The Layers

THE LAYERS

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

– Stanley Kunitz –

Today I make my way home via a day layover in Madrid. Enough time to visit the Prado Museum and see a bit of the city centre. Last time I visited was again a layover just as Covid was beginning to take hold, soon making Madrid the Spanish epicentre.

Given I’m writing this post days before I actually depart for Portugal, I really have no idea what this journey has entailed, and will no doubt “lack the art to decipher it” for much time to come. I do, however, trust “I am not done with my changes.”

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Where Does the Temple Begin, Where Does It End?

There are things you can’t reach. But
you can reach out to them, and all day long.

The wind, the bird flying away. The idea of God.

And it can keep you as busy as anything else, and happier.

The snake slides away; the fish jumps, like a little lily,
out of the water and back in; the goldfinches sing
from the unreachable top of the tree.

I look; morning to night I am never done with looking.

Looking I mean not just standing around, but standing around
as though with your arms open.

And thinking: maybe something will come, some
shining coil of wind,
or a few leaves from any old tree–
they are all in this too.

And now I will tell you the truth.
Everything in the world
comes.

At least, closer.

And, cordially.

Like the nibbling, tinsel-eyed fish; the unlooping snake.
Like goldfinches, little dolls of goldfluttering around the corner of the sky

of God, the blue air.

– Mary Oliver –

Today, within a few days of reaching my destination, Santiago de Compostela, I am reminded by Mary Oliver’s words that there are things I cannot reach. During an earlier waxing iteration of my dream to walk a Camino, within a few months I suddenly, inexplicably knew the timing, a year hence, would not work. Not until the beginning of that year, when I discovered that the cathedral would be closed for extensive renovations, and that all pilgrims’ services would be shunted off to other local parishes, did I have my explanation. While the journey would be significant so, too, for me, would be the destination, standing inside the cathedral, where thousands of pilgrims have gathered for hundreds of years, marking their arrival in ceremony and ritual.

Where does the temple begin? Where does it end?
How is the ancient cathedral in that ancient square the metaphor for the one residing inside me?

The answers to these questions and more -yet unknown, unspoken – will come…closer…cordially. Or perhaps they are never to be reached.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

God’s Wounds

GOD’S WOUNDS

Beyond all that pain has taught
me, the soft well at the base of
time has opened, and life
touching me there
has turned me into a flower
that prays for rain. Now
I understand: to blossom
is to pray, to wilt and shed
is to pray, to turn to mulch
is to pray, to stretch in the dark
is to pray, to break surface
after great months of ice
is to pray, and to squeeze love
up the stalky center toward the
sky with only dreams of color
is to pray, and finally to unfold
again as if never before
is to be the prayer.

– Mark Nepo –

Almost three weeks away from home – the first time in over two years – and into my eleventh day of walking, I chose Mark Nepo’s poem to uplift and amplify my commitment to knowing my life as poem and prayer, and sensing I might be in need of its kind sustenance and tender reminder.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Who?

Who gets up early
to discover the moment light begins?
Who finds us here circling, bewildered, like atoms?
Who comes to a spring thirsty
and sees the moon reflected in it?
Who, like Jacob blind with grief and age,
smells the shirt of his lost son
and can see again?
Who lets a bucket down and brings up
a flowing prophet?
Or like Moses goes for fire
and finds what burns inside the sunrise?
Jesus slips into a house to escape enemies,
and opens a door to the other world.
Solomon cuts open a fish, and there’s a gold ring.
Omar storms in to kill the prophet
and leaves with blessings.
Chase a deer and end up everywhere!
An oyster opens his mouth to swallow one drop.
Now there’s a pearl.
A vagrant wanders empty ruins.
Suddenly he’s wealthy.
But don’t be satisfied with stories, how things
have gone with others.
Unfold your own myth, without complicated explanation,
so everyone will understand the passage,
“We have opened you.”
Start walking toward Shams. Your legs will get heavy
and tired. Then comes a moment
of feeling the wings you’ve grown,
lifting.

