Not Languishing, Though…

“When death is near, or when time forces us into binaries that are dangerous and ungenerous, we wish for such spaciousness, so that we continue the difficult work of preserving life in this world.”

Pádraig Ó Tuama, “The Pause,” On Being Newsletter, Saturday, May 22, 2021

Reading these words from my current, favourite poet I felt a deep thud land in my heart. I won’t say “languishing,” though it’s a word I’ve heard friends use to self-describe since the recent article named it as another quality of pandemic living.  For me, it’s more the ebb and flow, waxing and waning, ups and downs that make some days heavier than others. “Corrosive,” my husband calls it.

Still, the buoyancy from my last post announcing that sweet writing gig and having a short piece published. And since then, I’ve submitted a six-poem collection and five-chapter poem to contests. Admittedly a very, very long shot to even be long listed, but the way I see it, it’s practice in taking myself seriously as a writer, and in learning the art of rolling with rejections.

So maybe it’s the recent resurgence of fighting in Israel, the bombing and killing of so many innocents, including children. I’m staggered by the fact that no sooner had Israel so quickly achieved the world’s most significant vaccination rate, when the fighting resumed. I know I’m adding 2 + 2 and coming up with 35, but is this what post covid “getting back to normal” looks like? And I wonder, “WTF, if anything, have we learned this past year?” Admittedly I’m feeling a holy outrage and holy grief.

Maybe it’s the snowstorm that came suddenly last week after a much needed day of straight ‘n steady rain – the day after a full-out gorgeous, sunny and warm spring day. Those thick wet flakes weighed heavy on the just greening trees, so much so, that when I went to bed that night, the wind blowing white all around, the leaning tree limbs and laden branches looked as if I could touch them from the upper deck. An optical illusion but enough to fall asleep praying all would be well, that we’d not have the kind of breakage our trees had suffered several years ago during an similar, late spring snowstorm. Upon waking, except for a few tender broken bits scattered on the snow’s surface, all appeared OK until Sunday, when we noticed a cracked, newly risen mound of soil around the base of my beloved laurel leaf willow. The heft of this near fifty-year old beauty, together with the leaning of its mass and the weight of snow have begun to lift the tree by its roots, making it just a matter of time before it lets go, meaning its removal is urgent and imminent.

That tree, with its large and languid presence, has been a source of inspiration and healing. As I’ve noted here and in my other blogs, most mornings find me sitting in our living room before dawn, watching that tree and the day begin. Recovering from Bells Palsy, too shocked and vulnerable to see anyone, and a few years later when recovering from a complete thyroidectomy and waiting for the “verdict,” I’d spent hours sitting outside basking in its healing green. I’ve written to it, about it, and in the last month, even submitted for consideration, a piece to an anthology on trees. Titled “A Laud to A Laurel Leaf Willow,” it now feels like an eulogy. First thing tomorrow we’ll search for an arborist skilled in tree climbing to carefully “dismember” it. Right now, as I type, I feel such deep sadness for its loss when it is still so vibrant and alive. I’ve thought about how to stabilize it, but the paradox is we have carefully tended to it for these many years, willingly investing in its regular trimming, and now it’s so massive, its girth so wide, that cable lines would need to stretch through and past our home to secure it. There must be a metaphor in all of this, but right now it escapes me. I simply feel sad.

Maybe it’s that dear friends have moved to start new life chapters with new life partners in other provinces. Pragmatically, the pandemic has oddly prepared me for their absence, as this past year seeing each of them has been very episodic, if at all. But I feel that familiar pandemic-induced “missing them in my bones and by my body.” I know the changed reality of relationships signified by such relocations, as forty plus years ago, we did the same thing and friendships were never the same.

