It’s the final week of April and still we are in serious need of rain. Where I live we have not had much in the way of April showers to bring May flowers, and as I wrote last week, firefighters are readying for a hell of a season. And this past weekend, if lack of moisture isn’t enough, we had a suspected arsonist destroy several small local businesses in one of my community’s first strip malls. No injuries but the cost is near unbearable on all levels for those business owners who’ve barely kept their heads above water during this year plus of pandemic restrictions.
I woke early this morning, well before dawn, and at 4:30 I could see the night giving way to day. I wrote a bit, musings and machinations, and some questions arising from noticing:
What am I hungry for? What action do I need to take? What is the shoe that I’m waiting for to drop? What would be a “passionate project” to undertake? How might that be a distraction from simply sitting still and writing?
Questions not so much to answer, but simply to let swirl and settle or, in the word and way of “MU” – the answer given in Japanese Zen Buddhism when the wrong question is asked – ask a different question.
Then I replied to a friend’s email, in which I tapped:
“I am well. This is the base line from which many ebbs and flows – some use the word “corroding,” others “languishing,” in response to these prolonged days of covid, with no respite in sight. Here at home, we forget that this IS having an effect on us and our relationship…of course, and even though I blogged about it, I somehow assumed I might be exempt, attributing malaise, and lack of focus to my inner workings instead of to how “out there” is affecting those inner workings. That being said, again, to myself as much as anyone, I AM WELL!
…You have invited some reflection as I begin this week. And for you, the dawn I paused to notice this morning…so fleeting its colours. One has to be right there and ready to see…a life lesson I think.“
To be right there and ready… to see…to know… when to take action, when to sit still…when to undertake a new project or recognize it as distraction…when the inner is affected by the outer…that the through line is “I AM WELL.”
“Must be brain freeze,” I just tapped out to a friend, as I’m late again for this week’s post.
It. Is. Cold. An Arctic vortex has descended upon the prairies. Years ago, I recall my city’s well-loved and highly respected meteorologist calling it “the dreaded of all meteorological phenomena: the Siberian High.” Sunshine and signature Alberta blue skies, but with wind blowing steady, take those already frigid temperatures well below zero – centigrade or Fahrenheit – and drop them at least another ten, dangerous degrees. Since the weekend, weather apps have shown red banners and yellow exclamation points and maps show red across the entire province.
But last Thursday, in advance of its arrival, we waxed up the skies and went out to our local provincial park, Blackfoot-Waskahegan, for some easy-going cross-country skiing. As it had been several years since I’d been on the trails, we took a practice run the week before in the new-this-year tracks set on the golf course. Quiet except for the scratch of the skies on snow, my breathing, the squawking and chirping magpies and chickadees, it was heaven sent, though for now, on pause.
Sunday, dressed warmly in a fleece lined wool toque, down parka, gortex snow pants, shearling boots and new “extreme cold” Hesta mitts, I met many folks on the paths, similarly bundled, each enjoying our daily walks in the sunshine. An hour later, the mitts standing up to their reputation, my hands were sweating. The wind blew in that evening, and now even Annie, ever ready to brave the elements – except rain – is less than enthusiastic to be outside. She’s conceded to wearing her boots again with her stylish coat, and we manage a walk around the block. But she didn’t hesitate or pull the other way when I turned down the street headed home. Yesterday after sending her indoors, I took on clearing the sidewalk and driveway of hard packed snow. Got nearly 10,000 steps with it all. That sunshine is a powerful draw. But right this moment, in a day just beginning to clear, she’s napping on her cushion by the space heater as I write.
A year ago today, we were making our way to Sevilla for a winter sojourn in Andalusia. Right about now we were napping in a cozy sleep pod at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. Later in the afternoon, we’d catch our flight to Sevilla, check into our hotel, and enjoy our first of many “al fresco” Spanish tapas. Smoky olives, sweet red vermut on ice, grilled octopus.
Ahhhh memory. “The power to gather roses in Winter.”
During the next few weeks, to mark the occasion I’ll mix an Americano cocktail (first enjoyed during my first visit to Andalusia in 2017) with a slice of orange (not Sevillian, too bitter), chew on Spanish olives, and “gather roses” as I wander across the pages of my journal and photo book from last year’s last trip before the pandemic.
