Today, January 6, is the fortieth anniversary of our arrival in Alberta. Too, it is the first anniversary of this blog – A Wabi Sabi Life.
A year ago, in my first post, “Epiphany,” I briefly described that life-changing road trip to here, and the world of possibilities it opened for my husband and me. Too, I sensed that the launch of my newest blog was following my own star in support of a new life direction in writing. Ninety-seven posts later, at least half of which are my own musings and poems, I’ve honored that self-made promise to show up every week to write.
It continues to be a momentous time. Around the world, as the global family, we are ten months into living life in a pandemic. In much of my country, masks are mandated, lockdowns continue, curfews have been issued to curb the continued climb in cases of Covid-19. Too, many of us are outraged at the enactment of privilege by elected officials who took international Christmas vacations while we had been told to stay home and not socialize with family and friends outside of our homes. And while vaccinations appear to be a light at the end of this long, dark, and winding tunnel, it can’t be considered a silver bullet nor panacea, despite how it’s being touted.
Today, turning my eye south to the United States, hell is breaking loose, again, as supporters of the current president take on his claim of a fraudulent election by storming the Capital building as the process for transferring power to the new president was to occur.
Yet I continue to cast my vote for finding and upholding all that is good and true and beautiful in this imperfect, sometimes broken, but mostly well-lived life. My commitment to the no-choice choice, I suppose.
“Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let the pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.”
Thank you for following along this past year, dear readers. With love and kindest regards as we journey together into this new one.
the year is done. i spread the past 365 days before me on the living room carpet. point to the one where i decided to shed everything not deeply committed to my dreams. refused to be victim to the self-pity. here is the week i slept in the garden. in the spring wrung the self-doubt by its neck. hung your kindness up. took down the calendar. danced so hard my heart learned to float above water again. in the summer i unscrewed all the mirrors from their walls. no longer needed to see myself to feel seen. combed their weight out of my hair. i fold the good days up and place them in my back pocket for safekeeping. draw the match. cremate the unnecessary. the light of the fire warms my toes. i pour myself a glass of hot water to cleanse myself for january. here i go. stronger and wiser into the new.
– rupi kaur –
Cheers, dear friends, and wishing you all that is good and true and beautiful for this new year. With love and kindest regards.
Tomorrow is Solstice. Here in the northern hemisphere, we mark Winter’s formal arrival with the longest, darkest night. In the past month, much has been written about the unusual planetary alignment between Jupiter and Saturn, apparently coming so close together as to give the impression of one large and most brilliant star. Making its first appearance in over eight hundred years, it’s being called the “Christmas Star,” even the “Star of Bethlehem.” I’m praying for clear skies around the world so we can each take in a bit of the magic and miraculous. God knows we’re in need of some…
As is my pattern, it’s Sunday night after dinner and I’m comfortably alone in our office tapping out my thoughts for this post. I’m listening to excerpts of Handel’s “Messiah,” truly one of the western Christian world’s most beloved Christmas oratorios. Every time I hear it, I wonder if Handel and librettist Charles Jennen had any idea of the timeless magnificence they created.
Yesterday I attended a Facebook live “sing along” hosted by the historic Bardavon Opera House and Hudson Valley Philharmonic. Close to 10,000 people from around the world watched and sang. How remarkable to read of the many people who have sung their part in choirs – large and small, community and professional – every Christmas for decades. My own memories evoked…including the time I missed that long rest in the Alleluia chorus and rather inadvertently, took my own solo! For 10,000 of us to have clicked and arrived, being “alone together” for an hour, sharing memories, joy, and even tears as we stood in unison for the Alleluia chorus, time and distance magically collapsed as our hearts rang open. Truly, one of the pandemic’s paradoxical gifts.
In keeping with tradition, once again I offer my annual Solstice blessing, this year reworked with words I wrote during the pandemic’s early days, during our first pervasive “lockdown.”
May this Holyday season bring time to cherish all that is good and true and beautiful.
May its dark days invite reflection and renewal.
May you be well, and safely tucked in with your beloveds at home.
May deep rest, fresh air, and sunshine restore you and be like the warm embrace of longed for family and friends.
