I Worried

The Arches, Newfoundland

I WORRIED

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
hopeless.

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

– Mary Oliver –

Recently this poem has shown up on friends’ feeds and in other social media. Personal life circumstances and the still staggering impacts of the pandemic here and around the world are reason enough for the reminder.
I was taught to worry in that less than obvious way parents transmit what to do, though not necessarily what’s true nor even effective. It’s become a habit of mind, an addiction, even. And it never amounts to anything, always comes to nothing.
When I catch myself, and have the presence of mind, I turn worry into prayer, the kind that Anne Lamott describes as the “help, thanks and wow” prayer. That helps, even if only by making me feel better and giving me space to put it down for a while.

Through Line

dawn, the last Monday in April, 2021

It’s the final week of April and still we are in serious need of rain. Where I live we have not had much in the way of April showers to bring May flowers, and as I wrote last week, firefighters are readying for a hell of a season. And this past weekend, if lack of moisture isn’t enough, we had a suspected arsonist destroy several small local businesses in one of my community’s first strip malls. No injuries but the cost is near unbearable on all levels for those business owners who’ve barely kept their heads above water during this year plus of pandemic restrictions.

I woke early this morning, well before dawn, and at 4:30 I could see the night giving way to day. I wrote a bit, musings and machinations, and some questions arising from noticing:

What am I hungry for?
What action do I need to take?
What is the shoe that I’m waiting for to drop?
What would be a “passionate project” to undertake?
How might that be a distraction from simply sitting still and writing?

Questions not so much to answer, but simply to let swirl and settle or, in the word and way of “MU” – the answer given in Japanese Zen Buddhism when the wrong question is asked – ask a different question.

Then I replied to a friend’s email, in which I tapped:

I am well. This is the base line from which many ebbs and flows – some use the word “corroding,” others “languishing,” in response to these prolonged days of covid, with no respite in sight. Here at home, we forget that this IS having an effect on us and our relationship…of course, and even though I blogged about it, I somehow assumed I might be exempt, attributing malaise, and lack of focus to my inner workings instead of to how “out there” is affecting those inner workings. That being said, again, to myself as much as anyone, I AM WELL!

You have invited some reflection as I begin this week. And for you, the dawn I paused to notice this morning…so fleeting its colours. One has to be right there and ready to see…a life lesson I think.

To be right there and ready… to see…to know… when to take action, when to sit still…when to undertake a new project or recognize it as distraction…when the inner is affected by the outer…that the through line is “I AM WELL.”

A Long Arc

This past year’s events continue to weigh heavy. The long arc of its impacts at every scale continue to stagger. I’d started to detail here some of what is present in the collective field of attention, and then deleted it knowing anyone with any awareness knows quite simply, it is still hard slogging. And at this very moment, I’m praying for rain. Despite forecasts, we’ve had but a spit during this early, dry spring. Today our neighbor mentioned his firefighter brother-in-law said station staff are very concerned for the city, outlying rural regions, and forests.

Since I last wrote in this space, we’ve both had our first vaccinations and I celebrated my second birthday as a member of the Covid Celebration Club with a “dome dinner” at one of our golf courses. Borrowing from Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic design, a local company, in a pandemic pivot, built clear, weatherproof vinyl domes, lined them with artificial turf, plugged in heaters, and voila, a safe, contained dinner for two, or four, with a featured local chef at the helm. The food was great, but the highlight- the retro baked Alaska. I have a special fondness for that dessert as I’d often make it for birthdays, never mine, though. Made for two, enough for four, we dug in through the thick layer of perfectly bronzed meringue, the just melting vanilla ice cream to the solid double chocolate chip cookie base. Did I say good?

