
How do you know what’s essential? Could you have predicted this particular version of paring down? Perhaps your work is essential, but maybe not. The face you wear to the outside world, the picture in the mirror, has probably slipped. Even the fundamentals of human touch might not be required to assure us that we are not alone. Who could have imagine that we would somehow come down to making bread even without yeast? To the fact that with nothing more than food and water and air and time, even the least of us will find a way to rise?
– Lynn Ungar – April 28, 2020
One year ago this week, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Determining what and who was essential continues to be of consideration in decision making. Global vaccination rollouts promise a light at the end of this very long, dark, and lonely tunnel. While this past year, much has changed and too, much has remained the same. Hoarding toilet paper is giving way in some countries to hoarding vaccinations. Home bakers are making their sourdough creations their livelihoods. Virtual meetings, family gatherings and celebrations have become “de rigeur” and may change the landscape of onsite work. Here at home, I continue to feel the absence of essential connections.
Today, January 6, is the fortieth anniversary of our arrival in Alberta. Too, it is the first anniversary of this blog – A Wabi Sabi Life.
A year ago, in my first post, “Epiphany,” I briefly described that life-changing road trip to here, and the world of possibilities it opened for my husband and me. Too, I sensed that the launch of my newest blog was following my own star in support of a new life direction in writing. Ninety-seven posts later, at least half of which are my own musings and poems, I’ve honored that self-made promise to show up every week to write.
It continues to be a momentous time. Around the world, as the global family, we are ten months into living life in a pandemic. In much of my country, masks are mandated, lockdowns continue, curfews have been issued to curb the continued climb in cases of Covid-19. Too, many of us are outraged at the enactment of privilege by elected officials who took international Christmas vacations while we had been told to stay home and not socialize with family and friends outside of our homes. And while vaccinations appear to be a light at the end of this long, dark, and winding tunnel, it can’t be considered a silver bullet nor panacea, despite how it’s being touted.
Today, turning my eye south to the United States, hell is breaking loose, again, as supporters of the current president take on his claim of a fraudulent election by storming the Capital building as the process for transferring power to the new president was to occur.
Yet I continue to cast my vote for finding and upholding all that is good and true and beautiful in this imperfect, sometimes broken, but mostly well-lived life. My commitment to the no-choice choice, I suppose.
“Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let the pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.”
Thank you for following along this past year, dear readers. With love and kindest regards as we journey together into this new one.
This has been my word for 2020. Remarkable that when it “arrived” a year ago as my word for this year’s soft focus and intention, it would have been so utterly prescient and enbodied. For me, and most everyone on the planet! I wrote in late January of 2020:
Not chosen but invited, it arrived early in a simple, elegant process offered by Abbey of the Arts, called “2020, Give Me a Word.” Developed for the twelve days of Christmas, but available in early December, I’d received an email invitation to “create some space each day to listen and see what word comes shimmering forth from the dailiness of my experience.”
At first, “at home,” which evoked being home and staying put. Perhaps wise counsel given I’d had another autumn full of travel. This time I’d become quite ill during my last trip in early December, a visit with a friend I’d not seen since the passing of her husband. A disappointment for us both when first, our great plans for trekking in the desert mountains became dashed by my excruciating case of plantar fasciitis. Then, a viral infection contracted days before departure had me reach for the emergency cipro to be well enough to get back home without an ear-blocked, cough-racked flight. Just recovered and now into a serious grip of Arctic winter cold, staying put, at home, has been the order of the day.
But as the twelve days passed, with a new practice offered each day to evoke or ripen – a contemplative walk in Nature, writing a poem, illustrating the word visually, attending to my dreams, consulting a soul friend – “at home” became distilled to “home.” Still that comfort with being at home (the best place to be when you’re sick and it’s ridiculously cold outside), but now with a spaciousness that allows mystery to unfold, shadow and surprise to emerge, dreams to awaken.