– Rumi –
(The Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks)

On my long walk with and towards the metaphoric Shams, I anticipate days when my legs will get heavy and tired. I hope my feet remain blister free. I’ll welcome the moment(s) of feeling wings lifting me. And when I do, I’ll thank another of my guides, Rumi, and think of my friend Shawna and her wondrous latest novel, Everything Affects Everyone. I’ll whisper my gratitude to both on the winds.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

The Mother’s Prayer

THE MOTHER’S PRAYER

Our Mother
Who is always with us,
Holy is our Being.
Thy Kin-dom is present.
They Desire is felt throughout the Cosmos.
We graciously receive your infinite daily abundance.
May we forgive each other our lack of skill and
insensitivity.
May we understand our inner guidance,
and perceive each other’s needs.
For Thine is the Kin-dom, the Power and the Story,
in never-ending renewal.
Blessed be.

– Glenys Livingstone, Ph.D. –

The week before I departed for Portugal, I listened to Edmonton author, teacher, organic market gardener and beekeeper, Jenna Butler read from her latest book, Revery: A Year with Bees. In response to host Rayanne Haine’s thoughtful questions, Jenna spoke eloquently of the big and deep questions she holds about place, land, environment, interconnectedness and what this means for her life, healing, food production and writing. Evoked for me was farmer-poet-activist Wendell Berry, though Jenna brought an oh-so-vital feminine and BIPOC perspective.

Reflecting on my reasons for making this long, sauntering walk, apparent is my need, as a woman, to reawaken my connections to land and sky, people and place as I walk in gratitude and appreciation within these new perspectives. It is to replenish my inner reservoir of impressions from which I create. It is to renew my commitment to stepping lighter on and in reverence for Mother Earth.

Mother’s Day has recently past, both in North America (May 8), Portugal (May 1), and Spain (May 1). Coming across this wonderful reframing of a classic prayer, I share it today to honour the sacred Feminine, embodied in life. Blessed be.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Mindful

Mindful

Every day
I see or hear
something
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for –
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world –
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant –
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these –
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

– Mary Oliver –

After posting this past Monday’s blog, Bom Caminho, in which I gave notice – to myself, actually – that I’d not be blogging and was unsure if I’d post on social media -recognizing how easy it is for me to be seduced out of myself in so doing – I realized I could schedule each of my Friday photo and poem features for the duration of my time away.

So, I’ve chosen poems that might reflect with where I’m at along the way. I’ll be curious to read back and see if synchronicity and-or prescience was indeed at play!

Today’s selection by my guide, Mary Oliver, is very much aligned with my intention for making this journey, taking this long walk: to be present with what arrives each day…to look, to listen, to lose myself inside this beauty-filled world…to remember my life as poem and prayer.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

“Bom Caminho”

When you travel, you find yourself
Alone in a different way,
More attentive now
To the self you bring along…

John O’Donohue, Blessing for The Traveler
Iceland Morning

A decade ago, I wrote a post about the Camino. Titled “Buen Camino” (the Spanish wish, above is the Portuguese), I described gathering with my friends to view “The Way,” a beautifully shot film about a bereaved father, played by Martin Sheen, trekking the Camino de Santiago, in devotion to his son who’d fallen to his death on the trail. I recalled meeting with two American hikers in Vernazza, Italy, where walking the trail high above the Ligurian coast towards Corniglia, they regaled me with their stories of having walked the Camino and shared a piece of wisdom I’ve held close and spoken forward on countless occasions. I wrote then “I know deep in my bones I’ll make that pilgrimage one day,” and so I am.

