Recalibrating to a New Now

Today, sitting around our home, still in my robe and slippers at nearly noon, with not a thing needing to get done, I realized how much my interior state is still one of having to do something to feel purposeful. Just sitting there (oh the judgment with typing “just” and what that connotes), looking out the window, sipping a coffee, and I’m feeling this pressure, this nagging urgency to get going, get doing.

To do something to feel purposeful.

As a kid, it was always about staying one step ahead so as not to get in trouble. Hyper-vigilance became my m.o. and like most qualities, it has its double edge. On one hand, an ability to quickly scan and sense into the field, to notice, to decide, and act, or not. Very helpful in lots of places. On the other, an ever-present heightened awareness that can quickly become anxiety. Not so helpful when it takes over and leaves me lagged and jagged in its wake.

Then as an adult, both in my professional work, and spiritually seeking nature, I read and espoused tomes on finding the elusive work-life balance of purpose, meaning, values aligned engagement, so on and so forth. Titles, many of which remain on the book shelf, and which continue to attest to its selling and seductive power. Still doing something to feel purposeful.

Now, it seems those very words, phrases, steps and stages to which I aspired are backfiring as I sit in this new now place of having an expanse of wide open time and space in which to do, to be anything I wish to do, to be. I realize it’s always a matter of interpretation, and I’ve truly appreciated the authors and thought leaders from whose books and words I’ve gleaned much, but I’m wondering, yet again, the extent to which this too, is conditioning premised on a core belief of being flawed, and not enough, just as I am? Of not trusting a deep inner balance beyond myself? I wonder how much this is a ruse we’ve all bought into, the striving that becomes driven, the discipline that shapeshifts to bullying. The way we keep ourselves and others in line making, doing, getting and growing.

“All day long you do this, and then even in your
sleep…pan for gold.

We are looking to find something to celebrate
with great enthusiasm,

wanting all our battles and toil and our life to make sense.

‘I found it, I found it, I found it!’ a hermit once
began to shout, after having spent years in solitude, meditating.

‘Where?’ a young shepherd boy near by asked.
‘Where?’

And the hermit replied, ‘It may take a while,
but I will show you. For now, just sit near to me.’

All day long we do this with our movements
and our thoughts…pan for gold.”

Hafiz in Daniel Ladinsky, A Year With Hafiz, 2011

It’s been over seven years since I “retired.” Never was and still not comfortable with the word, I didn’t miss a beat before quickly launching myself into a consulting practice. I admit my drive was in part fear driven. Within two weeks I’d designed my professional web presence and had contracts. While still the fall to early summer rhythm I’d been used to for twenty-five plus years, it was more spacious, and seldom was I driving in lousy weather. I continued working with people I loved, offering myself from the place of vocation, best described to me by Frederick Buechner and John O’Donohue:

“Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” ―

Frederick Buechner

“That edge where the individual gift fits the outer hunger and where the outer gift fits the inner hunger.”

John O’Donohue in Angeles Arrien, The Second Half of Life, 2005

If taxes are an indication, 2018 was my best year ever. And then with provincial budget cuts, contracts suddenly weren’t, and others were curtailed, so that by late last fall, work as I had known it came to a sudden halt. While not surprising, even feeling an almost secret deep gladness, I realized this seven-year cycle of work post “retirement” had come to completion, and would look different here on in. I wouldn’t be “hunting” for work. I’d be content with what came my way, trusting in enough. I’d use that refined ability to scan, sense into, notice and follow the energy to God knows where, even if it was to nowhere and nothing.

While my head was making sense of it all, in December, my body responded with a month plus systemic virus, infecting my physical senses, sinuses and lungs. “Perhaps I was detoxing?” offered a wise friend. Yes, and resting.

“In the first state of rest is the sense of stopping, of giving up on what we have been doing or how we have been being. In the second, is the sense of slowly coming home, the physical journey into the body’s uncoerced, un-bullied self, as if trying to remember the way or even the destination itself. In the third state is a sense of healing and self-forgiveness and of arrival. In the fourth state, deep in the primal exchange of the breath, is the give and take, the blessing and being blessed and the ability to delight in both. The fifth stage is a sense of absolute readiness and presence, a delight in and an anticipation of the world and all its forms; a sense of being the meeting itself between the inner and outer, and that receiving and responding occur in one spontaneous movement.”

David Whyte, “Rest” in Consolations, 2015

Hesitant to give over completely to Whyte’s synthesis, I know intimately the truth of his first and second stages. Resonating with “slowly coming home” given my 2020 word. Reclaiming myself from the bullied over-riding of my body’s need and knowing. Rediscovering trust. Restoring faith. *Recalibrating, again, into this new now. But first, to pause and rest.

