To Be Astonished

In reflection to a prompt from last week’s theme in Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist – “Creative Work as Vocation and Holy Service” – a powerful memory was evoked of a group activity of deep listening and sensing into space and collective. Thirty or so of us standing in a room led by a famous percussionist were invited to make a brief improv musical composition using only six sounds, one of each assigned to each of us, to be used only once. Like the maestro, he signaled the start and as I listened, waiting for when to make my contribution with my sound, it became apparent that staying silent was most needed for the coherence of the emerging melody.

“Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
astonished.”

Mary Oliver, The Messenger

Over the years, calling back that visceral experience has always been a profound, astonishing even, lesson of  the discernment and value of silence, stillness and spaciousness in works that matter.

Last week that memory gave me a fresh way into understanding my place right now. The waxing and waning between finally feeling – after several fallow and lost months of grieving my sudden, unexpected arrival at “retirement” –  for the first time in my life, a deep contentment with not working, AND, too,  missing the ways in which I had worked, been of service, made a living. Missing the known and felt meaning and value I gave and received for my work. Such missing occasionally “stings” as my circle of women friends are still so employed or creating their “encore” careers.

“Our daily work may rise out of our true calling in the world, or it may just pay the bills; either way, we each have a vocation. We each were given certain gifts to offer in service to others. Our calling is deeply connected to our creativity. The truths we long to express in the world and the way we feel moved to give form to beauty are signs of the Spirit at work in us. Vocation is a daily invitation to be fully who we are and to allow our lives to unfold in ways that are organic to this deepest identity.” 

Christine Valters Paintner, The Artist’s Rule, 2011

So how, now in my autumn years, will this unfamiliar “non work” become my “love made visible” in counter-cultural, less obvious, silent, still and spacious ways? How, as I find myself living a long-held dream of having expanses of time and space, unfettered by plans and obligation (thanks in part to the pandemic), may creativity emerge as vocation, take form as holy service? How do I learn to be astonished?

A cursory inventory:

  • Shifting my perspective to give value to home care, meal preparation, dog walking as my labors of love.
  • Trusting that the beauty I notice and express, via written word and photograph – in my blog, on social media, in my practice of hand writing note cards sent to friends – are an offering of my life as poem and prayer.
  • Remembering my meditation and prayer, a lit candle, and passing thought for another, known or unknown, are silent weavings for healing and community.
  • Giving space for my holy grief, holy gratitude and holy love creates space for others to do so.
  • Sitting with the questions of my heart, in the tension of knowing a greater plan is at work, revealed only – word by word, brush stroke by brush stroke, action by action – in the ordinary living into each day.
  • Learning to “move at the pace of guidance,” heeding the wisdom of energies seen and unseen.

“We make what we make, we give a gift, not only through what we make or do, but in the way we feel as we do, and even, in the way others witness us in our feeling and doing, giving to them as they give to us…a work and an identity that holds both together, not only for an end, but for every step that shapes an onward way.” 

David Whyte, “Work,” in Consolations, 2015

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

To Have Enough Room

BLESSING THAT BECOMES EMPTY AS IT GOES

This blessing
keeps nothing
for itself.
You can find it
by following the path
of what it has let go,
of what it has learned
it can live without.

Say this blessing out loud
a few times
and you will hear
the hollow places
within it,
how it echoes
in a way
that gives your voice
back to you
as if you had never
heard it before.

Yet this blessing
would not be mistaken
for any other,
as if,
in its emptying,
it had lost
what makes it
most itself.

It simply desires
to have room enough
to welcome
what comes.

Today,
it’s you.

So come and sit
in this place
made holy
by its hollows.
You think you have
too much to do,
too little time,
too great a weight
of responsibility
that none but you
can carry.

I tell you,
lay it down.
Just for a moment,
if that’s what you
can manage at first.
Five minutes.
Lift up your voice—
in laughter,
in weeping,
it does not matter—
and let it ring against
these spacious walls.

Do this
until you can hear
the spaces within
your own breathing.
Do this
until you can feel
the hollow in your heart
where something
is letting go,
where something
is making way.

– Jan Richardson –
Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons

Day 2 and then some

It’s happened. In the last two days I’ve learned of people I know having their lives impacted by COVID-19. Up until now it’s been something “out there.” Now it’s landed on my doorstep, making these past six months less surreal.