A week from today, I’ll be airborne for Lisbon, Portugal where, with a friend, I’ll settle and sightsee for a few days there and in Porto before a week later beginning my trek along the Portuguese Coastal Camino, returning home in early June. Last fall, walking my second local Camino de Edmonton, my twenty year dream of walking – one that has waxed and waned many times over many years – became re-ignited. In a more recent blog I wrote about that experience, what I had learned about myself, and how I’d need to apply it when making my dream come true:

“I learned that my way of walking is to saunter. I need to take my time to notice, to observe, to photograph, to hum a tune, sing a made-in-the-moment, soon-to-be-forgotten lyric. I enjoy conversation, and have had some delightful, edifying ones. And then what I notice – the shiny and the shimmer, the magic that suddenly catches my eye and speaks to my heart – shifts my attention.

And so, thinking more intentionally about a long distance “saunter” to Santiago, through Portugal, next year, the “easy walk” – taking several more days than the typical two week allocation – with ample time to rest and appreciate the ambiance of local villages, having my accommodations with breakfasts pre-booked, and luggage transferred, viscerally has me gasp with delight and settle my covid concerns. New impressions…the moments inside the moments…the magical stuff…the glory of life.

In response to that post, a friend told me about Portugal Green Walks, a company specializing in designing treks through Portugal, including an “easy” coastal Camino. I loved that I’d be “living local with love,” investing in Portugal and her people, post pandemic. After several weeks corresponding with Paola, their customer service rep, despite being in our 5th Covid wave, in need of bringing the Christmas promise of joy into my life, I metaphorically struck the earth with my warrior-walker’s staff by making the 25% deposit, thus signaling to the gods and fates my commitment and requesting their support in helping me pull this through.

A customized 20 day itinerary, in contrast to the typical 12 or 14, with an average 10-12 km per stage, accommodations booked, bags portered, breakfast served, giving me ample time to take in the vistas and villages along the way. Meeting with people, savoring the food and culture, time for writing, photography, painting…walking alone and together with my friend who is “simpatico” in this way of wanting a more immersive, esthetic experience. And while I had weighed going solo, I am happy for her companionship, particularly as it will be our first time travelling internationally since the pandemic.

A journey can become a sacred thing:
Make sure, before you go,
To take the time
To bless your going forth,
To free your heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life,
And the urgencies
That deserve to claim you.

John O’Donohue, Blessing for The Traveler

In the spirit of “freeing my heart of ballast,” I won’t blog and hold only lightly the possibility of posting on social media. Not from a desire or need to get away from it all, but rather to enter more deeply into what this is – admittedly not really knowing what this is – wanting instead to give myself over to “the urgencies that deserve to claim me.”

May you travel in an awakened way,
Gathered wisely into your inner ground;
That you may not waste the invitations
Which wait along the way to transform you.

John O’Donohue, Blessing for The Traveler

What I know most of all is by taking flight next week to realize my twenty year dream, I am going to walk my Camino “because I knew others who had gone, and the experience filled them with wonder.” – Peter Coffman, Camino, 2017

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends. I’ll be back here sometime in June.

olive trees and stone paths hiking in Corniglia, Italy


Joy

Spring at Seattle’s Pike Street Market

JOY

When it comes back to teach you
or you come back to learn
how half alive you’ve been,
how your ignorance and arrogance
have kept you deprived —
when it comes back to you
or you yourself return,
joy is simple, unassuming.
Red tulips on their green stems.
Early spring vegetables, bright in the pan.
The primary colours of a child’s painting,
the first lessons, all over again.

Thomas Centolella

with Annie on the fairway this week

Though it was nearly a month ago when I posted my poem, Call Me Caprice, describing the often ambivalent arrival of an Alberta spring, given this week’s snow storm and persistent cold, I could have posted it again! Instead I opted for optimism, trusting red tulips and daffodils will eventually blossom forth from more than the flower shop’s bouquet.

It’s been nearly as long since I last posted…and I hope to muster up my own words for a blog on Monday. In the meantime, much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Winnow to Essence

In recent seasons of being, I have had occasion to reflect on the utterly improbable trajectory of my life, plotted not by planning but by living.

