May you grow still enough to hear the small noises earth makes in preparing for the long sleep of winter, so that you yourself may grow calm and grounded deep within.
May you grow still enough to hear the trickling of water seeping into the ground, so that your soul may be softened and healed, and guided in its flow.
May you grow still enough to hear the splintering of starlight in the winter sky and the roar at earth’s fiery core.
May you grow still enough to hear the stir of a single snowflake in the air, so that your inner silence may turn into hushed expectation.
Brother David Steintl-Rast
On the heels of Monday’s post, re-Wintering, one of the women in my circle wrote, “It has been interesting the way our conversation last week on “wintering” has continued to resonate…. A friend shared this with me and thought you would appreciate it as well.” As she offered, may we all “step consciously into December.”
SELF-COMPASSION My friend and I snickered the first time we heard the meditation teacher, a grown man, call himself honey, with a hand placed over his heart to illustrate how we too might become more gentle with ourselves and our runaway minds. It’s been years since we sat with legs twisted on cushions, holding back our laughter, but today I found myself crouched on the floor again, not meditating exactly, just agreeing to be still, saying honey to myself each time I thought about my husband splayed on the couch with aching joints and fever from a tick bite—what if he never gets better?— or considered the threat of more wildfires, the possible collapse of the Gulf Stream, then remembered that in a few more minutes, I’d have to climb down to the cellar and empty the bucket I placed beneath a leaky pipe that can’t be fixed until next week. How long do any of us really have before the body begins to break down and empty its mysteries into the air? Oh honey, I said—for once without a trace of irony or blush of shame— the touch of my own hand on my chest like that of a stranger, oddly comforting in spite of the facts.
– James Crews –
Every morning I’m greeted with two poems in my inbox: one from Canada’s League of Canadian Poets, and this one from The Academy of American Poets, “Poem-A-Day.” I think most of us need a daily dose of self-compassion, or at least to be reminded that gently placing our own hand on our own chest over our own heart is a kind and loving gesture we each deserve, and need.
Much love and kindest regards to you, dear friends.
There is this thing called choice that we value so highly. Free will, some call it, all our decisions left to ourselves.
There is this thing call freedom that we value so highly. Live free or die trying, all our purposes set by our own hand.
There is this thing call rights that we value to highly. The right to decide, to protect. Everything sits upon it.
There is this thing called us that we struggle to value. Us eclipses my choices, my freedom, my rights.
Us means it’s harder, more complex, unknown.
– Gretta Vosper – Take a Deep Breath, 2019
I first met Gretta Vosper in autumn of 2019 when she keynoted an event at which I facilitated a session on creativity. An ordained minister of the United Church of Canada, Gretta is, paradoxically, a self-professed atheist. Unlike most in the gathering that weekend, I was completely unfamiliar with her and her reputation for a radical, fierce commitment to justice. But like most present when she spoke, I was deeply moved, to tears actually.
Recently re-reading her self published chapbook, Take a Deep Breath: A Poetic Pursuit of Justice (2019), I came across this poem which shimmered with remarkable prescience and current relevancy.
“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.”
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?”
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.”
When walking in the woods, Or on a path, Or down the street, In a store, Or just upstairs, When you are intent on going, Where ever it is you are going, Stop. Stand still.
Notice how the mind can chatter, Like purple finches in the trees, Endlessly clicking and warbling, Rising and falling and rising again. Notice all your plans and longings, All the things you got, but didn’t want, All you wanted, and didn’t get, All the circular conversations aimed at changing, What was already said or unsaid. Notice all the losses you are carrying, With as much grace as you can muster.
Notice the sky, the feel of the air on your skin, The sounds or what hangs in the silence, The hard knot in your throat. Notice all these things and more, Because there is always more. Then let your heart open, Even just a crack, A dribble or a dam break, It doesn’t matter. Because it is in that opening, You’ll find a clear space The one you keep finding And losing And finding again.
Remember to love it all, All of it. Hold hands and high five With what’s easy and dear, Ephemeral and brilliantly ordinary. Wrap compassion like a blanket The kind we place tenderly, Around other people’s shoulders, When the disaster is done and the worst is over. Love it all, Without looking for any way out, Not condoning, just allowing, For it all to just live, Where it lives. Love everything that broke your heart open That changed you forever, That made you softer, And helped you understand, What you could not have understood otherwise. Love what you’ve endured, Love what you are still enduring. Love the purple finches and the sidewalk, The view from the upstairs window, The brambles and wild asters, And the click of the keyboard.
Love all of this Small and fragile, Big and beautiful, Life.
Then take the next step.
