When Laurens van der Post one night In the Kalahari Desert told the Bushmen He couldn’t hear the stars Singing, they didn’t believe him. They looked at him, half-smiling. They examined his face To see whether he was joking Or deceiving them. Then two of those small men Who plant nothing, who have almost Nothing to hunt, who live On almost nothing, and with no one But themselves, led him away From the crackling thorn-scrub fire And stood with him under the night sky And listened. One of them whispered, Do you not hear them now? And van der Post listened, not wanting To disbelieve, but had to answer, No. They walked him slowly Like a sick man to the small dim Circle of firelight and told him They were terribly sorry, And he felt even sorrier For himself and blamed his ancestors For their strange loss of hearing, Which was his loss now. On some clear night When nearby houses have turned off their visions, When the traffic dwindles, when through streets Are between sirens and the jets overhead Are between crossings, when the wind Is hanging fire in the fir trees, And the long-eared owl in the neighboring grove Between calls is regarding his own darkness, I look at the stars again as I first did To school myself in the names of constellations And remember my first sense of their terrible distance, I can still hear what I thought At the edge of silence where the inside jokes Of my heartbeat, my arterial traffic, The C above high C of my inner ear, myself Tunelessly humming, but now I know what they are: My fair share of the music of the spheres And clusters of ripening stars, Of the songs from the throats of the old gods Still tending ever tone-deaf creatures Through their exiles in the desert.
– David Wagoner –
Astrologers are saying that come Monday, December 21, Winter Solstice, a rare astrological alignment of planets, not seen since the 1200s, will occur. Jupiter and Saturn will align so closely that it will appear as a radiant point of light being called the Star of Bethlehem or the Christmas Star. Here in the northern hemisphere, we’re being instructed to look to the southwestern sky about 45 minutes after sunset. As the next such great conjunction won’t happen again until March 2o80, this would be the time to witness such a “miracle.”
“Look how calmly the trees abandon their autumn leaves, scattering jewels on the ground, soon to become mulch. These serene beings are apt teachers for us. Just see how they send their life-essence down into their roots as the days shorten and darken.”
Pir Zia Inayat Khan, The Zephyr Newsletter, December 2020
Last Monday, when I walked with Annie to centre myself and find my words, when I listened to the poem that released the floodgate of tears and cleared the way for the inchoate to become articulate, I found myself attracted to Nature’s images that evoked a “hanging on.” Despite all that gives way to a northern winter – daylight and warmth, green grass and foliage, garden fresh vegetables, robin song – still there is much that persists.
And I thought, how fitting a metaphor for this year’s Advent. Now in the third week, the one characterized by the rose-pink candle of joy, I wondered how do we hold the tension, no, how do we live and be in the tension of hanging on expectantly, when so much has let go? How do we negotiate our familiar and counted upon traditions of joy and celebration, in the face of myriad losses and uncertainties, persistent isolation and loneliness? How do we wait in joy for the promise inherent in this season, given so many shattering impacts of 2020? Not an intended pun, but truly a pandemic paradox, of pandemic proportion.
While I don’t have answers to my own questions, let alone any “sage” advice, I am reminded of Rilke’s wisdom to not strive for answers…to live the questions for now…though admittedly, not quite able to love them. But perhaps there are some hints from others, whose words have shimmered as they’ve crossed my screen this week, in remarkable resonance and synchronicity.
“I’m feeling a bone deep exhaustion now, yet I’m also feeling a resistance to the softness and rest that this season urges. There is too much to do to rest. And to be soft in the face of all that has happened in 2020 — that is a world of hurt I’m not sure I can bear. My experience of this season’s impulse to look back and take stock has a new intensity too. There is a great deal I long to recover about pre-pandemic life. But I don’t want to go back to a “normal” that would lose all that this year taught and gave us to live into.”