And now, after finishing this post, I’ll check to see if a walk is doable. And then, inspired by returning to reading Melanie Falick’s beautiful story of hand makers and DIYers, Making a Life, I’ll continue embellishing the sweater I knitted a few years back. Worked from a pattern I’d rejigged, with very fine lacy yarn – a silk mohair blend – it’s rife with mis-takes and mis-stitches, too big, and too disappointing after numerous tear-outs and restarts. After taking it out from hiding a few months ago, glancing at it every now and then, holding lightly what and how to proceed, last night I took needle and thread and using a running straight stitch, took in the sides and arms in an exposed French seam. I roll hemmed the entire sweater, again using a straight stitch, letting it show. Then, with a skein of similarly spun yarn from a sweater my mother made for me years ago, I’m running it though those uneven ladders to bring in texture and colour. A true “wabi sabi” creation, using what’s imperfect with what’s on hand, to make beautiful.
Like the little water colour I did while attending a conference last Saturday on Medieval Pilgrimages. Bored with the academic posturing and paper reading, and needing distraction to sort and discern what was of value for me, I adhered to the principles of intuitive painting – no premeditation, design, or meaning – and simply worked with colour and stroke. And then, almost as an afterthought, used a fine black pen to outline the shapes that emerged. Delightful, colourful, nonsensical.
“Ways to trust one’s own wisdom to bless the imperfections to see and make apparent the inherent beauty to smell crimson roses even in Winter when her blizzards blow and blind.”
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.
In reflection to a prompt from last week’s theme in Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist – “Creative Work as Vocation and Holy Service” – a powerful memory was evoked of a group activity of deep listening and sensing into space and collective. Thirty or so of us standing in a room led by a famous percussionist were invited to make a brief improv musical composition using only six sounds, one of each assigned to each of us, to be used only once. Like the maestro, he signaled the start and as I listened, waiting for when to make my contribution with my sound, it became apparent that staying silent was most needed for the coherence of the emerging melody.
“Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work, which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.”
Mary Oliver, The Messenger
Over the years, calling back that visceral experience has always been a profound, astonishing even, lesson of the discernment and value of silence, stillness and spaciousness in works that matter.
Last week that memory gave me a fresh way into understanding my place right now. The waxing and waning between finally feeling – after several fallow and lost months of grieving my sudden, unexpected arrival at “retirement” – for the first time in my life, a deep contentment with not working, AND, too, missing the ways in which I had worked, been of service, made a living. Missing the known and felt meaning and value I gave and received for my work. Such missing occasionally “stings” as my circle of women friends are still so employed or creating their “encore” careers.
“Our daily work may rise out of our true calling in the world, or it may just pay the bills; either way, we each have a vocation. We each were given certain gifts to offer in service to others. Our calling is deeply connected to our creativity. The truths we long to express in the world and the way we feel moved to give form to beauty are signs of the Spirit at work in us. Vocation is a daily invitation to be fully who we are and to allow our lives to unfold in ways that are organic to this deepest identity.”
Christine Valters Paintner, The Artist’s Rule, 2011
So how, now in my autumn years, will this unfamiliar “non work” become my “love made visible” in counter-cultural, less obvious, silent, still and spacious ways? How, as I find myself living a long-held dream of having expanses of time and space, unfettered by plans and obligation (thanks in part to the pandemic), may creativity emerge as vocation, take form as holy service? How do I learn to be astonished?
A cursory inventory:
Shifting my perspective to give value to home care, meal preparation, dog walking as my labors of love.
Trusting that the beauty I notice and express, via written word and photograph – in my blog, on social media, in my practice of hand writing note cards sent to friends – are an offering of my life as poem and prayer.
Remembering my meditation and prayer, a lit candle, and passing thought for another, known or unknown, are silent weavings for healing and community.
Giving space for my holy grief, holy gratitude and holy love creates space for others to do so.
Sitting with the questions of my heart, in the tension of knowing a greater plan is at work, revealed only – word by word, brush stroke by brush stroke, action by action – in the ordinary living into each day.
Learning to “move at the pace of guidance,” heeding the wisdom of energies seen and unseen.