And maybe it’s that rather suddenly – both to us and to them – our next-door neighbors moved, too. Yesterday! He’d been working out of province, unable to find work here since the pandemic. For months, she tended the home fires, including all their DIY renovations. Finally, the home of her dreams and then the decision to move and sell – in that order. I came home Friday to see people sorting through stuff in the garage, assuming it was a version of spring cleaning. Then a moving van and a quick, across the fence conversation confirming the obvious to everyone but me! Several months earlier I’d acknowledged my lack of sociability towards her. Nothing personal, I assured, I had been cordial but regretted it was not what it might have been. Now I wonder if the Universe might be giving me a second chance.

No maybe’s about it, I was so disappointed not be to with my father yesterday to celebrate his 90th birthday. Last year, he – my “glass half full” parent – optimistically announced we’d have a big party for him this year. Our German “sister” had promised to fly over to celebrate with us, as she had for his 80th. Thankfully, he and my mother worked through the decision to abandon the party idea a few months ago, as currently, their region of Ontario is in very restrictive lockdowns. Flowers and a cupcake with candles over a video call would have to do. And once again, with his signature optimism, he asked for a rain check and said he’s dealing in for another five healthy years, at least. That made me smile. I have a lot to learn from him, still.

The wish for spaciousness to hold it all.
The knowing that it’s all true and that this, too, will pass, until the next time.
Choosing the half full glass of generosity while acknowledging the grief.
And signing off as I started:

“Friends, in all your circumstances this week, we pray that love, and a generous reading of time can guide you and center you towards justice and life.”

Pádraig Ó Tuama, “The Pause,” On Being Newsletter, Saturday, May 15, 2021

With 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.

Today

TODAY

Today I’m flying low and I’m
not saying a word
I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.

The world goes on as it must,
the bees in the garden rumbling a little,
the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.
And so forth.

But I’m taking the day off.
Quiet as a feather.
I hardly move though really I’m traveling
a terrific distance.
Stillness. One of the doors
into the temple.

– Mary Oliver –

“I hardly move though really I’m traveling a terrific distance.” – How this line resonates. A week ago I learned about a live stream virtual travel tour company and have been literally around the world, in real time, sitting still. Paris and Lyon, Florence, Venice and Pisa, Cusco, the desert in Dubai, Dubrovnik, Istanbul – 30, 45 and 60 minute tours hosted by professional guides on a “pay what you will” tip basis. I take photos “postcards”, ask questions, and delight in this remarkable use of technology that is providing a livelihood for guides, and “green” travel for me. One of the guides, Mike from Peru, shared the unforeseen, but countless benefits of this “pivot” for him, his company and community, making it all the more worthwhile. It’s been a door back into the world and the people living in it.

Our First Panniversary

That’s what I’m calling this past week – our global first – and may it be our last except in memory only – “panniversary” – when a world wide pandemic was issued, the world locked down, most everything stopped, and many people were dying.

And while we couldn’t go out for our own big one last summer, last night my husband and I went out for dinner as a nod to one year of pandemic life –  our first since that exceptional sunny, warm evening last fall when we ate “al fresco” at a favourite local café and remarked that had been the first time since our winter sojourn in Spain, the one where we got home just in the nick of time, before the world as we all knew it shut down. This time, seduced the night before by a TV commercial showing a couple dining out and digging into their shared dessert, he made the reservation and suggested we get “dolled up” for a date. Proud to say, he was by far the best dressed fellow there.

Across media this week there have been multiple reminiscings about this remarkable, unforgettable year. Many countries paused to formally acknowledge those who lost their lives to Covid-19, in some cases, the tens and hundreds of thousands – family member, friend, neighbor, community member, colleague. Every one essential. Every one deeply grieved.

