Sheltered In Place

Today, When I Could Do Nothing

Today, when I could do nothing,
I saved an ant.

It must have come in with the morning paper,
still being delivered
to those who shelter in place.

A morning paper is still an essential service.

I am not an essential service.

I have coffee and books,
time,
a garden,
silence enough to fill cisterns.

It must have first walked
the morning paper, as if loosened ink
taking the shape of an ant.

Then across the laptop computer — warm —
then onto the back of a cushion.

Small black ant, alone,
crossing a navy cushion,
moving steadily because that is what it could do.

Set outside in the sun,
it could not have found again its nest.
What then did I save?

It did not move as if it was frightened,
even while walking my hand,
which moved it through swiftness and air.

Ant, alone, without companions,
whose ant-heart I could not fathom—
how is your life, I wanted to ask.

I lifted it, took it outside.

This first day when I could do nothing,
contribute nothing
beyond staying distant from my own kind,
I did this.

– Jane Hirshfield –
April 2020

Holy Outrage

“You have been telling people that this is the Eleventh Hour,
now you must go back and tell people that this is the Hour.
And there are things to be considered…

Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?

Know your garden.
It is time to speak your truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for your leader…

Hopi Elders’ Prophecy, June 8, 2000

This is not the post I had been thinking of writing for today. I thought I’d be writing about the multitude of invitations everywhere I look to make the best of these times by either learning something new (a language, sourdough, a craft, sourdough, a home haircut, sourdough, a cocktail), or streaming culture and entertainment (architecture, travel sites, theatre, film), or becoming the person I’d always wanted to be, so on and so forth. I’ll save that one for another day as I don’t think they, nor my reactions are going away any time too soon.

Nor is this the kind of post I typically write, instead choosing to use this space to reflect and write about the beauty of my imperfect, sometimes broken, and mostly well-lived life. Maybe uplifting, enlightening and inspiring others in the process. But yesterday (I’m writing this on the Friday before Monday’s post), something broke through.

For the past week, since receiving a lovely “touch in” email, I’ve been reading the posts from a woman whose way of being in the world I highly regard. Jennifer is a radiant truth-teller. She dives deep in her life, in her work. She rides the edges, weaving together a way of sense making from various disciplines and much research. Being on that edge, as a bright, intuitive, feeling type, her perceptions and perspectives can perturb and create push-back in others. I see in her, a younger, albeit refreshingly less tamed version of myself. Perhaps that’s how I’m able to “see” her, to notice and name for her. And we both know and appreciate how essential this is to our becoming.

She’s been challenging herself, and by way of posting, me and others, to stay awake to the unintended – and perhaps, even, insidious – consequences to government responses to this pandemic. I was already sensitized to the “war” metaphor being used in the messaging at home and globally. But when I first read her words and sat with her questions, I felt agitated and shaken in my gut. My head tried to make sense of what she wrote, which only made me feel more anxious. I took a deep breath, paused, and consciously stepped away until I could process more of what she had invited. Yesterday I stepped back in and saw with new eyes.

In the morning paper, in rapid succession, this drew my attention, though most every page had something that sparked with a new light:

“Liberal minister Dominic LeBlanc told CBC News that he’s already been in discussion with cabinet members, including Justice Minister David Lametti, to bring in some form of legislation to tackle online misinformation regarding COVID-19.”

And I’m thinking, holy cow, we’ve never walked this path before. What we and our international and federal health so-called experts are learning about this virus shifts on a dime. We raking them over the coals for not knowing everything and then for changing their tunes, and for perhaps, even, being in cahoots with China. So, who in hell is going to determine what is and is not accurate in social media? And is this not, despite what MPs are quoted as saying, censoring and a violation of our right to free speech?

Then on the same page this headline, “Harsh tactics wrong path?” wherein:

“experts in criminology and law are pushing back against conventional wisdom that giving police the power to levy heavy fines will make people safer…arguing that health directives are unclear…”

While I get the need for monitoring, en-force-ment (translate: with force) and discretion being given to bylaw and police officers deeply concerns me. In my country and others, we’ve witnessed, and may even know first hand, the grave misuse and abuse of power by such officials.