We long to be given the next step and the route to the horizon, allaying our anxiety with the illusion of a destination somewhere beyond the vista of our present life…

And so the best we can do is walk step by next intuitively right step until one day, pausing to catch our breath, we turn around and gasp at a path. If we have been lucky enough, if we have been willing enough to face the uncertainty, it is our own singular path, unplotted by our anxious younger selves, untrodden by anyone else.

Maria Popova, The Marginalian, December 12, 2021

And so it goes. Learning to live my life by living, not by planning. Finding myself a couple of weeks ago, perhaps just as Maria Popova penned those words, at a crossroads in the trajectory of my life.

For years, November would find me going through calendar and files to track and complete my annual continuing competency record, a requirement for renewing my professional social work registration. Last year with the collapse of my consulting practice due to covid and budget cuts, I maintained my license under the “retired” category for a significantly lower fee, not quite ready to jump ship. This year that category was no longer available due to changes in provincial legislation. My only option would be to renew at the considerable annual fee or cancel my registration.

When I pay attention, it’s easier to discern that life has a way of pointing out the way. I’d been saying for the past year or so that I wanted to pursue writing as my next life chapter. I certainly didn’t need to be a social worker to do that. And so I said “NO” to the renewal, the finality of that chosen step arriving in my inbox the next day. A formal letter telling me that I had lost all the rights and privileges of a Social Worker, that I could no longer call myself Social Worker as it is a title protected by legislation, nor could I practice within the scope of social work practice in the province. Door slammed shut. That road closed.

Ironic that the following day, I had been invited to host a circle conversation for teachers dealing with the stress of working within the ever-shifting context of covid. As an established circle practitioner I didn’t need to be a social worker to do that.

But if you want to go your individual way, it is the way you make for yourself, which is never prescribed, which you do not know in advance, and which simply comes into being of itself when you put one foot in front of the other. If you always do the next thing that needs to be done, you will go most safely and sure-footedly along the path prescribed by your unconscious. Then it is naturally no help at all to speculate about how you ought to live. And then you know, too, that you cannot know it, but quietly do the next and most necessary thing.  

Carl Jung, Selected Letters of C.G. Jung, 1909–1961 in The Marginalian, December 12, 2021

I found myself in a similar but more complicated quandary a few years ago when deciding whether to “relinquish” my American citizenship. Consulting with tax accountants and immigration lawyers, I had to weigh a potentially hefty consequence of shutting that door – being forbidden entry into the USA. I procrastinated for several years, retainer and accounting fees mounting. Finally, in conversation with a friend, decision and direction became apparent as I heard myself say I needed to “winnow to essence.”

I’d written about this way of being in my world, describing the simplicity I sought, which was necessary then:

These words have become a mantra for the gradual process of letting go of a lot of my life’s trappings, and committing to exchange things for experiences…
Winnowing to essence. Quite a bit of not a lot. Mirroring for each other an innate way of being, born of aging.

A way of being which is now even more important for the writer I am becoming. Who I am, what with a couple of honorable mentions for poems submitted to contests, being one of fourteen from a hundred invited to read another, and another published online this past weekend. Too, the enjoyable co-editing collaboration resulting in this month’s online publication of Sage-ing: The Journal of Creative Aging, featuring submissions from several of my friends. Simplicity and solitude that have been paradoxical gifts from the pandemic. And yes, knowing loneliness as part of this creative process.

In this blur of being by ourselves, we learn to be ourselves. One measure of maturity might be how well we grow to transmute that elemental loneliness into the “fruitful monotony” Bertrand Russell placed at the heart of our flourishing, the “fertile solitude” Adam Phillips recognized as the pulse-beat of our creative power…

Rilke, contemplating the lonely patience of creative work that every artist knows in their marrow, captured this in his lamentation that “works of art are of an infinite loneliness” — Rilke, who all his life celebrated solitude as the groundwater of love and creativity, and who so ardently believed that to devote yourself to art, you must not “let your solitude obscure the presence of something within it that wants to emerge.”

