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

Winter Solstice

Tomorrow is Solstice. Here in the northern hemisphere, we mark Winter’s formal arrival with the longest, darkest night. In the past month, much has been written about the unusual planetary alignment between Jupiter and Saturn, apparently coming so close together as to give the impression of one large and most brilliant star. Making its first appearance in over eight hundred years, it’s being called the “Christmas Star,” even the “Star of Bethlehem.” I’m praying for clear skies around the world so we can each take in a bit of the magic and miraculous. God knows we’re in need of some…

As is my pattern, it’s Sunday night after dinner and I’m comfortably alone in our office tapping out my thoughts for this post. I’m listening to excerpts of Handel’s “Messiah,” truly one of the western Christian world’s most beloved Christmas oratorios. Every time I hear it, I wonder if Handel and librettist Charles Jennen had any idea of the timeless magnificence they created.

Yesterday I attended a Facebook live “sing along” hosted by the historic Bardavon Opera House and Hudson Valley Philharmonic. Close to 10,000 people from around the world watched and sang. How remarkable to read of the many people who have sung their part in choirs – large and small, community and professional – every Christmas for decades. My own memories evoked…including the time I missed that long rest in the Alleluia chorus and rather inadvertently, took my own solo!  For 10,000 of us to have clicked and arrived, being “alone together” for an hour, sharing memories, joy, and even tears as we stood in unison for the Alleluia chorus, time and distance magically collapsed as our hearts rang open. Truly, one of the pandemic’s paradoxical gifts.

In keeping with tradition, once again I offer my annual Solstice blessing, this year reworked with words I wrote during the pandemic’s early days, during our first pervasive “lockdown.”  

May this Holyday season bring time to cherish all that is good and true and beautiful.

May its dark days invite reflection and renewal.

May you be well, and safely tucked in with your beloveds at home.

May deep rest, fresh air, and sunshine restore you and
be like the warm embrace of longed for family and friends.

May any moments of anxiety and sadness be held in tenderness,
with the support of others.

May strength in body, mind, and spirit allow you to embrace
life’s uncertainties.

May good health be your companion,
relationships enliven and encourage,
work and pastimes fulfill, serve, and affirm.

May good food nourish your body,
favourite memories and meaningful conversations
your heart and mind.

May Nature welcome you to its beauty, magic, and wisdom.

May gratitude, generosity, and grace be your friends.

May patience, love, and kindness – given and received –
be yours in abundance.

With much love and kindness, dear friends.

Hanging On, Letting Go

“Look how calmly the trees abandon their autumn leaves, scattering jewels on the ground, soon to become mulch. These serene beings are apt teachers for us. Just see how they send their life-essence down into their roots as the days shorten and darken.”  

Pir Zia Inayat Khan, The Zephyr Newsletter, December 2020

Last Monday, when I walked with Annie to centre myself and find my words, when I listened to the poem that released the floodgate of tears and cleared the way for the inchoate to become articulate, I found myself attracted to Nature’s images that evoked a “hanging on.” Despite all that gives way to a northern winter – daylight and warmth, green grass and foliage, garden fresh vegetables, robin song – still there is much that persists.

And I thought, how fitting a metaphor for this year’s Advent. Now in the third week, the one characterized by the rose-pink candle of joy, I wondered how do we hold the tension, no, how do we live and be in the tension of hanging on expectantly, when so much has let go? How do we negotiate our familiar and counted upon traditions of joy and celebration, in the face of myriad losses and uncertainties, persistent isolation and loneliness? How do we wait in joy for the promise inherent in this season, given so many shattering impacts of 2020?  Not an intended pun, but truly a pandemic paradox, of pandemic proportion.

While I don’t have answers to my own questions, let alone any “sage” advice, I am reminded of Rilke’s wisdom to not strive for answers…to live the questions for now…though admittedly, not quite able to love them. But perhaps there are some hints from others, whose words have shimmered as they’ve crossed my screen this week, in remarkable resonance and synchronicity.

“I’m feeling a bone deep exhaustion now, yet I’m also feeling a resistance to the softness and rest that this season urges. There is too much to do to rest. And to be soft in the face of all that has happened in 2020 — that is a world of hurt I’m not sure I can bear. My experience of this season’s impulse to look back and take stock has a new intensity too. There is a great deal I long to recover about pre-pandemic life. But I don’t want to go back to a “normal” that would lose all that this year taught and gave us to live into.” 

Krista Tippett, The Pause, December 15, 2020

In the past few days, I walked and listened to another of my favorite podcasts, Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us. In the most recent episode, she looked back over all she had learned from reading and prepping for two seasons worth of interviews, to more fully understand her very first episode on “FFT’s” (friggin’ first times) dropped in the early days of Covid-19.  Her recent neuroscience “expert,” David Eagleman, confirmed Brené’s emergent hypothesis that our brains – and we – are exhausted with mapping so many new responses to this year’s unprecedented number of FFTs. The antidote to so much changing so fast is our attention, our acknowledgement, and rest, plenty of rest that restores us, and our brains. The image that comes to mind after today’s snow showers: clearing the walks and roads of snow that keeps falling. No sooner do you get it clear, then you need to do it again, and again, and again.