The day I went for my shot was thankfully sunny and warm as when I arrived at urban shopping centre site, there were line ups with hour-long delays. “Should have called my local health centre instead of booking online,” offered the friendly security guard who was in the know, managing people at the different vaccination sites in the region. When I entered the cavernous former retail space, falling in line, safely distanced, and moving through the cordoned route, first to replace my cloth mask and sanitize my hands, to the computer check-in station, and then to one of the twenty inoculation stations, I thought back to a conversation I’d heard earlier in the week while walking with Annie. Another On Being podcast, this one featuring health psychologist, Dr. Christine Runyon, whose specialty is providing mental health support to front line medical and health care staff dealing with the pandemic.

“No amount of sophisticated technology can do what health professionals have done these past few months — offered care with uncertain evidence, sat with the dying, comforted family members from afar, held one another in fear and grief, celebrated unexpected recoveries, and simply showed up… No one has been trained how to keep regular life afloat at home and anxiety at bay, while working day after day with a little known biohazard.”

Dr. Christine Runyon, On Being with Krista Tippett, March 18, 2021

I thought of this when I saw all around me, health care professionals taking a moment, here and there, to say hello, make a bit of a connection with the hundreds of us who were coming to get, what feels to me, a modicum of insurance but perhaps more reassurance with so much that is still so uncertain, unsettled, unraveling. I was deeply moved.

Dr. Runyon’s main point was to assure that whoever you are, whatever you are feeling – depressed, anxious, angry, irritable, flat, disconnected, numb, impulsive, moody, rigid, lashing out , impatient, exhausted, foggy, forgetful –  “it’s a normal response to incredibly unfamiliar, unusual, unpredictable, uncontrollable circumstances.” Not to be pathologized because our nervous systems – the built-in flight, fight, freeze protective processes – have been activated beyond, and that depending on our personal histories and patterns of coping, many of us have had past traumas re-activated further compounding this current tender situation.

As antidote, she underscores our body-mind connection, suggesting among other practices, deep exhaling, background music, body-work, evoking curiosity, and noticing. But at the foundation is compassion.

“…if I had to say the one thing that probably supersedes all of those, is compassion, including compassion for oneself.”

Dr. Christine Runyon, On Being with Krista Tippett, March 18, 2021

All said, the broad stroke of this spring is brighter for me than last year. I’ve been earnest in my commitment to write, submitting to poetry contests and publication calls, participating in open mic readings, and saying “yes” to a part-time professional gig for a local social enterprise. That vision board I created last December, to honour my autumn life chapter, the one I gaze on every day when I sit down to write or make this season’s cycle of “love notes,” that holds my dreams and intentions…there’s some magic at work here, and some lightness to balance the gravitas of the still heavy days.

May you, too, have broad strokes of brightness, dear friends.
Much love and kindest regards.

An Early Spring Medicine Walk

The day before Spring officially arrived, I took a walk with a dear friend. She and I have evolved a soft and fluid pattern of getting together as our respective cultures’ holy days are either waxing or waning. In the interim, especially this past year, we occasionally text or fob an email back and forth or send each other a “love note” in the mail. We’ve held the intention to meet for a walk these past many months of needing to maintain a safe, social distance and so it was that a few weeks ago she sent a message offering a couple of afternoons. I suggested we pencil in both, weather permitting, knowing how much can change on a dime. With the long-range forecast looking good for Friday, she suggested we meet at Bunchberry Meadows, a nature conservancy west of the city.

snow white paths and aspens

I vaguely recalled having heard of it somewhere, some time ago, so googled and printed off directions. Packed my Deuter daypack with requisite trail mix and water; rain jacket, gloves and toque; first aid kit and camera. Laced on my hiking boots. Grabbed my newly whittled willow walking stick – a gift from the woman who carves in our neighborhood woods. Fuelled up the car – still only a once-a-month ritual – and set out. Zigged once when I should have zagged, but still arrived minutes before my friend coming from a morning of meetings. Hellos said, virtual hugs exchanged on the breeze and we set off.