And on the previous page of the same paper, commenting on the hypocrisy of our Prime Minister’s Easter time-out with his family after saying physical distancing is for everyone, Lorne Gunter makes reference to a local woman who reported to Alberta Health she saw more people leaving a church than allowed under these new public health regulations. He opines:

“I hope we are not becoming a nation of snitches.”

My immediate reaction was the sudden flash memory of hearing stories about Eastern Germany, where family, friends and neighbors “snitched” on each other to the Stasi, resulting in extremes of cruelty and torture, broken trust, and a terrorized-traumatized people and country, the reverberations of which are still felt.

Call it synchronicity, but right after reading, I received an email from a friend inviting me to sign a petition to rescind Alberta’s Bill 10, legislation designed to give unbridled and unchecked rights to the government, for an indeterminate length of time, to enact and revise legislation deemed necessary to fighting this war on this pandemic. Weeks earlier, the federal government was stopped trying to enact similar legislation. Signed and sent, I then edited and customized, referencing my read of the news, the email template to send to friends for their consideration and action.

__________

A few hours later I left our safe cocoon to run some errands, the first time in over a week. Yes, we are self isolating, or as I prefer to say, in “compassionate retreat.” Yes, we are wearing face masks when venturing out into peopled spaces. And while this may seem contrary, we feel it is prudent, and probably should have heeded our own research and knowing to have done so earlier.

Dropping off “love parcels” to my friend and her young children, I was suddenly worried that being masked, I’d frighten the children. We managed, carefully keeping our distance, wishing we could hug. They knew me. It was OK, maybe.

In the grocery store, I felt the “sur-reality” of seeing more people than not wearing masks (except the staff, which I’ve learned in many stores have been advised not to wear. WTF why not!?!), of floors marked with direction arrows, and safe distance boxes. To soothe my growing anxiety, I had to convince myself that while out of the ordinary here, wearing face masks is “de riguer” in Tokyo. I know I was too close to people in the aisles, and touched too many vegetables, albeit in gloved hands. By the time I left, disposing those gloves in the small mouthed waste bin, washing my hands at the cleverly designed portable station, I was overcome with tears for this all. And once home, told my husband, he could resume the “hunting and gathering” for us. I’ll stick to the cooking.

At the post office, there to drop off another “love parcel” to a friend before she enters the holy month of Ramadan, the gloved clerk, behind the plexiglass safety barrier, asked if I’d be paying by credit or debit. In the moment that struck me as odd, off. When he opened the cash drawer, I worked up the courage to ask “Are you not accepting cash payment?” and was told, no, that their boss had told them not to accept cash, unless that was all the customer had. “This is dangerous,” I replied, though agreed that yes, in this immediate context, probably safer not to handle cash, but in the long term, what could be the consequences of a cashless society?

Still masked, on to the bank to deposit my GST refund. Again, my first time experiencing their safety protocol. Happy for the sun and warmth to stand outside, a woman my age complimented me on my jacket, broke the ice for a quick exchange on the oddity of these times. I shared my experiences of the morning, how shaken I felt. Not wearing a mask, she braved to share her take, could this be the move for a one world government, she offered, a theory I’d studied over the years. Then she described watching a recent documentary where Swedes and corporate employees are now micro-chipped to ease security access into workplaces and gyms, to buy train tickets, to go cashless. “The internalized smart watch,” I’m thinking. “Marked by the beast,” she suggested, eyebrows raised.

Finally, driving home, I listen to our national radio station playing a favourite classical composition, Handel’s Water Music, and in a flash, it dawns on me, “We’re being placated while all hell is breaking lose around us. Let’s soothe the masses, like when then President Bush suggested the American people go shopping to cope with immediate aftermath of 9-11.” Like hearing the sudden “chirpiness” in our local news anchors on Monday, an about face from their typical style during this period. Why? Why now? And who initiated this shift in public presence?