Last week, browsing somewhere, I came across these wondrous words in an essay, “To Find Your True Home Within Your Life.” Home came knocking.
"The mystic Thomas a Kempis said that when you go out into the world, you return having lost some of yourself. Until you learn to inhabit your aloneness, the lonely distraction and noise of society will seduce you into false belonging, with which you will only become empty and weary. When you face your aloneness, something begins to happen. Gradually, the sense of bleakness changes into a sense of true belonging. This is a slow and open-ended transition but is utterly vital in order to come into rhythm with your own individuality. In a sense this is the endless task of finding your true home within your life. It is not narcissistic, for as soon as you rest in the house of your own heart, doors and windows begin to open outwards to the world." - John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes (1999), 93.
With hindsight being 20:20 – forgive the pun – as I read these words now, I’m awe stuck. Last December’s onset illness persisted for over two months and many times since, I’ve wondered, as have many who suffered similar symptoms then, was this an early iteration of COVID-19? While I’ll never definitively know, because the blood work done in December was before we knew of the virus, I do know I don’t remember ever having felt so wretched and exhausted for so long, and thankfully, none of the people I encountered during that period became ill.
There have been gifts during this near year of sheltering in place, being home with minimal distraction and the noise from society. One, paradoxically, amidst losses and griefs – experienced and sensed, personal and collective – has been a deeply felt contentment and joy that manifests most obviously every morning, and several times a day, in “kitchen dancing.” The unabashed delight in a new day, unscripted, unfettered by obligation or need to muster myself. The simple pleasures of tending to Annie. Our daily walks in the neighborhood where she sniffs and I see Nature’s subtle and not so changes. Planning and preparing dinner to enjoy with my husband. Home care. Writing. This in marked contrast to years of waking with a feeling, albeit habituated, of anxiety and dread. Except for the three months living in Germany while I travelled through Europe in 2011, I don’t recall feeling such sweet enthusiasm for my life.
And that perennial guiding question of what now to do with my wild and precious life, has now, ever so subtly and gradually, given way to trust in its gentle unfolding.
Perhaps it’s a function of age, and my commitment to a conscious tending, but a most profound gift of this year, of living in this memory-making pandemic time, has been coming into rhythm with my individuality, of finding my true home within my life, of resting in the house of my heart.
I’m standing on the cusp of the seasons, now dressed for winter when I walk Annie. Gloves need to be swapped out for mittens, trail runners for Blundstones. Tomorrow, we’ll go shopping for a new winter coat for Annie, as I think with age, we’re both feeling the cold more. Today there’s a skiff of snow on roofs and yards, the shallow pond froze last night, and during yesterday morning’s river valley walk, the shoreline was edged with ice. Yet, still the red, golden green and light brown falling leaves.
This autumn, one particularly resplendent in colour and warmth with sunshine most every day, I felt the invitation to “see” what was on display and unfolding while Annie and I walked. She, ever patient, and I, and with my early generation, single lens phone camera in hand, stopped in front of a red amur maple, reminiscent of my Niagara youth. Glowing, almost vibrating vermillion, I was awestruck and until now, never thought my phone could capture what I was seeing. It was the beginning.
“I take my camera out into the world, and it invites me to slow down and linger over these moments of beauty. It opens me to wonder and delight.”
Christine Valters Paintner, Eyes of the Heart, 2013
Then it was the roses, full blown blossoms and buds, still. And the sweet peas – always an irony for me with an April birthday, and them the designated flower.
The dandelion, harbinger of spring, peeking among the dried leaves. The golden ash against our signature blue sky. Ruby globes of crabapple, sun-kissed cherries, orange mountain ash berries.
Sunflower sentinels bordering a walkway. And the skies.
One day the clouds had me spellbound. Later that day, after I’d shared their magnificence on Facebook, friends said they, too, had noticed and appreciated I’d stopped to notice, to press, to share. Another day, later in the season, I was smitten by treetops in their yonder backdrops.