May any moments of anxiety and sadness be held in tenderness, with the support of others.
May strength in body, mind, and spirit allow you to embrace life’s uncertainties.
May good health be your companion, relationships enliven and encourage, work and pastimes fulfill, serve, and affirm.
May good food nourish your body, favourite memories and meaningful conversations your heart and mind.
May Nature welcome you to its beauty, magic, and wisdom.
May gratitude, generosity, and grace be your friends.
May patience, love, and kindness – given and received – be yours in abundance.
“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.
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
“Be kind. Everyone you meet is carrying a heavy burden.“
It’s 5:00 am. I’ve been awake for a few hours, so instead of tossing, got up to tend to a personal matter weighing heavy. Some preliminary thinking and writing. Enough to settle so that I can turn towards this new week with more peace and presence. For it’s a week that weighs heavy with many things, with tomorrow’s presidential election and all that’s been activated in its anticipation, near and far. It’s a week that needs my peace and presence. Because truthfully, it’s the only thing I have that might be of some influence, or good.
“Through our commitment to developing our inner monks we might remember our deep and profound connection to one another in the midst of daily life.“
Christine Valters Paintner, Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist
Attentive these days to how much media I take in, but still the anxiety, tension, uncertainty and fear are out there in the social field and seep in. During my closing reflections to this past week’s Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist course, I was struck by Christine’s words on connection and community. Among a group mostly from the USA, I wrote that I’ve lived in Canada all my life, though was born in the USA, and until recently had US citizenship. I shared that my only sibling recently moved there, right on the border which, closed since March, means she’s heart achingly close yet so far from her children, grandchildren and our elderly parents living in Canada. I have dear friends and other family there. So I pay attention – in broad strokes – to the last four years and now with the presidential election a few days away.
I admitted that regularly I have cursed and raged at the man called POTUS, but that quite suddenly, a few weeks ago, I felt a deep shift as I let sink in that truly we are all of God. Too, that what I see, is only a miniscule moment in the long arc. I came to realize that he is as I am. I stopped raging and ridiculing and instead, using the power of prayer and imagination – the wedding of contemplative and creative – chose to envision a different outcome, in a kind way. I made the connection to “metta” (loving kindness) meditation, whereby I wish those with whom I have animosity and bitter feelings well-being and happiness, or in this case, a peaceful transition of leadership.
I was hesitant posting so political a reflection. Yet this is what I am so present to, and what speaks to me of the truth of the invitations offered by this Abbey of the Arts program. I am helped to remember I have a quiet capacity to be and bring change, a peace and presence to the personal and the political.
“This is not just a referendum on US democracy; it feels like a referendum on our aspirations as human beings.”
Otto Scharmer, “The Darkest Hour is Just Before Dawn,” Medium, October 31, 2020
And then there’s this, a good and necessary poem making the rounds, and later today, a walk in the neighbourhood with Annie.
When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
For the past couple of months I’ve been participating in another Abbey of the Arts online program. “Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist,” a thirteen-week study into the archetypes of contemplative and creative – two of my deep affinities – was another of those intentional activities undertaken to flourish during these darkening, distanced days. Again, each week corresponds to a book chapter, this time, The Artist’s Rule, authored by abbess-host Christine Valters Paintner.
Too, each week follows a similar agenda. Monday is a live video session with a couple of hundred of us tuning in globally as Christine welcomes us into the week’s theme, guides us in meditative reflection and journaling, gives the week’s overview and invitations for creative process, and answers questions. Tuesday features a scriptural interpretation by Christine’s husband and theology teacher, John. Wednesday is devoted to the sacred practice of Lectio Divina, listening with the “ears of the heart” to a scripture or poem, pondering on a word or phrase that “shimmers.” Thursday and Friday are for creative expression via writing and or art making. Saturday for closing reflections and “catch up”; and Sunday for rest and integration – what I like to think of as the yogi’s savasana. Throughout we’re invited to share our reflections and comment to each other, with the proviso that no advice be given. Instead it’s the application throughout of what “shimmers.”