In this same episode, Brené shared a quote that succinctly sums up life as we know it now:

“‘History is the study of surprises.’
This line captures the world in which we live, we’re living history, surprise after surprise after surprise. And just when we think, we’ve had all the big surprises for a while, along comes another one. If the first two decades of the 21st century have taught us anything, it’s that uncertainty is chronic; instability is permanent; disruption is common; and we can neither predict nor govern events. There will be no ‘new normal’; there will only be a continuous series of ‘not normal’ episodes, defying prediction and unforeseen by most of us until they happen.”

Jim Collins, Beyond Entrepreneurship 2.0, 2020

Hmmm…grim news of foreboding, or the sudden, fresh wakening from somnambulant dis-illusion? Another paradox and invitation to find a middle way, perhaps?

I’ve lost track of the number of times this past year I’ve heard myself say aloud or think the wise words from a past, wise teacher: the trick to living paradox is knowing “it’s all true.” That both sides of the coin are the same coin. That 180 degrees is a straight line connecting what appear to be opposites. That the yin always contains a bit of yang and vice versa. And that there is a field between right doing and wrong doing where I will meet you.

“There is a time for stillness and empty-handedness, a time for holding vigil in the darkness. Winter keeps a secret that is vital to our soul’s knowledge of itself. Before long, the days will lengthen again. But now is the time to be rooted in the silent, patient earth as the planet heaves through the ebon emptiness of space.” 

Pir Zia Inayat Khan, The Zephyr Newsletter, December 2020

Yes. This is so very true. And so too, for so many of us right now, is the isolation and loneliness that fills us with sorrow, worry, grief. That keeps us sleepless when we need rest for our bodies and brains and hearts, and to recover our resilience.

Last week, once again in my favorite Italian grocery store, as I maneuvered my cart into the checkout line, I looked up to see our dear friends. The last I saw them was a year ago, sitting at our cozy round table, enjoying a kitchen supper. Nothing fancy. Just simple Tuscan cooking, fine wine, and edifying conversation. It was a delicious evening, one we anticipated repeating sooner than later, upon our return from Andalusia last February. Sure, now we talk on the phone, exchange “love notes” in the mail or via text, but to lay eyes on each other, bundled and masked, brought tears to our eyes. There we stood, huddled among the pasta and olive oil – probably closer than two meters – impelled to express our love, our gratitude, the miraculous of our chance meeting, the angels that must have conspired for us then and there.

“…we need to accompany each other right now and beyond this season, in what none of us is called to bear and do alone. To honor the many losses we scarcely know what to do with. To dwell with reverence before our exhaustion and our resilience. To cultivate the expectant waiting that is the spirit of Advent. To ponder how we want to live once the virus releases us back to each other. “

Krista Tippett, The Pause, December 15, 2020

Since I last wrote, Covid-19 vaccinations are now being administered around the world. Here in Canada, the first to be inoculated was an elderly woman from Quebec. Here in Alberta, our health care workers are to be first in line. Touted as the light at the end of a long dark tunnel, it’s not lost on me that this hoped for miracle comes during our darkest hours, both literally and figuratively. Personally, I sit in another paradox: knowing it will be many months before I have access to this anticipated release from the virus’ silent, deadly grip and can let go of extraordinary vigilance and precaution, countered by the desire to hang on to the many subtle gifts of this time – a slowing down to savour simplicity and deepening stillness, noticing inner shifts and outer expressions, renewed appreciation and gratitude, a growing and steady contentment. Just as my love of winter’s darkness has grown over time, and I wince knowing that come next week, we’ll once again be on the upswing to more daylight, I hear a whisper of caution to not squander what has been so hard won, an invitation to make anew.

“We will not go back to normal, normal never was. Our pre-Corona existence was not normal, other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate, and lack. We should not long to return, my friends, we are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment, one that fits all of humanity and nature.”

Sonya Renee Taylor

Now, I literally wait for the linen and yarn and needles to arrive to start stitching.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

The Gift of Self Forgiveness

Finding the words for this blog has not come easy. I gave in to tiredness and wanting to spend “pack time” with my husband and our Annie dog on Sunday night when I usually sit in our office, tapping out my musings for Monday’s posting, music in the background. Monday, still stalled, I walked with Annie, and caught up listening to several episodes from my favourite poetry podcast, spiraling through several times, the dozen or so minutes of brilliance, both in the poet’s words, but also in host Pádraig Ó’Tuama’s commentary. One moved me to tears every time I heard it.

Maybe it’s the time of year. The coming of winter – though of late, ours has been remarkably warm, sunny, with snow and cold enough for chunky cross-country skiing and ice skating – can be unsettling for some. Personally, I grow each year in my love of the growing darkness…the stillness at dawn…the quiet muffling that a snowfall brings…the restful flat light and monochromatic colour exterior scheme.


