Bravo to We Who Are

“When you reach a stage when you can have a very
dark and difficult experience, without having to look
on the “bright side,” then you know that you have
made progress on your healing journey. Because one
significant measure of our emotional health, is our
capacity to tolerate all of our experiences without
jumping to reactive reframes. You reach a stage where
you can stretch to accommodate the truth of your lived
experience. You have enough light inside, to own the
shadow. And enough shadow inside, to own the light.”

Jeff Brown, Hearticulations: on friendship, love and healing, 2020

Taking a step sideways from my usual posting of a Friday poem, I found this quote scrolling on my Facebook feed this week, something I’m doing only occasionally these days (that might be a story for another time). Posted on a friend’s timeline, after reading the comments I was reminded that decades ago I had read something Shakti Gawain of creative visualization fame, wrote about positively thinking herself into a psychosis. At a time when a heavy theme within the new age thought movement was espousing “think positive and manifest thus,” her words left an indelible mark. In that same era, I read Ken Wilber in an issue of the New Age Journal calling out this same tendency, particularly with reference to blaming those suffering with life threatening illness, as his wife at the time was dying of cancer. (Wilber, having created the brilliantly deep and expansive Intergral Theory, is who Fr. Richard Rohr describes in a recent podcast with Brene Brown, “the wisest philosopher of religion on the American scene.”)

I received the gift of insight a few weeks ago, during an interview with a fellow doing a Masters degree in Tourism, studying the transformations experienced by we who walk “secular,” non-religious inspired caminos. In response to his final question, “What in 3 or 4 sentences would I describe as the main lessons learned from my camino?” and as I wrote here last week, after several moments of quiet consideration, searching for the most accurate words, I said that I am developing an embodied, visceral familiarity with what it means to live in Life’s messy, inchoate middle, engaging with, partnering with, Life living itself.

Bravo to we who are so fiercely tender and tenderly fierce in our refusal to only live on the bright side of life, ignoring its necessary, organic, abundant mess. Life needs us to be so.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Imaginary Conversation

IMAGINARY CONVERSATION

You tell me to live each day
as if it were my last. This is in the kitchen
where before coffee I complain
of the day ahead—that obstacle race
of minutes and hours,
grocery stores and doctors.

But why the last? I ask. Why not
live each day as if it were the first—
all raw astonishment, Eve rubbing
her eyes awake that first morning,
the sun coming up
like an ingénue in the east?

You grind the coffee
with the small roar of a mind
trying to clear itself. I set
the table, glance out the window
where dew has baptized every
living surface.

– Linda Pasten, Insomnia, 2015 –

While this poem takes place in a different season, when dew “baptizes every living surface,” its subject – making the morning coffee and living each day fully as the first – and the collection title – Insomnia – strike chords making music fitting for this near mid January morn. Awake at 3:30 (this becoming a too frequent occurrence that left unchecked can leave me feeling brittle) I look out the window and notice in the night before dawn a luminescence from dew frosting every living and non living surface. Humidity has been over 90% these days, unusual for what we here on the prairies brag is a dry cold, supposedly feeling less cold. I turn up the thermostat, fill the kettle and let it boil while I take my seat in the dark living room to try to silence “the small roar of a mind trying to clear itself.” None too successfully at first. But the non-effort effort eventually shifts something inside, so that when I rub my eyes open and gaze again outside, unnamed anxiety gives way to nuanced astonishment.

Once again, it’s apparent to me that the stuff of my wabi sabi life is swirling inside, needing its time to sort and settle. After my new year’s post wherein I realized – the result of another episode of early morning insomnia – that I simply didn’t know much about how I stood on this threshold, I didn’t post my Monday blog last week, and am not inclined to push myself to produce one for this Monday, or beyond. For the time being, it’s my own inner “imaginary conversation” to which I will pay my attention, not yet to be mined for here.