By the time I walk through the door, whoosh, outrage had broken through weeks of disbelief, grief, and fear. Describing my experiences to my husband as we put away the groceries, I remembered that eery but fascinating sixties TV show, The Prisoner, where throughout the sinister story line in each episode, lovely music played throughout the village.

__________

Like my friend, there is so much about all of this that I don’t know. I do know none of us, including the people we elected to our governments and appointed to oversight agencies (WHO), have never walked quite this path before. But there have been similar journeys, when those in charge made pronouncements and plans to ready us better for next time, but once the urgency passed, are forgotten or deemed unimportant. Not unlike most of us, relapsing to ease, complacency even. I see our remarkable ability to adapt and “pivot” in our understanding and responses to “flatten the curve.” I’m of two minds when it comes to “re-opening the economy.” I don’t want us to move too quickly “getting back to normal” because the risks might be too great, the new insights lost, the promises broken. On the other hand, there is so much suffering now, including and beyond the pandemic’s fatalities and their grieving family and friends. 

“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,
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, Over Grow the System, 2020

Holy outrage can inspire holy acts of inner and outer change…

…By noticing what is odd or off or no longer fits.

…By asking and calling out what is suddenly incongruous.

…By staying alert to the barely emerging patterns, and as, if not more, importantly, to the spaces in between. Focusing so much energy exclusively on the pandemic, has me wonder what am I being distracted from seeing? What else of real significance do we need to be attending?

…By burning through the mind numbing fog of “settling for and with” to illumine the fullness of what needs to be seen and known.

…By daring feel the discomfort and distress of being dis-illusioned into speaking a new truth, couraged into writing a new story, stitching together a new garment.

Since my holy outrage broke thorough, I haven’t felt nearly as namelessly agitated, anxious, scared or angry. I have felt the energy, the clarity, the focus, and the unequivocal knowing that a more beautiful “what next” is not only possible, but is in the making right now, with every breath I take, every choice I make.

Now to keep my fires stoked.

Perspectives with Panache, 2010

That is the gift of my holy outrage. What is the gift of yours?

#mylifeasprayer
#holygriefholygratitudeholylove

Big Pause, Big Questions

“All is well. While you take this big pause,
we have a lot of housecleaning to do.”

Wind Whispering

It’s early Saturday morning, the pause between Good Friday and Easter in the Christian tradition. I woke at 3:00, not an unusual experience. With a stomach ache. Too, not unusual these days. It’s been a good month or so since I’ve been in “compassionate retreat.” As I’ve written – day in, day out – not an unusual experience except… And those exceptions are what can throw me into the surreal reality of life now as I, we know it. Or don’t. And there’s the rub.

In these many days – which day is it? – from my read, media sources are full of conjecture and narrative trying to explain life now. How we got here. Where we’re going. Who’s to blame. How to fix. And much, much more. My meaning-making, pattern-seeking mind can be temporarily soothed or agitated as I scan, read, note, share, comment, talk it out, depending. But bottom line is there is so much I don’t know, and know it’s too soon to know, that my habit of needing to know is a fix.

Molokai, Perspectives with Panache, 2007

A few weeks ago, I took a chance to comment in the blog of a woman whose way of writing, and orientation to life, to faith, I really like, I feel kindred with. Took a chance because I was about to offer a very different perspective from the other comments on her post which had laid out, in a helpful way, the metamorphosis change frame revived and embellished by life coach Martha Beck. Here’s a slightly edited version of what I pondered on her page:

I’m going out on a limb to offer another perspective borne from l/earned life experience.

Several years ago, after a particularly raw, vulnerable time of loss and interior dishevelment, I attended my monthly community of practice gathering (we are life and leadership coaches, process designers, facilitators, educators – a kind and highly “emotionally – relationally intelligent” types) wherein the host offered a process based on these stages of metamorphosis. While I knew the cognitive calm and soothing this stage model offered, I also knew at a deeper level, that its comfort was based on Mind’s role of searching for patterns to make meaning and sense of, what was for me at that time, incomprehensible.