And throughout, always that amur maple marking autumn’s reign.
“…this is one of the wonders of photography: to be able to frame a moment in time and, within my gaze and absolute presence in that particular moment, to discover holiness. In that single moment, I am reminded that all moments are holy.”
Christine Valters Paintner, Eyes of the Heart, 2013
Framing these moments during our neighborhood walks has easily transferred into chronicling my weekly trek in the river valley. The “Camino de Edmonton,” a thirteen-week staged event to correspond in distance to a final leg of the Camino de Santiago, finds twenty or so hardy souls meeting every Saturday at various rendezvous points in the city for an 8:00 am start. There, I bring my Lumix “point and shoot” hung around my neck, tucked securely into the hip belt of my Deuter pack.
“the graced eye can glimpse beauty everywhere, seeing the divine at work in the hidden depths of things. It is so easy to let our senses be dulled and to settle for the ordinary.”
Christine Valters Paintner, Eyes of the Heart, 2013
Most often walking alone, safely distanced, I settle into my pace and breath, letting my gaze soften, slowing to see with eyes of the heart onto what is asking to be seen. Again, vistas full to bursting with autumn’s abundance. Yet, at the same time, growing more visible with every week, the giving way to emptying, the baring, the decaying and the dying that is winter.
“We don’t have to go out and try to take ‘beautiful’ photos. We simply need to pay attention and foster a different kind of seeing.”
Christine Valters Paintner, Eyes of the Heart, 2013
And accept the invitation to see what’s asking to be seen.
Now I Understand (in response to Pablo Neruda’s An Ode for Ironing)
Your house cleaned. Your floors swept. Your bed made. Your dishes washed. Your gardens tended. Your dog walked.
You, who has the means to purchase the hands’ work of others inherited, earned, dignified
Who would have thought my taking on the task of ironing your linens and your clothes as I pressed mine –
my small act of gratitude for your generous hospitality for opening your home to me giving me sanctuary of rest and routine while I, the novice, explored the world making true and real my heart’s desire –
would be taking away this small but necessary weekly Sunday evening pleasure bringing you back to your self giving you back the ground of your being?
Now I understand this ode’s essence to bring substance and harmony to give routine and resurrection to allow you to feel with your hands your way into a new week.
It’s happened. In the last two days I’ve learned of people I know having their lives impacted by COVID-19. Up until now it’s been something “out there.” Now it’s landed on my doorstep, making these past six months less surreal.
A few weeks ago, while walking Annie, I listened to the second season opener of Brene Brown’s Unlocking Us podcasts. Titled “Day 2” she describes how now, six months into the pandemic, it’s not getting any easier for us. In fact, in a counter-intuitive way, it’s harder. We tell ourselves we should be getting the hang of it, but no. Like the Day 2 of her three-day training events, or what in my profession’s parlance we call the “groan zone”: when, after settling in and getting to know each other, playing around with new concepts and ideas with everything “out there”, the rubber hits the road when we realize, often with resistance, that for any traction and way forward to occur, we need to do a lot of internal pushing, shifting, and changing. We feel awkward, anxious, angry. Tired. Doubting. We want to turn around, get out, and dust ourselves off.
“…let me tell you, day two of these three-day trainings sucked. I mean sucked. So not only in terms of the curriculum, day two meant that we were moving into some of the really tough content, like shame and worthiness, but people were also kind of feeling raw. The first day of anything like the first day of school, the first day of a training, the first day of your work, you’re like, I get the badge and everything’s shiny, and everything feels like a new undertaking, and there’s this sparkle of possibility. By day two, this is dulled. And now you’re kind of in this dense fog where you don’t have the shiny possibility of day one or the running toward the finish line of day three. It’s like hitting the wall.”
