The Light in Darkness

“One discovers the light in darkness, that is what darkness is for; but everything in our lives depends on how we bear the light. It is necessary, while in darkness, to know that there is a light somewhere, to know that in oneself, waiting to be found, there is a light.”

James Baldwin, Nothing Personal (1964) cited in The Marginalian, February 6, 2022

For much of January, my internal weather has fluctuated as rapidly as the external. Feeling flux and flummoxed, with waves of inexplicable sadness, and flashes of rage, these are times when deep in the belly, I don’t have words to write, hence a couple of missed Monday posts. Time this week in my virtual women’s circle, listening and giving voice to my inner meanderings, together with the words of others arriving in the last twenty four hours, have helped prime mine.

With last month’s passing of several luminaries – Archbishop Tutu, Thich Nhat Hahn, and even Betty White in her radiant, joy filled centurion way – I felt humanity had once again lost powerful visionaries who served to hold its centre. In response, I felt a deep wobbling, compounded here in my country by the ever-growing anger at our nearly two-year public health covid sanctions. Truck convoys, now being copied around the world, are barricading highways, border crossings, and downtown cores. As in many instances of late, here and elsewhere, what starts out as a demonstration of dissent becomes hijacked by far left and right agendas intent on spewing violence and hatred.

Paradoxically, within the relative quiet simplicity of my life – an ever-present gift of the pandemic – sometimes it’s challenging to block out the overwhelm from all of it. Not just anxious, frankly I’ve felt frightened with what’s continuing to unravel, exposing humanity’s underbelly. Perhaps more so because of the prolonged weariness with navigating the pandemic’s continued uncertainties, while revealing more of its impacts. Speaking virtually today to a dear friend a few streets away, I wondered how much at its root these are all the many manifestations of grief.

“The individual has to wake up to the fact that violence cannot end violence; that only understanding and compassion can neutralize violence, because with the practice of loving speech and compassionate listening we can begin to understand people and help people to remove the wrong perceptions in them, because these wrong perceptions are at the foundation of their anger, their fear, their violence, their hate.”

Thich Nhat Hahn, On Being with Krista Tippett, September 25, 2003

A hypothesis, not an excuse. A way to reframe, reconsider, and re-create space in my perceptions of myself and others. The means to a more tender response to myself and others.

FOR WARMTH
by Thich Nhat Hanh

I hold my face between my hands.
No, I am not crying.
I hold my face between my hands
to keep my loneliness warm —
two hands protecting,
two hands nourishing,
two hands to prevent
my soul from leaving me
in anger.

Yesterday a chance scrolling through social media and I arrived at a lengthy post from Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, author of Women Who Run with the Wolves. Reading, I remembered that like those luminaries who have since passed, “dr. e” continues to hold the centre. Excerpted from her post:

…feeling tired of the whirl and sway of the needful world, which has ever been with us, perhaps far away or up close, nonetheless, the remedio is often to withdraw from the energy of outrage and ‘latest horrible thing ‘they’ are doing now’ and instead rest with the peace Beings, which are Beauty, the natural world of plants and animals , trees and sky and clear water and air… and Love, unhindered Love.

…Walking with those who are just and who work for thus, are billions in our world. Billions…Rather, they work daily as good, in good, for good. I know so so many. They are right there before you also.

That our children and our fur children are treasures is exactly right.

We are born gifted and every day, can create even in small ways, from what we truly are. Indeed, one massive creative act is to be kind to oneself…

Strive to be sure every word from you, every art from you, every step is steeped and considered deeply through the lenses of Love, Mercy and Vision

Creating even in small ways: Working on my poetry collection. An extended call with Karen to finalize the twelve submissions for the spring issue of SAGE-ING. Walking Annie in the sunshine. Hearing a favourite poet recite her work while being in conversation with another. Catching up on podcasts while doing my needlework project. Connecting with friends. Sitting in circle.

Tender balms bringing me back to myself. Reminding me the light is always there, somewhere, waiting to be found.

“The longer I live, the more deeply I learn that love — whether we call it friendship or family or romance — is the work of mirroring and magnifying each other’s light. Gentle work. Steadfast work. Life-saving work in those moments when life and shame and sorrow occlude our own light from our view, but there is still a clear-eyed loving person to beam it back. In our best moments, we are that person for another.”