A few weeks ago, while walking Annie, I listened to the second season opener of Brene Brown’s Unlocking Us podcasts. Titled “Day 2” she describes how now, six months into the pandemic, it’s not getting any easier for us. In fact, in a counter-intuitive way, it’s harder. We tell ourselves we should be getting the hang of it, but no. Like the Day 2 of her three-day training events, or what in my profession’s parlance we call the “groan zone”: when, after settling in and getting to know each other, playing around with new concepts and ideas with everything “out there”, the rubber hits the road when we realize, often with resistance, that for any traction and way forward to occur, we need to do a lot of internal pushing, shifting, and changing. We feel awkward, anxious, angry. Tired. Doubting. We want to turn around, get out, and dust ourselves off.

“…let me tell you,
day two of these three-day trainings sucked.
I mean sucked. So not only in terms of the curriculum,
day two meant that we were moving into some of the really tough content, like shame and worthiness, but people were also kind of feeling raw. The first day of anything like the first day of school, the first day of a training, the first day of your work, you’re like, I get the badge and everything’s shiny, and everything feels like a new undertaking, and there’s this sparkle of possibility. By day two, this is dulled. And now you’re kind of in this dense fog where you don’t have the shiny possibility of day one or the running toward the finish line of day three. It’s like hitting the wall.”

Brene Brown, “Day 2,” on Unlocking Us, September 2, 2020

I’d been feeling and saying pretty much the same thing this summer. And while I didn’t think I had a timeline for this thing, knew enough to cancel a September return to Morocco way back in March, heard about the “second wave”, in all honesty, in some deep place, I was holding out hope we’d be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel by now, driving towards it. Instead it feels as messy as ever. But now, since yesterday, much more real.

“…we’re in the dark, the doors close behind us,
we’re too far in to turn around and
not close enough to the end to see the light…”

Brene Brown, “Day 2,” on Unlocking Us, September 2, 2020

Yesterday I went to the store to fetch groceries for my friend, and I swear to God, as I put the mask on my face, my brain fell out. I couldn’t make sense of the store aisle arrows, of how close or far I was to the next person. My glasses kept fogging up. When I finally got ready to checkout, I started placing my items on the conveyor belt before the customer ahead had finished. Yes, I was safely distanced, but the clerk kindly asked me to wait until she had sprayed and wiped the entire belt making it safe and ready for me. Of course, I should have known that. Then I told her I needed two receipts, different bags – theirs they’d pack, mine I needed bag myself – where was my store card? my credit card? Flustered, I finally confessed, “I’m usually pretty competent, but today, I can’t multitask worth a damn.” She laughed with me. Grateful for her kindness, I muddled through, got outside, whipped off my mask, and breathing deep while sitting in my car, realized how rattled I was and why. COVID-19 had arrived on my doorstep.

 “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

Today is a better day. In fact, the whole of last week was grand, even yesterday, grocery shopping aside, or maybe, paradoxically, because of it. September on the prairies can be a glorious month, and after our second wet, cold summer, she’s pulling out all the stops for us. And October is looking pretty good, too. Every day I walk, I’m enthralled with what I see around me. My basic, single lens phone camera is working a surprising magic.

And those plans I’d put in place – in anticipation of this messy middle, to help me flourish after having felt fallow for months – are panning out beautifully. I’ll write more about that in weeks to come. But for now, I’ll give Brene the last word:

“The middle is messy, but it’s also where the magic happens.
If we believe in ourselves, if we reach out together,
and if we lean into a little bit of that grace that says,
‘We can get through this.'”

Brene Brown, “Day 2,” on Unlocking Us, September 2, 2020

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Alchemy

“Praying. It doesn’t have to be the blue iris,
it could be weeds in a vacant lot, or a few small stones;
just pay attention, then patch a few words together
and don’t try to make them elaborate,
this isn’t a contest but the doorway into thanks,
and a silence in which another voice may speak.”

Mary Oliver

I pray. Not so often in that formal, elaborate, church going way. But when I think of Anne Lamott’s two best prayers, “Help me, help me, help me,” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” I’m devout.

Too, when I sit during my favourite time of day, in the still and quiet morning, before sunrise – which comes earlier now – and look out onto the trees, now still full of leaves, but soon, soon, bare limbed and yes, snow covered. Or when I’m beside Annie on “her” sofa, my hand resting on her head, her front paw resting on my arm. Those count too, I think.