Maria Popova, The Marginalian, December 19, 2021

A few weeks ago I reposted my piece on re-Wintering with its invitation to withdraw from the world to allow transformation within the gift of this season’s crucible. It’s a time when the poet doesn’t invent, rather she listens. As I write tonight, soon it will be Winter Solstice, in less than a week Christmas, and then the end of another year, the beginning of a new one. Here in the northern hemisphere, this holy season of darkness nudges me ever deeper towards the slow and simple. With a calendar free of social engagements, I walk Annie, cook, tend to our home and some emails.

In my meandering way I suddenly recalled, when referring above to Rilke, words from Joanna Macy, having listened to her last week in conversation with her writing companion Anita Barrows, and Krista Tippett, discussing their translation of Rilke’s Letters to A Young Poet:

Well, it seems clear that we who are alive now are here for something and witnessing something for our planet that has not happened at any time before. And so we who are alive now and who are called to — who feel called, those of us who feel called to love our world — to love our world has been at the core of every faith tradition, to be grateful for it, to teach ourselves how to see beauty, how to treasure it, how to celebrate, how — if it must disappear, if there’s dying — how to be grateful. 

Joanna Macy, On Being with Krista Tippett, June 24, 2021

As the coming days grow darker, I wish for you time to slow down to see, treasure and celebrate beauty. May you open to the gifts of wintering. May you know gratitude in your life. May you love our world.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Note to Self When Walking (Because I Forget)

Note to Self When Walking (Because I Forget)

When walking in the woods,
Or on a path,
Or down the street,
In a store,
Or just upstairs,
When you are intent on going,
Where ever it is you are going,
Stop.
Stand still.

Notice how the mind can chatter,
Like purple finches in the trees,
Endlessly clicking and warbling,
Rising and falling and rising again.
Notice all your plans and longings,
All the things you got, but didn’t want,
All you wanted, and didn’t get,
All the circular conversations aimed at changing,
What was already said or unsaid.
Notice all the losses you are carrying,
With as much grace as you can muster.

Notice the sky, the feel of the air on your skin,
The sounds or what hangs in the silence,
The hard knot in your throat.
Notice all these things and more,
Because there is always more.
Then let your heart open,
Even just a crack,
A dribble or a dam break,
It doesn’t matter.
Because it is in that opening,
You’ll find a clear space
The one you keep finding
And losing
And finding again.

Remember to love it all,
All of it.
Hold hands and high five
With what’s easy and dear,
Ephemeral and brilliantly ordinary.
Wrap compassion like a blanket
The kind we place tenderly,
Around other people’s shoulders,
When the disaster is done and the worst is over.
Love it all,
Without looking for any way out,
Not condoning, just allowing,
For it all to just live,
Where it lives.
Love everything that broke your heart open
That changed you forever,
That made you softer,
And helped you understand,
What you could not have understood otherwise.
Love what you’ve endured,
Love what you are still enduring.
Love the purple finches and the sidewalk,
The view from the upstairs window,
The brambles and wild asters,
And the click of the keyboard.

Love all of this
Small and fragile,
Big and beautiful,
Life.

Then take the next step.

– Carrie Newcomer –

As I wrote in my post Walking, I like to meander and saunter. I like to pause to listen, to look up into the sky, into the trees, onto the expanse of river or field. Yes, to find the image that shimmers, but also to empty myself of all the clutter and clatter so I can take in a bit of what surrounds me, let it envelope me, inside and out.

When Annie and I walk, she is patient with me, as I pause, as I focus my camera, as I stop to talk with a neighbor. Just one of the many things I love about her.

This poem arrived in the monthly “Growing Edge” newsletter by Carrie Newcomer and Parker Palmer. Evoking David Wagoner’s “Lost,” and David Whyte’s “Start Close In,” I love Carrie’s grace-filled noticing and wise counsel to love everything that breaks our hearts open…makes us softer…that we’ve endured and are still enduring, while encouraging us always to take the next step.

Dear friends, may you, too, love it all and take the next step.

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