Of note for me was falling off the kindness wagon. First, the phone call to our local butcher to say the pre-seasoned roast I’d bought for dinner was too salty to eat. His daughter, naturally defending her dad’s business said it was the way it’s done, and no one had ever complained before. Not so much a complaint as wondering with her, but I could feel the impasse growing as we went back and forth a couple of times. So I thanked her and hung up. She immediately called back to tell me she didn’t appreciate my hanging up when she was about to tell me to come in for an unseasoned replacement. Not necessary, I said, but thank you and let’s just let it be. But I couldn’t. Headed upstairs and felt awful that I hadn’t brought my best self to the conversation. I knew I needed to make amends. This time, I called her back to apologize for my abruptness, to acknowledge her and her father’s efforts and service. Suddenly I was overcome with emotion and then crying. “If you came in right now, I’d give you a hug,” she said. “Next time I’m in, I’ll say hello,” I replied. Heart to heart. The balance restored.

Samantha Reynolds as bentlily

Later in the week I went to the local registry to renew my driver’s license. Nothing new: mask affixed, met by the sign telling me how many people are allowed in,arrows directing me where to stand,directed to the counter and begin the process. Straightforward until I ask for the photo from my expired licence. Since they shred it, a simple request, a quirk to have these mementos of time passing tucked in my wallet. No, she shook her head, this was not possible. Why not? She goes to ask and I see more heads shaking no. Do I press the matter? No, let it go.

Then, how would I like to pay? Visa. Oh, that will cost me an extra 4%. What are my options? Cash or debit. Any charge? No. Fine, debit it is. That done, then I’m told to take a seat, which I don’t because there a couple of fellows standing too close. But quickly I’m called for my photo and am told I have take off my glasses – no problem – but then I have to remove my neck scarf from inside my sweater and expose my throat (to the wolf? I wonder) And no smiling. Oh, like passports. “Government wouldn’t want too many happy folks,” I mutter just loudly enough. Next told to push my hair behind my ears. I fiddle. She persists. I resist, literally half complying. She invites me to see the photo. Good enough. Thank you. Mask back on and I leave.

By the time I walk the dozen steps to my car, yanking the mask off my face, I’m furious, swearing to myself. Once settled inside, I’m still swearing but realize quickly, whoa this is way out of proportion to the incident. Quickly registered that I had had it with being told – by the government – what to do and when, how, and why to do it. It’s been a year’s worth and I have willingly accepted and consciously complied, but the straw broke in the face of what felt to me as unilateral, nonsensical rules for my driver’s license. I admit, I reacted with in moment with some oppositional deviance.

Deep breath taken, I headed out to continue my errand run, but at the lights instead chose to drive home. Went inside and called the registry to once again acknowledge and apologize. And once again I was met with an empathy, patience or kindness I regret I didn’t have or offer in that moment.

Before sitting down to write today, I did an early morning scroll on social media, and a skim of an recently published article on the cognitive affects of pandemic, What the Pandemic Is Doing to Our Brains – The Atlantic.

“Living through a pandemic—even for those who are doing so in relative comfort—“is exposing people to microdoses of unpredictable stress all the time,” and stress changes the brain regions that control executive function, learning, and memory.”

Then I discovered findings reported this week from a peer-reviewed study published in Scientific Reports indicating that our cognitive abilities have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, including our decision-making ability, risk avoidance and civic-mindedness or altruism. Hmmm, this explains, but doesn’t excuse, my lapse.

I think back to a post I wrote before our first pandemic Christmas, about the need “to be tender and kind. Especially to oneself. Especially now when there’s so much out there, unabated, for so long.”

I remind myself:

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

The Buddha

I remind myself:

“…I forgive you. I forgive

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

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

Dilruba Ahmed, “Phase One”

And I remind myself:

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

Maya Angelou

It’s our first Panniversary, dear friends. It’s been a long haul and we’re still not through to the other side. We’re still wading through uncertainty, stress, boredom, grief. So let’s remember to be tender and kind and patient with ourselves and each other.

May you and yours continue to be safe and well.
May you know and be and have the love you want in this world, today and everyday.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

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.”

Roses in Winter

“Must be brain freeze,” I just tapped out to a friend, as I’m late again for this week’s post.