I rest easier knowing I’m not one to procrastinate, but rather am becoming more familiar, in an embodied way, with living in the messy inchoate middle. That place I have named “before, beneath and beyond words.” That place where I become a conscious partner engaged with Life living itself.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

The New Year

I
“Just a reminder
that you don’t have to
make resolutions.
Or huge decisions.
Or big proclamations.
You can just set
some sweet intentions
and take each day
as it comes.”
– Victoria Erickson –

II
“And suddenly you know: it’s time
to start something new
and trust the magic
of beginnings.”
– Meister Eckhart –

III
“And now we welcome
the new year, full of things
that have never been.”
– Rilke –

Some sweet and ease-filled offerings for the beginning of a new year.
To reset. Off on the right foot. With a strong back and open heart.
Fiercely tender. Tenderly fierce.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.


I Simply Don’t Know

(If I could strike over this blog’s original title, Opening to the Bittersweet, as I have in a paragraph below, I would. Instead I’ve simply re-titled it.)

“This world is radiant with beauty. This world is also capable of bone-chilling brutality and the small, corrosive daily cruelties that salt our days with sorrow. For a sensitive person to live with the duality, to keep the light aflame without turning away from the darkness that needs illumination, may be the most difficult thing in life — and the most rewarding.”

Maria Popova, The Marginalian, Sunday, January 1, 2023

And so began the theme that echoed across several “love letters” waiting in my inbox on New Year’s Day. With an americano steaming in a cherished hand-thrown cup made by Italian potter Giulia Sbernini – one that brings joy every time I hold it and that naturally makes my espresso, or vino rosso taste better – and Annie waiting patiently for me to take my place by her on our loveseat (true in every sense), I begin scrolling and reading in the still dark dawn of this first day of this new year.

Echoed, too, in the Joy Harjo poem I shared on Friday, wherein she commands us to “help the next person find their way through /the dark,” just as we have been helped by – I offered – the ancients, ancestors and angels, all the beings seen and unseen, and those more than human.

“Finding our way through the dark.”
“Living with the duality of beauty and brutality.”
“Keeping death daily before your eyes.” (St. Benedict)

Back in August, when I announced my need and knowing to take a pause from writing, I concluded that post with a Facebook find which eloquently described me and how I show up in the world. Later, having borrowed from the library, read, returned, and then purchased Susan Cain’s Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole (2022), I felt quietly affirmed in that way of being. From her epigraph:

“Gregory the Great (ca.540-604) spoke of compunctio, the holy pain[,] the grief somebody feels when faced with that which is most beautiful…The bittersweet experience stems from human homelessness in an imperfect world, human consciousness of, and at the same time, a desire for perfection. This inner spiritual void becomes painfully real when faced with beauty. There, between the lost and the desired, the holy tears are formed.”

Owe Wikstrom

Three months later, when I resumed this blog, I wrote in a post called Starkly Beautiful Truths, after experiencing an unusual season of illness, one that has persisted into the new year, “there’s the indelible realization we have entered a new life stage. Grief with facing the endings of ways of living and being, we are staring – starkly, undeniably -at our mortality and that of those we love and cherish.”

“…we all have our vulnerable seasons, and our contemplative practice is not a shield against struggle. It can certainly help in coping and enduring and discovering the grace at the heart of it all, but it will never exempt us from our humanity…

…The Underworld journey – sometimes called the Dark Night of the soul – comes for each of us and is ultimately in service of stripping away our old attachments and coming to greater clarity about what is ours to do in this world and how we are to be.”

Christine Valters Paintner, Abbey of the Arts Love Letter, Sunday, January 1, 2023

Of course, this echoing back and forth, within and across me and my love letter writers, is not a coincidence. I gravitate towards and seek out those whose radical takes on living I find utterly refreshing and a much needed counterpoint to the “just think positive and be happy” binary. Holding ourselves in the mess of it all is – to my way of thinking – living, taking fierce tenderness, tender fierceness and much love. But I had to laugh when even in my horoscope, penned by Vancouver’s saucy, yet remarkably prescient Georgia Nicols, I’m told I’ll be entering a two-three year period of giving up what is holding me back, and letting go to streamline my life for new beginnings, losing for lightening.

All this by way of saying I’m becoming more skillful in hearing the echo and seeing the synchronicities. Much as I have during this recent holyday season, where more than ever I heard many more voices across all platforms disclose the grief, disappointment, pain and disillusion with the decades’ long deafening “Hallmark Christmas,” happily ever after, consumer campaign. Finally a shift to naming and living the mess of it all.

