Life as Poem and Prayer

“It’s a piece of deep psychological acuity, carried in many religious traditions: that each of us is defined as much by who our enemies are and how we treat them as by whom and what we love.”

Krista Tippett, On Being, October 31, 2013

Fitting food for thought as we, the world, contemplate the current circumstances unfolding in Ukraine. A simplistic response to vilify the invaders and yet…

We see Russians courageously take to their streets and squares in protest. We read of notables resigning from posts refusing payment from their government. We know people who know people, Russians whose roots run deep and like us all, whose hearts bleed red.

Today I watched an English subtitled speech given on Friday by Ukraine’s president to Russia’s people. Clarifying misinformation, stating his position and boundaries on behalf of his country’s people, imploring Russians to remember themselves and their relationships with the people of Ukraine. Fiercely compassionate is what comes to mind.

Over the past few days, scrolling social media and participating in online seminars, I’ve been struck with the extent to which we are calling forth the balm found in poetry and prayer, in the arts, dance and song. Evoking the highest good in us, for us all. With poetic irony and prescience, this published in 2009 by Ilya Kaminsky, a poet born in Odessa, Ukraine, now living in the United States after being granted asylum with his family:

We Lived Happily during the War

And when they bombed other people’s houses, we

protested
but not enough, we opposed them but not

enough. I was
in my bed, around my bed America

was falling: invisible house by invisible house by invisible house—

I took a chair outside and watched the sun.

In the sixth month
of a disastrous reign in the house of money

in the street of money in the city of money in the country of money,
our great country of money, we (forgive us)

lived happily during the war.

Let us hold the centre, dear friends. Present with what is unfolding. Poised amidst conflict within and without. Persistent in remembering the best in who we are.

Let us take note of the ever-present beauty around us. Remain open to the mystery in the mundane. Tenacious in our tenderness. Committed in our care.

Living our lives as poem and prayer.

“Do you think it’s an accident that you were born at a time when the culture that gave you life is failing? I don’t think it is. I think you were born of necessity with your particular abilities, with your particular fears, with your particular heartaches and concerns…
I think if we wait to be really compelled by something… something big, well… we’re going to wait an awful long time and I don’t know if the state of our world can tolerate our holding out until we feel utterly compelled by something. I think it’s more like this, that we have to proceed now as if we’re utterly needed given the circumstances. That takes almost something bordering on bravado, it could be mistaken for megalomania easily, though I don’t think it is. It had a certain amount of nerviness in it or boldness for sure, something that’s not highly thought of in the culture I was born into unless you’re a star or something… regular people aren’t supposed to have those qualities. I say they are of course. That’s what we’ve got to bring to the challenges at hand, not waiting to be convinced that we’re needed but proceeding as if we are. Your insignificance has been horribly overstated.”

Stephan Jenkinson

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Let Yourself Rest

LET YOURSELF REST

If you’re exhausted, rest.

If you don’t feel like starting a new project, don’t.

If you don’t feel the urge to make something new,

just rest in the beauty of the old, the familiar, the known.

If you don’t feel like talking, stay silent.

If you’re fed up with the news, turn it off.

If you want to postpone something until tomorrow, do it.

If you want to do nothing, let yourself do nothing today.

Feel the fullness of the emptiness, the vastness of the silence, the sheer life in your unproductive moments.

Time does not always need to be filled.

You are enough, simply in your being.

– Jeff Foster –

Reflecting on my current involvement in another online offering from The Abbey of the Arts – an 8 week exploration of the archetypes of Visionary, Healer, Sage and Warrior – this recent Facebook post spoke to me. Over the past two weeks, we’ve considered the Healer. I shared with the group The Nap Ministry, the creation of Tricia Hersey to uplift and give legitmacy to the radical act of napping and resting, as embodied resistance.