It. Is. Cold. An Arctic vortex has descended upon the prairies. Years ago, I recall my city’s well-loved and highly respected meteorologist calling it “the dreaded of all meteorological phenomena: the Siberian High.” Sunshine and signature Alberta blue skies, but with wind blowing steady, take those already frigid temperatures well below zero – centigrade or Fahrenheit – and drop them at least another ten, dangerous degrees. Since the weekend, weather apps have shown red banners and yellow exclamation points and maps show red across the entire province.

But last Thursday, in advance of its arrival, we waxed up the skies and went out to our local provincial park, Blackfoot-Waskahegan, for some easy-going cross-country skiing. As it had been several years since I’d been on the trails, we took a practice run the week before in the new-this-year tracks set on the golf course. Quiet except for the scratch of the skies on snow, my breathing, the squawking and chirping magpies and chickadees, it was heaven sent, though for now, on pause.

Sunday, dressed warmly in a fleece lined wool toque, down parka, gortex snow pants, shearling boots and new “extreme cold” Hesta mitts, I met many folks on the paths, similarly bundled, each enjoying our daily walks in the sunshine. An hour later, the mitts standing up to their reputation, my hands were sweating. The wind blew in that evening, and now even Annie, ever ready to brave the elements – except rain – is less than enthusiastic to be outside. She’s conceded to wearing her boots again with her stylish coat, and we manage a walk around the block. But she didn’t hesitate or pull the other way when I turned down the street headed home. Yesterday after sending her indoors, I took on clearing the sidewalk and driveway of hard packed snow. Got nearly 10,000 steps with it all. That sunshine is a powerful draw. But right this moment, in a day just beginning to clear, she’s napping on her cushion by the space heater as I write.

A year ago today, we were making our way to Sevilla for a winter sojourn in Andalusia. Right about now we were napping in a cozy sleep pod at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. Later in the afternoon, we’d catch our flight to Sevilla, check into our hotel, and enjoy our first of many “al fresco” Spanish tapas. Smoky olives, sweet red vermut on ice, grilled octopus.

Ahhhh memory. “The power to gather roses in Winter.”

During the next few weeks, to mark the occasion I’ll mix an Americano cocktail (first enjoyed during my first visit to Andalusia in 2017) with a slice of orange (not Sevillian, too bitter), chew on Spanish olives, and “gather roses” as I wander across the pages of my journal and photo book from last year’s last trip before the pandemic.

And now, after finishing this post, I’ll check to see if a walk is doable.  And then, inspired by returning to reading Melanie Falick’s beautiful story of hand makers and DIYers, Making a Life, I’ll continue embellishing the sweater I knitted a few years back. Worked from a pattern I’d rejigged, with very fine lacy yarn – a silk mohair blend – it’s rife with mis-takes and mis-stitches, too big, and too disappointing after numerous tear-outs and restarts. After taking it out from hiding a few months ago, glancing at it every now and then, holding lightly what and how to proceed, last night I took needle and thread and using a running straight stitch, took in the sides and arms in an exposed French seam. I roll hemmed the entire sweater, again using a straight stitch, letting it show. Then, with a skein of similarly spun yarn from a sweater my mother made for me years ago, I’m running it though those uneven ladders to bring in texture and colour. A true “wabi sabi” creation, using what’s imperfect with what’s on hand, to make beautiful.

Like the little water colour I did while attending a conference last Saturday on Medieval Pilgrimages. Bored with the academic posturing and paper reading, and needing distraction to sort and discern what was of value for me, I adhered to the principles of intuitive painting – no premeditation, design, or meaning – and simply worked with colour and stroke. And then, almost as an afterthought, used a fine black pen to outline the shapes that emerged. Delightful, colourful, nonsensical.

“Ways to trust one’s own wisdom
to bless the imperfections
to see and make apparent the inherent beauty
to smell crimson roses
even in Winter
when her blizzards blow and blind.”

KW

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

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