*Recalibrating – In 2011, friend gifted me this word to describe my inner process when I returned home after three months in Europe. It’s a recurrent life theme about which I’ve written or referenced over the course of those years since:

 

A Love Letter to Annie

Our morning routine:

I put the kettle on to boil for my americano. I put fresh water into one of your bowls, a scoop of pumpkin into the other. Lights on, I go downstairs, say good morning, and pour a cup of dry kibble on top of the pumpkin. Fetch you from your kennel, maybe get lucky with a quick sniff and kiss. You shoot up the stairs, scewed carpet in your wake, and wait impatiently at the back door, howling for me to hurry. Maybe a side stop and quick glance through the dining room window to see if any rabbits are deserving of your attention.

I laugh because of late, you race outside, only to immediately pivot after catching a sniff of the still dark morning air, and return to the door, jumping to be let in, the urgency to void suddenly displaced by the urge to eat.

Your exuberance for the new day continues as you race through the hardwood hallway, skid into the kitchen and launch into breakfast. That scarfed down, you tap dance the few steps across to the counter, head cocked alert, and anxiously wait for the next course, a couple of chopped carrots.

Now maybe I can scoop coffee into my two-cup stove-top espresso pot, section a grapefruit, get cream into my mug before you or I realize you need to go out again. For real. That done, another couple of carrot chunks, coffee poured, I sit down to glance at my phone.

You take your place in the hallway, looking into the kitchen at me. A barely audible “grrrr,” as you signal your need to go out. Again. At least twice. Maybe for real this time so I give in, but am pretty sure it’s your ruse to get twice the carrots. Funny, you never “grrrr” when I glance at the morning paper, only at the phone. Astute, as you sense it to be a more penetrating distraction from you, and in all honesty, from most everything.

Satisfied, you take your leave, and settle onto “your” sofa to begin one of your many morning naps.  Later you’ll move upstairs to get comfy on a bed, whichever is the best one for basking between pillows in the warmth of  the morning sun.  Yes, we’ve created a Goldilocks, allowing you, our fifth beloved canine companion, to get jump up at your whim onto sofa or bed. You, the first since our first so many decades ago. We, with the weakened resolve of aging.

We become religious,
then we turn from it,
then we are in need and maybe we turn back.
We turn to money,
then we turn to the moral life,
then we think about money again.
We meet wonderful people, but lose them
in our busyness.
We’re, as the saying goes, all over the place.
Steadfastness, it seems,
is more about dogs than about us.
One of the reasons we love them so much.

Mary Oliver, “How It Is With Us and How It Is With Them,” in Dog Songs

Today the morning sun is shining exceptionally bright. Yesterday Sig and I remarked at its growing warmth, its being higher in the sky, its promise of seasons to come, though mindful we have many more weeks of winter cold. Today I have the gift of time, increasingly my gift these days. You come into the kitchen and nudge me to follow you, to sit with you on the sofa. I comply, taking my mug, and settle in beside you. We look into each other’s eyes and stroking your head, I tell you the story of your coming to us, prefaced by saying you’re one of the best things to have come into my life.

Too soon, that weekend in August when we claimed you as ours.  Too soon after our Lady dog had passed. She held on until my return from being in Europe for three months. My heart broken by grief. For her. For work that had been “abolished” ostensibly in a re-organization, but probably a consequence of having spoken truth to power the previous year. For myself, discombobulated by the shock of culture and family reunions. The call from our friend: if we wanted you, we needed to come soon as he needed to unload his kennel of dogs to tend to his ailing wife whose cancer had come out of remission. We’d make a bit of a vacation out of it. Tour the southern foothills. Dine at a local café, off the beaten track but known for bringing in stellar musicians in between their touring gigs. Visit a national park. View the mountains.

When I first saw you, a year old but still a clumsy pup, the largest setter we’d ever had, I was struck by your gentle nature, your soft mouth. I was dismayed that at a year, living in the kennel, you weren’t house broken. And while Sig said we’d kennel you, I knew that simply would not happen. It never did with any of your predecessors. Once home, after several inevitable “whoops,” I wondered if you’d ever learn.  Now I laugh, and eat lots of humble pie with a side of crow, given your aforementioned ruse!

It’s been nearly nine years.  That makes you nearly ten. During this time, I’ve bestowed you with several names of endearment: Gentle Annie, Big Beauty, Annie Bright Eyes, Princess and the Pea, Guard Girl. I see age advance in your white face, clouds in your dark eyes. I see you gingerly lick and occasionally chew on your front legs. Arthritis most likely, given you’re a sporting dog with an instinct honed to run across the prairie for miles, on the wind of bird scent, an hour or so at a stretch. I feel my heart pierce with the inevitable, and think to myself, how I will ever withstand your loss.