I’m thinking about how our now noticeably longer days engage our energies and invite more activity. I’m thinking about how easy it is to be seduced by that outward pull and upward rising, when the body-mind-spirit might still need the deep rest encouraged by winter. I’m thinking within the archetypal energy of Healer, that I need to remember “time does not always need to be filled” and that I am enough, simply in my being. And I’m thinking, so are you.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

“Lightly my darling…”

“It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them. I was so preposterously serious in those days… Lightly, lightly – it’s the best advice ever given me…So throw away your baggage and go forward. There are quicksands all about you, sucking at your feet, trying to suck you down into fear and self-pity and despair. That’s why you must walk so lightly. Lightly my darling…”

Aldous Huxley, Island, 1962

Reading this quote last week it landed, more than lightly. Funny thing is I thought Huxley was advising “slowly my darling.” Musing on that for several days, recalling nearly a decade back, when at a weeklong movement intensive – I there quite literally to “sweat my prayers” (Gabrielle Roth) – I met a woman recently retired though pursuing her independent coaching practice. She told me she never scheduled herself before 11 AM, preferring to enter each day slowly. I’m sure I countered with something like me being a morning person, liking to rise early, getting a good start on my workday.

Looking back, I was driven in that first year of “retirement,” striving to make a success of my independent coaching practice, not knowing how it would all work out after the decades’ long security of a pay cheque arriving twice monthly in my bank account. In those early months, I remember saying I needed to “make hay while the sun shone,” and secured contracts with people I enjoyed, doing work I loved. But I was exhausted. I remember falling asleep at a Friday night cooking class a couple of days before we flew to China for what ended up being an intense two-week tour. That whole trip I was cold, with photos showing me bundled in toque, scarf, and coat. I suffered through a couple of migraines, and within weeks of our return, developed Bells Palsy, a condition that left its indelible mark. A mark that to this day reminds me to go slow.

In my experience, while going slow is akin to walking lightly, it’s not the same. Trusting last week’s confusion, when I follow its thread, I see how going slow reveals the extent to which I am not “walking so lightly.” Lately, when I slow down, stop, sit still, or simply pause standing to notice the sky, step outside with Annie and breathe in the new day, sadness suddenly arrives. Nothing too pronounced, so it’s been easy to dismiss as I start moving or shift my attention. Despite its subtlety, it’s a sadness that’s been here for several weeks. I’ve alluded to it in one of my first posts of the new year, and last week’s when I wrote about remembering the light in the darkness.

I’m not one who writes to impart advice. In ten plus years of blogging, I can count on one hand the number of posts wherein I’ve listed, recommended, suggested what someone else can do to make their life better. Nor am I “reveal all” writer. Instead, usually prompted by someone else’s words, I disclose some of my own internal meanderings – messy as they might be. It’s through my way of writing – a process that can take several hours – I begin to catch a glimpse of a thread that shimmers, that when I tug, brings me, and perhaps someone else, a bit more clarity.

beauty in a hard place

I was a child taught to try hard and do well. Taking that lesson to heart, I tried too hard, grew too serious, and in ways, too hard. To “lightly let things happen, and lightly cope with them” was not what I saw, was never my lived experience. Fond of saying “it’s all true,” pithy wisdom from a long time ago therapist, helps me both to remember to hold the paradox of it all, and to lessen my need to try hard to understand, to fix, to make sense of it all. In the matter of my sadness – or perhaps the sadness that belongs to us all, and to the trees and the land and the sky and all the beings that have been holding our collective, unacknowledged, displaced grief of late, or since our beginnings – now to apply its wisdom to “feel lightly even though I’m feeling deeply.” Now to lighten my grip. No need to try hard despite the quicksands all about, especially as I try to fall asleep.

“Lightly my darling.”

Lightly, with much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

The Light in Darkness

“One discovers the light in darkness, that is what darkness is for; but everything in our lives depends on how we bear the light. It is necessary, while in darkness, to know that there is a light somewhere, to know that in oneself, waiting to be found, there is a light.”