I’ve written about more consciously living my life as prayer since the pandemic, one of its gifts. Though when I posted about getting lost during my medicine walk, how I’d managed to manifest into the 3D physical, my interior lostness, I now admit to having felt shy to say that I’d prayed as I’d been taught, it being part of the preparation for a medicine walk and fasting quest. To offer thanks, to ask for guidance and protection at the threshold between one’s urban, more mundane life and the wilder, nature bound, sacred space beyond. Anne Lamott’s “thank you, help me” kind of prayer. And I chanted on the trail for hundreds of steps, the Buddhist mantra “om mani padme hum,” to keep myself company, and let anyone out there, hidden in the woods, know I was around. My vocal version of a bear bell.

Truth be told, I absolutely believe those prayers helped me get found, safe and sound. Helped me avoid any wildlife encounters beyond bird song, dragonflies, and scat. Like when I realized I’d lost the diamond stud earring, a cherished gift from my husband, and prayed for its return. Three days later, after retracing all my steps and stops, I took a chance to revisit the gym where I’d played pickleball. Earlier when I’d called to ask if it had been found, I’d been told they’d taken down the nets, swept the floors, and installed equipment and inflatables for children coming to play during spring break, but I persisted. Walking carefully, head bent, l traced the room’s periphery, breaking the rule to cross beyond the “stay away” sign to where the inflatable was plugged in. There it was, on the floor, inches away from the socket. How it had not been spotted by anyone plugging in and pulling out that cord for several days, was my answered prayer. Admittedly trivial in the scheme of life, with its tragedy, so much going seemingly from bad to worse every day, especially this year, but for me a vivid, visceral reminder.

When I somewhat sheepishly shared my lost on the Lost Lake trail story with my friends who had served as my quest guides last year, they said that what shone through was my recognition of prayer and its power. That yes, I had been held safe by an ancient benevolent wisdom found in nature. That I had surrendered to it when I knew I didn’t have the balance to cross the fallen tree across the “how deep” stream. Had I, I would have become even further astray. That I had remembered a line of poetry to tell me to stand still in the forest when I knew I was lost. That I had a phone and service. That I’d taken the map with emergency contact numbers. That the warden was back from vacation just that very day. That she was in that particular park, given her area of responsibility is all the public spaces spanning hundreds of kilometres to the west. That she could come and get me with her truck. That I hadn’t been stalked by the coyotes that had stalked another woman and her dogs on the same trail. That the sun shone and breeze blew comfortably. That the shots I heard fired by hunters were well beyond into another neck of the woods. That I had water, food, and time. Yes, I had prepared, and yes, I had been heard.

In that same conversation, we talked about the world, about their country, its upcoming presidential election, the pandemic impacts of COVID-19 and racism. It was before the forest fires burned into three states, leaving death and destruction, orange skies and zero visibility in their wake. I shared feeling that tension of wanting to do something to help and not knowing what. I emailed to them the next day:

… I realized I have felt “spellbound” by thinking I must do something, and not knowing what TO DO. But knowing, I do know how to pray. 

Many times I’m sense my thinking is foggy and lazy, that it isn’t “cogent” or coherent, that I can’t put together a compelling argument of defense. And then it came to me, this is the feminine way – to feel my way through a depth of complexity that is dark and foggy, that isn’t necessarily, yet, cogent nor coherent.

You wrote to me, gifted me, once with the invocation that I recognize with increasing vividness that I know what I know, that find myself less and less inclined to self-doubt, meekness and hesitation.

So, yes, I know the power of prayer.

I know too, the making of beauty.

Let the beauty that you love be what you do.

Rumi

I know the power of prayer and the making of beauty are my offerings for social action, for social change.

And this I know is alchemy.

With love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Praise Song for the Pandemic

Season's End, Perspectives with Panache, 2019

PRAISE SONG FOR THE PANDEMIC

Praise be the nurses and doctors, every medical staff bent over flesh to offer care, for lives saved and lives lost, for showing up either way,

Praise for the farmers, tilling soil, planting seeds so food can grow, an act of hope if ever there was,

Praise be the janitors and garbage collectors, the grocery store clerks, and the truck drivers barreling through long quiet nights,

Give thanks for bus drivers, delivery persons, postal workers, and all those keeping an eye on water, gas, and electricity,

Blessings on our leaders, making hard choices for the common good, offering words of assurance,

Celebrate the scientists, working away to understand the thing that plagues us, to find an antidote, all the medicine makers, praise be the journalists keeping us informed,

Praise be the teachers, finding new ways to educate children from afar, and blessings on parents holding it together for them,

Blessed are the elderly and those with weakened immune systems, all those who worry for their health, praise for those who stay at home to protect them,