“We make what we make, we give a gift, not only through what we make or do, but in the way we feel as we do, and even, in the way others witness us in our feeling and doing, giving to them as they give to us…a work and an identity that holds both together, not only for an end, but for every step that shapes an onward way.”
“Keep it simple, keep it kind” to grease and ease passage through resistance into the Dance of Sacred Yes and Sacred No. Known and named resistance for one so facile with words – spoken and written – knows Body Knows and will slipstream with Her own Wisdom, shape shift to Truth.
“By the sacred yes or the sacred no I mean that affirmation or negation that comes from a deep place of wisdom and courage, even if it creates conflict or disagreement. The sacred yes is not willful or egocentric, but rather is willing and surrendered. The sacred no is not rebellion or refusal, but always the necessary protecting of boundaries.”
Richard Rohr, in The Artist’s Rule by Christine Valters Paintner
The Deal struck – leave words and utterances behind for Body in its silence to teach, with music of shaman’s dream to guide.
Kneel before the altar. Candle lit. Head bowed. Stilling, silencing, falling into the cave of the heart. Listening to a beat older than time. Imaginal images flutter through time and space.
SACRED YES sees ancient Sun Dancer, pierced with deer cord bound to Tree in Life Hoop’s center. Face to the sun, sweat and blood streaming. Is this not a Sacred Dance to the Sacred Yes of Life? Elephant Matriarch swinging her massive head and trunk, warning all to beware as she guides her family through danger. Arms suspended as Seaweed floating on the ocean’s surf. Then outstretched seeking surfer’s balance as he rides the Wave. Now bald Eagle silently soaring, high wide view of land and sky. Hold hair tight like Kali, Durga. Bounce and bound like Ape. Silent belly rumble and laugh. Inhale deep. Exhale deeper like bellows. Not a word. Not a sound. Felt Sense Flashes. All a truer expression of that commitment to Life through its ages, when all Bodies knew. Then rest, dream of YES, slip into Dream Time to bring it through, to be it, to be with it. No words needed. Body knows. Space surrounding Body holds vibration and emanation of this Dance to SACRED YES.
SACRED NO awakens to Tibetan bells. Flowing gentle melody instantly illumines Sacred No is always in service of Sacred Yes. In obedience bows to Life. Bending forward to purge the false yes, compliance, making small, resentments and envies – all taken as truth those lifetimes of lies. Rising up, strengthen arms and legs, back and front, shake head free of delusion, break free of an invisible bondage as concrete eggshell shatters. Drum beat evokes fierce warrior. Strike and chop and kick and stomp. Claim and proclaim. Power and empower. Swoon with sudden sick feeling as Ego slips in guised to taint and turn the Sacred against itself. BIG MEDICINE here. Stand still. Is not standing still on one’s ground like Mountain the Sacred Dance of the Sacred No? Then sway and soften into Life, like Tree who knows to withstand Storm he must give and bend. Be fluid, fluent like River flows. Dance SACRED NO as betrothed partner to SACRED YES. Shape shift through Ego’s seduction. Discern the step. Quiet presence, fierce with fight. When to be loud with silence, soft with strength.
“A thousand half-loves must be surrendered to take a whole heart home.”
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.
Driving along a prairie east west highway, see tawny hawks sit still and solemn on weathered wooden fence posts gazing out over the sun yellow canola fields bordered by green grass and blue sky. While crows hop on the edges of pot-hole ponds, and others soar on invisible cloudless slipstreams.
The linden tree we planted to replace the “sacred” grove of aspens, (those four slender white trunks and limbs finally reached their natural end) is now in full golden blossom, gives off that subtle, yet distinguishable sweet fragrance attracting big-bottomed bumblebees by the dozen.
This day I sit on the café patio of a favourite garden store. The masked hostess initially said there’d be an hour wait, then quickly waived it and me to the perfect table. Such kindness these days so easily brings me, touches me, moves me to tears. Thankful for sunglasses. I can see out. She can’t see in.
Creamy globes of hydrangea, some in pots, others topiary trees. Their petals flutter in a balmy breeze I’ve longed for ages to feel.