Maria Popova, The Marginalian, February 6, 2022

May your opportunities to mirror and magnify such light for others be many. Your opportunities to receive the same, tenfold.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

your true colours

Winnow to Essence

In recent seasons of being, I have had occasion to reflect on the utterly improbable trajectory of my life, plotted not by planning but by living.

We long to be given the next step and the route to the horizon, allaying our anxiety with the illusion of a destination somewhere beyond the vista of our present life…

And so the best we can do is walk step by next intuitively right step until one day, pausing to catch our breath, we turn around and gasp at a path. If we have been lucky enough, if we have been willing enough to face the uncertainty, it is our own singular path, unplotted by our anxious younger selves, untrodden by anyone else.

Maria Popova, The Marginalian, December 12, 2021

And so it goes. Learning to live my life by living, not by planning. Finding myself a couple of weeks ago, perhaps just as Maria Popova penned those words, at a crossroads in the trajectory of my life.

For years, November would find me going through calendar and files to track and complete my annual continuing competency record, a requirement for renewing my professional social work registration. Last year with the collapse of my consulting practice due to covid and budget cuts, I maintained my license under the “retired” category for a significantly lower fee, not quite ready to jump ship. This year that category was no longer available due to changes in provincial legislation. My only option would be to renew at the considerable annual fee or cancel my registration.

When I pay attention, it’s easier to discern that life has a way of pointing out the way. I’d been saying for the past year or so that I wanted to pursue writing as my next life chapter. I certainly didn’t need to be a social worker to do that. And so I said “NO” to the renewal, the finality of that chosen step arriving in my inbox the next day. A formal letter telling me that I had lost all the rights and privileges of a Social Worker, that I could no longer call myself Social Worker as it is a title protected by legislation, nor could I practice within the scope of social work practice in the province. Door slammed shut. That road closed.

Ironic that the following day, I had been invited to host a circle conversation for teachers dealing with the stress of working within the ever-shifting context of covid. As an established circle practitioner I didn’t need to be a social worker to do that.

But if you want to go your individual way, it is the way you make for yourself, which is never prescribed, which you do not know in advance, and which simply comes into being of itself when you put one foot in front of the other. If you always do the next thing that needs to be done, you will go most safely and sure-footedly along the path prescribed by your unconscious. Then it is naturally no help at all to speculate about how you ought to live. And then you know, too, that you cannot know it, but quietly do the next and most necessary thing.  

Carl Jung, Selected Letters of C.G. Jung, 1909–1961 in The Marginalian, December 12, 2021

I found myself in a similar but more complicated quandary a few years ago when deciding whether to “relinquish” my American citizenship. Consulting with tax accountants and immigration lawyers, I had to weigh a potentially hefty consequence of shutting that door – being forbidden entry into the USA. I procrastinated for several years, retainer and accounting fees mounting. Finally, in conversation with a friend, decision and direction became apparent as I heard myself say I needed to “winnow to essence.”

I’d written about this way of being in my world, describing the simplicity I sought, which was necessary then:

These words have become a mantra for the gradual process of letting go of a lot of my life’s trappings, and committing to exchange things for experiences…
Winnowing to essence. Quite a bit of not a lot. Mirroring for each other an innate way of being, born of aging.

A way of being which is now even more important for the writer I am becoming. Who I am, what with a couple of honorable mentions for poems submitted to contests, being one of fourteen from a hundred invited to read another, and another published online this past weekend. Too, the enjoyable co-editing collaboration resulting in this month’s online publication of Sage-ing: The Journal of Creative Aging, featuring submissions from several of my friends. Simplicity and solitude that have been paradoxical gifts from the pandemic. And yes, knowing loneliness as part of this creative process.

In this blur of being by ourselves, we learn to be ourselves. One measure of maturity might be how well we grow to transmute that elemental loneliness into the “fruitful monotony” Bertrand Russell placed at the heart of our flourishing, the “fertile solitude” Adam Phillips recognized as the pulse-beat of our creative power…

Rilke, contemplating the lonely patience of creative work that every artist knows in their marrow, captured this in his lamentation that “works of art are of an infinite loneliness” — Rilke, who all his life celebrated solitude as the groundwater of love and creativity, and who so ardently believed that to devote yourself to art, you must not “let your solitude obscure the presence of something within it that wants to emerge.”

