A Chasm of Surrender

Nope.
Those words I had wondered might come a bit easier after writing and posting last week about my loneliness – they are still hiding.

All week long I pondered what next? Thought I’d write a bit about shame as it’s another insidious dimension to loneliness and lethargy. Loneliness – the gap between the social connections we have and those we need – can activate shame. Shame – “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging” – finds a place to hang its hat when pandemic protocols combined with life circumstances invite in loneliness. But truthfully, I didn’t have quite enough gumption for this.

Then I considered writing about the extent to which living in the pandemic affects if, how we are able to hear into and respond to another’s words. An inquiry prompted both by responses to my post, and the sorrowful news of the death by suicide of a most remarkable, inspiring, loving individual. Again, no gumption to tackle this, though there is something in this worth musing.

What has emerged and is willing to be written about is the biggest insight I’ve had during these pandemic months: time. Over and over, I’ve realized that life takes its own time, and that this has absolutely nothing to do with me, my agenda, my plans, my schedule. An embodied lesson learned from the pressure I feel, which quickly becomes a felt sense of anxiety – butterflies in my gut, tightening in my head, irritability, and impatience – when I think I should be further along in whatever I’m doing. Whatever the thing, it’s not going fast enough nor co-operating to help me get through the list that I’ve imagined I’ll master for the day. I’ve excused that maybe it’s a function of age with things simply taking longer to do. But observing myself these past months, with nothing really urgent to attend to, not many places to go, I’ve come to know a deeper truth: that everything has its own organic timing. That it is, in fact, arrogant of me to insist myself onto and disrupt or override this innate “right timing.”

Thinking about this more, I wonder if this, together with so much shadowed grief and trauma, isn’t a root cause of systemic burnout – the constant overriding of the organic timing and flow of a “thing” by our arbitrary plans and deadlines. Like trying to cajole words out of hiding when they aren’t yet ready to be found. Or the imagining of myself working as I had known, when I hear a tender, quiet, inside voice say, “that time has passed.”

Standing on the edge of an eon’s old chasm.

How to maintain a precarious balance
as the winds of change blow soft,

then strong and stronger still?
How to keep the eyes softly focused
when the sight line is blurred,

the future unknown?
How to breathe deep and slow
into this present moment?
For it is what brings a steadiness
to stand with what is now.

It is only from this place
of surrender
does one begin to see clearly,
can one begin to take the next step.

Words That Might Matter

I have none.

For the past few weeks I’ve struggled to find any words that might matter both inside and out there. A few weeks back, the words of others helped me find my way through to some of mine. But right now I need to admit, as I did in reply to a friend’s ever thoughtful and beautiful blog post, that I am feeling emptied of words that might matter.

Quite paradoxical, that with the bigness, muchness, fullness of everything in the world right now, for this past quarter year living in this Covid-19 pandemic, now doubled-down with as insidious and deadly a pandemic, racism, I am empty.

I read, I watch, I listen to people whose voices I need to hear and need to learn from. And in response, I have lost mine.

Perhaps it’s a matter of laying fallow, much as I have felt myself to be these past weeks, when I suddenly realized that for the first time in my five decades’ long working life, I am now without and see no “what next.” Again, the paradox that with the full blush and burst of spring, and now summer’s arrival, at least by the calendar’s indication, I feel myself more to be in the late fall, early winter. One of life’s many liminal spaces and places.

Or perhaps it’s like this. An excerpt from John O’Donohue’s blessing for a father, sent in reply to a long lost friend, and to my own father for today, Father’s Day.

“There are many thing
We could have said,
But words never wanted
To name them;
And perhaps a world
That is quietly sensed
Across the air
In another’s heart
Becomes the inner companion
To one’s own unknown.”

John O’Donohue, To Bless The Space Between Us, 2008

Real Work

Marches have continued around the world this past week protesting racial injustice and police brutality. In my city, right now receiving the much-needed steady soaking from a weekend of rain, it is estimated that 15,000 people gathered during Friday evening’s sunshine and warm weather on the grounds of our provincial legislature. Wearing masks, carrying signs, “taking a knee”, all thankfully without the eruption of the violence other cities have recently seen, though social distancing protocols to stave off infection from the other pandemic, COVID-19, were hard to maintain.