I’d been feeling and saying pretty much the same thing this summer. And while I didn’t think I had a timeline for this thing, knew enough to cancel a September return to Morocco way back in March, heard about the “second wave”, in all honesty, in some deep place, I was holding out hope we’d be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel by now, driving towards it. Instead it feels as messy as ever. But now, since yesterday, much more real.
“…we’re in the dark, the doors close behind us, we’re too far in to turn around and not close enough to the end to see the light…”
Yesterday I went to the store to fetch groceries for my friend, and I swear to God, as I put the mask on my face, my brain fell out. I couldn’t make sense of the store aisle arrows, of how close or far I was to the next person. My glasses kept fogging up. When I finally got ready to checkout, I started placing my items on the conveyor belt before the customer ahead had finished. Yes, I was safely distanced, but the clerk kindly asked me to wait until she had sprayed and wiped the entire belt making it safe and ready for me. Of course, I should have known that. Then I told her I needed two receipts, different bags – theirs they’d pack, mine I needed bag myself – where was my store card? my credit card? Flustered, I finally confessed, “I’m usually pretty competent, but today, I can’t multitask worth a damn.” She laughed with me. Grateful for her kindness, I muddled through, got outside, whipped off my mask, and breathing deep while sitting in my car, realized how rattled I was and why. COVID-19 had arrived on my doorstep.
“We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-Corona existence was not normal, other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate, and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment, one that fits all of humanity and nature.”
Sonya Renee Taylor
Today is a better day. In fact, the whole of last week was grand, even yesterday, grocery shopping aside, or maybe, paradoxically, because of it. September on the prairies can be a glorious month, and after our second wet, cold summer, she’s pulling out all the stops for us. And October is looking pretty good, too. Every day I walk, I’m enthralled with what I see around me. My basic, single lens phone camera is working a surprising magic.
And those plans I’d put in place – in anticipation of this messy middle, to help me flourish after having felt fallow for months – are panning out beautifully. I’ll write more about that in weeks to come. But for now, I’ll give Brene the last word:
“The middle is messy, but it’s also where the magic happens. If we believe in ourselves, if we reach out together, and if we lean into a little bit of that grace that says, ‘We can get through this.'”
The wind has been blowing for a solid twelve hours, bringing in a new month and season. Suddenly it feels cold despite the sun shining. Donning a wool jacket, I sat outside to read and sip a summertime cocktail. Tonight, near freezing temperatures are forecast, and I feel the urge to snuggle into sweaters and let sandals give way to boots. So soon, so fast. And still a world living with Covid-19 and its continued uncertainties, wondering what this next season will bring to us all.
“We all lose our bearing from time to time. Whether precipitated by a major event, or a gradual becoming lost, this is when the horizon you had been following disappears – and in its place, a persistent anxiety searches for the new direction of our lives.”
Feeling lost. Being lost. It’s a state I’ve felt more or less for months. Checked back and sure enough, I’d written about it in May, prompted by a lesson in The Soul of a Pilgrim course I’d been taking. A week ago, on a heavy, overcast day, not yet ready for the day to begin, I returned to bed and wrapped in the comforter, looking out into the trees, I gave myself over to that lostness.
What became apparent is that I needed a dose of alone time in Nature, I needed the peace of wild things to make peace with myself that I was no longer working; that the identity I’d had through work was no longer; that my feeling of belonging in community cultivated by that work, too, had now vanished. I needed to reframe my notion of retirement because like it or not, here I was, so soon, so fast. Though admittedly, it was a place of my own co-creation. I’d take a medicine walk on, yes, the Lost Lake trail in the Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Park, thirty minutes east from home.
I packed my essentials and set out as I’d been taught in preparation for last year’s fasting quest. It was a beautiful morning, cool and quiet, though in the distance, I could still hear the faint drone of cars and the occasional train whistle. The trail was quite wet in spots, quickly soaking my trail runners (why didn’t I wear the waterproof ones?) and requiring some agile traversing on top of beaver dams (thankful I had my trekking pole). I carefully followed the trail map and signage as years ago, when cross country skiing, I zigged when I should have zagged and became lost on the same trail. I’ve walked it since, a year ago early spring and summer, but not enough to feel familiar and at home. And every season, every week even, it looks different with Life doing its work.