Dogs die so soon. I have my stories of that grief, no doubt many of you do also. It is almost a failure of will, a failure of love, to let them grow old – or so it feels. We would do anything to keep them with us, and to keep them young. The one gift we cannot give.

Mary Oliver, “Dog Talk,” in Dog Songs

Story over, I caress your silky ears, kiss the top of your head and lay my hand on your rib cage as you lay your head on my lap. Continue to stroke your ear.  All is quiet now except for the tick tock of the cuckoo clock. Soon your soft and steady breathing syncs with mine. Inhale. Exhale. I notice the rainbow windsock, hung on the bare willow, stirring. The wind chimes, too. Then it looks and feels and sounds like all is in sync – the clock, our breathing, the swaying windsock and wind chimes – all moving to the soft and slow and steady rhythm of our inhale and exhale.

The sun glows orange on the claret blanket draped across the other sofa. The sky, a robin egg’s blue.

And for these moments, I feel we have stepped into the timelessness that is eternity. Found for a moment, maybe Heaven.Perspectives with Panache

 

Home

We’re all just walking each other home.

Ram Dass

Home. My word for 2020.

Not chosen but invited, it arrived early into 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 receive 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 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 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.
Home with her heart red door, a few years ago…same season with a bit more snow

Where I Am Today

Shoveling Snow with Buddha

In the usual iconography of the temple or the local Wok
you would never see him doing such a thing,
tossing the dry snow over a mountain
of his bare, round shoulder,
his hair tied in a knot,
a model of concentration.

Sitting is more his speed, if that is the word
for what he does, or does not do.

Even the season is wrong for him.
In all his manifestations, is it not warm or slightly humid?
Is this not implied by his serene expression,
that smile so wide it wraps itself around the waist of the universe?

But here we are, working our way down the driveway,
one shovelful at a time.
We toss the light powder into the clear air.
We feel the cold mist on our faces.
And with every heave we disappear
and become lost to each other
in these sudden clouds of our own making,
these fountain-bursts of snow.

This is so much better than a sermon in church,
I say out loud, but Buddha keeps on shoveling.
This is the true religion, the religion of snow,
and sunlight and winter geese barking in the sky,
I say, but he is too busy to hear me.

He has thrown himself into shoveling snow
as if it were the purpose of existence,
as if the sign of a perfect life were a clear driveway
you could back the car down easily
and drive off into the vanities of the world
with a broken heater fan and a song on the radio.

All morning long we work side by side,
me with my commentary
and he inside his generous pocket of silence,
until the hour is nearly noon
and the snow is piled high all around us;
then, I hear him speak.

After this, he asks,
can we go inside and play cards?

Certainly, I reply, and I will heat some milk
and bring cups of hot chocolate to the table
while you shuffle the deck.
and our boots stand dripping by the door.

Aaah, says the Buddha, lifting his eyes
and leaning for a moment on his shovel
before he drives the thin blade again
deep into the glittering white snow.

– Billy Collins –

Click here to hear Billy Collins read with pianist George Winston.

Epiphany

January 6, the feast of the magi.

Thirty-nine years ago, after four days of driving from Ontario, with my husband and our first English Setter, Beckey, in our VW Scirocco in record breaking cold, we arrived in Edmonton, Alberta. Just married six months earlier, we made, what hindsight has proved again and again, the right decision to accept the offer of a new position for him which included moving expenses, and set up home east of the city.  I’m always mindful of the day and its portent of a new beginning for us. 

Fast forward.

Today, a day that looks and feels much like that day we arrived thirty-nine years ago – brilliant sunshine in an Alberta blue sky, light snow cover, cold but not too cold. Another English Setter (our fifth), Annie, keeping us company in our home office. Ubiquitous truck and SUV have long replacd that sports car. Still east of the city in a house that’s been a comfortable home for decades. Both of us self employed with consulting contracts that fulfill and affirm and leave time to pursue other pleasures and dreams.

Recent shifts in work and relationships have conjured within the persistent archetypal image of magi wandering in the desert, with only the star and intuition to guide them. Recalling that night thirty-nine years ago, driving across the cold, flat Saskatchewan prairie, lit only by a billion stars and luminous moon. Wondering, what new beginning harkens? Then? Now?

“Pick a date and do the thing. There is no rule that says
you have to feel ready before you say yes to your dreams.”

Story People

Today, a new year, a new decade, a new blog. Saying yes, once again.