Diego Romero, Digital Journalist for CTV News, “Fight for Equity: More than 10,000 people rally against racism at legislature”, June 5, 2020

Initially, I had planned to attend, but my best intentions gave way to accepting I was unable to put myself at risk due to chronic health factors, and a growing anxiety that signaled my need to pay attention. While I would miss the march, I would be in this fight for the long haul.

After concluding my participation in the eight week The Soul of a Pilgrim program this weekend, come Tuesday I’ll begin a twelve-week book study, reflection, and conversation of White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, hosted by a small group of thoughtful, seasoned practitioners of The Circle Way. Together, we will create a safe and strong container to do our real, hard, and necessary work of identifying both within and without the systemic impacts of white supremacy and racism. It is a beginning of a long and real journey.

“It may be that when we
no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we
no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey…”

Wendell Berry

Mindful of so much that has been happening in the world around me, this past week had me thinking back to a year ago when I experienced my first Peer Spirit Wilderness Quest. Hosted and guided by the founders of The Circle Way, Ann Linnea and Christina Baldwin, with their quest guide colleague, Deborah Greene-Jacobi , the stars and my schedule had finally aligned to make the trek to the eastern slopes of Washington’s Cascade Mountains. With “hindsight being 2020,” I’m grateful to have gone last year because this year’s quest had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. Months before my departure, I was thoughtfully and carefully prepared with packing lists, activities to discern my intention, clarifying conversations, and closer to the date, travel and weather details.  Once arrived, I joined a beautifully multi-generational, cross-cultural cohort of eleven men and women, some who had travelled from as far as Australia and Germany.  Once settled, we soon began in earnest, readying our tent sites and ourselves to fast solo on the Sacred Mountain for three days and nights.

Sitting and sleeping alone, with the sun and moon, the stars and the clouds, the wind, groves of aspen, spruce, pine and fir, birds and bugs as my companions, created a mighty connection and opened a portal through which I felt the wisdom and life giving and saving gifts of Nature. I did not return with answers to questions, nor even clarity as to first step directions to take. Instead, I was filled to overflowing with gratitude and reverence for all and everything that had brought me to this point in my life. I felt a deep appreciation that was beyond words, with no regrets. And I experienced an inner consolidation of hard l/earned presence.

The wilderness quest is very much akin to the pilgrim’s journey. Both are predicated on a final stage of “coming home” to oneself and one’s community, and to incorporation (in corpus – in body) of lessons learned, questions discerned, gifts received. (Again a synchronicity with this first year anniversary is that this last week’s eighth and final practice in The Soul of a Pilgrim is “coming home.”) This to then to awaken to the next call to begin again. Last year’s quest still reverberates and compelled me to follow the energy to The Soul of a Pilgrim. Now both call me into the work of dismantling my racism, taking guidance from this kind and compassionate wisdom:

“What continues to be the deepest wisdom for me
is the call to release my effort, the summons to fall into
the embrace of the One who offers an abundance of nourishment.
I’m learning to trust in the unfinished nature of things.
This calls me to give my heart to my work,
as I always strive to do,
and then wrap myself in the shawl of humility
to honor my own limitations.”

Christine Valters Paintner, The Soul of a Pilgrim , 2015

Way Closed, Way Open

The Quakers have a saying “the way will open.” I first encountered it when reading Let Your Life Speak (too, a Quaker quote) by a favourite writer, Parker J. Palmer. I first “met” Parker when I read his book The Courage to Teach, for me, the quintessential description of teaching. Meaningful because it focused on the inner life of a teacher, being premised on the idea that “good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” (10)

“Way will open.” Parker described a time in his life when he struggled with “what next” in his career. Perplexed and frustrated, he believed in the notion of career as vocation, that to live a meaningful life, he needed work which aligned with an inner calling, where, as Frederick Buechner says, “your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” Taking his growing angst to his friends in the Quaker community, Parker learned that while many see the “way open,” others are guided by “way closed,” all the ways that do not and cannot happen in one’s life.

