Winter in Spain

It’s early morning, still dark, cold, snowy and winter. When this gets posted, hopefully winter will be the only carry forward for us as we’ll be en route to Spain. Reading last July, a solo traveler’s post on spending a couple of weeks last January in Andalusia got me thinking. Last winter, having bailed on Mexico, we stayed put and endured the coldest February in forty years. Not complaining, as making home in Alberta comes with making peace with winter. And while my tolerance for cold has lessened considerably after a thyroidectomy in 2017, I’ve come to love the soft, enveloping quiet of falling snow, the invitation to turn inward during the long dark, the slow, the still. But I wondered aloud about shifting direction this winter. A quick email to Sam, who with his wife and sons host an exquisite b’n’b in the mountains west of Sevilla, confirmed winter can be a lovely, low season time to visit. Confirmation from husband that yes, Spain would meet his destination criteria of good food and wine, gave me the go ahead to don my travel consultant hat and design our itinerary. Barcelona and Madrid would give way to a more focused, yet leisurely experience of Andalusia. A circuit starting quickly but ending slowly in Sevilla, with an easy few days Finca Buenvino in Aracena, then onto Cordoba, Granada, Malaga.

“Every time you leave home,
Another road takes you
Into a world you were never in.”

John O’Donohue, “For The Traveler,” in To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008

I’d already visited some of the region. September 2017 I was scheduled to co-host a circle gathering in Germany when a friend suggested we travel to her favourite part of Spain, an area she was certain I’d become as enamored of as had she. Rather magically, the email invitation to attend a writer’s retreat at Finca Buenvino a few weeks’ preceding. Afterwards, five days soaking up elements of Sevilla – hot sunshine, cold manzanilla sherry, tapas and flamenco, Mudejar architecture, colourful tiles and gardens – and a day in Cordoba. As the scout for some of the travelling I do with my husband, I’m delighted to be stepping back into the familiar, while anticipating the fresh and new with him.

“Old places that know you well
Will pretend nothing
Changed since your last visit.”

John O’Donohue, “For The Traveler,” in To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008

I know we’ll be beautifully hosted in Aracena. Sam and Jeannie, British expats, built their pink villa decades ago as a guest house and cooking school. Specializing in fresh, local Andalusian inspired cuisine complemented by sherries, vermouths and wines, I knew this would be an easy way to my man’s heart. I’ve reserved for luncheon in Linares, a nearby hill town, at Arrieros, the Michelin recommended café I’d walked by that September where the owner invited me in for gazpacho, which I had to regretfully decline due to the day’s writing retreat schedule. Another luncheon booked at Sevilla’s ConTenedor, returning to that terrific slow food restaurant featuring a pastiche of local flavor and colour. We’ll see flamenco, compare the vast beauty of Al Hambra with the more accessible Real Alcazar, sip and savour at tapas bars. I’ll visit the art galleries missed the first time.

“When you travel,
A new silence
Goes with you,
And if you listen,
You will hear
What your heart would
Love to say.”

John O’Donohue, “For The Traveler,” in To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008

I’ve been living a slower spaciousness.  I completed a contract in January, filed the report a couple of weeks ago. Intentionally set timelines to have time to prepare.

The practical. After the brilliant, brittle cold last month, how will long-range forecasts of mid teen and low twenties temperatures feel? Which layers to stay warm at night, at elevation? What are the best footwear options to safeguard against a flareup of the plantar fasciitis I’ve been tending for the month? Which medicinals to shore up and stay healthy? The corkscrew and sharp knife for the impromptu. The swimsuit for the hammam.

The heart. Travel lighter. Make time and space for writing and painting. Bring the journal from last time, the new notebook that matches. Paints and brushes. The camera. Receive what the heart would love to say, to see. Maybe the gift of my sore foot, “to move at the pace of guidance.”

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

John O’Donohue, “For The Traveler,” in To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008

Often I travel solo. Typically, an “alone, together” small group experience where I can immerse in the moment to moment unfolding, nurturing impressions in the quiet of my own creative process; then coming out to engage with those around me. Travelling with my husband is markedly different. The focus and energy shifts to us, together, to us, alone, in new spaces, and made new by our travelling them together. I wonder what invitations wait along the way for us, for me?

“May you travel safely, arrive refreshed,
And live your time away to its fullest;
Return home more enriched, and free
To balance the gift of days which call you.”