Being familiar with the trails as she comes out at the turn of every season, she pointed the way and said we’d be traversing through several distinct areas of old growth tamarack, white spruce, jack pine, and willow. The past week of more than seasonal warm and sunny weather meant we walked through large snowless expanses of meadow – exposing last year’s dried golden grasses – and forest mottled with white patches of snow. Paths varied in their coverage: soft crystalline snow made for easy gripping; fallen leaf and dropped needles padding evoked summer mountain treks in scent and feel; and ice sheened with melt became the most treacherous, where boot spikes, had I stopped to take them out of my pack, would have been a wise addition.

Bunchberry Meadows

Coming to a long stripped log, perched as a bench and glossed to a smooth sheen by countless others who have taken rest on it, I suggested we sit to soak up the sun shining on our faces, while watching the hawk silently float above the meadow fringed with woods. There we soaked, too, in quiet conversation, punctuated by easy, companionable silences.

Encountering another woman on the trail, we clarified our location and route back to the parking lot, completed the circuit down a steep snow and ice covered trail, and through the shadowy filigree file of tamarack, sun lighting the end of the way into the berry meadow, now dotted with dried umber yarrow heads.

Up and through a couple more times, the sun now lower in the sky, but still exceptionally warm for three weeks into March day, and we arrived back at our cars to each make the trek home for dinner.

At the outset, I hadn’t thought of this walk being or bringing medicine. It was simply to be a lovely outing with a lovely friend. But at its conclusion, during the freeway drive home where I needed to shift into another way of navigating trails, and several times since, especially now as I’m writing, in the early hours of a pre-dawn Sunday morning, its soothing effects linger.

I’ve missed walking in Nature’s nature. Sure, Annie and I make our way in our suburban bits of natural landscape, but lately I’ve found myself growing irritated with the number of people on the paths of what are really, simply, barely hidden golf fairways and greens. The first I’m putting to words – this nuanced realization that the more we move out of winter into the inevitable golf season, whatever medicine I’d felt on those paths – a medicine that restored and rebalanced me beyond the basic benefits of being out in the fresh air and elements, moving – is now melting away like the snow, exposing its actual, man-made nature.

And as I think about it further in the last week or so, as a less than conscious response, I’ve found myself drawn back to walking on the path in the little wood lot where we’ve occasionally encountered our friend the stick whittler. Just to be a bit closer on the land…to get a bit closer to Nature’s nature…the healing kind.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends, as we step into spring, or autumn for my southern hemisphere readers.

my neighborhood woodlot in autumn

Essential

Hand made Berber bread in Morocco

ESSENTIAL

How do you know what’s essential?
Could you have predicted
this particular version of paring down?
Perhaps your work is essential,
but maybe not. The face you wear
to the outside world, the picture
in the mirror, has probably slipped.
Even the fundamentals of human
touch might not be required
to assure us that we are not alone.
Who could have imagine
that we would somehow come down
to making bread even without yeast?
To the fact that with nothing more
than food and water and air and time,
even the least of us
will find a way to rise?

– Lynn Ungar –
April 28, 2020

One year ago this week, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Determining what and who was essential continues to be of consideration in decision making. Global vaccination rollouts promise a light at the end of this very long, dark, and lonely tunnel.
While this past year, much has changed and too, much has remained the same. Hoarding toilet paper is giving way in some countries to hoarding vaccinations. Home bakers are making their sourdough creations their livelihoods. Virtual meetings, family gatherings and celebrations have become “de rigeur” and may change the landscape of onsite work. Here at home, I continue to feel the absence of essential connections.

“I miss you in my bones and by my body.”

Wintering

“Dashed and disheartened – again,” I emailed a friend. What with last week’s winds having blown in Arctic cold temperatures and flat light skies, reading up on my country’s vaccination rollout debacle and delays, virus variants that are proving to be highly contagious and perhaps more deadly than the original, and a speculated move to mandated mask wearing outside, this might be an understatement. Certainly enough to have been stalled again in writing here, having missed two of my usual Monday postings. Plumbing a bit deeper, what with my husband having celebrated his first “Covid” birthday two weeks ago, we realized with age, and life as we’ve known it “on hold,” we’re feeling quite wistful. Most apparent for me is missing traveling and all that it gives me, more fully appreciated now in its absence. I’m resigned to the probability that this will be another year, and most likely then some, of staying put. Too, the whisper of a question held this past year, “Will I – we – ever travel again as in the past?”