During these “49 million days” of self-distancing (thanks, Glennon Doyle), I watch this dynamic play out in the pandemic: “way closed” in family, community, city, country, global lock downs – with the obvious and yet to be understood impacts, costs, deaths, endings, gifts and blessings – and “way opening” as we, at every scale around the world, cautiously, more or less, engage in re-opening strategies. Right now, most apparent, the relief and happiness to be let out of our rooms and back in to life as we’ve known it, wearing masks – or not, keeping our safe two meter distance – or not, planning our next vacations – or not, get back to work – or not. Still so many “nots.”

Come, even if you have broken
your vow a hundred times.
Come, come again, come.”

Rumi

The past week’s focus in The Soul of a Pilgrim is “beginning again,” the sixth of eight practices. A curious synchronicity that the arbitrary start date for this program would now coincide with these local and global re-opening plans. This practice of beginning again understands that one’s commitment waxes and wanes. Within the context of this pandemic, we might hear the call to embark on pilgrimage (practice #1, hearing the call and responding), using this time for inner house cleaning, soul work. We might make the choice to heed, not knowing the destination nor even what the journey entails, or simply find ourselves on the path as a matter of circumstance, not by choice. And then, we wonder how the hell we got here and how the hell do we get off (practice #6 beginning again).

We do our best with what we have, perhaps even discarding what no longer serves (practice # 2, packing lightly). We might try to find or make meaning of these odd, “fft” (f’ing first times, thanks Brene Brown) experiences (practice #3, crossing the threshold; practice #4, making the way by walking). We’re numb with disbelief that something invisible to the human eye has the capacity, without exception or distinction, to render millions sick and many thousands dead. It continues to perplex the most skilled and wisest among us, keeping steps ahead, leaving us weary with vigilance, wanting simply for it to be gone, or us immune, so we can get back to living our lives, praying somehow we’ll escape a second, even third wave. (practice #5, being uncomfortable).

This week I had a temper tantrum. Getting ready for an appointment with my chiropractor, I was running late. (How that can be, when I have nothing that pressing going on in my life, only pages and pages of empty space in my daytimer, is beyond me!) Appreciating their rigorous safety protocols, thought I’d do my part by wearing my mask. Couldn’t get the damned thing to stay up on the back of my head, with my glasses, them now steamed up as much as I. Realized wearing earrings was a stupid choice, getting stuck in the elastic. Gave up lipstick weeks ago as it only smeared. Took more time than dressing for 40 below. And when it was all done, so was I. Quite ready to bust out, go to Costco, among the imagined throngs of people, no mask, no gloves, wandering the aisles, taking my time, mindlessly looking at stuff, tasting stuff. The more time the better. No bleeping arrows telling me which aisle to go up and down, no red tape marking off my space. No one asking me the same stupid screening questions I’d just answered at the last place. I’d f#*!&ing had it with Covid-19. I’d already broken the rule last week when I hugged a friend (first time other than my husband in four months) and walked with her, hardly keeping our safe distance. And my husband stopped by his local version of “Cheers” to enjoy a pint with the only four folks there, all safely distanced. Our first big blow-up during these 49 million days as we’d not talked about the implications for each other, and ourselves in doing so.

No sense to be made. No meaning to come. Yes, reconciliation. But way had definitely closed.

Too, I realized I’m feeling out of step with the “way open” of a new season. After two days of much needed rain, spring is full out blooming, blossoming, greening and growing. A riot of colour decks doorsteps and gardens. Birds amorously announce dawn’s four o’clock arrival.

But I’m feeling fallow.  The threshold space between way closed, way open. I know this might sound whiney. I know this is a wee fingernail experience. And I know, it’s all true. That perhaps, you, too, dear reader, have had your own meltdown(s).

So how to practice beginning again, to see “way open?”
How to begin again making my life my prayer?

“Open your eyes and see there
are no more words…
but only the shimmering presence of your
own attention to life.

Only one great miracle unfolding and
only one sacred word which is 
yes.”

Christine Valters Paintner, “How to Feel the Sap Rising, “
excerpt, in The Soul of a Pilgrim, 2015

I wake early.
The old cuckoo calls three. By four I rise quietly.
Tie my robe close, softly pad downstairs, put on the kettle for tea.
After an hour scanning the morning paper, emails, social media,
I notice the light changing, the day breaking.
Step into my sitting space and see shimmering
our last old mayday tree draped with white lacy blossoms, 
tall stalks of purple pink bergenia bells,
this sudden lush and verdant backyard life after two days’ soaking rain.