Krista Tippett, The Pause, December 15, 2020
In the past few days, I walked and listened to another of my favorite podcasts, Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us. In the most recent episode, she looked back over all she had learned from reading and prepping for two seasons worth of interviews, to more fully understand her very first episode on “FFT’s” (friggin’ first times) dropped in the early days of Covid-19. Her recent neuroscience “expert,” David Eagleman, confirmed Brené’s emergent hypothesis that our brains – and we – are exhausted with mapping so many new responses to this year’s unprecedented number of FFTs. The antidote to so much changing so fast is our attention, our acknowledgement, and rest, plenty of rest that restores us, and our brains. The image that comes to mind after today’s snow showers: clearing the walks and roads of snow that keeps falling. No sooner do you get it clear, then you need to do it again, and again, and again.
In this same episode, Brené shared a quote that succinctly sums up life as we know it now:
“‘History is the study of surprises.’ This line captures the world in which we live, we’re living history, surprise after surprise after surprise. And just when we think, we’ve had all the big surprises for a while, along comes another one. If the first two decades of the 21st century have taught us anything, it’s that uncertainty is chronic; instability is permanent; disruption is common; and we can neither predict nor govern events. There will be no ‘new normal’; there will only be a continuous series of ‘not normal’ episodes, defying prediction and unforeseen by most of us until they happen.”
Jim Collins, Beyond Entrepreneurship 2.0, 2020
Hmmm…grim news of foreboding, or the sudden, fresh wakening from somnambulant dis-illusion? Another paradox and invitation to find a middle way, perhaps?
I’ve lost track of the number of times this past year I’ve heard myself say aloud or think the wise words from a past, wise teacher: the trick to living paradox is knowing “it’s all true.” That both sides of the coin are the same coin. That 180 degrees is a straight line connecting what appear to be opposites. That the yin always contains a bit of yang and vice versa. And that there is a field between right doing and wrong doing where I will meet you.
“There is a time for stillness and empty-handedness, a time for holding vigil in the darkness. Winter keeps a secret that is vital to our soul’s knowledge of itself. Before long, the days will lengthen again. But now is the time to be rooted in the silent, patient earth as the planet heaves through the ebon emptiness of space.”
Pir Zia Inayat Khan, The Zephyr Newsletter, December 2020
Yes. This is so very true. And so too, for so many of us right now, is the isolation and loneliness that fills us with sorrow, worry, grief. That keeps us sleepless when we need rest for our bodies and brains and hearts, and to recover our resilience.
Last week, once again in my favorite Italian grocery store, as I maneuvered my cart into the checkout line, I looked up to see our dear friends. The last I saw them was a year ago, sitting at our cozy round table, enjoying a kitchen supper. Nothing fancy. Just simple Tuscan cooking, fine wine, and edifying conversation. It was a delicious evening, one we anticipated repeating sooner than later, upon our return from Andalusia last February. Sure, now we talk on the phone, exchange “love notes” in the mail or via text, but to lay eyes on each other, bundled and masked, brought tears to our eyes. There we stood, huddled among the pasta and olive oil – probably closer than two meters – impelled to express our love, our gratitude, the miraculous of our chance meeting, the angels that must have conspired for us then and there.
“…we need to accompany each other right now and beyond this season, in what none of us is called to bear and do alone. To honor the many losses we scarcely know what to do with. To dwell with reverence before our exhaustion and our resilience. To cultivate the expectant waiting that is the spirit of Advent. To ponder how we want to live once the virus releases us back to each other. “
Krista Tippett, The Pause, December 15, 2020
Since I last wrote, Covid-19 vaccinations are now being administered around the world. Here in Canada, the first to be inoculated was an elderly woman from Quebec. Here in Alberta, our health care workers are to be first in line. Touted as the light at the end of a long dark tunnel, it’s not lost on me that this hoped for miracle comes during our darkest hours, both literally and figuratively. Personally, I sit in another paradox: knowing it will be many months before I have access to this anticipated release from the virus’ silent, deadly grip and can let go of extraordinary vigilance and precaution, countered by the desire to hang on to the many subtle gifts of this time – a slowing down to savour simplicity and deepening stillness, noticing inner shifts and outer expressions, renewed appreciation and gratitude, a growing and steady contentment. Just as my love of winter’s darkness has grown over time, and I wince knowing that come next week, we’ll once again be on the upswing to more daylight, I hear a whisper of caution to not squander what has been so hard won, an invitation to make anew.