A few days ago, somewhat warmer with soft snowflakes fluttering down, Annie and I walked, she happy for her full-length coat, and NOT having to wear her fleece boots. I plugged into a recent On Being podcast, curious having read Krista’s weekend letter:

“Katherine May, in her book, Wintering – The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times (2020), meditatively explores ‘wintering’ as a season of the natural world but also as a place our bodies and psyches need to go, a season that recurs again and again across a life. We cheat and dismiss this in life as we’ve been living it, but it has presented itself insistently in a pandemic year we might reimagine as one long communal wintering.

We can’t move forward without grieving all we’ve lost in the past year. Closer to the ground, this means we have to let in the fact of sadness — a precursor to pain and fear — with some reverence. If happiness is a skill, Katherine May says, so is unhappiness. Winter embodies the strange complexity of reality. It is the bitterest season, we blithely say. And all the while it manages not to be the death of the life cycle, as Katherine May reminds, but its crucible.”

Krista Tippet, The Pause, January 23, 2021

Wintering.

That would be the odd place in which I found myself last spring and summer. Whereas I’d used the words “fallow” and “lost”, as I listened to Katherine May, I recognized in her words a fuller, more accurate description of those several months lying cold and low, when all around me blushed and blossomed.

“…wintering is a metaphor for those phases in our life when we feel frozen out or unable to make the next step, and that that can come at any time, in any season, in any weather; that it has nothing to do with the physical cold…”

Katherine May, On Being podcast, January 21, 2021

Not bound to season as we know it, but a necessary and recurrent place to drop into when we appreciate the cyclical nature of our lives. Thinking back, during an actual winter fifteen years ago, I dropped into depression. Not major, but enough that I and others noticed I was not myself. Little energy and enthusiasm, waning concentration, major exertions of effort to get through a day of work and home chores. Enough that once on the other side that spring, I’d mentioned it to my family doctor, and upon closer examination, recognized its cyclical nature. Perhaps a bit of seasonal affective disorder with some inherited family predisposition towards the winter “blahs.” Never since as severe, though I have a letter I wrote to myself then, upon the suggestion of my doctor, “to be opened in the dark days, to remember.” I’ve never needed to, though I know it’s perched on my desk amidst a collection of mementos. And that brings reassurance enough.

“Plants and animals don’t fight the winter; they don’t pretend it’s not happening and attempt to carry on living the same lives they lived in the summer. They prepare. They adapt. They perform extraordinary acts of metamorphosis to get them through. Wintering is a time of withdrawing from the world, maximizing scant resources, carrying out acts of brutal efficiency and vanishing from sight; but that’s where the transformation occurs. Winter is not the death of the life cycle, but its crucible.”

Katherine May, On Being podcast, January 21, 2021

I wonder if because we are mostly acculturated out of such natural rhythms and rituals, those embedded deep within our DNA and beneath our consciousness, we find ourselves in “winter” out of season? That if we heeded Nature’s signs and stirrings, we’d ready ourselves, with each other, for wintering’s alchemical invitation. I feel a growing love and appreciation for winter, the season, since being unfettered by work’s imposed schedule, demands, and need for driving. And as many of us have felt during the pandemic, in lives slowed and diminished of obligation, its paradoxical gifts.

“It’s a time for reflection and recuperation, for slow replenishment, for putting your house in order. Doing these deeply unfashionable things — slowing down, letting your spare time expand, getting enough sleep, resting — is a radical act now, but it’s essential.”