Piano muzak and signature water fountains, my aural companions. Another day of cloudless blue soothing warmth. Background melodies blur nearby conversations, but accentuate my silent solitude. Those familiar invite a slippery slope of remembering when
I was last here…lunch with friends, Winter cold. Swaddled in sweaters and down, toques, gloves and coats. Warm in the glow of time shared.
Floating down the river as a teenager with my girlfriends, or lounging on the air mattress in the cold quarry waters. Music blasting from the boom box above. Carefully passing the joint, we be jammin’.
My spoon glides through the layers of light whipped cream, denser coconut cream, then break though oven crisp pastry. My raison d’etre this favourite dessert.
Pachelbel’s canon whispers, evokes body memory to breathe slower, deeper. And then, like that golden dragonfly I watch my thoughts lift and land lightly
a friend who lost her husband to suicide another her brother won’t linger too long here, just enough for a steady pause and heartfelt prayer.
Finally a long awaited week of summer where the yellow circle weather icons make it possible to plan
a picnic, a patio visit, an alfresco dinner with friends, another day long road trip.
Slugs shrivel. Flowers flourish. Farmers’ crops and home gardens ripen, promising a bounty this week.Hallelujah! Cohen’s chords now proclaim. Bill received and paid. Thanks be given.
Last week’s spoken weariness persists. Now with another soupçon of sadness. I think of Rumi and his guest house, welcoming all these sensations and feelings as guides from beyond. I continue to practice the art of sitting in the void of uncertainty, in the tension of it all, of it all being true.
Too, I continue my participation in The Soul of a Pilgrim. It’s become a way to chronicle my reactions and response to the pandemic within the context of these eight practices. Last week, the fifth, the practice of being uncomfortable, particularly with being lost.
In the week’s online conversation, and in anticipation of how I’d create a scenario walking in my neighborhood where I’d feel lost, get lost, be lost, I posted this favourite poem, Lost, as a guide for me and others.
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here, And you must treat it as a powerful stranger, Must ask permission to know it and be known. The forest breathes. Listen. It answers, I have made this place around you. If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here. No two trees are the same to Raven. No two branches are the same to Wren. If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you, You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows Where you are. You must let it find you.
David Wagoner, 1999
The evening I set out, was initially along the familiar route, with our Annie dog leading the way. With each step, I recalled those times I’ve been lost, or more significantly, worked to not get lost. With each step, I felt the discomfort of my body tightening, butterflies in my gut, my head straining to figure it out, find my way.
Travelling solo in Europe in my fifth decade. Late to the party, I never did the university gap year, backpack, Eurail pass thing. I finally made that long held dream come true, thanks to a deferred salary leave which allowed me to travel for three months. I remembered arriving in Venice at the beginning of Carnavale, disembarking from the train, stepping down onto the platform to catch a water ferry, and find my way to my apartment. Almost a decade ago, the borrowed cellphone didn’t work. Wifi was sketchy at best. But constant as a northern star, the kindness of strangers helped me arrive and make a quick email connection with my husband to let him know I’d arrived safely, the one and only during that leg of the trip.
I’d always considered myself poor with directions, but that trip, those three months, taught me otherwise. Perhaps I erred on the side of over-vigilance, but travelling alone, in low season winter and spring, when the days were short, I did what I needed to stay “found”, using my paper map, practicing walking routes to train stations to estimate time, asking for help, photographing landmarks to get me “home.” It was all about self-care, managing my anxiety, not getting too overwhelmed with the “bigness, muchness, fullness” of it all that was new, alluring, exciting, different. For me, travelling alone, getting lost would not add to the experience.
Those memories and visceral feelings walked with me and Annie as we approached the school playground. I was struck by the oddness, the “wrongness” of not seeing any children playing on the equipment, not seeing their parents watching them, on this sunny early evening. I felt lost in this pandemic scenario.
Even though Annie and I walked along different streets that evening, some, for all the years I’ve lived here, I’d never walked nor driven down before, the lost I felt was an interior one, grieving so much which is no longer, and wondering, will it ever be again.
This lost has weighed heavy these past days. Here in Canada, it’s our first long weekend of the summer. It’s been unseasonably cold across the country, with snow falling, oddly even, in more temperate locations. While it makes easier not getting together with friends for barbeques or going to the greenhouses for bedding plants, it’s not supposed to be this way. And yet it is.