So, it’s probably the month. December and all it evokes. Dreams of “Christmas Pasts” that can run the gambit emotionally, that for some us, can be anything but the Hallmark happily ever after. And this year, made all more so by a pandemic that is worsening world-wide as we grow more fatigued, complacent, desensitized and doubting. Just yesterday my province implemented a month-long lock down, including no social gathering, indoor and out, beyond family members living in the same home. And I wonder with a renewed and deepened empathy, how does one navigate when you know this will be your last Christmas with an ailing family member? Or you’re already neck, or even knee, deep in grief now most certainly unabated without the physical support and presence of those who care for you, those you trust?

“While your faces on the screen have to be enough,
I miss you in my bones and by my body.”

Since December’s arrival, it’s as if a switch goes on and I feel myself grow tense and tired and tearful. It doesn’t take much to trigger a “Christmas Past” memory and mood. Today a Christmas carol brought a near flood of tears as I wheeled the cart down the aisle of my favourite Italian grocery store, thankful for being only one of a handful of customers at that early hour. And then I take a deep breath and I remind myself of the guidance I’d offer every December to my colleagues working in schools. That in those ready-made relational fields, ripe to bursting with the emotional charge of personal narratives – known and unknown, lived and inherited – feelings and reactions, seemingly unapparent, become amplified with the resonance and echoing to our own stories.

So, it’s important – critical really – to be tender and kind. Especially to oneself. Especially now when there’s so much out there, unabated, for so long.

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

The Buddha

That poem that brought me to tears, each and every time I heard Pádraig recite and interpret it – “Phase One” by Dilruba Ahmed – is about forgiving oneself. In it she spells out a litany of things she’s done, big and small, that she’s held against herself. And she writes, “I forgive you.”

“The really interesting thing in this poem is that the word “forgive” occurs 13 times. And then that phrase, “I forgive you,” occurs six times. The first time, it appears just as a single sentence. It occurs just by itself, those three words, “I forgive you.” And then the next time it appears, it occurs twice, “I forgive you. I forgive you.” And then the final time it appears, it’s three times: “I forgive you. I forgive you. I forgive you.” It’s like this poem is trying to learn a mantra to say to itself, and in the hope that a life can learn a mantra to say to itself, knowing that saying it once isn’t enough and, also, that forgiveness is something that we return to over and over again, even self-forgiveness — that it needs to be a mantra.”

Pádraig Ó’Tuama

Listening, I felt that resonance and echoing with my own harboured sins and shortcomings. But it was this that pierced my heart, that brought my tears:

“…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”

My husband and I are practiced in the art of celebrating Christmas on our own and so can do this one easefully, though missing the joy of being with our friends. While we want for nothing, we are intent for good health to be our life long companion, relationships to enliven and encourage us, work and pastimes to fulfill and affirm us. And I, to become the love I want in this world, I give myself, over and over, the gift of forgiveness.

“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

May this be yours, with, too, the gift of self-forgiveness.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Golden

It’s Thanksgiving in Canada, the 12th of October, almost as late in the month as it comes. Remarkably, autumn’s colour abounds, with gold and burnished brown, red and aubergine still a vivid contrast against the cerulean sky and dark green conifers.

Yesterday a fierce wind blew from the north west. A kite hung high for an hour in the steel grey sky, its dragon-like features a foreboding of what’s to come. The scent and feel of winter waiting impatiently in the wings, typically impolite in timing its arrival. Like a takeover, one might even say “hostile”, or a coup overthrowing the trees before they’ve taken off their sovereign hued robes, and wreaking shock and havoc among the yet to depart migrating birds. This reminder of impermanence, life’s cycles, nature’s work. During a time when around the world most everyone feels fraught with uncertainty and complacent with pandemic protocol fatigue, I take comfort and find solace that yes, the days grow shorter, the sun rises lower, the trees will soon be stripped of their remaining leaves, the snow will fall, the temperatures plummet.   

One morning last week, making breakfast for Annie and drip coffee for me, I heard Jill Scott sing her song, Golden. I wrote down the chorus knowing I could use it for today’s blog, because, well, it’s been so golden this past month. I’m in the sixth week of my latest Abbey of the Arts online course, “Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist,” where I’m exploring these archetypes of contemplation and creativity, two deep affinities. In one of last week’s creative exercises, I learned about the French pantoum, a poetic form that can be quite revelatory in its play and placement of lines.

So in that spirit of unabashed experimentation, here’s my tribute to Thanksgiving, living golden, impermance, presence, winter – all riffing off Jill Scott.

Livin’ my life like it’s golden
it’s that time of year.
Shimmering brilliant leaves
remind me to be here.

It’s that time of year,
winds blow strong and sting
remind me to be here.
Winter’s in the wings.

Winds blow strong and sting.
Shimmering brilliant leaves.
Winter’s in the wings.
Livin’ my life like it’s golden.

With abiding gratitude, love and kindest regards, dear friends.