Katherine May, On Being podcast, January 21, 2021

Recently I came upon these words from Toko-pa Turner’s book, Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home. They echo the hidden transformative gifts in this crucible of winter and wintering:

“Like the bowl that has yet to be filled, there is an emptiness that precedes creativity that is alive with potential. With ordinary eyes, it’s easy to mistake this emptiness for stagnancy. We may think, “I have nothing of substance to offer! I have no original ideas!” But down at the invisible base of things, there is a holy dance taking place. Though we may want to run from the tension, the polarities are in constant motion, readying themselves into harmony. Far from dormant, this dance is the active receptivity that calls things into form. We are such a vessel. These times of nothingness are actually busy with living into a new capacity.

Originality comes when you stay close to that emptiness, making it a welcoming place, adorning it with your divine longing, learning the shape of it, and filling it with your questions. Every great artist I know is obsessed with a question, and their artworks are less attempts to answer that question than they are exaltations of asking. As Jean Cocteau says, ‘The poet doesn’t invent. He listens.'”

I listened last summer as I wintered, lost and fallow. I remembered it as a familiar season of my life and followed its nudges to find my way through. Walking with Annie. Reading and writing. Photography and painting. Making love notes to friends. Cooking and circling up with women friends. And now in the fullness of its season, I sleep longer, nap more, give myself permission to pause the writing until I feel stirred. I let myself feel, once again, dashed and disheartened, trusting them to be worthy of these times. And I wonder.

“I recognized winter. I saw it coming a mile off, since you ask, and I looked it in the eye. I greeted it and let it in. I had some tricks up my sleeve, you see. I’ve learned them the hard way. When I started to feel the drag of winter, I began to treat myself like a favored child, with kindness and love. I assumed my needs were reasonable and that my feelings were signals of something important. I kept myself well fed, and I made sure I was getting enough sleep. I took myself for walks in the fresh air and spent time doing things that soothed me. I asked myself, what is this winter all about? I asked myself, what change is coming?”

Katherine May, Wintering – The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times (2020)

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Home Came Knocking

HOME.

This has been my word for 2020. Remarkable that when it “arrived” a year ago as my word for this year’s soft focus and intention, it would have been so utterly prescient and enbodied. For me, and most everyone on the planet! I wrote in late January of 2020:

Not chosen but invited, it arrived early in a simple, elegant process offered by Abbey of the Arts, called “2020, Give Me a Word.” Developed for the twelve days of Christmas, but available in early December, I’d received an email invitation to “create some space each day to listen and see what word comes shimmering forth from the dailiness of my experience.”

At first, “at home,” which evoked being home and staying put. Perhaps wise counsel given I’d had another autumn full of travel. This time I’d become quite ill during my last trip in early December, a visit with a friend I’d not seen since the passing of her husband. A disappointment for us both when first, our great plans for trekking in the desert mountains became dashed by my excruciating case of plantar fasciitis. Then, a viral infection contracted days before departure had me reach for the emergency cipro to be well enough to get back home without an ear-blocked, cough-racked flight. Just recovered and now into a serious grip of Arctic winter cold, staying put, at home, has been the order of the day.


But as the twelve days passed, with a new practice offered each day to evoke or ripen – a contemplative walk in Nature, writing a poem, illustrating the word visually, attending to my dreams, consulting a soul friend – “at home” became distilled to “home.” Still that comfort with being at home (the best place to be when you’re sick and it’s ridiculously cold outside), but now with a spaciousness that allows mystery to unfold, shadow and surprise to emerge, dreams to awaken.

Last week, browsing somewhere, I came across these wondrous words in an essay, “To Find Your True Home Within Your Life.”  Home came knocking.

"The mystic Thomas a Kempis said that when you go out into the world, you return having lost some of yourself. Until you learn to inhabit your aloneness, the lonely distraction and noise of society will seduce you into false belonging, with which you will only become empty and weary. When you face your aloneness, something begins to happen. Gradually, the sense of bleakness changes into a sense of true belonging. This is a slow and open-ended transition but is utterly vital in order to come into rhythm with your own individuality. In a sense this is the endless task of finding your true home within your life. It is not narcissistic, for as soon as you rest in the house of your own heart, doors and windows begin to open outwards to the world." -  John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes (1999), 93.