I knew at a deeper level, to follow this model, would be an abandonment, sabotaging even, of my own inner process. That giving in to the “oh, I know, what comes next is the butterfly” would prevent something totally new from coalescing and emerging, as I exchanged comfort for uncertainty, premature pattern for chaos.

I knew I was in the patternless void, the soul’s dark night, the mystic’s desert.

Could I trust that the patterns of stars in that black void of sky might emerge, though NOT be the constellations that I knew before?

That is the question for me now.

Pattern will emerge from this chaos, but most likely, unlike what I/we have ever seen, or ever known before. It might not be – most likely will not be – a butterfly that emerges from the messy imaginal cells. That is what I needed to let go of then, and need to now. This is where faith, trust, love come into play.

What new forms of being and living and loving can we breathe into those formless imaginal cells if we allow them their time?

What new stories are wanting to be written if we are patient for the words to emerge? If we trust we are each writing the new story with every choice we make (even the “no choice” choices), every day we live our lives as prayer?

What holy grief, holy gratitude, holy love, can we evolve together?

So here I sit, best I can. Big pause. Big questions.
Big breath in. Big breath out.

“I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir,
to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart
and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms
and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue.
Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you
because you would not be able to live them.
And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now.
Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it,
live along some distant day into the answer.”

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, 1986

A Holy April Blessing

Perspectives with Panache, 2005

During these days of “compassionate retreat,” this April, across holy faith traditions, invites in a closer relationship to the divine, however we know that to be.  Too, the “super” full moon in Libra – the biggest of the year – with its astrological emphasis on balance, harmony, and being in right relation with all, welcomes Passover and Easter and amplifies the significance of these holy days.  I take a moment to reach out from our home – where we are well – to yours…

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

May the moments of anxiety and unease be few and far between.

May grief with what is now over and what is now lost, be borne with an open heart,
and flow through you as the fresh watered river.

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

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

May the slow and quiet bring you clear insight and deep illumination,
helping you discern your next wise step.

May gratitude and generosity, kindness and grace be your constant companions.

– KW –
2020

My Life My Prayer

I love our Annie dog for her daily nudging to get outside and walk – her, me, us. Like clockwork, come early afternoon she’ll fetch me. Typically finds me sitting at my computer so it’s easy to put the full weight of her head on my arm to signal, COME. She is patient and knows it might take a minute or several, and I have a commitment to her, to come.

We’ve had a cold start to spring, with lots of snow, and this week, temperatures well below freezing, and well below that with wind chill. Frankly, oddly perhaps, I’m grateful. Because this prolonged winter with its invitation to cocoon, might help us all “stay home” and do our personal best to contain this, as yet, incessant spread of COVID-19. Yesterday afternoon, another brilliant blue sky sunny cold day, Annie and I were the only ones on the path through our bit of urban nature, the golf course five minutes from home. It’s spacious, lined with trees – cottonwood and aspen, mayday and spruce. It’s quiet enough to hear waxwings twitter, sparrows chirp, and now the returning geese honk. And it’s open enough to see wide expanses of sky and clouds floating overhead.

Lately, with the sun higher in the sky, we’ve taken to sitting on a bench at one of the tee-offs. I help Annie up and nestled in the crook of my side, with my arm holding her warm, we sit together and take in the view, breathe in the scent.

Lately, I find myself praying – to the sun and the moon, and the stars and clouds, to the sky and the trees and the wind and the birds, to the god of my being and beyond. Sometimes silent, but often out loud, with Annie as my witness, I say “thank you” for as much and as many as I can remember in the moment. I speak my worries. I ask for guidance and help to stay present with the “bigness, muchness, fullness”of these unraveling times. And I ask that my life be my prayer.

“It is a serious thing
just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in this broken world.”