“So drop your maps and listen to your lostness like a sacred calling into presence.Here, where you may be tempted to take up false belonging, ask instead for an introduction to that which endures. This place without a foothold is the province of grace.”
Arriving at the shelter, my half-way point, I briefly rested and watered, took my bearings and headed off to complete the circuit, or so I thought. A yellow tape and sign indicated the trail was closed, but there was another sign pointing the way, or so I thought. Walking further I encountered unfamiliar trail names, but confirmed I was still on the Lost Lake trail.
The sun, now high in the sky, was on my right, when I knew it needed to be to my back to be going the right way. I saw a marker for the Lost Lake shelter, and wondered, which one, as there are two on the map? Now I wondered, was I coming or going? All the while I noticed the trail had been freshly mowed, giving assurance I was on a well-travelled trail, and yet the sun was still not where it was supposed to be.
Then I arrived at small clearing, a three-way junction with a Lost Lake trail sign pointing down the trail, another pointing back up where I’d just walked, and the shelter sign and arrow pointing down the middle. Hmmmm…
I was lost.
I immediately recalled the wise words from David Wagoner’s wise poem Lost, “Stand still.”
So I did.
I took off my pack. I sat down. I retrieved my cell phone – thank god for service – and called one, then another emergency number. I gave my number and within minutes was called back by the local conservation officer who was in the area. In giving her my location, I turned over the map and found where I had made my mistake, taken my many mis-steps. And while I was pretty confident I could find my way back, I acknowledged I was tired, and so accepted her kind offer to get me, and followed her instruction to walk to and wait at the shelter.
“It is the questing field, most responsive to magic and fluent in myth. Here, where there is nothing left to lose, sing out of necessity that your ragged heart be heard. Send out your holy signal and listen for the echo back.”
Walking, stopping, resting, waiting. Echoed back to me was:
Hearing the clear and quiet acceptance of not returning to work as I have known it. Remembering that I’d been in this place of uncertainty many, many times before and that it had always turned out OK. Feeling the beginning stirrings of energy and seedlings of enthusiasm for something new. Having the realization that I had manifested “out there” my own inner lostness, and in doing so had learned lessons and received gifts – the need for preparation, for knowing when to turn back, when to stand still and stay put, when to ask for help, and how to receive it.
Driving back with Karen, the conservation officer, she told me she’d been delayed because another woman called for assistance after she and her dogs were stalked by coyotes, a real concern because of this unusual display of persistent brazenness. She mentioned the resident though reclusive black bear, and, of course, moose, elk, deer, wolves, and beaver.
Hmmmmm…walking with a buddy would be a good medicine for next time.
There’s a space I look into most mornings, through the tall strong limbs and lacy leather leaves of the graceful laurel willow. The one our neighbor detests for its size and heft, fearing a limb will snap in the wind that makes it twist and bend to its will. The one we love for those very reasons, which is why we invest our time and money in its trimming to safeguard its health and aging glory.
This space past rooftops and beyond neighboring trees, a keyhole into world beyond my backyard, a periscope onto the weather. Right now, fog hangs wet and heavy, making for a monotone blanket of dark and light. Yesterday, pale grey with rain cloud. And the day before that, clear summer blue shimmering against a emerald border. Sooner than later, a more fragile edge, as leaves give way to bare branches, then to be softened with snow.
Depending on where I sit, inside or out, and the time of day I take to notice, the perspective shifts.
But always the same my gratitude for this opening onto another moment of the day, into a life that is mine to claim.
Mid August has come and gone and with it, most of summer. I used to say that August felt like one long Sunday night, especially for those of us in education. That mix of anticipation, apprehension, excitement and trepidation with September and the start of a new school year. All the stuff that can keep one awake, tossing and turning on a Sunday night, wondering what the new week will bring.
