eight hundred years ago words tumbled from your mouth as you whirled in ecstasy caught by the quill of your scribe creating images read the world over in a future unforeseen a reed burned hollow yearning for your breath a ground knelt upon and kissed in hundreds of ways a house guest greeted warmly as holy visitor
your own blazing love and searching, afire with your Beloved’s glory now the flame that lights now the song that dances me home
Christine Valters Paintner
a modern monk moored in a Celtic landscape contemplation and creativity your stock in trade prayer and painting poetry and dance song and silence evoked by your Benedictine vows and wide awake discerning eyes where illness and grief have polished smooth the cave of your heart making space for the shimmering of earth, wind, sea, and sky and the wisdom of ancients and ancestors to tell their stories and shape your words into offerings for a holy communion
As April is National Poetry Month, in appreciation and celebration, I have written a poem to each of six poets whose words, for me, inspire, instruct, and illuminate. This week, through the lens of sacred inspiration, I write to Rumi, the founder of the Whirling Dervish community of Sufism and author of several of its sacred texts, and to Christine Valters Painter, poet and abbess of the Abbey of the Arts, a global online meeting space for contemplation and creative expression. In the past year, I’ve participated in several of the Abbey’s retreats and shared here impressions and impacts of their numerous prompts and invitations.
“Keep it simple, keep it kind” to grease and ease passage through resistance into the Dance of Sacred Yes and Sacred No. Known and named resistance for one so facile with words – spoken and written – knows Body Knows and will slipstream with Her own Wisdom, shape shift to Truth.
“By the sacred yes or the sacred no I mean that affirmation or negation that comes from a deep place of wisdom and courage, even if it creates conflict or disagreement. The sacred yes is not willful or egocentric, but rather is willing and surrendered. The sacred no is not rebellion or refusal, but always the necessary protecting of boundaries.”
Richard Rohr, in The Artist’s Rule by Christine Valters Paintner
The Deal struck – leave words and utterances behind for Body in its silence to teach, with music of shaman’s dream to guide.
Kneel before the altar. Candle lit. Head bowed. Stilling, silencing, falling into the cave of the heart. Listening to a beat older than time. Imaginal images flutter through time and space.
SACRED YES sees ancient Sun Dancer, pierced with deer cord bound to Tree in Life Hoop’s center. Face to the sun, sweat and blood streaming. Is this not a Sacred Dance to the Sacred Yes of Life? Elephant Matriarch swinging her massive head and trunk, warning all to beware as she guides her family through danger. Arms suspended as Seaweed floating on the ocean’s surf. Then outstretched seeking surfer’s balance as he rides the Wave. Now bald Eagle silently soaring, high wide view of land and sky. Hold hair tight like Kali, Durga. Bounce and bound like Ape. Silent belly rumble and laugh. Inhale deep. Exhale deeper like bellows. Not a word. Not a sound. Felt Sense Flashes. All a truer expression of that commitment to Life through its ages, when all Bodies knew. Then rest, dream of YES, slip into Dream Time to bring it through, to be it, to be with it. No words needed. Body knows. Space surrounding Body holds vibration and emanation of this Dance to SACRED YES.
SACRED NO awakens to Tibetan bells. Flowing gentle melody instantly illumines Sacred No is always in service of Sacred Yes. In obedience bows to Life. Bending forward to purge the false yes, compliance, making small, resentments and envies – all taken as truth those lifetimes of lies. Rising up, strengthen arms and legs, back and front, shake head free of delusion, break free of an invisible bondage as concrete eggshell shatters. Drum beat evokes fierce warrior. Strike and chop and kick and stomp. Claim and proclaim. Power and empower. Swoon with sudden sick feeling as Ego slips in guised to taint and turn the Sacred against itself. BIG MEDICINE here. Stand still. Is not standing still on one’s ground like Mountain the Sacred Dance of the Sacred No? Then sway and soften into Life, like Tree who knows to withstand Storm he must give and bend. Be fluid, fluent like River flows. Dance SACRED NO as betrothed partner to SACRED YES. Shape shift through Ego’s seduction. Discern the step. Quiet presence, fierce with fight. When to be loud with silence, soft with strength.
“A thousand half-loves must be surrendered to take a whole heart home.”
Mid August has come and gone and with it, most of summer. I used to say that August felt like one long Sunday night, especially for those of us in education. That mix of anticipation, apprehension, excitement and trepidation with September and the start of a new school year. All the stuff that can keep one awake, tossing and turning on a Sunday night, wondering what the new week will bring.