– Carrie Newcomer –
As I wrote in my post Walking, I like to meander and saunter. I like to pause to listen, to look up into the sky, into the trees, onto the expanse of river or field. Yes, to find the image that shimmers, but also to empty myself of all the clutter and clatter so I can take in a bit of what surrounds me, let it envelope me, inside and out.
When Annie and I walk, she is patient with me, as I pause, as I focus my camera, as I stop to talk with a neighbor. Just one of the many things I love about her.
This poem arrived in the monthly “Growing Edge” newsletter by Carrie Newcomer and Parker Palmer. Evoking David Wagoner’s “Lost,” and David Whyte’s “Start Close In,” I love Carrie’s grace-filled noticing and wise counsel to love everything that breaks our hearts open…makes us softer…that we’ve endured and are still enduring, while encouraging us always to take the next step.
Dear friends, may you, too, love it all and take the next step.
You ask me how to pray to someone who is not. All I know is that prayer constructs a velvet bridge And walking it we are aloft, as on a springboard, Above landscapes the color of ripe gold Transformed by a magic stopping of the sun. That bridge leads to the shore of Reversal Where everything is just the opposite and the word ‘is’ Unveils a meaning we hardly envisioned.
Notice: I say we; there, every one, separately, Feels compassion for others entangled in the flesh And knows that if there is no other shore We will walk that aerial bridge all the same.
~ Czeslaw Milosz ~
I took this photo last weekend during my weekly “Camino de Edmonton,” where a group of us walk through the river valley – from east to west, intwelve stages of eight to fifteen kilometers – from September to the end of November. This is the city’s railroad trestle bridge constructed in 1908, a still-standing, functional testament to what built Canada “from sea to shining sea.” Earlier in the week, I “saved” this poem and knew it would be the perfect complement, or my photo the perfect complement to it. Synchronicity in the married beauty of word and image. My life as poem and prayer…and photo.
“For years I had felt some kind of internal pressure to get going…However I had come to a point where I realized this intention was ego based and not what I wanted my creativity to be about. Letting go of old beliefs was painful and I grieved deeply, but I decided to let my dreams go. I let my ambitions go.”
Julie Elliot in Creative Aging: Stories from the pages of the journal Sage-ing with Creative Spirit, Grace and Gratitude, 2015
Every now and then, I feel the need to let go and release the trappings of what had been an earlier identity, pastime, or life experiment. A couple of decades ago I found a counselling agency that gladly received my collection of clinical social work texts and kindly gave me in exchange a charitable donation income tax receipt. Several years ago, under the guise of being the “librarian” for our community of practice, I passed on to a colleague the then iteration of my professional life, volumes dedicated to leadership, community development, conversation process, and group facilitation. A few summers ago, I gathered up the art supplies used for the intuitive painting sessions I had hosted and took them to our local “Hodge Podge” upcycle hut. My timing was perfect as there was an art teacher looking for supplies for her classroom in Fort McMurray, ravaged during the spring fires when the entire community had been evacuated. In the meantime, I regularly cull files, both paper and electronic, the former being easier to “erase” as I see them in the filing cabinet. Every time the act of letting go is guided by the maxim of making space for and trusting that something new is emerging.
Last week again the mood struck. Learning that a friend is intent to shift the focus of her consulting, I asked if she’d like my facilitator “tool kit” consisting of all those items that helped me engage groups in meaningful dialogue and purposeful activity. As she sorted and asked me questions about how I’d used the bits and pieces, it was a way of looking back over a skill set and expertise I’d cultivated for several decades. It became an opportunity to “pass it forward” and do a bit of mentoring. While she offered me a bottle of wine in exchange for the lot she took, what I really need are opportunities to share the stories, the bits and pieces of that skill set and my life that were meaningful, valued, where I’d been of use and in service.
For nearly two years I have been letting go of old beliefs, ways of being, professional identity. It has been painful, and I have grieved deeply, albeit a grief that ebbs and flows. I’ve come to realize that what I particularly miss are the connections and relationships I had because of my work. I cherished those people and the work we did. In a way it was effortless, the result of my own inner work and integration, and of the trust we shared. Of course, the pandemic with lockdowns, physical distancing, social isolation has exacerbated this loss and loneliness, accentuated the grief.
And so, in letting my dreams and ambitions go, my intention is now about learning to listen into what is being asked of me from someplace and someone other than me.
“This world needs us more than ever. It needs our skills, our caring, our perseverance. We still want to contribute. We still want our contribution to be meaningful. But who gets to define meaning? It is the world, not us. Meaning is defined by the situation, the person, the moment. To discover what is meaningful, we need only ask this simple question:
What is needed here? Am I the right person to contribute to this need?