John O’Donohue, “For The Traveler,” in To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008

Seven months since the idea to go to Spain this winter. Almost here, and soon enough home again.

Wild Things

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The Peace of Wild Things

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 childrens’ 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 –

A Love Letter to Annie

Our morning routine:

I put the kettle on to boil for my americano. I put fresh water into one of your bowls, a scoop of pumpkin into the other. Lights on, I go downstairs, say good morning, and pour a cup of dry kibble on top of the pumpkin. Fetch you from your kennel, maybe get lucky with a quick sniff and kiss. You shoot up the stairs, scewed carpet in your wake, and wait impatiently at the back door, howling for me to hurry. Maybe a side stop and quick glance through the dining room window to see if any rabbits are deserving of your attention.

I laugh because of late, you race outside, only to immediately pivot after catching a sniff of the still dark morning air, and return to the door, jumping to be let in, the urgency to void suddenly displaced by the urge to eat.

Your exuberance for the new day continues as you race through the hardwood hallway, skid into the kitchen and launch into breakfast. That scarfed down, you tap dance the few steps across to the counter, head cocked alert, and anxiously wait for the next course, a couple of chopped carrots.

Now maybe I can scoop coffee into my two-cup stove-top espresso pot, section a grapefruit, get cream into my mug before you or I realize you need to go out again. For real. That done, another couple of carrot chunks, coffee poured, I sit down to glance at my phone.

You take your place in the hallway, looking into the kitchen at me. A barely audible “grrrr,” as you signal your need to go out. Again. At least twice. Maybe for real this time so I give in, but am pretty sure it’s your ruse to get twice the carrots. Funny, you never “grrrr” when I glance at the morning paper, only at the phone. Astute, as you sense it to be a more penetrating distraction from you, and in all honesty, from most everything.

Satisfied, you take your leave, and settle onto “your” sofa to begin one of your many morning naps.  Later you’ll move upstairs to get comfy on a bed, whichever is the best one for basking between pillows in the warmth of  the morning sun.  Yes, we’ve created a Goldilocks, allowing you, our fifth beloved canine companion, to get jump up at your whim onto sofa or bed. You, the first since our first so many decades ago. We, with the weakened resolve of aging.

We become religious,
then we turn from it,
then we are in need and maybe we turn back.
We turn to money,
then we turn to the moral life,
then we think about money again.
We meet wonderful people, but lose them
in our busyness.
We’re, as the saying goes, all over the place.
Steadfastness, it seems,
is more about dogs than about us.
One of the reasons we love them so much.

Mary Oliver, “How It Is With Us and How It Is With Them,” in Dog Songs

Today the morning sun is shining exceptionally bright. Yesterday Sig and I remarked at its growing warmth, its being higher in the sky, its promise of seasons to come, though mindful we have many more weeks of winter cold. Today I have the gift of time, increasingly my gift these days. You come into the kitchen and nudge me to follow you, to sit with you on the sofa. I comply, taking my mug, and settle in beside you. We look into each other’s eyes and stroking your head, I tell you the story of your coming to us, prefaced by saying you’re one of the best things to have come into my life.

Too soon, that weekend in August when we claimed you as ours.  Too soon after our Lady dog had passed. She held on until my return from being in Europe for three months. My heart broken by grief. For her. For work that had been “abolished” ostensibly in a re-organization, but probably a consequence of having spoken truth to power the previous year. For myself, discombobulated by the shock of culture and family reunions. The call from our friend: if we wanted you, we needed to come soon as he needed to unload his kennel of dogs to tend to his ailing wife whose cancer had come out of remission. We’d make a bit of a vacation out of it. Tour the southern foothills. Dine at a local café, off the beaten track but known for bringing in stellar musicians in between their touring gigs. Visit a national park. View the mountains.

When I first saw you, a year old but still a clumsy pup, the largest setter we’d ever had, I was struck by your gentle nature, your soft mouth. I was dismayed that at a year, living in the kennel, you weren’t house broken. And while Sig said we’d kennel you, I knew that simply would not happen. It never did with any of your predecessors. Once home, after several inevitable “whoops,” I wondered if you’d ever learn.  Now I laugh, and eat lots of humble pie with a side of crow, given your aforementioned ruse!