Of among hundreds in this global online community, one woman responded to my writing with this lovely insight:
“I appreciate your reflection on the inner experience of ‘lostness’ – how brave of you to do Europe like that, ‘late to the party’ as you called it. And the irony that for all its challenges and your self-belief about your poor sense of direction you were not once lost. And yet something of this time and its strangeness in the midst of your familiar surroundings can induce the sense of lostness and one that ‘weighs heavy’. I find myself identifying with you, thank you Katharine.”
I felt seen. The lost that had weighed heavy became lighter with connection.
It’s been a good two months living in this history making Covid-19 time. Socially distanced. Compassionately retreated. Many of us are baking bread, Marie Kondo-ing our homes, cleaning our yards, walking, taking photos or organizing those we took, ordering take-out, reading, streaming movies, watching YouTube travel videos, zooming meetings, face-timing our family and friends.
We adapt. It’s one of our long and strong suits.
On the surface, life in and around our home is pretty much the same as it ever was. Quiet, with few interruptions except for a parcel delivery, and Annie “guard dogging” with her barks whenever anyone walks by, or rings the doorbell. Funny thing, she doesn’t differentiate if it’s the same person walking by. A neighbor has taken to walking circuits around the green space in our cul de sac. Every five minutes or so, there he goes past our house, and there she goes. We could set a timer with her barking.
And yet, truth be told, in the past week I’ve been feeling weary. Well yes, and weary. This cycle of growing daylight interrupts my sleep patterns. Finally, I’ve learned to keep my sleep mask under my pillow if not on my head. Several recent episodes of early morning insomnia in the past week, like right now, when I’ve been awake since two. Four hours sleep, and if I’m lucky, perhaps a couple more as the sun rises and the robins lullaby me into dreamtime.
“Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”
Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart, 1996
But this is different. Last week, I listened to the news that Alberta’s honey production has been seriously impacted by the loss of 50,000 hives and how would they be replaced given pandemic-imposed travel restrictions. This became another proverbial straw this time broke on the back of knowing each day more and more of the pandemic’s pervasive personal and global impacts and implications. Using as metaphor from one of those travel YouTube videos I’d been watching, I feel like I’m on a train travelling through a mountain tunnel. It’s dark as pitch, and while I trust there will be a light at the end, I have no idea how wide the mountain we burrowing through, how long before I see light, nor will I recognize anything once through and on the other side?
“I am weary. Heavy with the weight of so much unknown so much unravelling, with each day’s turning into this new season of hope and rebirth. I am stretched with a tender tension, the holding of what is over, the hoping for what may come.“
Ever late to the party, last week I started walking Annie and listening to podcasts. I heard Krista Tippett from her OnBeing podcasts speak to the very real fatigue of virtually connecting. Calling it “zoomzaustion,” our heads and hearts feel good seeing and hearing each other on our devices, but our bodies miss the very real enlivening energy flow we give and get only when in the physical presence of others. These months of not being physically present with friends, unable to visit family are exacting a toll, even though I’m home in good loving company.
“The only time we ever know what’s really going on is when the rug’s been pulled out and we can’t find anywhere to land. We use these situations either to wake ourselves up or to put ourselves to sleep. Right now — in the very instant of groundlessness — is the seed of taking care of those who need our care and of discovering our goodness.”
Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart, 1996
During the weekend we dined on take out. It’s our commitment to “live local with love” and support local chefs by once a week ordering in dinner. A mix up with the order meant I sat and waited in the empty but for chef and staff restaurant as our food was prepared. First time visit, I was struck by the attractive décor, the open kitchen, the hip music. Staff were pleasant, apologetic, offered me a glass of BC sparkling wine to pass the time. Food delivered, bill paid, goodbyes and well wishes exchanged, once home and chowing down, my husband and I both remarked on the heart and soul put into creating that space, making this food, serving their customers, realizing a vision; on the questionable future to sustain themselves under their current pivot business plan, as opening under the province’s re-entry plan, with 50% capacity and the required 2 metre distance between tables would ensure bankruptcy.