Blessed are the domestic violence victims, on lock down with abusers, the homeless and refugees,

Praise for the poets and artists, the singers and storytellers, all those who nourish with words and sound and color,

Blessed are the ministers and therapists of every kind, bringing words of comfort,

Blessed are the ones whose jobs are lost, who have no savings, who feel fear of the unknown gnawing,

Blessed are those in grief, especially who mourn alone, blessed are those who have passed into the Great Night,

Praise for police and firefighters, paramedics, and all who work to keep us safe, praise for all the workers and caregivers of every kind,

Praise for the sound of notifications, messages from friends reaching across the distance, give thanks for laughter and kindness,

Praise be our four-footed companions, with no forethought or anxiety, responding only in love,

Praise for the seas and rivers, forests and stones who teach us to endure,

Give thanks for your ancestors, for the wars and plagues they endured and survived, their resilience is in your bones, your blood,

Blessed is the water that flows over our hands and the soap that helps keep them clean, each time a baptism,

Praise every moment of stillness and silence, so new voices can be heard, praise the chance at slowness,

Praise be the birds who continue to sing the sky awake each day, praise for the primrose poking yellow petals from dark earth, blessed is the air clearing overhead so one day we can breathe deeply again,

And when this has passed may we say that love spread more quickly than any virus ever could, may we say this was not just an ending but also a place to begin.

– Christine Valters Paintner –
Abbey of the Arts
2020

As we head into our 7th month of living in the pandemic, I wanted to share this poem, now making special mention of all the teachers around the world, who as another lovely poet wrote this week: “To All the Teachers, we see you turning your hearts into classrooms where not even masks can block out your love.” bentlily by Samantha Reynolds

Praise be the teachers.

With love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Closer to Home

Thinking about this week’s post came from a few rambling experiences finally resting on the need and practicality of being closer to home.

Lifting a page from the books of some friends, we’ve taken a couple of day trips to see some local sights, obscure and otherwise. Like most folks these days, we’ve opted for the “staycation,” sticking closer to home, not yet venturing far enough for an overnight accommodation. While the mountains call, from what we hear people are flocking in droves to Jasper, Banff and Canmore, so we’ll hold off until…. Plus, we didn’t want to kennel Annie. She’s been such a stalwart companion these months, relying on us as much as we her for a steady supply of love and attention. We just didn’t have the heart to leave her cooped up with strangers. And being on leash, the only way in the mountains, gets pretty frustrating with so much wild scent around. After all, she’s a bird dog. Scenting, hunting, stalking and pointing are her nature.

So a drive east down a prairie highway to Viking, a right turn south across the rolling pastures and freshly cut hay fields, up the hill to a white fence enclosing the two Viking Ribstones. An ancient aboriginal site, now adorned with colourful prayer cloths, these large quarzite boulders were carved thousands of years ago to resemble the ribcages of the revered bison, the main source of sustenance for the plains people.

Last week, north and east to Metis Crossing, we spent another few hot, sunny hours enjoying the quiet of this cultural interpretative centre along the shores of the North Saskatchewan River. Bison sausage with saskatoon relish, bannock with fresh rhubarb jelly and saskatoon lemonade were in keeping with history and today’s garden harvest. Flowers grew in abundance.

A stop en route at the Skaro Grotto.

I’d like for us to make a further trek south towards Rosebud and Blackfoot Crossing. That landscape of treeless, golden high prairie cut by deep coulees green with willow and cottonwood, set against an endless horizon of blue begs acknowledgement that it, too, is as magnificent as the mountains. An acknowledgement I’m only too willing to give, though it would be a long day.

This weekend would have been the 40th anniversary of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. It, like every other festival in Alberta and large gatherings around the world, was cancelled due to the pandemic. Here, every summer weekend we watch rodeos, listen to music of every genre, see theatre at the famous Fringe festival, revel in parades and gatherings celebrating culture and heritage. We mark our all too short summer with one or several of these “must attends.” It’s helps us get through winters that go on and on. All weekend my radio station, CKUA, an ardent supporter of Alberta culture, featured music and interviews from past years’ performers, while the Festival commissioned a full-length film feature, The Hill, to stream and hosted over fifty videos of past performances. As beautiful the efforts to be on “the hill at home,” as I drove past the festival site early Saturday morning, a time when any other year I’d see orange vested volunteers managing traffic, I felt a bit bereft and wondered, when, if ever, would, what has been called North America’s finest folk festival, return. I recalled having had my first pandemic meltdown, weeping the morning I heard it, and my go to, the Canmore Folk Festival, had been cancelled. The ebbing and flowing, waxing and waning of grief. That day it came closer to home and landed on my doorstep.