Mary Oliver, Redwing, 2008

“And I pray….my life is a prayer more conscientiously now.” I first spoke these words in an email to a dear friend a few weeks back. It just came, in the moment, fingers pecking at the keyboard. I paused. True, and what does this mean? How does one live one’s life as prayer? 

In a first draft of this post, I had a list of things that I’m doing. But when I “winnow to essence,” the simplest, truest response is notice, name and thank people being and bringing their best to the world. Be kindness. Be.

“It is a great gift to yourself and also to the world…
to get settled inside yourself,
to know what it is to befriend reality,
to figure out how to stay soft.”

Krista Tippett, On Being, 2020

There are moments when this hardly feels enough. When I hear of friends living on the brink, doing all they can, moment by moment, to recreate business plans to stay afloat. Or those who have been laid off as community services shutter. Or learn it’s a distant family member stuck on the cruise ship no port had permitted safe harbour until now, wondering if her spouse, diagnosed positive, will make it home, alive. Or read the text from my “sister” in Germany, she in self isolation with a chronic respiratory condition, but on the phone day and night with her team of pharmacists to ensure the best care for their community, while frantically sourcing medicines that are fast running out.

Then a wave of sadness.

Then a deep breath to remember this is my offering. It comes from my deepest regard and kindness. With the highest intention, for the good of all. 

It has to be enough. 

“Enough. These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.
This opening to life
we have refused
again and again
until now.
Until now.”

 

David Whyte, Where Many Rivers Meet, 1990

 

Holy Grief, Holy Gratitude, Holy Love

Yesterday I woke early with my husband. Our patterns are different. He, the perennial night owl, typically rises later, giving me my cherished quiet hours, giving me delight in tending to Annie who is always eager for her breakfast, always entering the day in a great flourish. I love that about her, about him.

Yesterday the sun shone bright in the early morning sky, giving glisten to the fresh skiff of snow. The sky, that signature Alberta blue, void of cloud, full of invisible stars and moon now new holding quiet hope for its next waxing.

Read the story posted by a local nurse in one of our hospitals describing the toll on her and her colleagues working in these rigorous, strict, uncertain conditions. Describing grief, hers, theirs, their patients. A story no longer anonymous on the page or screen. It comes home, here and now.

Listen to “my” radio station (the one I helped raise from the ashes of mismanagement years ago) and note how each of the  programmers carefully selects tunes to support the artists whose concerts and tours have been dashed, and to entertain and inspire us. I send a quick email to the morning programmer. His signature joy-filled voice and appreciative nature, always appreciated, are now an especially welcome start to my day. A quick station change to hear our national station has committed to several hours of daily programming exclusively featuring our Canadian artists. Each doing what they can to acknowledge, to support, to say thank you.

Drive along that well driven work route, usually busy with fellow commuters, now quiet, with only a city bus turning the corner on its well driven route, a city snow plough dusting off that night fall. Stopped at the lights, I mouth a “thank you” across the lane to the fellow driving the sidewalk sweeper.

Suddenly tears come fast, blurring my vision. I pull over to give myself over to it. The remarkable, poignant realization – again – that every one of us living on this precious planet is going through all of this together, alone together. The odd beauty in this odd symmetry of circumstance. The enormity of it all, simply gave way in the face of noticing on another blessedly brilliant blue sky sunny cold day.  It pierced my already full heart and my tears came.

 

Perspectives with Panache, 2020

In these days of “compassionate retreat,” we wax and wane with the spectrum of emotions. We learn to welcome grief in all her variations – sorrow, fear, anxiety, doubt, cynicism, impatience, irritability, despair, numbness, denial – and know it’s all true.

We hold our hearts overflowing with compassion, wonder, healing and grace, and know it’s all true.

We notice moment by moment the small and large kindnesses of others, the gestures of care and concern, the abilities to stay connected, the beauty of another day, the laughter in a joke shared, the sacred sacrifices of every blessed person in every essential services across every community that keep us going. We know it’s all true.

And we know,
This is Holy Grief.
This is Holy Gratitude.
This is Holy Love.

May it be so.

Perspectives with Panache, 2020

 

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