It’s been nearly nine years.  That makes you nearly ten. During this time, I’ve bestowed you with several names of endearment: Gentle Annie, Big Beauty, Annie Bright Eyes, Princess and the Pea, Guard Girl. I see age advance in your white face, clouds in your dark eyes. I see you gingerly lick and occasionally chew on your front legs. Arthritis most likely, given you’re a sporting dog with an instinct honed to run across the prairie for miles, on the wind of bird scent, an hour or so at a stretch. I feel my heart pierce with the inevitable, and think to myself, how I will ever withstand your loss.

Dogs die so soon. I have my stories of that grief, no doubt many of you do also. It is almost a failure of will, a failure of love, to let them grow old – or so it feels. We would do anything to keep them with us, and to keep them young. The one gift we cannot give.

Mary Oliver, “Dog Talk,” in Dog Songs

Story over, I caress your silky ears, kiss the top of your head and lay my hand on your rib cage as you lay your head on my lap. Continue to stroke your ear.  All is quiet now except for the tick tock of the cuckoo clock. Soon your soft and steady breathing syncs with mine. Inhale. Exhale. I notice the rainbow windsock, hung on the bare willow, stirring. The wind chimes, too. Then it looks and feels and sounds like all is in sync – the clock, our breathing, the swaying windsock and wind chimes – all moving to the soft and slow and steady rhythm of our inhale and exhale.

The sun glows orange on the claret blanket draped across the other sofa. The sky, a robin egg’s blue.

And for these moments, I feel we have stepped into the timelessness that is eternity. Found for a moment, maybe Heaven.Perspectives with Panache

 

A Blessing for This New Year

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Beannacht
an excerpt

…May the nourishment of the earth by yours,
May the clarity of the light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.

– John O’Donohue –
To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008

Home

We’re all just walking each other home.

Ram Dass

Home. My word for 2020.

Not chosen but invited, it arrived early into 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 receive 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 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 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.
Home with her heart red door, a few years ago…same season with a bit more snow

And

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The Shining Word “And”

“And” teaches us to say yes
“And” allows us to be both/and
“And” teaches us to be patient and long suffering
“And” is willing to wait for insight and integration
“And” does not divide the field of the moment
“And” helps us to live in the always-imperfect now
“And” keeps us inclusive and compassionate towards everything
“And” demands that our contemplation become action
“And” insists that our actions is also contemplative
“And” is the mystery of paradox in all things
“And” is the way of mercy
“And” makes daily, practical love possible

– Richard Rohr –
A Spring Within Us, 2016

Wabi Sabi

A long time friend and follower of each of my blogs* asked upon this current one’s launch two weeks ago, “What is wabi sabi?” to which I rather cryptically replied, “the tagline.”

Wabi Sabi is the most conspicuous and characteristic feature of what we think of as traditional Japanese beauty. It occupies roughly the same position in the Japanese pantheon of aesthetic values as do the Greek ideals of beauty and perfection in the West. Wabi Sabi can in its fullest expression be a way of life. At the very least, it is a particular type of beauty.

Leonard Koren, Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers, 1994

Koren writes that wabi sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent and incomplete…of things modest and humble…of things unconventional.

I first heard the phrase in 2013, when a friend used it to describe my life with Bells Palsy. A few years later, to the day of its sudden, inexplicable onset, I wrote a poem essay, using a word play of wabi sabi and wasabi – that Japanese horseradish served with sushi – to describe that experience. Since then, this notion of wabi sabi has become a way of being in and making sense of life that has persisted, just like the Bells Palsy.

Last winter I had it permanently inked on my forearm, an embodied mantra and talisman to remind me of its persistent truth.

To remind me to be kinder, and more patient, allowing, and more gracious in the face of all that is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.

In this sometimes broken and mostly well-lived life.

* This is my third blog. The first I created when I took a leave of absence to begin the practice of writing and keep in touch during my year of travels. The second, A Moment Rescued, named after a favourite poem by Billy Collins, is held within my current professional website.

Where I Am Today

Shoveling Snow with Buddha

In the usual iconography of the temple or the local Wok
you would never see him doing such a thing,
tossing the dry snow over a mountain
of his bare, round shoulder,
his hair tied in a knot,
a model of concentration.

Sitting is more his speed, if that is the word
for what he does, or does not do.

Even the season is wrong for him.
In all his manifestations, is it not warm or slightly humid?
Is this not implied by his serene expression,
that smile so wide it wraps itself around the waist of the universe?