Yesterday I zoomed in on a conversation hosted by Melanie Falik, author of the recently published Making A Life: Working By Hand and Discovering the Life You Are Meant to Live. A few hundred people from around the world, mostly knitters, listened along. As a kind of checkout, we were invited to type in the chat box one project we’d start this week. I got to thinking that for the past week or so I’d been saying out loud that I needed a project. Something I could sink my teeth into. Something on which to focus my ebbing and flowing, waxing and waning energy. Something besides cooking that would engage my curiosity and creativity.

The photo books from this past year’s trips are done. I’m writing a bit. I’m still committed to not learning how to bake sourdough bread, nor grow a garden (hell, I’m having enough of a time picking slugs off my flowers, and we love the bounty from our bi-weekly CSA, thank you). Like most knitters, though I blush to call myself such, I have a started sweater in a bag and a few patterns and skeins waiting in the bin. But I hardly need more sweaters, or scarves, or shawls, even if Friday’s sudden cold weather reminds me what’s coming.

No, what I realized, as I knitted together these recent bits of my life, was that the dreams I’d been keeping, hoping to sustain me through these days of uncertainty and change, were too far out of reach. I knew I couldn’t hold my breath as long as it would take, if ever, to return to the folk festival as I had known it, or to Morocco as I’d planned for this September. I realized I needed to dream closer to home.

I have no idea what dream or project. Not yet.
But I feel a smile inside and out as I begin to wonder and feel those energies shimmer, swirl and coalesce.

With love and kindest regards.

A Couple of Covid Summer Days

Driving along a prairie east west highway, see
tawny hawks sit still and solemn on weathered wooden fence posts
gazing out over the sun yellow canola fields
bordered by green grass and blue sky.
While crows hop on the edges of pot-hole ponds,
and others soar on invisible cloudless slipstreams.

The linden tree we planted to replace the “sacred” grove of aspens,
(those four slender white trunks and limbs finally reached their natural end)
is now in full golden blossom, gives off that
subtle, yet distinguishable sweet fragrance
attracting big-bottomed bumblebees by the dozen.

This day I sit on the café patio of a favourite garden store.
The masked hostess initially said there’d be an hour wait,
then quickly waived it and me to the perfect table.
Such kindness these days so easily
brings me,
touches me,
moves me
to tears. Thankful for sunglasses. I can see out. She can’t see in.

Creamy globes of hydrangea, some in pots, others topiary trees.
Their petals flutter in a balmy breeze I’ve longed for ages to feel.

Piano muzak and signature water fountains, my aural companions.
Another day of cloudless blue soothing warmth.
Background melodies blur nearby conversations,
but accentuate my silent solitude.
Those familiar invite a slippery slope of remembering when

I was last here…lunch with friends,
Winter cold.
Swaddled in sweaters and down, toques, gloves and coats.
Warm in the glow of time shared.

Floating down the river as a teenager with my girlfriends, or
lounging on the air mattress in the cold quarry waters.
Music blasting from the boom box above.
Carefully passing the joint,
we be jammin’.

My spoon glides through
the layers of light whipped cream,
denser coconut cream,
then break though oven crisp pastry.
My raison d’etre this favourite dessert.

Pachelbel’s canon whispers, evokes
body memory to breathe slower, deeper.
And then, like that golden dragonfly I watch
my thoughts
lift and land lightly

a friend who lost her husband to suicide
another her brother
won’t linger too long here,
just enough for a steady pause and heartfelt prayer.

Finally a long awaited week of summer
where the yellow circle weather icons make it possible to plan

a picnic,
a patio visit,
an alfresco dinner with friends,
another day long road trip.

Slugs shrivel. Flowers flourish.
Farmers’ crops and home gardens ripen,
promising a bounty this week.Perspectives with Panache, 2020Hallelujah! Cohen’s chords now proclaim.
Bill received and paid.
Thanks be given.