Yes, to this attention to life.
Yes, to this miracle unfolding.

But truthfully, in the stillness of this early morning,
my inner yes to the all of life right now is
reluctant, doubting, hesitant, scared.

And while my habit would be to
push, fix, deny, admonish,
the best I can do is to
open my arms,
receive and say welcome.

Yes, you are home.

Lost

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.

Last night over dinner, I wept. Then a chance viewing one of our iconic folk-rock bands, Blue Rodeo, sing their anthem song, We Are Lost Together, with Canadians at home, I wept some more.

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.

One Morning

The Way It Is

One morning you might wake up
to realize that the knot in your stomach
had loosened itself and slipped away,
and that the pit of unfulfilled longing in your heart
had gradually, and without your really noticing,
been filled in—patched like a pothole, not quite
the same as it was, but good enough.

And in that moment it might occur to you
that your life, though not the way
you planned it, and maybe not even entirely
the way you wanted it, is nonetheless—
persistently, abundantly, miraculously—
exactly the way it is.

– Lynn Ungar –
2015

Have We Learned?

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?

So This is The Camino

I have dreamt of walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela for twenty years after reading Shirley MacLaine’s memoir. Never clutched to my heart, instead I held the dream soft and loose in the palm of possibility.

Several years ago, I heard about a local Camino group, one of many chapters across Canada, and beyond. I attended a few of their twice-yearly meetings to learn first-hand from people who had walked, and from those holding the dream. And then a few years later, after receiving regular emails from one of the members hosting Saturday morning preparation walks, I said YES. On an incredibly cold morning in an early January, donned in my red, full-length down coat and mitts, and black aviator’s quilted hat, with a friend, I walked the first of at least a hundred Saturday morning river valley walks. After that first year, in a Solstice-Christmas greeting to the gang, I wrote that saying that YES was the best YES I’d said that year, for meeting them and the friends I made, for edifying conversations or shared silences through the trees, for discovering our river valley trails and great local breakfast cafes.

It has been months since I last walked with them.  Last November, I think. Last summer I chose to play pickleball with the women at my club Saturday mornings – non-competitive, though we challenge each other to practice our serves and shots. Once or twice I did both – walked at 7 and then joined the game at 9:30, but by noon, I was pretty much kaput for the rest of the day. Then come late fall, I developed a wicked case of plantar fasciitis, aggravated by walking, and heeding my chiropractor’s advice, cut out both Saturday walks and pickleball to heal enough to walk unimpeded during our trip to Andalusia in February.

I miss those Saturday walks. I miss the camaraderie and conversations, even though many times I needed and asked for silence, solitude – that being alone together. I miss the medicine of the trees and the birds, of the sky and the weather. And being a self-named daughter of Niagara, I miss the river and its holy waters.

North Saskatchewan River, Perspectives with Panache, 2018

When newcomers would arrive on Saturdays, inevitably as part of the introduction would come the question “Have you walked the Camino?” I had a practiced response, “No, I’m an aspirant, and I’ve come to learn that I walk my Camino every day.”  Not meaning to be glib, I learned the potency and truth of this insight when walking along the hilltop trails in Italy’s Cinque Terre.

Early one sunny morning in April 2011, I met an American couple at the train station in Vernazza. We’d heard the trails were rained out in places but agreed to companion each other on the leg south to Corniglia, where we’d reassess.  As beautiful as purported by Rick Steves and every other visitor to the region, the hike above the ocean, through olive groves, down into the town was breath-taking, and hot. We parted ways after an espresso, they’d continue hiking, while I’d take the train to Manarola, walk the Via dell’Amore to Riomaggiore, and then ride in the open boat back to Vernazza. (In hindsight, it was the perfect way to experience the magnificence of the Cinque Terre, and just months before floods, rock and mudslides caused significant destruction to the area and closed the still closed Via dell’Amore.)

They were avid hikers who planned their vacations around well-known treks. The year before, they had walked the Camino Frances. Along the way, they encountered a nun who imparted what became their most important and memorable lesson – the Camino is what happens when you return home – you’ll be in the middle of your life and realize, ahhhhh, so this is the Camino.

Those words shimmered with truth for me and led me to saying I walk my Camino every day.