Today, I’d hoped to have a “safe distance” walk with my friend in celebration of her birthday. “Thick rain” meant we cancelled, for now. So I’ll make chile cheese cornbread muffins to go with the “beerbutt” chicken my husband will grill for supper. I’ll call a friend grieving the passing of her mother. Tomorrow, I’ll purchase a CSA from a local greenhouse. Then I’ll see my chiropractor for a long overdue tune-up. All of us masked and gloved.
This weariness ebbs and flows. I stay open to the vulnerable tenderness of this life.
“When things are shaky and nothing is working, we might realize that we are on the verge of something. We might realize that this is a very vulnerable and tender place, and that tenderness can go either way. We can shut down and feel resentful or we can touch in on that throbbing quality.”
I’ve been pondering for the past week what to write for this post. I’d thought of taking a pass, but I made this promise to my writerly self that I’d show up twice a week to post in this space devoted to writing. I may have copped out a bit, using the Friday posts for a poem – occasionally one of my efforts – accompanied by one of my photos. Pretty simple, leaving only Mondays for something more creative .
Right now I’m feeling “written out.” I just finished the first draft of an important email. One of those brave and necessary, fence mending, relationship tending emails. The kind that takes a lot of time, mental focus, heart connection and honesty to find the right words, to convey right tone. I’ll let that sit for a while before pressing “send”. And for the past three weeks, I’ve been journaling and writing a bit of poetry in response to prompts from the online course, The Soul of a Pilgrim. I’ve mentioned it in a couple of recent posts, remarking on its timeliness for these times, its resonance with my contemplative nature.
This course, derived from the host Christine Valters Paintner’s book of the same, features weekly one of her eight practices of pilgrimage, each grounded in scripture, and then brought to life each day through several creative processes – lectio divino (reflection and writing to words that shimmer in a reading); Midrash, an ancient Jewish tradition of writing what’s imagined, or as a character in a reading, akin, I think, to Jungian “active imagination”; visio divino or contemplative photography; and Midrash movement, free expression movement or dance, with or without music, inspired by the reading.
Week 1, “Hearing the Call and Responding” evoked my poem, Hearing the Pilgrim’s Call, as the week’s integration. In Week 2, the practice of “Packing Lightly,” the visio divino process inspired the closing poem in my post, So This Is The Camino.
Last week, Week 3, the practice of “Crossing the Threshold,” I finally overcame a curious resistance to the movement exercise, odd for one who danced before she walked and as a young girl intuited how to use dance to move through stuck times, ground in turbulent ones. During the lectio divino, despite the scripture selection (Miriam at the Sea of Reeds, Exodus 15:19-21) immediately calling forth wonderful memories of walking a small pilgrimage of ceremony and celebration in Andalusia in 2017, my own experience in Midrash movement was anything but celebratory, as my exterior reality collided with my interior journey.
Despite my photos that captured that celebration, and resonated with the scripture reading, I journaled:
“Today, I danced Miriam, with an actual tambourine. And I simply could not let go into the celebration, as my exterior world, where my province has just announced its staged ‘re-opening’ plan – to begin today – is creating deep unease and grave concern. ‘Too much, too fast, too soon,’ I posted on Facebook last night, adding I hoped my concerns would prove unfounded, though much time would only tell. Many replied, mostly women, in agreement. So, a figurative dance with women…with my tambourine of caution, not of celebration.”
That caution carried through into my contemplative camera walk. A series of images of thresholds. This one. These words. Outer world amplified by the inner life revealed.
A well worn path abruptly ends opening onto an expanse of space and sky. Trees, like sentinels, guard against distraction. Gravel now becomes greening fairway, dry gold patches reveal winter’s hardship.
An urban golf course, my off season nature walk and refuge whose birdsong and cloudscapes invite my reverie and prayer.
But today this medicine must give way to golfers, who, like so many, have bemoaned a long winter, a late spring, a country-wide lock-down.
Too much, too fast, too soon my province’s plans for a re-opened economy, to say nothing about we the people, the citizens, the communities, the society. Prevalent paradigms persist that what’s good for one is de facto good for the other, without naming me, asking us.
Threshold crossed to get on with it, get it over, get it right.
But have we learned? What? Will we remember? How? Will we get it right?