“I’m OK Drinking Alone”

I copped this line from a friend’s recent blog. It was how she closed her essay on the impacts of living for eighteen months with a pandemic. When it arrived in my inbox last week, a quick glance told me – and I emailed her – this was one post I’d need to take slowly. That her candor deserved my time and reflection. And while I didn’t read it with the glass of wine I’d suggested, or our mutually enjoyed prosecco, sitting here on a cool fall afternoon, with Annie napping beside me, the space heater on, and a mug of now cold tea within reach, I was right. “So poignantly on point. Evoking what’s both deep inside and right on the surface,” is how I ended my reply to her.

Yes, I am OK with drinking alone and yet after cancelling another dinner with friends as our “best summer ever” descends into the hell of a “WTF” fall I’m not so sure I should be – drinking alone, or even drinking, that is.

Alberta is a mess. Last week our premier – absent for the better part of August – finally made a public appearance to announce – guess what – we’re re-instating a fourth wave public health state of emergency and imposing another round of restrictions. While his $100 a jab incentive announced a few weeks ago didn’t get much uptake, this week’s commencement of a vaccine “passport” resulted in vaccination rates soaring 300% in 24 hours. We have the highest numbers of hospitalizations and ICU admissions across the country and since the pandemic was officially announced eighteen months ago. And this didn’t just happen. We the people made this mess with decisions and choices made, or not made, and actions taken, or not taken.

This past week I was politically vocal every day on social media, angered by the impacts on our beleaguered health care professionals, people I know and don’t having medical interventions and surgeries cancelled, protests happening outside our hospitals. Atypical in that I am purposeful in using social media to uplift the good, the true, and the beautiful, believing, akin to John O’Donohue and others, that beauty is an antidote to the tragic, terror, and destructive in our world. After a few days, I deleted those posts, my outrage tempered by my intent and vision.

In response to a recent Facebook friend’s plight while travelling, we sensing a kinship, I offered:

“…with covid and all that stuff, I feel I have lost myself – the woman I knew myself to be – pretty confident, kind but fierce, irreverent at times…now I can hardly make a decision, and the anxiety, free floating and homed in – so much I am not doing. Many days any pretense of discipline and commitment gives way to ennui. …I think covid has messed with many of us in very insidious ways, and it’s not until we attempt “re-entry” that we feel how significant the impacts….

And what I have a very strong hunch about, that no one is talking about, is that all the virtual stuff – Zoom and such – while it has been very helpful and necessary, I think it is activating deep attachment trauma anxiety – seeing you and yet, not feeling you…that confusing abandonment. I once wrote after a women’s circle that I hosted – for myself and 4 others – “I miss you in my bones and by my body” – that ZOOM just didn’t do it for me, though better than not, or was it???”

Tomorrow we fly. Our first flight since returning from Spain two weeks before the world as we knew it changed. We’re taking one flight into a little airport, renting a car, and driving down the highway to visit our families. It’s been nearly two years. I’m anticipating change – in my elderly parents, blessedly healthy and still living in their own home; in great nephews growing from infancy to daycare, from toddler to kindergarten. And while we won’t be socializing away from home, I’ll enjoy toasting to life – as we know it now -together with family, in my bones and by my body.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

When Women Create

“There is a juiciness to creativity, a succulence, or a sensuality which both produces and is soothed by creating something. I think that creativity is pleasing to women on a very deep level, whatever form it might take – whether it’s the feel of clay in our hands, the colours that work on us as we knit, the meaning that we find in the words that we write, or the energizing feel of movement as we dance and the music moves through our bodies.”

Lucy Pearce in Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted (2019)

I had the unexpected pleasure of a working staycation at the Folk Tree Lodge in the foothill town of Bragg Creek, Alberta a few weeks ago. Invited to bring my scribing skills to a women’s creators retreat, I packed a few requisite mountain weather layers of clothing , and with my writing pens, paper pads, and camera, “caught” women’s words as we sat in circle to learn about, talk about, and play about living a creative life, about being creators.

Yes, one of our hosts, Theo Harasymiw, an established mosaic artist, invited us into activities and stations to experience different forms of creative expression – foraging, mosaic, collage, print and stamping, writing. But her constant, consistent message throughout was that of giving value and making time for the creative process as a way of living – a way of life.

So, prepare an area, make it accessible,
easy to invite Creativity into.
The product is the product. The process is the gift.

“At its most basic level, of course, creativity is about making stuff. Taking something like wool and turning it into a sweater. Or creating less tangible things, like taking the germ of an idea and turning it into reality. But more than all of that, creativity to me is a way of thinking and problem-solving, an imaginative approach to living. Creativity helps us to be more fully alive on every level, asking that we engage with life in a visceral and interactive way.”

Lucy Pearce in Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted (2019)

Each of us around the circle had plenty of experience creating – both in the traditional ways of making of art and writing, photography, crafting within cultural traditions – and in the less obvious ways of choices made in our professional and personal lives – the work we designed, ways we care for others, and serve our communities.

The healing question of one who cares,
to create in the voice of theirs.
If I could, I’d ditch this for that,
make the changes with my confines
choose quality, longer lasting imprints
beyond just the task.
Aware of children’s Souls and that
Souls need attention.

So, the constraints and confines in which
Creativity thrives
stoke an internal fire that’s unstoppable.

I write. I photograph. I dabble, especially when travelling, in pen and ink, water colour sketches. I collage. I call myself a kindergarten knitter. I stitch and sew, though not so much so. I cook with a self claimed specialization of making one-off silk purses from leftovers. Yet I know the extent to which I question and compartmentalize creativity, asking does sewing count? Or cooking if it’s not gourmet? It’s still something I do – if and when – and not yet always, a way of understanding “this is who I am.”