Way Closed, Way Open

The Quakers have a saying “the way will open.” I first encountered it when reading Let Your Life Speak (too, a Quaker quote) by a favourite writer, Parker J. Palmer. I first “met” Parker when I read his book The Courage to Teach, for me, the quintessential description of teaching. Meaningful because it focused on the inner life of a teacher, being premised on the idea that “good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” (10)

“Way will open.” Parker described a time in his life when he struggled with “what next” in his career. Perplexed and frustrated, he believed in the notion of career as vocation, that to live a meaningful life, he needed work which aligned with an inner calling, where, as Frederick Buechner says, “your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” Taking his growing angst to his friends in the Quaker community, Parker learned that while many see the “way open,” others are guided by “way closed,” all the ways that do not and cannot happen in one’s life.

During these “49 million days” of self-distancing (thanks, Glennon Doyle), I watch this dynamic play out in the pandemic: “way closed” in family, community, city, country, global lock downs – with the obvious and yet to be understood impacts, costs, deaths, endings, gifts and blessings – and “way opening” as we, at every scale around the world, cautiously, more or less, engage in re-opening strategies. Right now, most apparent, the relief and happiness to be let out of our rooms and back in to life as we’ve known it, wearing masks – or not, keeping our safe two meter distance – or not, planning our next vacations – or not, get back to work – or not. Still so many “nots.”

Come, even if you have broken
your vow a hundred times.
Come, come again, come.”

Rumi

The past week’s focus in The Soul of a Pilgrim is “beginning again,” the sixth of eight practices. A curious synchronicity that the arbitrary start date for this program would now coincide with these local and global re-opening plans. This practice of beginning again understands that one’s commitment waxes and wanes. Within the context of this pandemic, we might hear the call to embark on pilgrimage (practice #1, hearing the call and responding), using this time for inner house cleaning, soul work. We might make the choice to heed, not knowing the destination nor even what the journey entails, or simply find ourselves on the path as a matter of circumstance, not by choice. And then, we wonder how the hell we got here and how the hell do we get off (practice #6 beginning again).

We do our best with what we have, perhaps even discarding what no longer serves (practice # 2, packing lightly). We might try to find or make meaning of these odd, “fft” (f’ing first times, thanks Brene Brown) experiences (practice #3, crossing the threshold; practice #4, making the way by walking). We’re numb with disbelief that something invisible to the human eye has the capacity, without exception or distinction, to render millions sick and many thousands dead. It continues to perplex the most skilled and wisest among us, keeping steps ahead, leaving us weary with vigilance, wanting simply for it to be gone, or us immune, so we can get back to living our lives, praying somehow we’ll escape a second, even third wave. (practice #5, being uncomfortable).

This week I had a temper tantrum. Getting ready for an appointment with my chiropractor, I was running late. (How that can be, when I have nothing that pressing going on in my life, only pages and pages of empty space in my daytimer, is beyond me!) Appreciating their rigorous safety protocols, thought I’d do my part by wearing my mask. Couldn’t get the damned thing to stay up on the back of my head, with my glasses, them now steamed up as much as I. Realized wearing earrings was a stupid choice, getting stuck in the elastic. Gave up lipstick weeks ago as it only smeared. Took more time than dressing for 40 below. And when it was all done, so was I. Quite ready to bust out, go to Costco, among the imagined throngs of people, no mask, no gloves, wandering the aisles, taking my time, mindlessly looking at stuff, tasting stuff. The more time the better. No bleeping arrows telling me which aisle to go up and down, no red tape marking off my space. No one asking me the same stupid screening questions I’d just answered at the last place. I’d f#*!&ing had it with Covid-19. I’d already broken the rule last week when I hugged a friend (first time other than my husband in four months) and walked with her, hardly keeping our safe distance. And my husband stopped by his local version of “Cheers” to enjoy a pint with the only four folks there, all safely distanced. Our first big blow-up during these 49 million days as we’d not talked about the implications for each other, and ourselves in doing so.

No sense to be made. No meaning to come. Yes, reconciliation. But way had definitely closed.

Too, I realized I’m feeling out of step with the “way open” of a new season. After two days of much needed rain, spring is full out blooming, blossoming, greening and growing. A riot of colour decks doorsteps and gardens. Birds amorously announce dawn’s four o’clock arrival.

But I’m feeling fallow.  The threshold space between way closed, way open. I know this might sound whiney. I know this is a wee fingernail experience. And I know, it’s all true. That perhaps, you, too, dear reader, have had your own meltdown(s).

So how to practice beginning again, to see “way open?”
How to begin again making my life my prayer?

“Open your eyes and see there
are no more words…
but only the shimmering presence of your
own attention to life.

Only one great miracle unfolding and
only one sacred word which is 
yes.”