I’ve come to know that I may never actually walk the Camino de Santiago. But right now, in these days of growing unraveling and perplexing uncertainty, I believe that I, we, are walking the most significant Camino of our lives. For our lives. For Life. This, too, shimmers with truth for me.

Each day, we wake and put one foot in front of the other to finding our way on a terrain that changes from moment to moment. We are brought to our knees by a wave of grief with the magnitude of our country having suffered its worst mass shooting  a week ago, where, in our sweet east coast province of Nova Scotia, twenty-two lives were taken under unfathomable circumstances which we will never fully comprehend. We grieve that the summer as we know, that we count the days for, is not to be, as every event, festival and gathering has been cancelled. (This was the proverbial camel that broke me into sobs last week.) We want very much to know that our efforts, sacrifices even, are “flattening the curve” and making for the “re-opening of our economy.”  We yearn to hear the plan, see the charts, understand the long view. Make the meaning. Learn the lesson. Know it’s all been worth it. Sooner than later.

“Sometimes, an efficient inner force wants to step in and make something useful of it all, turn it into “fuel for transformation.”
But another, quieter voice urges us to stop.
Don’t commodify this loss. Don’t be so hasty to write a new story,
in which the events of heartbreak are made meaningful.
Not before the magnitude of what’s been destroyed can be
witnessed in its entirety.”

Toko-pa Turner, “Rushing to Redemption,” April 25, 2020

A few days ago, on a wee camino in my neighborhood, with camera in hand to practice the art of contemplative photography, several images came to me, and from them this reflection. The quieter voice was heard. The shimmer was seen.

With eyes of raven, crow or the ubiquitous prairie magpie
I always see the shiny when I walk.
A penny, a dime, a nickel, a dollar.
A piece of foil, a chrome chain.
A pretty pink crystal ring.
No effort, no intention to seek and find.
I walk, it appears, I see and sometimes retrieve
with fingers pinched like bird beak.

But how to see the shimmer?
That requires tuning to a different frequency.
An attention to the soft, the subtle, the nuanced
Or the sudden “pop” that’s hidden, different.

And while my photographer’s eye is always at play, 
I invite it to the sidelines, for something else to play.

Walking slower.
Breathing deeper.
Thinking about this world unraveling, breaking apart
perhaps to welcome, or to die further still into an unknown next,
that I’m not sleeping, 
that my body aches with anxiety, my head hurts for the piled up tears.

Asking for guidance,
Hearing, “You don’t need to know. It’s too soon to know.”
And suddenly sighing relieved.

Trusting I’ll see the shimmer as I see the shiny.

Hearing the Pilgrim’s Call

So many moments in these so many days
living in “lock down,” and “socially separated,”
while the trilling waxwings gather
to strip the mountain ash of their fermented berries,
the geese returned now flock together on thin iced ponds,
the pussy willows shyly reveal their soft inner grey.

Today again I wake to a dusting of snow and
the wind blowing cold from the north.
They say again, the coldest April in forty years,
just as the wettest July in forty, and coldest last February, too.
(Something biblical in those forty years…)

So many glimpses of Life’s natural rhythms,
a reassuring comfort
in this encircling return
in this history making time.

So many times I ask inside, out loud
What is my place?
What do I do to help?
How am I to be?

And I hear
Make your life your prayer.
Notice and name the good, the true, the beautiful.
Keep your heart open in hell.

You were born for these times.
Now let’s get going.
Walk on.

– KW –
April 18, 2020

 

Inspired by my participation in the online study gathering, “The Soul of a Pilgrim,” hosted by The Abbey of the Arts, April – May, 2020.

Holy Outrage

“You have been telling people that this is the Eleventh Hour,
now you must go back and tell people that this is the Hour.
And there are things to be considered…

Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?

Know your garden.
It is time to speak your truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for your leader…

Hopi Elders’ Prophecy, June 8, 2000

This is not the post I had been thinking of writing for today. I thought I’d be writing about the multitude of invitations everywhere I look to make the best of these times by either learning something new (a language, sourdough, a craft, sourdough, a home haircut, sourdough, a cocktail), or streaming culture and entertainment (architecture, travel sites, theatre, film), or becoming the person I’d always wanted to be, so on and so forth. I’ll save that one for another day as I don’t think they, nor my reactions are going away any time too soon.