Having long abandoned goal and resolution making for a new year, instead I love the process of discerning a shimmering word or phrase to serve as my north star for the year. Thanks to a break in the weather, walking in nature these past two days, reading, and writing this post have helped me arrive at “opening to the bittersweet.” Yes, like appreciating my wabi sabi life, the key here is in the opening to…and trusting in.

It’s now nearly 5 am, two hours before this post is scheduled to drop into your inboxes and onto my social media platforms. Awake at 4, I nestled under the covers musing on a dream and knowing I simply have no idea about my shimmering word, phrase, or much of anything about this new year. I kept coming back to something I read by Toko-pa Turner in her Solstice letter, Return to the Way:

“While it may feel like a lack of progress, return is always developmental. When we have grown too distant from our true nature, we have to stop, retrace our steps, and reconnect with the essence of who we are. The ancient Confucion philosopher Zhou Dunyi described this kind of progress as a “slow return to original sincerity.” Like drawing down into the stem of one’s character, return pulls us into our origins…

…If Solstice were a question, it might ask, ‘“’From what have I strayed too far?’”’ In the haste of activity and progress, what essential values have I left behind? What did an earlier version of me know better than I? As we transition from the active, outward life to an inner opening, we may discover a disconnect between our aims in the world and the way our soul longs to sing.”

There is something about returning – re-turning – in this way that speaks deeply to me. The question, while uncomfortable, begs of my time, and Winter’s invitation of to nestle into its darkness to discover. Perhaps it is the opening to the bittersweet. The giving in, once again, to what Life is asking of me. Trusting as I am, right in this moment, in its mystery. Admitting to myself, once again, and again, I simply don’t know. Yet. Or ever.

The paradox of this practice of living, especially as the stakes grow steeper as I grow older.

“May you be guided and held and may you come to know the great Friend who is alive inside you, longing to walk with you into the inner chambers of the Heart. Not only the heart that is open and filled with joy, but also the one that is tender and shattered with grief. For it is inside the shattered pieces a new world is born.”

Matt Licata, New Year’s Greetings, Sunday, January 1, 2023

Always, with much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

For Calling the Spirit Back from Wandering the Earth in Its Human Feet

Put down that bag of potato chips, that white bread, that bottle of
pop.

Turn off that cellphone, computer, and remote control.

Open the door, then close it behind you.

Take a breath offered by friendly winds. They travel the earth
gathering essences of plants to clean.

Give it back with gratitude.

If you sing it will give your spirit lift to fly to the stars’ ears and back.

Acknowledge this earth who has cared for you since you were a
dream planting itself precisely within your parents’ desire.

Let your moccasin feet take you to the encampment of the
guardians who have known you before time, who will be there
after time. They sit before the fire that has been there
without time.

Let the earth stabilize your postcolonial insecure jitters.

Be respectful of the small insects, birds and animal people who
accompany you.
Ask their forgiveness for the harm we humans have brought down
upon them.

Don’t worry.
The heart knows the way though there may be high-rises,
interstates, checkpoints, armed soldiers, massacres, wars, and
those who will despise you because they despise themselves.

The journey might take you a few hours, a day, a year, a few years, a
hundred, a thousand or even more.

Watch your mind. Without training it might run away and leave
your heart for the immense human feast set by the thieves of
time.

Do not hold regrets.

When you find your way to the circle, to the fire kept burning by the
keepers of your soul, you will be welcomed.

You must clean yourself with cedar, sage, or other healing plant.

Cut the ties you have to failure and shame.

Let go the pain you are holding in your mind, your shoulders, your
heart, all the way to your feet. Let go the pain of your ancestors
to make way for those who are heading in our direction.

Ask for forgiveness.

Call upon the help of those who love you. These helpers take many
forms: animal, element, bird, angel, saint, stone, or ancestor.

Call your spirit back. It may be caught in corners and creases
of shame, judgment, and human abuse.

You must call in a way that your spirit will want to return.

Speak to it as you would to a beloved child.