James Baldwin, Nothing Personal (1964) cited in The Marginalian, February 6, 2022

For much of January, my internal weather has fluctuated as rapidly as the external. Feeling flux and flummoxed, with waves of inexplicable sadness, and flashes of rage, these are times when deep in the belly, I don’t have words to write, hence a couple of missed Monday posts. Time this week in my virtual women’s circle, listening and giving voice to my inner meanderings, together with the words of others arriving in the last twenty four hours, have helped prime mine.

With last month’s passing of several luminaries – Archbishop Tutu, Thich Nhat Hahn, and even Betty White in her radiant, joy filled centurion way – I felt humanity had once again lost powerful visionaries who served to hold its centre. In response, I felt a deep wobbling, compounded here in my country by the ever-growing anger at our nearly two-year public health covid sanctions. Truck convoys, now being copied around the world, are barricading highways, border crossings, and downtown cores. As in many instances of late, here and elsewhere, what starts out as a demonstration of dissent becomes hijacked by far left and right agendas intent on spewing violence and hatred.

Paradoxically, within the relative quiet simplicity of my life – an ever-present gift of the pandemic – sometimes it’s challenging to block out the overwhelm from all of it. Not just anxious, frankly I’ve felt frightened with what’s continuing to unravel, exposing humanity’s underbelly. Perhaps more so because of the prolonged weariness with navigating the pandemic’s continued uncertainties, while revealing more of its impacts. Speaking virtually today to a dear friend a few streets away, I wondered how much at its root these are all the many manifestations of grief.

“The individual has to wake up to the fact that violence cannot end violence; that only understanding and compassion can neutralize violence, because with the practice of loving speech and compassionate listening we can begin to understand people and help people to remove the wrong perceptions in them, because these wrong perceptions are at the foundation of their anger, their fear, their violence, their hate.”

Thich Nhat Hahn, On Being with Krista Tippett, September 25, 2003

A hypothesis, not an excuse. A way to reframe, reconsider, and re-create space in my perceptions of myself and others. The means to a more tender response to myself and others.

FOR WARMTH
by Thich Nhat Hanh

I hold my face between my hands.
No, I am not crying.
I hold my face between my hands
to keep my loneliness warm —
two hands protecting,
two hands nourishing,
two hands to prevent
my soul from leaving me
in anger.

Yesterday a chance scrolling through social media and I arrived at a lengthy post from Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, author of Women Who Run with the Wolves. Reading, I remembered that like those luminaries who have since passed, “dr. e” continues to hold the centre. Excerpted from her post:

…feeling tired of the whirl and sway of the needful world, which has ever been with us, perhaps far away or up close, nonetheless, the remedio is often to withdraw from the energy of outrage and ‘latest horrible thing ‘they’ are doing now’ and instead rest with the peace Beings, which are Beauty, the natural world of plants and animals , trees and sky and clear water and air… and Love, unhindered Love.

…Walking with those who are just and who work for thus, are billions in our world. Billions…Rather, they work daily as good, in good, for good. I know so so many. They are right there before you also.

That our children and our fur children are treasures is exactly right.

We are born gifted and every day, can create even in small ways, from what we truly are. Indeed, one massive creative act is to be kind to oneself…

Strive to be sure every word from you, every art from you, every step is steeped and considered deeply through the lenses of Love, Mercy and Vision

Creating even in small ways: Working on my poetry collection. An extended call with Karen to finalize the twelve submissions for the spring issue of SAGE-ING. Walking Annie in the sunshine. Hearing a favourite poet recite her work while being in conversation with another. Catching up on podcasts while doing my needlework project. Connecting with friends. Sitting in circle.

Tender balms bringing me back to myself. Reminding me the light is always there, somewhere, waiting to be found.

“The longer I live, the more deeply I learn that love — whether we call it friendship or family or romance — is the work of mirroring and magnifying each other’s light. Gentle work. Steadfast work. Life-saving work in those moments when life and shame and sorrow occlude our own light from our view, but there is still a clear-eyed loving person to beam it back. In our best moments, we are that person for another.”