Nor is this the kind of post I typically write, instead choosing to use this space to reflect and write about the beauty of my imperfect, sometimes broken, and mostly well-lived life. Maybe uplifting, enlightening and inspiring others in the process. But yesterday (I’m writing this on the Friday before Monday’s post), something broke through.

For the past week, since receiving a lovely “touch in” email, I’ve been reading the posts from a woman whose way of being in the world I highly regard. Jennifer is a radiant truth-teller. She dives deep in her life, in her work. She rides the edges, weaving together a way of sense making from various disciplines and much research. Being on that edge, as a bright, intuitive, feeling type, her perceptions and perspectives can perturb and create push-back in others. I see in her, a younger, albeit refreshingly less tamed version of myself. Perhaps that’s how I’m able to “see” her, to notice and name for her. And we both know and appreciate how essential this is to our becoming.

She’s been challenging herself, and by way of posting, me and others, to stay awake to the unintended – and perhaps, even, insidious – consequences to government responses to this pandemic. I was already sensitized to the “war” metaphor being used in the messaging at home and globally. But when I first read her words and sat with her questions, I felt agitated and shaken in my gut. My head tried to make sense of what she wrote, which only made me feel more anxious. I took a deep breath, paused, and consciously stepped away until I could process more of what she had invited. Yesterday I stepped back in and saw with new eyes.

In the morning paper, in rapid succession, this drew my attention, though most every page had something that sparked with a new light:

“Liberal minister Dominic LeBlanc told CBC News that he’s already been in discussion with cabinet members, including Justice Minister David Lametti, to bring in some form of legislation to tackle online misinformation regarding COVID-19.”

And I’m thinking, holy cow, we’ve never walked this path before. What we and our international and federal health so-called experts are learning about this virus shifts on a dime. We raking them over the coals for not knowing everything and then for changing their tunes, and for perhaps, even, being in cahoots with China. So, who in hell is going to determine what is and is not accurate in social media? And is this not, despite what MPs are quoted as saying, censoring and a violation of our right to free speech?

Then on the same page this headline, “Harsh tactics wrong path?” wherein:

“experts in criminology and law are pushing back against conventional wisdom that giving police the power to levy heavy fines will make people safer…arguing that health directives are unclear…”

While I get the need for monitoring, en-force-ment (translate: with force) and discretion being given to bylaw and police officers deeply concerns me. In my country and others, we’ve witnessed, and may even know first hand, the grave misuse and abuse of power by such officials.

And on the previous page of the same paper, commenting on the hypocrisy of our Prime Minister’s Easter time-out with his family after saying physical distancing is for everyone, Lorne Gunter makes reference to a local woman who reported to Alberta Health she saw more people leaving a church than allowed under these new public health regulations. He opines:

“I hope we are not becoming a nation of snitches.”

My immediate reaction was the sudden flash memory of hearing stories about Eastern Germany, where family, friends and neighbors “snitched” on each other to the Stasi, resulting in extremes of cruelty and torture, broken trust, and a terrorized-traumatized people and country, the reverberations of which are still felt.

Call it synchronicity, but right after reading, I received an email from a friend inviting me to sign a petition to rescind Alberta’s Bill 10, legislation designed to give unbridled and unchecked rights to the government, for an indeterminate length of time, to enact and revise legislation deemed necessary to fighting this war on this pandemic. Weeks earlier, the federal government was stopped trying to enact similar legislation. Signed and sent, I then edited and customized, referencing my read of the news, the email template to send to friends for their consideration and action.

__________

A few hours later I left our safe cocoon to run some errands, the first time in over a week. Yes, we are self isolating, or as I prefer to say, in “compassionate retreat.” Yes, we are wearing face masks when venturing out into peopled spaces. And while this may seem contrary, we feel it is prudent, and probably should have heeded our own research and knowing to have done so earlier.

Dropping off “love parcels” to my friend and her young children, I was suddenly worried that being masked, I’d frighten the children. We managed, carefully keeping our distance, wishing we could hug. They knew me. It was OK, maybe.