Maria Popova, The Marginalian, December 19, 2021

A few weeks ago I reposted my piece on re-Wintering with its invitation to withdraw from the world to allow transformation within the gift of this season’s crucible. It’s a time when the poet doesn’t invent, rather she listens. As I write tonight, soon it will be Winter Solstice, in less than a week Christmas, and then the end of another year, the beginning of a new one. Here in the northern hemisphere, this holy season of darkness nudges me ever deeper towards the slow and simple. With a calendar free of social engagements, I walk Annie, cook, tend to our home and some emails.

In my meandering way I suddenly recalled, when referring above to Rilke, words from Joanna Macy, having listened to her last week in conversation with her writing companion Anita Barrows, and Krista Tippett, discussing their translation of Rilke’s Letters to A Young Poet:

Well, it seems clear that we who are alive now are here for something and witnessing something for our planet that has not happened at any time before. And so we who are alive now and who are called to — who feel called, those of us who feel called to love our world — to love our world has been at the core of every faith tradition, to be grateful for it, to teach ourselves how to see beauty, how to treasure it, how to celebrate, how — if it must disappear, if there’s dying — how to be grateful. 

Joanna Macy, On Being with Krista Tippett, June 24, 2021

As the coming days grow darker, I wish for you time to slow down to see, treasure and celebrate beauty. May you open to the gifts of wintering. May you know gratitude in your life. May you love our world.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Trees

I’ve posted it before and its beauty continues to awe

“A tree is a light-catcher that grows life from air.”

Maria Popova, “Why Leaves Change Color,” The Marginalian, October 26, 2021

That line stopped me for its simple truth and eloquent beauty.

This morning, basking in the “fall back” gift of an extra hour’s sleep, lingering over coffee with Annie beside me on “her” aptly named loveseat, I started to read Maria Popova’s wondrous words in her weekly newsletter, The Marginalian (formerly Brain Pickings). A click back to last week’s issue, an essay on the process – both scientific and philosophic – of photosynthesis and the colour of autumn leaves. “Could anyone write more beautifully about the magic of this process, this season, and its connotations?” I whispered to myself.

“Autumn is the season of ambivalence and reconciliation, soft-carpeted training ground for the dissolution that awaits us all, low-lit chamber for hearing more intimately the syncopation of grief and gladness that scores our improbable and finite lives — each yellow burst in the canopy a reminder that everything beautiful is perishable, each falling leaf at once a requiem for our own mortality and a rhapsody for the unbidden gift of having lived at all. That dual awareness, after all, betokens the luckiness of death.”

Maria Popova

Every Saturday morning has found me walking in the autumn splendor of Edmonton’s North Saskatchewan River Valley. Having just completed the ninth of twelve weekly stages, I continue to be in awe of the season’s vibrant colours. Too, with the exceptional lack of snow, though this week saw a skin of ice on a large pond, and a patch of thick frozen runoff. Every week, I make photographs from what I see, from what especially shimmers and shines. And without fail, most of those photos are of trees in their golden, vermillion, russet, and bronze glory. Of their transition from fully “dressed” to bare limbed. Some resplendent with red, black, and purple berries; some with tight portending buds. Yesterday I remarked to my husband that no one can say we don’t have colourful autumns here on the prairies. He reminded me it’s that we don’t typically have the massive globes of colour from the towering hardwood oaks and maples. Yes, here one must look closer in, not quite so high up, nearer to the ground for such treasures.

“As daylight begins fading in autumn and the air cools, deciduous trees prepare for wintering and stop making food — an energy expenditure too metabolically expensive in the dearth of sunlight. Enzymes begin breaking down the decommissioned chlorophyll, allowing the other pigments that had been there invisibly all along to come aflame. And because we humans so readily see in trees metaphors for our emotional lives, how can this not be a living reminder that every loss reveals what we are made of — an affirmation of the value of a breakdown?”

Maria Popova

As I’ve written before, my earliest memory is of laying in my baby buggy, looking into trees – the new green maple leaves and the spaces in between onto the sky. The fluttering and swaying, in the growing warmth of spring, caught my budding curiosity, creating a life-long affinity for their beauty and recognition of their healing balm and wisdom.

So it is that I appreciate Popova’s naming other, perhaps less ‘attractive’ metaphoric connections between ourselves and trees – death and breakdowns. And why this poem of Mary Oliver rings so deeply true:

WHEN I AM AMONG THE TREES
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

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