Christine Valters Paintner, “How to Feel the Sap Rising, “
excerpt, in The Soul of a Pilgrim, 2015

I wake early.
The old cuckoo calls three. By four I rise quietly.
Tie my robe close, softly pad downstairs, put on the kettle for tea.
After an hour scanning the morning paper, emails, social media,
I notice the light changing, the day breaking.
Step into my sitting space and see shimmering
our last old mayday tree draped with white lacy blossoms, 
tall stalks of purple pink bergenia bells,
this sudden lush and verdant backyard life after two days’ soaking rain.

Yes, to this attention to life.
Yes, to this miracle unfolding.

But truthfully, in the stillness of this early morning,
my inner yes to the all of life right now is
reluctant, doubting, hesitant, scared.

And while my habit would be to
push, fix, deny, admonish,
the best I can do is to
open my arms,
receive and say welcome.

Yes, you are home.

Lost

Last week’s spoken weariness persists. Now with another soupçon of sadness. I think of Rumi and his guest house, welcoming all these sensations and feelings as guides from beyond. I continue to practice the art of sitting in the void of uncertainty, in the tension of it all, of it all being true.

Too, I continue my participation in The Soul of a Pilgrim. It’s become a way to chronicle my reactions and response to the pandemic within the context of these eight practices. Last week, the fifth, the practice of being uncomfortable, particularly with being lost.

In the week’s online conversation, and in anticipation of how I’d create a scenario walking in my neighborhood where I’d feel lost, get lost, be lost, I posted this favourite poem, Lost, as a guide for me and others.

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

David Wagoner, 1999

The evening I set out, was initially along the familiar route, with our Annie dog leading the way. With each step, I recalled those times I’ve been lost, or more significantly, worked to not get lost. With each step, I felt the discomfort of my body tightening, butterflies in my gut, my head straining to figure it out, find my way.

Travelling solo in Europe in my fifth decade. Late to the party, I never did the university gap year, backpack, Eurail pass thing. I finally made that long held dream come true, thanks to a deferred salary leave which allowed me to travel for three months. I remembered arriving in Venice at the beginning of Carnavale, disembarking from the train, stepping down onto the platform to catch a water ferry, and find my way to my apartment. Almost a decade ago, the borrowed cellphone didn’t work. Wifi was sketchy at best. But constant as a northern star, the kindness of strangers helped me arrive and make a quick email connection with my husband to let him know I’d arrived safely, the one and only
during that leg of the trip.

I’d always considered myself poor with directions, but that trip, those three months, taught me otherwise. Perhaps I erred on the side of over-vigilance, but travelling alone, in low season winter and spring, when the days were short, I did what I needed to stay “found”, using my paper map, practicing walking routes to train stations to estimate time, asking for help, photographing landmarks to get me “home.” It was all about self-care, managing my anxiety, not getting too overwhelmed with the “bigness, muchness, fullness” of it all that was new, alluring, exciting, different. For me, travelling alone, getting lost would not add to the experience.

Those memories and visceral feelings walked with me and Annie as we approached the school playground. I was struck by the oddness, the “wrongness” of not seeing any children playing on the equipment, not seeing their parents watching them, on this sunny early evening. I felt lost in this pandemic scenario.

Even though Annie and I walked along different streets that evening, some, for all the years I’ve lived here, I’d never walked nor driven down before, the lost I felt was an interior one, grieving so much which is no longer, and wondering, will it ever be again.

This lost has weighed heavy these past days. Here in Canada, it’s our first long weekend of the summer. It’s been unseasonably cold across the country, with snow falling, oddly even, in more temperate locations. While it makes easier not getting together with friends for barbeques or going to the greenhouses for bedding plants, it’s not supposed to be this way. And yet it is.

Last night over dinner, I wept. Then a chance viewing one of our iconic folk-rock bands, Blue Rodeo, sing their anthem song, We Are Lost Together, with Canadians at home, I wept some more.

Of among hundreds in this global online community, one woman responded to my writing with this lovely insight:

I appreciate your reflection on the inner experience of ‘lostness’ – how brave of you to do Europe like that, ‘late to the party’ as you called it.  And the irony that for all its challenges and your self-belief about your poor sense of direction you were not once lost.  And yet something of this time and its strangeness in the midst of your familiar surroundings can induce the sense of lostness and one that ‘weighs heavy’.   I find myself identifying with you, thank you Katharine.”    

I felt seen. The lost that had weighed heavy became lighter with connection.