Last week – our seventh and midpoint – focused on “Inner Hospitality and Welcoming the Stranger.” Scripture, Rumi’s poem “The Guest House,” and Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Kindness” were frames for supporting the encounter with our inner strangers.
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
I’m struck how often synchronicity is at play, with the “unexpected” appearance of a poem, a podcast, a picture that deepens, resonates or brings a touch of humor. This favourite appeared on Facebook a few days before the week’s scripture:
Thursday’s creative expression was an exercise to get in touch with our inner strangers via “gush” painting. I welcomed this as an invitation to return to a practice I had left several years ago. I painted according to my teacher, Michele Cassou, and her intuitive process painting outlined in Life, Paint, and Passion: Reclaiming the Magic of Spontaneity.
I’ve written in other blogs about my experimentation in this process, but shared last week in the course, the “back story” of having bought Michele’s book for $2.00 where it sat on my shelf for a few years. That one summer, re-intrigued by the cover, I read it in one sitting. Mesmerized by the paintings, and knowing in my core she was writing truth, and that being sprinkled with Rumi, what was not to love? That I immediately searched online for a class and remarkably discovered there was a retreat being held in – of all places – an obscure little town where we lived before moving to Alberta. It took a few years before the stars and my schedule aligned, but I went for a week, for three consecutive years, to have the requisite hours to go to Taos, NM during my sabbatical year and study at Michele’s master class, where upon my return home, I hosted painting weekends – a life saver for me and those many who attended, mostly women from work – each of us coping with the dismantling of our department and huge work stress-uncertainties.
Too, I shared that consistent with the “gush” practice, and how I entered into this activity, it’s never about product, but about process: attempting to paint spontaneously, allowing the colour and image to come to guide, without meaning or interpretation, without choosing, but following that often, nearly mute impulse. Typically, not shared, as like pages from a journal, paintings often reveal truths and vulnerabilities that others, upon reading or seeing, or our own critical selves, might judge, and then frighten and subsequently inhibit ourselves from expressing. So, too, when a painting is acclaimed, perhaps even a more insidious trap.
Given it had been a few years since I’d last painted in this way, so long that my tempera paints had dried, I took a “practice run”…just to get back into feeling the brush on the paper, my body into gesture, my head out of the way.
A second painting emerged, attracted to colours and a style that have always evoked creativity, life, vitality, desire, the ooze of life and inner fire.
“This is your body, your greatest gift, pregnant with wisdom you do not hear, grief you thought was forgotten, and joy you have never known.”
Marion Woodman, Coming Home to Myself, 1998
The third felt the most unexpected, unbidden, honest. A self portrait. Evoked perhaps from the poem I’d shared earlier in the week describing the impact of getting Bells Palsy in 2013.
“We have lived our lives behind a mask. Sooner or later – if we are lucky – the mask will be smashed.”
Marion Woodman, Coming Home to Myself, 1998
A powerful depiction of the often felt, though less obvious to the outside world – unless I’m stressed or tired – lingering effects: the loss of facial symmetry, the odd tingly sensations and itchiness especially around my nose and cheek, my mouth that droops, my eye that dries or tears up. Not chewing as well, nor singing because of the loss of strength in my palate. Even speaking can be challenging some days. A shyness that developed, though perhaps it allowed for a truer introverted aspect of self to emerge. It certainly broke open my life –shattering the mask that paradoxically invited in a truer relationship to self, in my marriage and in my life. With a daily felt and seen reminder of how lucky I am.
And, in another stroke of lovely synchronicity, this, from the Vancouver poet, bentlily, appeared on Facebook, hours after painting:
“When I start to feel nervous about letting my creativity run free, it’s always because I am afraid of what people will think of what I create. And yet wanting the world to love what you make is not the problem. It’s natural (and financially, it’s very reasonable!). The problem is when I start thinking more about “you” than I do about me…But I still have to trust that if I write my poems for me, you will come. Because if I am too preoccupied with how and what to write for you, eventually, no poems will come at all because I will have lost the “me.”
bentlily by Samantha Reynolds, Facebook, October 23, 2020
Here’s to creativity off leash. Wild and messy and free.
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.