I “caught” that same struggle in the words of the women sitting in circle:

Not the visual art, but the Soul’s art:
Do we see it?
Can we be it?
Do we show it?
Do we value it?
Does it have to be just one thing?
Can we make our life a collage of it all?

The clarion call of Creativity:
I see it outside me.
I feel in inside me.
The obligation to hear my Soul’s calling
to live it out loud.

When our fear becomes our greatest obstacle
the offering from one who listens deeply
between the words
within the spaces
brings us all a peace.

“Reclaiming our own particularly female forms of creativity is a critical part of reinstating the undervalued feminine principle in the world, but it’s not as easy as it sounds to do that – the societal conditioning which pushes us in other directions can be so complete.”

Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted (2019)

How life as we’ve been taught, lived, worked, earned
pushed and pulled
squashed and beat
creativity into submission
imagination into flat line

Insists on a blue sky, a yellow sun, green grass, a red wagon.
“Stop playing.” “Get real.”

“Consciously or unconsciously we know that to be a creative woman can entail huge risk. And this is what we have to overcome…this is why my driving passion is to empower women and inspire them to get their work out there, so that the world is full of our vibrant voices, creations, dreams. Our world needs all the colour and innovation we can give right now.”

Lucy Pearce in Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted (2019)

This was the driving force behind the retreat – a response to hearing the yearning in women’s voices to reclaim that which through their lives had been lost. To invite a small group of women into a care-fully designed and lovingly hosted experience to playfully welcome back their vibrant voices, creations and dreams.

We’re in a new future
finding the strength
being the support
to innovate our way
to co-create a new space
to let our Souls soar.

We lift the veil of our beingness
to make the invisible visible.
That’s the voice of our Soul
when we let our Souls soar.

I never dreamt it could be so good
a pivot to a promise
the flow into what can be
when women pull together
.

Such a sweet pleasure for me to witness, to play, to catch our words and weave into poem stories…to be and bring my creative self in service of this gathering.

My love made visible…one of a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the earth.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Way Too Peopley

“It’s way too peopley outside.”

The new post lockdown t-shirt slogan nicely sums up my experience this past week.  I loved having coffee with my friends, sitting close, al fresco, one morning last week. Wept as we hugged – the first time in a year and a half. The next day I showed up at the courts eagerly hoping to play doubles pickleball with the women – the first time in a year and a half. Eight courts full of folks with others hanging around, waiting to rotate on. As the morning cool gave way to the buzzing of pent-up energy, I sat for a few minutes and then had to leave, suddenly uncomfortable and overwhelmed by the intensity of it all. It’s an odd feeling – that part of me wanting to throw a year and a half of caution to the wind, to be out and about with friends, see people without masks, tempered by the sobering reality Covid is not done with us yet, if ever. Another tension, another threshold space into another unknown reality.

“It’s been such an unprecedented year (or two) and I know many of us are just now starting to sense into the real possibility of rebirth and renewal. Some sort of new guidance or new way of being is beginning to emerge, but in some ways we’re still in that middle, liminal period… The reality is that many of us have been shaken, thrown off, or even shattered by all of the transition over the last year or so, where our nervous systems have been or toned or cued away from an embodied, felt sense of safety, and have shifted into subtle – or not so subtle! – states of restlessness, fear, loneliness, and stress of all kinds.”

Matt Licata

Matt’s email arrived this morning. I find him to be a wise and gentle soul. As psychotherapist, author and independent scholar, he brings to his practice, writing and online courses, an embodied, trauma-sensitive approach to psychological growth, emotional healing, and spiritual transformation. Occasionally I share his Facebook posts as he so compassionately reminds us to “welcome to all of our sensitivities, eccentricities, and wildness… which are all so needed in this world.”

I’ve been cranky this past month. Angry and impatient. Feeing lonely on one hand, saying I don’t like people on the other. I suspect some anniversary reaction stuff as self doubt about my worth and value swirls in the void left by the last year’s loss of my professional identity. And as many of us have acknowledged, forgetting to factor in the impacts – subtle and not so – of being socially isolated for a year and a half.

“Perhaps now, more than ever, it is essential to find ways to rest our nervous systems, a journey that will be unique for each of us, not only to manage traumatic stress and this core soul-level exhaustion and disorientation that many of us are experiencing, but to deepen our relationship with the earth and the natural world, with our hearts, and to reconnect with the sacredness of what it means to be a human being alive on the planet at this time.”

Matt Licata

I need to conscientiously tend to what and how I rest my nervous system. I realize it might mean not engaging in some of what has been postponed since Covid. As eager as I have been to travel, to play pickleball, to attend live music festivals and concerts, to join the throngs watching fireworks, it might be a matter of “no, not yet” or even… never. And while I always knew this time would never be a return to normal, this feeling my way through the tension of wanting what was, to doing or not doing what’s now feels right, to trusting the embodied knowing, is liminal and fluid.

cool dawn after the heat

“In order to experience the deep healing, joy, and aliveness that so many of us are longing for, it’s essential to be able to have our baseline or our psychic center of gravity within a felt sense of safety, where safety is the “neural scaffolding” you could say, or the experiential foundation from which we’re able to open, explore, play, connect, and create with one another. To really live.”

Matt Licata

It’s time to check and adjust my neural scaffolding. Then it might not feel “way too peopley outside.” And you?

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

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