Maria Popova, The Marginalian, February 6, 2022

May your opportunities to mirror and magnify such light for others be many. Your opportunities to receive the same, tenfold.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

your true colours

Threshold of Uncertainty

Confession #1 – I’m writing this post with a wee bit of a champagne buzz. That bottle of Veuve Clicquot my husband bought for New Year’s Eve, when we thought we might be celebrating with friends, stayed chilled until this afternoon. Taking advantage of the brief break in the past twelve day polar vortex, he had just returned from visiting the horses at the stable, and I from walking Annie, when he suggested we pop the cork. Lovely sipping as we watched the weather turn, a north wind blowing steady, bringing another artic cold front, and reminisced about warm winter vacations, our last being the fabulous time in Andalusia in February 2019. Too, remembering today is the 42nd anniversary of our departing Ontario to drive across Canada to make Alberta home. Salut! Then, he asked what I was looking forward to this coming year. Hmmmm…

Confession #2 – I can probably count on one hand the number of new year days when I’ve felt “happy.” Typically, I feel a familiar free-floating anxiety in my belly that yesterday I admitted is fear. Fear of the wide-open expanse of unknown that a new year brings. Fear perhaps compounded by nearly two years’ living in the acute uncertainty with the pandemic. Fear with knowing the clock ticking with age, mine, his, parents and friends. Looking out that same window earlier today, I made this photo as it captured the feeling of me standing on the threshold of a new year.

I’ve long known that I need time with transitions and thresholds. That fear companions and tethers me on the threshold until I exert myself and take that first step across and into the new. Then curiosity and commitment, together with my enthusiasm for life and appreciation for its innate and diverse beauty shore me up and propel me forward. Today, I’ve seen evidence of others who feel a similar tentativeness with the new year.  

Helen, a blogger kindred in her age, life stage and perspective, we often echoing each other in our themes and simpatico in the wells from which we draw inspiration, wrote today:

“Over the past week, I have read many new year reflections. It seems that many of you, like me, are also stepping hesitantly into 2022… much like stepping onto a frozen pond, not sure if the ice is solid enough to hold me.”

“Skating on Thin Ice,” in Ageless Possibilities, January 2, 2022

And from an online contemplative community, one of its members courageously called out for prayers of support to help her navigate the edges of depression – a familiar-to-her mix of aging, seasonal affective disorder, and her introspective, reflective, sensitive nature.

My husband offered that in finding those kindred to me in what I notice, value and how I show up, I see more evidence of what might be called this “counter cultural” take on the new year: not so much happy but tentative, uncertain, fearful. I smiled when I read Parker Palmer’s New Year’s Eve Facebook post:

“New Year’s Eve is a curious fiction, isn’t it? As the ‘old’ year flows unimpeded into the ‘new,’ the hoopla we make at midnight seems just a tad over the top for one more tick of the clock.”

Parker J. Palmer

My champagne buzz has passed. I’m thinking about what’s at the root of my new year’s fear. That while “covid compounded,” there is more to it. I come, as did my blogger friend, to grief. And I know that means it’s about dying, and disappointments, and deaths. Too, about beginnings that are always about endings. And about resolutions, which typically made from perceived deficiency are inevitably doomed to fail and begin a cycle of disappointment, if not worse.

I’m thinking back to how I answered my husband’s question. How I looked out into the snow-covered trees and felt gratitude for so much, including this moment of returning freeze, the seasons I witness through this window and trees, the memories of times and places further afar.

I told him I look forward to returning to my practice of rising before dawn for that hour or so in silence before he wakes, to sit and watch the new day. To return – perhaps – to journaling (though I give myself a pass as I’ve been writing many words on many other pages these past many months.) To planting little container gardens of greens come summer. To writing a compilation of poetry. To more time, as much time together, healthy in our “pack” with Annie. And that for my family and friends. Yes, I have a yearning to travel, even some plans that I hold lightly. But more than anything, to hold myself lightly. Tenderly.

