Loneliness

Today’s blog is late.  Moved to write, I got up at four, and while I finished before my usual 7 am posting time, I needed to sit awhile with this before pressing “publish.”

I’m lonely.

I think this might be, in part, why I’ve been having a hard time finding words, why I’ve been feeling fallow of late. Realizing this, admitting this, to myself, here, feels vulnerable. Yet it’s absolutely true. And perhaps in doing so, words might now come easier for me. I don’t know.

I do know, that when I walked Annie last week and I listened to Brene Brown’s podcast with Dr. Vivek Murthy, the 19th Surgeon General of the United States and author of Together: The Healing Power of Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, I felt a big penny drop deep inside. In mid-April, a month into the global COVID-19 lockdown, they talked about loneliness and its huge physical and emotional toll on social connection. Three months later and I’m feeling its price.

The early days of COVID-19, when winter hung on with its snow and cold, the days had not yet appeared significantly lighter and longer, I enjoyed the prolonged cocooning it invited. While odd to see few cars on the streets, and even fewer folks around, I felt comfortable and at home in the stillness and quiet that would only come during those occasional holydays or snow days when everyone stayed home. But now, four months later, into summer with its longer days, and our staged re-entry, I find it harder to navigate. Each week it becomes more apparent that life as I have come to know it, with its felt rhythms and routines, conversations and connections, is no longer, at least not yet. Too, the utter uncertainty as to what I might next conjure in the way of work baffles and confounds.

Grief. I’ve spoken of it here on this platform over the months.

But when I heard Dr. Murthy define loneliness as the gap between the connections that you need and the social connections that you currently have, I knew “I am lonely.”

Murthy describes three dimensions of loneliness to reflect the particular type of relationship we might be missing:

  1. Emotional loneliness is missing that close confidant or intimate partner with whom you share a deep mutual bond of affection and trust.
  2. Relational or social loneliness is the yearning for quality friendships and social companionship and support.
  3. Collective loneliness is the hunger for a network or community of people who share your sense of purpose and interests.

“Loneliness is not a concept, it is the body constellating,
attempting to become proximate and even join with other bodies, through physical touch, through conversation or
the mediation of the intellect and the imagination.”

David Whyte, “Loneliness, ” in Consolations:
The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words, 2015

So despite, blessedly, having a loving, steadfast husband of forty years, and family including my healthy, alert, fully engaged parents, I feel lonely.

I have dear friends, near and far. We stay in touch. Yet, I feel lonely for the in person, physical, face to face, exchange of energy and ideas and feelings and smiles and tears and embraces. For that “mediation of the intellect and the imagination.”

Now living into a different age and stage of life, my felt sense of community has shifted. Those ready-made places and affiliations, conveniently arrived at through work, are no longer. So how to create new connections? And how to do so under these peculiar circumstances induced by the pandemic?

As I’m writing this, I feel my body sigh in relief, with recognition. And, too, the toll. Anxiety that hurts. Insomnia, most often for me early morning waking at two or three. Lethargy. Lack of focus. Aimlessness.

In the last few days, I’ve begun to talk about this.

I’m reaching out to friends to find ways to “safely” meet together, in real time, in our real bodies.  

I have “professional” support. When I arrived home from three months living in Europe, culture shocked, rattled to the bone by family upheavals, destabilized with the news my position at work had been “abolished,” grieving the passing of our Lady dog, I sank. And from that place I reached out to make an appointment with a therapist I’d once recommended to friend. I knew I needed to take my own advice. I’ve been seeing her ever since. Ten times a year. Like a zen sitting – calming, soothing, regulating. Having myself worked as a therapist, and years ago been involved in analytic process work, I recognize how the practice has changed, now informed by research in trauma and its neuro-physiological-emotional impacts. That hour, with me and her, helps me show up well in this world. I smile imagining I’ll maintain this part of my self-care practice for the rest of my days.

“Allow your loneliness time
To dissolve the shell of dross
That had closed around you;
Choose in this severe silence
To hear the one true voice
Your rushed life fears:
Cradle yourself like a child
Learning to trust what emerges,
So that gradually
You may come to know
That deep in that black hole
You will find the blue flower
That holds the mystical light
Which will illuminate in you
The glimmer of springtime.”

John O’Donohue, “For Loneliness,” an excerpt in
To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008

Loneliness.
One of the hidden, insidious impacts of life during this pandemic.
Even more so. Because of it.