With hindsight being 20:20 – forgive the pun – as I read these words now, I’m awe stuck. Last December’s onset illness persisted for over two months and many times since, I’ve wondered, as have many who suffered similar symptoms then, was this an early iteration of COVID-19? While I’ll never definitively know, because the blood work done in December was before we knew of the virus, I do know I don’t remember ever having felt so wretched and exhausted for so long, and thankfully, none of the people I encountered during that period became ill.

There have been gifts during this near year of sheltering in place, being home with minimal distraction and the noise from society. One, paradoxically, amidst losses and griefs – experienced and sensed, personal and collective – has been a deeply felt contentment and joy that manifests most obviously every morning, and several times a day, in “kitchen dancing.” The unabashed delight in a new day, unscripted, unfettered by obligation or need to muster myself. The simple pleasures of tending to Annie. Our daily walks in the neighborhood where she sniffs and I see Nature’s subtle and not so changes. Planning and preparing dinner to enjoy with my husband. Home care. Writing. This in marked contrast to years of waking with a feeling, albeit habituated, of anxiety and dread. Except for the three months living in Germany while I travelled through Europe in 2011, I don’t recall feeling such sweet enthusiasm for my life.

And that perennial guiding question of what now to do with my wild and precious life, has now, ever so subtly and gradually, given way to trust in its gentle unfolding.

Perhaps it’s a function of age, and my commitment to a conscious tending, but a most profound gift of this year, of living in this memory-making pandemic time, has been coming into rhythm with my individuality, of finding my true home within my life, of resting in the house of my heart.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Annie with My Kiss Spot

I Forgive You

PHASE ONE

For leaving the fridge open
last night, I forgive you.
For conjuring white curtains
instead of living your life.

For the seedlings that wilt, now,
in tiny pots, I forgive you.
For saying no first
but yes as an afterthought.

I forgive you for hideous visions
after childbirth, brought on by loss
of sleep. And when the baby woke
repeatedly, for your silent rebuke

in the dark, “What’s your beef?”
I forgive your letting vines
overtake the garden. For fearing
your own propensity to love.

For losing, again, your bag
en route from San Francisco;
for the equally heedless drive back
on the caffeine-fueled return.

I forgive you for leaving
windows open in rain
and soaking library books
again. For putting forth

only revisions of yourself,
with punctuation worked over,
instead of the disordered truth,
I forgive you. For singing mostly

when the shower drowns
your voice. For so admiring
the drummer you failed to hear
the drum. In forgotten tin cans,

may forgiveness gather. Pooling
in gutters. Gushing from pipes.
A great steady rain of olives
from branches, relieved

of cruelty and petty meanness.
With it, a flurry of wings, thirteen
gray pigeons. Ointment reserved
for healers and prophets. I forgive you.

I forgive you. For feeling awkward
and nervous without reason.
For bearing Keats’s empty vessel
with such calm you worried

you had, perhaps, no moral
center at all. For treating your mother
with contempt when she deserved
compassion. I forgive you. I forgive

you. I forgive you. For growing
a capacity for love that is great
but matched only, perhaps,
by your loneliness. For being unable

to forgive yourself first so you
could then forgive others and
at last find a way to become
the love that you want in this world.

– Dilruba Ahmed –

This is the poem that released a floodgate of words, and tears, about which I wrote in my last blog. To listen to it being wondrously recited and interpreted by Irish poet Pádraig Ó’Tuama, click here.

The Gift of Self Forgiveness

Finding the words for this blog has not come easy. I gave in to tiredness and wanting to spend “pack time” with my husband and our Annie dog on Sunday night when I usually sit in our office, tapping out my musings for Monday’s posting, music in the background. Monday, still stalled, I walked with Annie, and caught up listening to several episodes from my favourite poetry podcast, spiraling through several times, the dozen or so minutes of brilliance, both in the poet’s words, but also in host Pádraig Ó’Tuama’s commentary. One moved me to tears every time I heard it.