But here we are, working our way down the driveway,
one shovelful at a time.
We toss the light powder into the clear air.
We feel the cold mist on our faces.
And with every heave we disappear
and become lost to each other
in these sudden clouds of our own making,
these fountain-bursts of snow.

This is so much better than a sermon in church,
I say out loud, but Buddha keeps on shoveling.
This is the true religion, the religion of snow,
and sunlight and winter geese barking in the sky,
I say, but he is too busy to hear me.

He has thrown himself into shoveling snow
as if it were the purpose of existence,
as if the sign of a perfect life were a clear driveway
you could back the car down easily
and drive off into the vanities of the world
with a broken heater fan and a song on the radio.

All morning long we work side by side,
me with my commentary
and he inside his generous pocket of silence,
until the hour is nearly noon
and the snow is piled high all around us;
then, I hear him speak.

After this, he asks,
can we go inside and play cards?

Certainly, I reply, and I will heat some milk
and bring cups of hot chocolate to the table
while you shuffle the deck.
and our boots stand dripping by the door.

Aaah, says the Buddha, lifting his eyes
and leaning for a moment on his shovel
before he drives the thin blade again
deep into the glittering white snow.

– Billy Collins –

Click here to hear Billy Collins read with pianist George Winston.

2020 – Getting Perspective

Almost half way into this first month of this new year and how easy it’s been to riff on the “perfect vision” metaphor of 2020: clarity, focus, vision, insight, foresight, hindsight.

Lately though, I’ve been struck that this is a year where “forty” (20+20), with its symbolic significance across spiritual traditions, holds potential for deep personal growth.

“In spiritual literature, ‘forty’ is often used to indicate a term of learning or change, such as the ‘forty days and forty nights’ of Noah’s Flood. Forty is called ‘the number of perseverance,’ marking a period of growth through testing, trial and purification. After the exodus from Egypt, the Israelites endured ‘forty days of wandering’ in the wilderness before they were ready to enter the Promised Land. Jesus, following the ancient practice of the prophets, went into the desert for a great seclusion of forty days, which he described as a period of purification and preparation for the next stage of his work. The Buddha attained final enlightenment after forty days of continuous meditation.”

Henry S. Mindlin, “The Life and Work of Hafiz” in I Heard God Laughing: Renderings of Hafiz by Daniel Ladinsky, 1996.

Thinking to when I turned forty, it was ripe with finding meaning and making ritual to acknowledge a coming of age. Looking back at the months preceding that birthday, it certainly was a time of learning and change, of perseverance and growth. One of those “dark night of the soul” times where, following what could only be intuition, I went through a process that included finding a sacred space into which I would eventually co-create and re-enact the ancient ceremony of baptism and name change to formally honour my mothering ancestors.

These past weeks of Solstice, Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, and New Year reflection, with the interior image of dark desert lit only by moon and star, shine luminous with promise. Friday’s full moon eclipse and subsequent planetary alignments foreshadow powerful opportunities for tending to the inner work of one’s sovereignty. I feel the pull of “magic and dreams and good madness.”

“May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful. And don’t forget to make some art, or write, draw, build, sing, or live only as you can. And I hope in the next year, you surprise yourself.”

Neil Gaiman

 

 

A Gift from Winter

Perspectives with Panache, 2006

The Winter of Listening

No one but me by the fire,
my hands burning
red in the palms while
the night wind carries
everything away outside.

All this petty worry
while the great cloak
of the sky grows dark
and intense
round every living thing.

What is precious
inside us does not
care to be known
by the mind
in ways that diminish
its presence.

What we strive for
in perfection
is not what turns us
into the lit angel
we desire,

what disturbs
and then nourishes
has everything
we need.

What we hate
in ourselves
is what we cannot know
in ourselves but
what is true to the pattern
does not need
to be explained.

Inside everyone
is a great shout of joy
waiting to be born.

Even with the summer
so far off
I feel it grown in me
now and ready
to arrive in the world.

All those years
listening to those
who had
nothing to say.

All those years
forgetting
how everything
has its own voice
to make
itself heard.

All those years
forgetting
how easily
you can belong
to everything
simply by listening.

And the slow
difficulty
of remembering
how everything
is born from
an opposite
and miraculous
otherness.
Silence and winter
has led me to that
otherness.

So let this winter
of listening
be enough
for the new life
I must call my own.

– David Whyte –
The House of Belonging, 1997