For the first time, this isn’t my felt sense. Maybe enough years out and away from the day to day. Too, knowing my work with schools has ceased, at least for the time being. Not wanting to be insensitive, I admit it’s hardly a year I’d want to be returning given so much continued uncertainty and real apprehension about the safety and well-being of staff and students as COVID-19 numbers continue to rise here and around the world with school resuming.
Despite another run this week of hot, sunny weather and cloudless skies (only the second this summer!) there are signs of what’s to come. Sitting by the local pond late last week I wrote:
The change in weather weighed heavy today. Every bone in my body ached. My jaw clenched as my third eye pulsed. Indelible and subtle, this signaling of the season to come. Tell-tale morning chill. Golden haze on aspen, ash and farmers’ fields. Sun that sets earlier, rises later. Geese gathered on the cat-tail bordered pond, leisurely swim in the same V formation as they fly. And for a moment I hear in my head the opening lines to a favourite Mary Oliver poem, Wild Geese. Try to speak aloud from memory. Give up but remember its essence, remember the world announcing my place in the family of things.
Look up into that blue sky, heavy with lead bottomed clouds. Beseech the wind who is my guardian, “Where is it I’m meant to be?”
Like a squirrel gathering nuts, the geese and crows gathering to migrate south, I’m beginning to prepare myself for fall. Like its predecessors, spring and summer of 2020, I imagine it, too, will be the likes of which none of us has ever experienced. More pronounced again have been those waves of grief as I realize all too soon the ease with which we’ve been able to safely see friends will pass as colder temperatures and shorter days become the norm. And still, though curiously more acute, the sur-reality of living in this pandemic, every day continuing to learn more and more its impacts. Something I felt in the spring, but was able to hold lightly, off to the side during summer.
“… it is in those moments that we must remember the difference between despair and grief. While despair traps us in the bog of despondency, grief carries us into life. Grief calls us into a deeper engagement with those things that we love. And even as we are losing them, grief wants to exalt their beauty. If we let grief move us into expression, it will sing the blood into our songs, colour the vividness into our paintings, and slip the poetry between our words.
Toko-pa Turner, Facebook post, August 14, 2020
So thoroughly engaged in the first programs I took under their hosting this spring, in the pandemic’s novel, early days, I signed on to another self study with the Abbey of the Arts. Starting in September for twelve weeks, “Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist,” promises to be an equally deep, communal dive into creative expression. I’m lightly researching how and what I need to begin a project based on some mandala paintings I’ve made over the years, and today I signed on for a self-paced study in abstract creative painting. Lonely for community, I’ve decided to resume my weekly Saturday river valley walks with the local Camino group.
It’s a delicate balancing act, like the pattern I’ve noticed when I’ve been out and about a bit, around more people than usual. Without much conscious thought, I find myself laying low for the following several days, staying home, and only going out to walk Annie. I hear friends and family acknowledge their loneliness, while others live with the millstone of chronic illness and the deaths of their beloveds. My heart aches for my sister, recently moved to the States, where as the crow flies only fifteen minutes from her children, grandchildren and our parents, but with the border closed, now for another month, now an eternity away. I prudently expect more of our traditional celebrations – Thanksgiving, Hallowe’en, Christmas, New Year’s – will continue to be severely curtailed by Covid-19.
“Rumi says, ‘All medicine wants is pain to cure.’ And so we must cry out in our weakness, our ineptitude, our beautiful inadequacy and make of it an invitation that medicine might reach through and towards us.”
Toko-pa Turner, Facebook post, August 14, 2020
Sitting by the pond, in response to my question, the wind whispers:
Right here, dear daughter. Resting in the still warm sun. Breathing in the fresh northern air. Your hair like the green rushes, swaying, dipping and dancing in rhythm to my silent song. Right here. Right now. This.