Paradoxically, I know I’m not alone with loneliness.
So, let’s not suffer this one alone. Talk about it. Reach out. Get help.

With love and kindest regards.

Beauty in a Hard Place

Words That Might Matter

I have none.

For the past few weeks I’ve struggled to find any words that might matter both inside and out there. A few weeks back, the words of others helped me find my way through to some of mine. But right now I need to admit, as I did in reply to a friend’s ever thoughtful and beautiful blog post, that I am feeling emptied of words that might matter.

Quite paradoxical, that with the bigness, muchness, fullness of everything in the world right now, for this past quarter year living in this Covid-19 pandemic, now doubled-down with as insidious and deadly a pandemic, racism, I am empty.

I read, I watch, I listen to people whose voices I need to hear and need to learn from. And in response, I have lost mine.

Perhaps it’s a matter of laying fallow, much as I have felt myself to be these past weeks, when I suddenly realized that for the first time in my five decades’ long working life, I am now without and see no “what next.” Again, the paradox that with the full blush and burst of spring, and now summer’s arrival, at least by the calendar’s indication, I feel myself more to be in the late fall, early winter. One of life’s many liminal spaces and places.

Or perhaps it’s like this. An excerpt from John O’Donohue’s blessing for a father, sent in reply to a long lost friend, and to my own father for today, Father’s Day.

“There are many thing
We could have said,
But words never wanted
To name them;
And perhaps a world
That is quietly sensed
Across the air
In another’s heart
Becomes the inner companion
To one’s own unknown.”

John O’Donohue, To Bless The Space Between Us, 2008

Time to Be Slow

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This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes.

Try, as best you can, not to let
The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light.

If you remain generous,
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.

– John O’Donohue –
To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008

Winter in Spain

It’s early morning, still dark, cold, snowy and winter. When this gets posted, hopefully winter will be the only carry forward for us as we’ll be en route to Spain. Reading last July, a solo traveler’s post on spending a couple of weeks last January in Andalusia got me thinking. Last winter, having bailed on Mexico, we stayed put and endured the coldest February in forty years. Not complaining, as making home in Alberta comes with making peace with winter. And while my tolerance for cold has lessened considerably after a thyroidectomy in 2017, I’ve come to love the soft, enveloping quiet of falling snow, the invitation to turn inward during the long dark, the slow, the still. But I wondered aloud about shifting direction this winter. A quick email to Sam, who with his wife and sons host an exquisite b’n’b in the mountains west of Sevilla, confirmed winter can be a lovely, low season time to visit. Confirmation from husband that yes, Spain would meet his destination criteria of good food and wine, gave me the go ahead to don my travel consultant hat and design our itinerary. Barcelona and Madrid would give way to a more focused, yet leisurely experience of Andalusia. A circuit starting quickly but ending slowly in Sevilla, with an easy few days Finca Buenvino in Aracena, then onto Cordoba, Granada, Malaga.

“Every time you leave home,
Another road takes you
Into a world you were never in.”

John O’Donohue, “For The Traveler,” in To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008

I’d already visited some of the region. September 2017 I was scheduled to co-host a circle gathering in Germany when a friend suggested we travel to her favourite part of Spain, an area she was certain I’d become as enamored of as had she. Rather magically, the email invitation to attend a writer’s retreat at Finca Buenvino a few weeks’ preceding. Afterwards, five days soaking up elements of Sevilla – hot sunshine, cold manzanilla sherry, tapas and flamenco, Mudejar architecture, colourful tiles and gardens – and a day in Cordoba. As the scout for some of the travelling I do with my husband, I’m delighted to be stepping back into the familiar, while anticipating the fresh and new with him.

“Old places that know you well
Will pretend nothing
Changed since your last visit.”

John O’Donohue, “For The Traveler,” in To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008

I know we’ll be beautifully hosted in Aracena. Sam and Jeannie, British expats, built their pink villa decades ago as a guest house and cooking school. Specializing in fresh, local Andalusian inspired cuisine complemented by sherries, vermouths and wines, I knew this would be an easy way to my man’s heart. I’ve reserved for luncheon in Linares, a nearby hill town, at Arrieros, the Michelin recommended café I’d walked by that September where the owner invited me in for gazpacho, which I had to regretfully decline due to the day’s writing retreat schedule. Another luncheon booked at Sevilla’s ConTenedor, returning to that terrific slow food restaurant featuring a pastiche of local flavor and colour. We’ll see flamenco, compare the vast beauty of Al Hambra with the more accessible Real Alcazar, sip and savour at tapas bars. I’ll visit the art galleries missed the first time.