Welcome your spirit back from its wandering. It may return in
pieces, in tatters. Gather them together. They will be happy to
be found after being lost for so long.

Your spirit will need to sleep awhile after it is bathed and given clean
clothes.

Now you can have a party. Invite everyone you know who loves and
supports you. Keep room for those who have no place else to go.

Make a giveaway, and remember, keep the speeches short.

Then, you must do this: help the next person find their way through
the dark. 

– Joy Harjo –

For the new year…
May yours be filled with promise, good health, and joy with family and friends.
May you find your way through the dark, and help another to do the same.
Call upon and trust the ancients, ancestors and angels…those beings seen and unseen…and those more than human.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

The Coming of Light

THE COMING OF LIGHT

Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of light.
You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves,
stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows,
sending up warm bouquets of air.
Even this late the bones of the body shine
and tomorrow’s dust flares into breath.

– Mark Strand –

This poem’s beautiful simplicity touched me as an elegant “gift” for these Holydays of darkness and coming light.

Dear friends – near and far, known on the page or felt in the winds – thank you for companioning me as I write what it’s in my heart and on my mind, and share my photography and some fine poetry – all the bits of a wabi sabi life.

May the season’s days and nights bring you time to pause and notice and savor what brings you joy. May you rest in the knowing you are loved. May you have more of each – joy and love – as the light comes again and the new year beckons.

With love and kindest regards.

The Power of Storytelling

In the dark depths of long winter nights,
spirits slumber, too, and allow their stories to be
told – these are the storytelling moons. Elders and
storytellers who have been given tales to carry
speak softly, reverentially, and the people hear
them. The people do not merely listen – they hear.
To hear is to have a spiritual, mental, emotional
or physical reaction to the words. Sometimes, at
very special times, you have all four reactions
and are changed forever. Share stories, fill cold
nights with the warmth of your connections, your
relationships; hear each other and be made more.
That is the power of storytelling.

– Richard Wagamese, Embers (2016)

A couple of nights ago I sat in virtual time and space in a fundraiser for The Circle Way. On the screen I saw with joy filling my heart, several of my mates from when I sat on the governance council. There, too, were our beloved founders, Ann and Christina, together with practitioners from around the continent. The bell rang once, twice, and once again I felt deep gratitude for such a simple, yet powerful practice and its invitation: to pause, breathe, shift from social to sacred space, and settle into presence. As our “start point” – an offering to align with the evening’s agenda – the above story from Richard Wagamese was read aloud.

In less than a week, the northern hemisphere will enter into the darkness of Winter Solstice. Its long nights, like that bell, invite pause and rest; a remembering of the shift from social to sacred; and a settling into presence with ourselves and in relationship with others, including those “more than human beings.” Stories read, and shared aloud, bring the gift of being made more by the telling and the hearing.

Sometimes, what’s important will be repeated three times, explains the old woman in Wagamese’s book:

“You listen the first time. You hear the second time.
And you feel the third time…
When you listen, you become aware. That’s for your head. When you hear, your awaken. That’s for your heart. When you feel, it becomes a part of you. That’s for your spirit. Three times. It’s so you learn to listen with your whole being. That’s how you learn.”

Wishing you time for stories, alone and together, during these long winter nights. May you be made more by the telling and hearing.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

What the Angel Didn’t Say

WHAT THE ANGEL DIDN’T SAY

I notice that when
the angel spoke to Mary
she got news that God
was pleased with her,
and that she would bear a son
destined for greatness,
but no mention was made
of torture and early death
and the way her heart
would break completely and
irrevocably. The angel told her
not to be afraid, but didn’t mention
the need to take the baby
and run from Herod or even
giving birth in a stable.
If the heavenly being hinted
at a future seated at the right hand
of God, it never acknowledged
how different that feels than
having him seated at the
family table for supper,
and the ache of an empty chair.
Maybe she knew, and said yes anyway.
Maybe the big ask
is to open the door to suffering,
which is the door marked Love.