For the first time, this isn’t my felt sense. Maybe enough years out and away from the day to day. Too, knowing my work with schools has ceased, at least for the time being. Not wanting to be insensitive, I admit it’s hardly a year I’d want to be returning given so much continued uncertainty and real apprehension about the safety and well-being of staff and students as COVID-19 numbers continue to rise here and around the world with school resuming.
Despite another run this week of hot, sunny weather and cloudless skies (only the second this summer!) there are signs of what’s to come. Sitting by the local pond late last week I wrote:
The change in weather weighed heavy today. Every bone in my body ached. My jaw clenched as my third eye pulsed. Indelible and subtle, this signaling of the season to come. Tell-tale morning chill. Golden haze on aspen, ash and farmers’ fields. Sun that sets earlier, rises later. Geese gathered on the cat-tail bordered pond, leisurely swim in the same V formation as they fly. And for a moment I hear in my head the opening lines to a favourite Mary Oliver poem, Wild Geese. Try to speak aloud from memory. Give up but remember its essence, remember the world announcing my place in the family of things.
Look up into that blue sky, heavy with lead bottomed clouds. Beseech the wind who is my guardian, “Where is it I’m meant to be?”
Like a squirrel gathering nuts, the geese and crows gathering to migrate south, I’m beginning to prepare myself for fall. Like its predecessors, spring and summer of 2020, I imagine it, too, will be the likes of which none of us has ever experienced. More pronounced again have been those waves of grief as I realize all too soon the ease with which we’ve been able to safely see friends will pass as colder temperatures and shorter days become the norm. And still, though curiously more acute, the sur-reality of living in this pandemic, every day continuing to learn more and more its impacts. Something I felt in the spring, but was able to hold lightly, off to the side during summer.
“… it is in those moments that we must remember the difference between despair and grief. While despair traps us in the bog of despondency, grief carries us into life. Grief calls us into a deeper engagement with those things that we love. And even as we are losing them, grief wants to exalt their beauty. If we let grief move us into expression, it will sing the blood into our songs, colour the vividness into our paintings, and slip the poetry between our words.
Toko-pa Turner, Facebook post, August 14, 2020
So thoroughly engaged in the first programs I took under their hosting this spring, in the pandemic’s novel, early days, I signed on to another self study with the Abbey of the Arts. Starting in September for twelve weeks, “Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist,” promises to be an equally deep, communal dive into creative expression. I’m lightly researching how and what I need to begin a project based on some mandala paintings I’ve made over the years, and today I signed on for a self-paced study in abstract creative painting. Lonely for community, I’ve decided to resume my weekly Saturday river valley walks with the local Camino group.
It’s a delicate balancing act, like the pattern I’ve noticed when I’ve been out and about a bit, around more people than usual. Without much conscious thought, I find myself laying low for the following several days, staying home, and only going out to walk Annie. I hear friends and family acknowledge their loneliness, while others live with the millstone of chronic illness and the deaths of their beloveds. My heart aches for my sister, recently moved to the States, where as the crow flies only fifteen minutes from her children, grandchildren and our parents, but with the border closed, now for another month, now an eternity away. I prudently expect more of our traditional celebrations – Thanksgiving, Hallowe’en, Christmas, New Year’s – will continue to be severely curtailed by Covid-19.
“Rumi says, ‘All medicine wants is pain to cure.’ And so we must cry out in our weakness, our ineptitude, our beautiful inadequacy and make of it an invitation that medicine might reach through and towards us.”
Toko-pa Turner, Facebook post, August 14, 2020
Sitting by the pond, in response to my question, the wind whispers:
Right here, dear daughter. Resting in the still warm sun. Breathing in the fresh northern air. Your hair like the green rushes, swaying, dipping and dancing in rhythm to my silent song. Right here. Right now. This.
This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice. meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes. because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
Dance, when you’re broken open. Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance, when you’re perfectly free.
– Rumi – translated by Coleman Barks in The Essential Rumi, 1995
Sweet synchronicity – no sooner had I written this post when I heard a musical interpretation of these verses. Composer Anna Clyne created an orchestral arrangement featuring the cello, titled DANCE. Listen to the fourth movement, “in your blood,” with cellist Inbal Segev and the London Philharmonic Orchestra.