Maybe it’s the time of year. The coming of winter – though of late, ours has been remarkably warm, sunny, with snow and cold enough for chunky cross-country skiing and ice skating – can be unsettling for some. Personally, I grow each year in my love of the growing darkness…the stillness at dawn…the quiet muffling that a snowfall brings…the restful flat light and monochromatic colour exterior scheme.


So, it’s probably the month. December and all it evokes. Dreams of “Christmas Pasts” that can run the gambit emotionally, that for some us, can be anything but the Hallmark happily ever after. And this year, made all more so by a pandemic that is worsening world-wide as we grow more fatigued, complacent, desensitized and doubting. Just yesterday my province implemented a month-long lock down, including no social gathering, indoor and out, beyond family members living in the same home. And I wonder with a renewed and deepened empathy, how does one navigate when you know this will be your last Christmas with an ailing family member? Or you’re already neck, or even knee, deep in grief now most certainly unabated without the physical support and presence of those who care for you, those you trust?

“While your faces on the screen have to be enough,
I miss you in my bones and by my body.”

Since December’s arrival, it’s as if a switch goes on and I feel myself grow tense and tired and tearful. It doesn’t take much to trigger a “Christmas Past” memory and mood. Today a Christmas carol brought a near flood of tears as I wheeled the cart down the aisle of my favourite Italian grocery store, thankful for being only one of a handful of customers at that early hour. And then I take a deep breath and I remind myself of the guidance I’d offer every December to my colleagues working in schools. That in those ready-made relational fields, ripe to bursting with the emotional charge of personal narratives – known and unknown, lived and inherited – feelings and reactions, seemingly unapparent, become amplified with the resonance and echoing to our own stories.

So, it’s important – critical really – to be tender and kind. Especially to oneself. Especially now when there’s so much out there, unabated, for so long.

If your compassion does not include yourself,
it is incomplete.

The Buddha

That poem that brought me to tears, each and every time I heard Pádraig recite and interpret it – “Phase One” by Dilruba Ahmed – is about forgiving oneself. In it she spells out a litany of things she’s done, big and small, that she’s held against herself. And she writes, “I forgive you.”

“The really interesting thing in this poem is that the word “forgive” occurs 13 times. And then that phrase, “I forgive you,” occurs six times. The first time, it appears just as a single sentence. It occurs just by itself, those three words, “I forgive you.” And then the next time it appears, it occurs twice, “I forgive you. I forgive you.” And then the final time it appears, it’s three times: “I forgive you. I forgive you. I forgive you.” It’s like this poem is trying to learn a mantra to say to itself, and in the hope that a life can learn a mantra to say to itself, knowing that saying it once isn’t enough and, also, that forgiveness is something that we return to over and over again, even self-forgiveness — that it needs to be a mantra.”

Pádraig Ó’Tuama

Listening, I felt that resonance and echoing with my own harboured sins and shortcomings. But it was this that pierced my heart, that brought my tears:

“…I forgive you. I forgive

you. I forgive you. For growing
a capacity for love that is great
but matched only, perhaps,
by your loneliness. For being unable

to forgive yourself first so you
could then forgive others and
at last find a way to become
the love that you want in this world.”

Dilruba Ahmed, “Phase One”

My husband and I are practiced in the art of celebrating Christmas on our own and so can do this one easefully, though missing the joy of being with our friends. While we want for nothing, we are intent for good health to be our life long companion, relationships to enliven and encourage us, work and pastimes to fulfill and affirm us. And I, to become the love I want in this world, I give myself, over and over, the gift of forgiveness.

“My wish for you is that you continue.
Continue to be who you are,
to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness.”

Maya Angelou

May this be yours, with, too, the gift of self-forgiveness.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Peace and Presence

Be kind. Everyone you meet is carrying a heavy burden.

Ian Maclaren

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.

Wendell Berry