This is a huge shift. We stop asking the world to give us opportunities to fulfill our purpose. Instead, we look to the world to tell us what it needs from us. Such a profound shift requires our deep attention. This Contemplative Journey offers you the time to go deeply into yourself—past, present and future—to discern where you are needed. And then determine where you can best contribute.”
Margaret J. Wheatley
A few months ago, I sent a story off to Sage-ing: The Journal of Creative Aging. A writer friend shared she’d had a poem and some of her photography published by them. I felt my story, one that had been invited by another online journal and then rejected, might be suitable. Not only did I receive a wonderfully affirming “YES” from the founder, Karen Close, but it sparked what has now become a meaningful new relationship as I accepted her invitation to meander together in conversation, to help her co-imagine the journal’s next decade, and to eventually land as her co-editor. Having given a decade to this labour of love, a manifestation of her commitment to honour the transformational power of creativity, especially as we age, Karen sees in me someone while a decade younger, kindred in valuing the journal’s motto: Know Yourself. Be Yourself. Love Yourself. Share Yourself. And I recognize in Karen a deeply self-aware, elder creative who lives life to the brim with unabashed curiosity and compassion, someone to inspire in me the same.
While the journal offers me a place to write, as importantly I am seeking out and inviting stories that depict how the creative process shows up in, informs, and enhances one’s life – not merely in the typical ways of making art – but in how we live our lives fully, meaningfully. By encouraging first person anecdotes, insights, questions, wonderings, experiences these stories illustrate a principle and value of Sage-ing – that of how we grow into and feel more comfortable sharing our personal vulnerabilities. It becomes more about how we “show up” in our lives as told through our stories – and less about the “wisdom” we directly impart – that inspires others, cultivates wisdom, and nurtures our inner sage.
This is a shift – looking to the world and listening to what it needs from me. I asked and Karen said yes. She asked and I said yes. I recognize this is an opportunity where my past and present are coming together to be of use, in meaningful service, where I am needed. And I trust the future will take care of itself.
“It is from this place that one can allow the magic of creative spirit to indeed create you. Allowing creative spirit to expand your wisdom invites deep personal scrutiny and challenges one to act from a place of honouring and sharing one’s self.”
Karen Close in Creative Aging: Stories from the pages of the journal Sage-ing with Creative Spirit, Grace and Gratitude, 2015
We’d love to receive your stories. Please contact me via comments, including your email, so I can send you our submission invitation and guidelines. And here’s the link to our September issue – we publish quarterly, on the solstices and equinoxes – where my story – “Aging with Grit and Grace” – was published. It was a lovely way for me to celebrate the arrival of autumn, and this new life direction.
It all begins with knowing nothing lasts forever. So you might as well start packing now. But, in the meantime, practice being alive.
There will be a party where you’ll feel like nobody’s paying you attention. And there will be a party where attention’s all you’ll get. What you need to do is know how to talk to yourself between these parties.
And, again, there will be a day, — a decade — where you won’t fit in with your body even though you’re in the only body you’re in.
You need to control your habit of forgetting to breathe.
Remember when you were younger and you practiced kissing on your arm? You were on to something then. Sometimes harm knows its own healing comfort its own intelligence. Kindness too. It needs no reason.
There is a you telling you a story of you. Listen to her.
Where do you feel anxiety in your body? The chest? The fist? The dream before waking? The head that feels like it’s at the top of the swing or the clutch of gut like falling & falling & falling and falling It knows something: you’re dying. Try to stay alive.
For now, touch yourself. I’m serious.
Touch yourself. Take your hand and place your hand some place upon your body. And listen to the community of madness that you are.
“There is a juiciness to creativity, a succulence, or a sensuality which both produces and is soothed by creating something. I think that creativity is pleasing to women on a very deep level, whatever form it might take – whether it’s the feel of clay in our hands, the colours that work on us as we knit, the meaning that we find in the words that we write, or the energizing feel of movement as we dance and the music moves through our bodies.”
Lucy Pearce in Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted (2019)
I had the unexpected pleasure of a working staycation at the Folk Tree Lodge in the foothill town of Bragg Creek, Alberta a few weeks ago. Invited to bring my scribing skills to a women’s creators retreat, I packed a few requisite mountain weather layers of clothing , and with my writing pens, paper pads, and camera, “caught” women’s words as we sat in circle to learn about, talk about, and play about living a creative life, about being creators.
Yes, one of our hosts, Theo Harasymiw, an established mosaic artist, invited us into activities and stations to experience different forms of creative expression – foraging, mosaic, collage, print and stamping, writing. But her constant, consistent message throughout was that of giving value and making time for the creative process as a way of living – a way of life.
