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

Epiphany

January 6, the feast of the magi.

Thirty-nine years ago, after four days of driving from Ontario, with my husband and our first English Setter, Beckey, in our VW Scirocco in record breaking cold, we arrived in Edmonton, Alberta. Just married six months earlier, we made, what hindsight has proved again and again, the right decision to accept the offer of a new position for him which included moving expenses, and set up home east of the city.  I’m always mindful of the day and its portent of a new beginning for us. 

Fast forward.

Today, a day that looks and feels much like that day we arrived thirty-nine years ago – brilliant sunshine in an Alberta blue sky, light snow cover, cold but not too cold. Another English Setter (our fifth), Annie, keeping us company in our home office. Ubiquitous truck and SUV have long replacd that sports car. Still east of the city in a house that’s been a comfortable home for decades. Both of us self employed with consulting contracts that fulfill and affirm and leave time to pursue other pleasures and dreams.

Recent shifts in work and relationships have conjured within the persistent archetypal image of magi wandering in the desert, with only the star and intuition to guide them. Recalling that night thirty-nine years ago, driving across the cold, flat Saskatchewan prairie, lit only by a billion stars and luminous moon. Wondering, what new beginning harkens? Then? Now?

“Pick a date and do the thing. There is no rule that says
you have to feel ready before you say yes to your dreams.”

Story People

Today, a new year, a new decade, a new blog. Saying yes, once again.