“Nothing spectacular,” I said. Simply to be thankful for all I have and all I am.

“We look with uncertainty
beyond the old choices for
clear-cut answers
to a softer, more permeable aliveness
which is every moment
at the brink of death;
for something new is being born in us
if we but let it.
We stand at a new doorway,
awaiting what comes…
daring to be human creatures,
vulnerable to the beauty of existence.

Learning to love.”

Anne Hillman

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends, as you cross the threshold into this new year.

re-Wintering

“re-wintering” – what caught my eye as Annie and I walked this week

Every other week I circle up virtually with some dear woman friends. It’s been a way to feel connection and offer support to each other during these continued covid times. We begin, as is our way, following The Circle Way practice, with a reading of some kind to help us land and settle in with each other and ourselves. A bell rung once, twice and we begin to check in with each other, often in response to what has been evoked by the reading, or by whatever is personally stirring and needing to be spoken aloud to the centre.

Last week I as I walked past my bookshelves to fetch my bells, grabbed by the title on the spine, I grabbed “The Wild In You: Voices from the Forest and the Sea” (2015) by Canadian poet, Lorna Crozier. (Lovely synchronicity in that as I’m sitting here tapping away, in the background I hear The Road Home’s Bob Chelmick read from Lorna’s 2018 volume, The God of Shadows.) A beautiful compilation of poetry and Ian McAllister’s photography, I quickly flipped through the pages, arriving at “A Winter’s Sleep,” companioned by a magnificent wolf sleeping on the seaside sand.

A Winter’s Sleep

So much sleeping
in this place. Think of all
that lies beneath the snow, lake trout
below the ice, bears in their dens,
their warm snores drifting above
the treetops that are sleeping, too,
high above your own long sleep.

Even raven, with so much
to say and do, closes his eyes,
tucks his beak under his wing
and sinks into the season’s
dream-rich dark where all
his stories start.

Lorna Crozier, 2018

As is our way, we meander in a conversation punctuated that evening by long pauses and the shared recognition of how fatigue, grief and the need for Nature’s stillness were embroidering our days of late. One shared another poem, another mentioned a book, Wintering, the title of which evoked a memory that I’d written about it. When I read aloud from the post I’d written last February, I knew it was an idea worth repeating here. That even though my interior state has shifted from what I described then, today, as the winds blew a constant icy cold, the temperature plummeted, and too, the hours of daylight here on the Canadian prairies, it is wintering.

WINTERING, originally posted February 1, 2021

“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.

Self-Compassion

SELF-COMPASSION
My friend and I snickered the first time
we heard the meditation teacher, a grown man,
call himself honey, with a hand placed
over his heart to illustrate how we too 
might become more gentle with ourselves
and our runaway minds. It’s been years
since we sat with legs twisted on cushions,
holding back our laughter, but today
I found myself crouched on the floor again,
not meditating exactly, just agreeing
to be still, saying honey to myself each time
I thought about my husband splayed
on the couch with aching joints and fever
from a tick bite—what if he never gets better?—
or considered the threat of more wildfires,
the possible collapse of the Gulf Stream,
then remembered that in a few more minutes, 
I’d have to climb down to the cellar and empty
the bucket I placed beneath a leaky pipe
that can’t be fixed until next week. How long
do any of us really have before the body
begins to break down and empty its mysteries
into the air? Oh honey, I said—for once
without a trace of irony or blush of shame—
the touch of my own hand on my chest
like that of a stranger, oddly comforting
in spite of the facts.

– James Crews –

Every morning I’m greeted with two poems in my inbox: one from Canada’s League of Canadian Poets, and this one from The Academy of American Poets, “Poem-A-Day.” I think most of us need a daily dose of self-compassion, or at least to be reminded that gently placing our own hand on our own chest over our own heart is a kind and loving gesture we each deserve, and need.

Much love and kindest regards to you, dear friends.

“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.

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