Well and Weary

It’s been a good two months living in this history making Covid-19 time. Socially distanced. Compassionately retreated. Many of us are baking bread, Marie Kondo-ing our homes, cleaning our yards, walking, taking photos or organizing those we took, ordering take-out, reading, streaming movies, watching YouTube travel videos, zooming meetings, face-timing our family and friends.

We adapt. It’s one of our long and strong suits.

On the surface, life in and around our home is pretty much the same as it ever was. Quiet, with few interruptions except for a parcel delivery, and Annie “guard dogging” with her barks whenever anyone walks by, or rings the doorbell. Funny thing, she doesn’t differentiate if it’s the same person walking by. A neighbor has taken to walking circuits around the green space in our cul de sac. Every five minutes or so, there he goes past our house, and there she goes. We could set a timer with her barking.

And yet, truth be told, in the past week I’ve been feeling weary. Well yes, and weary. This cycle of growing daylight interrupts my sleep patterns. Finally, I’ve learned to keep my sleep mask under my pillow if not on my head. Several recent episodes of early morning insomnia in the past week, like right now, when I’ve been awake since two. Four hours sleep, and if I’m lucky, perhaps a couple more as the sun rises and the robins lullaby me into dreamtime.

“Things falling apart is a kind of testing
and also a kind of healing.
We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved.
They come together and they fall apart.
Then they come together again and fall apart again.
It’s just like that.
The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart, 1996

But this is different. Last week, I listened to the news that Alberta’s honey production has been seriously impacted by the loss of 50,000 hives and how would they be replaced given pandemic-imposed travel restrictions. This became another proverbial straw this time broke on the back of knowing each day more and more of the pandemic’s pervasive personal and global impacts and implications. Using as metaphor from one of those travel YouTube videos I’d been watching, I feel like I’m on a train travelling through a mountain tunnel. It’s dark as pitch, and while I trust there will be a light at the end, I have no idea how wide the mountain we burrowing through, how long before I see light, nor will I recognize anything once through and on the other side?

I am weary.
Heavy with the weight of so much
unknown so much
unravelling,
with each day’s turning into this new season of
hope and rebirth.
I am stretched with a tender tension,
the holding of what is over,
the hoping for what may come.

Ever late to the party, last week I started walking Annie and listening to podcasts. I heard Krista Tippett from her OnBeing podcasts speak to the very real fatigue of virtually connecting.  Calling it “zoomzaustion,” our heads and hearts feel good seeing and hearing each other on our devices, but our bodies miss the very real enlivening energy flow we give and get only when in the physical presence of others. These months of not being physically present with friends, unable to visit family are exacting a toll, even though I’m home in good loving company.

“The only time we ever know what’s really going on
is when the rug’s been pulled out and we can’t find anywhere to land. We use these situations either to wake ourselves up or
to put ourselves to sleep.
Right now — in the very instant of groundlessness — is
the seed of taking care of those who need our care and
of discovering our goodness.”

Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart, 1996

During the weekend we dined on take out. It’s our commitment to “live local with love” and support local chefs by once a week ordering in dinner. A mix up with the order meant I sat and waited in the empty but for chef and staff restaurant as our food was prepared. First time visit, I was struck by the attractive décor, the open kitchen, the hip music. Staff were pleasant, apologetic, offered me a glass of BC sparkling wine to pass the time. Food delivered, bill paid, goodbyes and well wishes exchanged, once home and chowing down, my husband and I both remarked on the heart and soul put into creating that space, making this food, serving their customers, realizing a vision; on the questionable future to sustain themselves under their current pivot business plan, as opening under the province’s re-entry plan, with 50% capacity and the required 2 metre distance between tables would ensure bankruptcy.

Today, I’d hoped to have a “safe distance” walk with my friend in celebration of her birthday. “Thick rain” meant we cancelled, for now. So I’ll make chile cheese cornbread muffins to go with the “beerbutt” chicken my husband will grill for supper. I’ll call a friend grieving the passing of her mother. Tomorrow, I’ll purchase a CSA from a local greenhouse. Then I’ll see my chiropractor for a long overdue tune-up. All of us masked and gloved.

This weariness ebbs and flows.
I stay open to the vulnerable tenderness of this life.

“When things are shaky and nothing is working,
we might realize that we are on the verge of something.
We might realize that this is a very vulnerable

and tender place, and that tenderness can go either way.
We can shut down and feel resentful or
we can touch in on that throbbing quality.”

Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart, 1996