So, prepare an area, make it accessible, easy to invite Creativity into. The product is the product. The process is the gift.
“At its most basic level, of course, creativity is about making stuff. Taking something like wool and turning it into a sweater. Or creating less tangible things, like taking the germ of an idea and turning it into reality. But more than all of that, creativity to me is a way of thinking and problem-solving, an imaginative approach to living. Creativity helps us to be more fully alive on every level, asking that we engage with life in a visceral and interactive way.”
Lucy Pearce in Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted (2019)
Each of us around the circle had plenty of experience creating – both in the traditional ways of making of art and writing, photography, crafting within cultural traditions – and in the less obvious ways of choices made in our professional and personal lives – the work we designed, ways we care for others, and serve our communities.
The healing question of one who cares, to create in the voice of theirs. If I could, I’d ditch this for that, make the changes with my confines choose quality, longer lasting imprints beyond just the task. Aware of children’s Souls and that Souls need attention.
So, the constraints and confines in which Creativity thrives stoke an internal fire that’s unstoppable.
I write. I photograph. I dabble, especially when travelling, in pen and ink, water colour sketches. I collage. I call myself a kindergarten knitter. I stitch and sew, though not so much so. I cook with a self claimed specialization of making one-off silk purses from leftovers. Yet I know the extent to which I question and compartmentalize creativity, asking does sewing count? Or cooking if it’s not gourmet? It’s still something I do – if and when – and not yet always, a way of understanding “this is who I am.”
I “caught” that same struggle in the words of the women sitting in circle:
Not the visual art, but the Soul’s art: Do we see it? Can we be it? Do we show it? Do we value it? Does it have to be just one thing? Can we make our life a collage of it all?
The clarion call of Creativity: I see it outside me. I feel in inside me. The obligation to hear my Soul’s calling to live it out loud.
When our fear becomes our greatest obstacle the offering from one who listens deeply between the words within the spaces brings us all a peace.
“Reclaiming our own particularly female forms of creativity is a critical part of reinstating the undervalued feminine principle in the world, but it’s not as easy as it sounds to do that – the societal conditioning which pushes us in other directions can be so complete.”
Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted (2019)
How life as we’ve been taught, lived, worked, earned pushed and pulled squashed and beat creativity into submission imagination into flat line
Insists on a blue sky, a yellow sun, green grass, a red wagon. “Stop playing.” “Get real.”
“Consciously or unconsciously we know that to be a creative woman can entail huge risk. And this is what we have to overcome…this is why my driving passion is to empower women and inspire them to get their work out there, so that the world is full of our vibrant voices, creations, dreams. Our world needs all the colour and innovation we can give right now.”
Lucy Pearce in Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted (2019)
This was the driving force behind the retreat – a response to hearing the yearning in women’s voices to reclaim that which through their lives had been lost. To invite a small group of women into a care-fully designed and lovingly hosted experience to playfully welcome back their vibrant voices, creations and dreams.
We’re in a new future finding the strength being the support to innovate our way to co-create a new space to let our Souls soar.
We lift the veil of our beingness to make the invisible visible. That’s the voice of our Soul when we let our Souls soar.
I never dreamt it could be so good a pivot to a promise the flow into what can be when women pull together.
Such a sweet pleasure for me to witness, to play, to catch our words and weave into poem stories…to be and bring my creative self in service of this gathering.
My love made visible…one of a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the earth.
The moment when, after many years of hard work and a long voyage you stand in the centre of your room, house, half-acre, square mile, island, country, knowing at last how you got there, and say, I own this,
is the same moment when the trees unloose their soft arms from around you, the birds take back their language, the cliffs fissure and collapse, the air moves back from you like a wave and you can’t breathe.
No, they whisper. You own nothing. You were a visitor, time after time climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming. We never belonged to you. You never found us. It was always the other way round.
– Margaret Atwood –
This poem’s wisdom reminds me of that found in David Wagoner’s poem “Lost”– the need to stand still and let the forest find me, for to do otherwise will only guarantee my lostness. Both impart the knowing held by our First Nations’ peoples – being in “right relationship” with Nature; surrendering to its wisdom and power; trusting its medicine to heal and realign us. In the Mountains, we settlers climbed and claimed and named peaks – ususally after people -which for hundreds, if not thousands of years before, had been named by the land’s first peoples in honor of the powers and gifts, the placeholding for tradition, ceremony, and travel direction. As an act of reconciliation, many people today are asking that we restore those original names – to acknowledge the Mountains never belonged to us, we didn’t find them. That it was and always will be the other way round.