In the grocery store, I felt the “sur-reality” of seeing more people than not wearing masks (except the staff, which I’ve learned in many stores have been advised not to wear. WTF why not!?!), of floors marked with direction arrows, and safe distance boxes. To soothe my growing anxiety, I had to convince myself that while out of the ordinary here, wearing face masks is “de riguer” in Tokyo. I know I was too close to people in the aisles, and touched too many vegetables, albeit in gloved hands. By the time I left, disposing those gloves in the small mouthed waste bin, washing my hands at the cleverly designed portable station, I was overcome with tears for this all. And once home, told my husband, he could resume the “hunting and gathering” for us. I’ll stick to the cooking.

At the post office, there to drop off another “love parcel” to a friend before she enters the holy month of Ramadan, the gloved clerk, behind the plexiglass safety barrier, asked if I’d be paying by credit or debit. In the moment that struck me as odd, off. When he opened the cash drawer, I worked up the courage to ask “Are you not accepting cash payment?” and was told, no, that their boss had told them not to accept cash, unless that was all the customer had. “This is dangerous,” I replied, though agreed that yes, in this immediate context, probably safer not to handle cash, but in the long term, what could be the consequences of a cashless society?

Still masked, on to the bank to deposit my GST refund. Again, my first time experiencing their safety protocol. Happy for the sun and warmth to stand outside, a woman my age complimented me on my jacket, broke the ice for a quick exchange on the oddity of these times. I shared my experiences of the morning, how shaken I felt. Not wearing a mask, she braved to share her take, could this be the move for a one world government, she offered, a theory I’d studied over the years. Then she described watching a recent documentary where Swedes and corporate employees are now micro-chipped to ease security access into workplaces and gyms, to buy train tickets, to go cashless. “The internalized smart watch,” I’m thinking. “Marked by the beast,” she suggested, eyebrows raised.

Finally, driving home, I listen to our national radio station playing a favourite classical composition, Handel’s Water Music, and in a flash, it dawns on me, “We’re being placated while all hell is breaking lose around us. Let’s soothe the masses, like when then President Bush suggested the American people go shopping to cope with immediate aftermath of 9-11.” Like hearing the sudden “chirpiness” in our local news anchors on Monday, an about face from their typical style during this period. Why? Why now? And who initiated this shift in public presence?

By the time I walk through the door, whoosh, outrage had broken through weeks of disbelief, grief, and fear. Describing my experiences to my husband as we put away the groceries, I remembered that eery but fascinating sixties TV show, The Prisoner, where throughout the sinister story line in each episode, lovely music played throughout the village.

__________

Like my friend, there is so much about all of this that I don’t know. I do know none of us, including the people we elected to our governments and appointed to oversight agencies (WHO), have never walked quite this path before. But there have been similar journeys, when those in charge made pronouncements and plans to ready us better for next time, but once the urgency passed, are forgotten or deemed unimportant. Not unlike most of us, relapsing to ease, complacency even. I see our remarkable ability to adapt and “pivot” in our understanding and responses to “flatten the curve.” I’m of two minds when it comes to “re-opening the economy.” I don’t want us to move too quickly “getting back to normal” because the risks might be too great, the new insights lost, the promises broken. On the other hand, there is so much suffering now, including and beyond the pandemic’s fatalities and their grieving family and friends. 

“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,
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, Over Grow the System, 2020

Holy outrage can inspire holy acts of inner and outer change…

…By noticing what is odd or off or no longer fits.

…By asking and calling out what is suddenly incongruous.

…By staying alert to the barely emerging patterns, and as, if not more, importantly, to the spaces in between. Focusing so much energy exclusively on the pandemic, has me wonder what am I being distracted from seeing? What else of real significance do we need to be attending?

…By burning through the mind numbing fog of “settling for and with” to illumine the fullness of what needs to be seen and known.

…By daring feel the discomfort and distress of being dis-illusioned into speaking a new truth, couraged into writing a new story, stitching together a new garment.

Since my holy outrage broke thorough, I haven’t felt nearly as namelessly agitated, anxious, scared or angry. I have felt the energy, the clarity, the focus, and the unequivocal knowing that a more beautiful “what next” is not only possible, but is in the making right now, with every breath I take, every choice I make.

Now to keep my fires stoked.

Perspectives with Panache, 2010

That is the gift of my holy outrage. What is the gift of yours?

#mylifeasprayer
#holygriefholygratitudeholylove