“When you travel,
A new silence
Goes with you,
And if you listen,
You will hear
What your heart would
Love to say.”

John O’Donohue, “For The Traveler,” in To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008

I’ve been living a slower spaciousness.  I completed a contract in January, filed the report a couple of weeks ago. Intentionally set timelines to have time to prepare.

The practical. After the brilliant, brittle cold last month, how will long-range forecasts of mid teen and low twenties temperatures feel? Which layers to stay warm at night, at elevation? What are the best footwear options to safeguard against a flareup of the plantar fasciitis I’ve been tending for the month? Which medicinals to shore up and stay healthy? The corkscrew and sharp knife for the impromptu. The swimsuit for the hammam.

The heart. Travel lighter. Make time and space for writing and painting. Bring the journal from last time, the new notebook that matches. Paints and brushes. The camera. Receive what the heart would love to say, to see. Maybe the gift of my sore foot, “to move at the pace of guidance.”

“May you travel in an awakened way,
Gathered wisely into your inner ground;
That you may not waste the invitations
Which wait along the way to transform you.”

John O’Donohue, “For The Traveler,” in To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008

Often I travel solo. Typically, an “alone, together” small group experience where I can immerse in the moment to moment unfolding, nurturing impressions in the quiet of my own creative process; then coming out to engage with those around me. Travelling with my husband is markedly different. The focus and energy shifts to us, together, to us, alone, in new spaces, and made new by our travelling them together. I wonder what invitations wait along the way for us, for me?

“May you travel safely, arrive refreshed,
And live your time away to its fullest;
Return home more enriched, and free
To balance the gift of days which call you.”

John O’Donohue, “For The Traveler,” in To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008

Seven months since the idea to go to Spain this winter. Almost here, and soon enough home again.

A Blessing for This New Year

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Beannacht
an excerpt

…May the nourishment of the earth by yours,
May the clarity of the light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.

– John O’Donohue –
To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008

Home

We’re all just walking each other home.

Ram Dass

Home. My word for 2020.

Not chosen but invited, it arrived early into a simple, elegant process offered by Abbey of the Arts, called “2020, Give Me a Word.” Developed for the twelve days of Christmas, but available in early December, I’d receive an email invitation to “create some space each day to listen and see what word comes shimmering forth from the dailiness of my experience.”

At first, “at home,” which evoked being home and staying put. Perhaps wise counsel given I’d had another autumn full of travel. This time I’d become quite ill during my last trip in early December, a visit with a friend I’d not seen since the passing of her husband. A disappointment for us both when first, our great plans for trekking in the desert mountains became dashed by my excruciating case of plantar fasciitis. Then, a viral infection contracted days before departure had me reach for the emergency cipro to be well enough to get home without an ear-blocked, cough-racked flight. Just recovered and now into a serious grip of Arctic winter cold, staying put, at home, has been the order of the day.

But as the twelve days passed, with a new practice offered to evoke or ripen – a contemplative walk in nature, writing a poem, illustrating the word visually, attending to my dreams, consulting a soul friend – “at home” became distilled to “home.” Still that comfort with being at home (the best place to be when you’re sick and it’s ridiculously cold outside), but now with a spaciousness that allows mystery to unfold, shadow and surprise to emerge, dreams to awaken.

Last week, browsing somewhere, I came across these wondrous words in an essay, “To Find Your True Home Within Your Life.”  Home came knocking.

The mystic Thomas a Kempis said that when you go out into the world, you return having lost some of yourself. Until you learn to inhabit your aloneness, the lonely distraction and noise of society will seduce you into false belonging, with which you will only become empty and weary. When you face your aloneness, something begins to happen. Gradually, the sense of bleakness changes into a sense of true belonging. This is a slow and open-ended transition but is utterly vital in order to come into rhythm with your own individuality. In a sense this is the endless task of finding your true home within your life. It is not narcissistic, for as soon as you rest in the house of your own heart, doors and windows begin to open outwards to the world.

John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes (1999), 93.
Home with her heart red door, a few years ago…same season with a bit more snow