“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
Now, I literally wait for the linen and yarn and needles to arrive to start stitching.
We place ourselves in circles and huddles, knowing somehow that this way of being together signs the shape of our dreams and longings.
From space we see ourselves round, connected to one another, facing each other, with all our differences dancing around the sun together.
For centuries we have been trying to bring the circle down from mystery skies, to set it stone solid in our hearts, to memorize the knowing of each preciousness equally gift to the circle of whole.
Spirals etched in red rock canyon story the journey out of and into the center then holds all things together. Stonehenge pillars and lintels dragged for miles, scraped into meaning, set in sacred formation with sun and moon. Conical mounds heaped into remembrance ritual the lives of elders who circle the fire of the tribe. Everywhere and ancient the circle is repeated, shaping us to its original wisdom.
Give us each day or daily hunger, to be more than we are now, to be less solitary selves doubting our place, to be more a circle of connection and acceptance, spherical harmony of the heavens.
Each one a single voice, a sacred story, but always in the larger circle of meaning and mystery.
– Gary Boelhower –
As a practitioner, teacher and past board member of The Circle Way, our financial support ensures the practice and resources reach far and wide. Perhaps more than ever, our world needs the skills to sit together in our collective stories of grief, injustice, dreams and longings. Consider The Circle Way in your gifting this season.
Thank you, dear friends. Much love and kindest regards.
Make a place to sit down. Sit down. Be quiet. You must depend upon affection, reading, knowledge, skill — more of each than you have — inspiration, work, growing older, patience, for patience joins time to eternity. Any readers who like your work, doubt their judgment.
Breathe with unconditional breath the unconditioned air. Shun electric wire. Communicate slowly. Live a three-dimensioned life; stay away from screens. Stay away from anything that obscures the place it is in. There are no unsacred places; There are only sacred places And desecrated places.
I stalked her in the grocery store: her crown of snowy braids held in place by a great silver clip, her erect bearing, radiating tenderness, the way she placed yogurt and avocados in her basket, beaming peace like the North Star. I wanted to ask, “What aisle did you find your serenity in, do you know how to be married for fifty years, or how to live alone, excuse me for interrupting, but you seem to possess some knowledge that makes earth burn and turn on its axis.” But we don’t request such things from strangers nowadays. So I said, “I love your hair.”
This blessing keeps nothing for itself. You can find it by following the path of what it has let go, of what it has learned it can live without.
Say this blessing out loud a few times and you will hear the hollow places within it, how it echoes in a way that gives your voice back to you as if you had never heard it before.
Yet this blessing would not be mistaken for any other, as if, in its emptying, it had lost what makes it most itself.
It simply desires to have room enough to welcome what comes.
Today, it’s you.
So come and sit in this place made holy by its hollows. You think you have too much to do, too little time, too great a weight of responsibility that none but you can carry.
I tell you, lay it down. Just for a moment, if that’s what you can manage at first. Five minutes. Lift up your voice— in laughter, in weeping, it does not matter— and let it ring against these spacious walls.
Do this until you can hear the spaces within your own breathing. Do this until you can feel the hollow in your heart where something is letting go, where something is making way.
– Jan Richardson – Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons
Things are changing; things are starting to spin, snap, fly off into the blue sleeve of the long afternoon. 𝘖𝘩 and 𝘰𝘰𝘩
come whistling out of the perished mouth of the grass, as things turn soft, boil back into substance and hue. As everything, forgetting its own enchantment, whispers: I too love oblivion why not it is full of second chances. 𝘕𝘰𝘸, hiss the bright curls of the leaves. 𝘕𝘰𝘸! booms the muscle of the wind.