– Lynn Ungar –
December 16, 2021

Since returning to Italy in October, truly my heart’s home, or at least one of them, I splurged on a subscription to the weekly ITALY Magazine and follow its daily posts on language, culture, food – with beautiful photos – on Facebook and IG. Yesterday reading the current issue, I was reminded that December 8 is “la Festa dell’Immacolata Concezione,” the Feast of the Immaculate Conception when the Angel visited Mary, the day in many parts of Italy where trees are festooned with lights marking the beginning of the Christmas season. So this poem from Lynn Ungar, stored in the dark of my virtual file since last year, fit the bill for today’s post.

Earlier this week, I read an essay by Perdita Finn, wherein she gave an alternate interpretation to the feast day: that of Mary being immaculate, born without sin, free from karma. That she symbolizes the universe’s womb, the dark matter out of which all life emerges on earth. “This is why so many of the old Madonnas were depicted as black, as black as the original mothers, as the soil, as the space between the stars.”

Aligning with the Celtic celebration of Solstice and its honouring of the wisdom of the dark, when what is planted, resting fallow hidden in the depths, can decay or gestate, renew, transform. Mary becomes the the earthly embodiment of the divine feminine and its creative-destructive cycles of life and death.

Or as Lynn offers, the suffering that is Love.

Much love and kindest regards dear friends as you enter the ever growing darkness of December.

Poetry

POETRY

And it was at that age … Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don’t know how or when,
no they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.

I did not know what to say, my mouth
had no way
with names,
my eyes were blind,
and something started in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
deciphering
that fire,
and I wrote the first faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
nonsense,
pure wisdom
of someone who knows nothing,
and suddenly I saw
the heavens
unfastened
and open,
planets,
palpitating plantations,
shadow perforated,
riddled
with arrows, fire and flowers,
the winding night, the universe.

And I, infinitesimal being,
drunk with the great starry
void,
likeness, image of
mystery,
felt myself a pure part
of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke loose on the wind.

– Pablo Neruda –

I’ve held this poem post in the draft file for a few weeks and love the synchronicity at play. Much of Monday’s post disappeared after two hours of writing, ready to add photos, and press “publish.” I’d been writing about the creative process, and preparing myself to prepare my poetry manuscript for the next round of submissions. I’d quoted Neruda talking about the what and why of poetry: “Poetry is an act of peace. Peace goes into the making of a poet as flour goes into the making of bread.” And it reminded me of my Facebook profile tagline: “Making prayer, poetry and beauty is hold alchemy for social change.” I mused that perhaps my involvement in that rewilding course was having an effect.


Rewilding Me

“Every creator’s creations are their coping mechanism for life — for the loneliness of being, for the longing for connection, for the dazzling incomprehension of what it all means. What we call art is simply a gesture toward some authentic answer to these open questions, at once universal and intimately felt — questions aimed at the elemental truths of being alive, animated by a craving for beauty, haunted by the need to find a way of bearing our mortality.”

Maria Popova, The Marginalian, November 26, 2022

It was an early start to the day. Waking at 3, rising at 4, I took seat on the sofa. Candle lit, wrapped in a blanket, I closed my eyes and counted my breaths. Thinking. About packing for our upcoming trip to Niagara. Return to counting. Thinking. About finding time to catch up and listen to the past week’s Rewilding conversations. Focus on my breath. Thinking. Now a barrage of thoughts about yesterday’s poetry intensive with Edmonton’s past Poet Laureate Alice Major. Thinking. Thinking. Five quiet beeps. So soon?

Hmmmm…I just spent a couple of hours writing today’s post. Ready to add photos and schedule publishing time, I just lost everything except for the above bits.

It’s been one of those days. We’d planned to go to the theatre this afternoon. Left in plenty of time. Made a stop along the way and suddenly we’d lost a needed half hour. We hit every red light making arrival on time impossible. So surrendering to something inexplicable at play, I called the box office, explained our situation, cancelled our tickets and we returned home.

Coming down to the studio tonight to write, I didn’t have anything in mind but tapping I managed to cobble together a piece on preparing myself to prepare my poetry manuscript for the next round of submissions come the new year. Not meant to be published, I guess.

That rewilding course… every week emphasizes paying attention to the nature’s messages and patterns that might appear irrational but have an innate wisdom. I might be getting the message.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

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