Hanging On, Letting Go

“Look how calmly the trees abandon their autumn leaves, scattering jewels on the ground, soon to become mulch. These serene beings are apt teachers for us. Just see how they send their life-essence down into their roots as the days shorten and darken.”  

Pir Zia Inayat Khan, The Zephyr Newsletter, December 2020

Last Monday, when I walked with Annie to centre myself and find my words, when I listened to the poem that released the floodgate of tears and cleared the way for the inchoate to become articulate, I found myself attracted to Nature’s images that evoked a “hanging on.” Despite all that gives way to a northern winter – daylight and warmth, green grass and foliage, garden fresh vegetables, robin song – still there is much that persists.

And I thought, how fitting a metaphor for this year’s Advent. Now in the third week, the one characterized by the rose-pink candle of joy, I wondered how do we hold the tension, no, how do we live and be in the tension of hanging on expectantly, when so much has let go? How do we negotiate our familiar and counted upon traditions of joy and celebration, in the face of myriad losses and uncertainties, persistent isolation and loneliness? How do we wait in joy for the promise inherent in this season, given so many shattering impacts of 2020?  Not an intended pun, but truly a pandemic paradox, of pandemic proportion.

While I don’t have answers to my own questions, let alone any “sage” advice, I am reminded of Rilke’s wisdom to not strive for answers…to live the questions for now…though admittedly, not quite able to love them. But perhaps there are some hints from others, whose words have shimmered as they’ve crossed my screen this week, in remarkable resonance and synchronicity.

“I’m feeling a bone deep exhaustion now, yet I’m also feeling a resistance to the softness and rest that this season urges. There is too much to do to rest. And to be soft in the face of all that has happened in 2020 — that is a world of hurt I’m not sure I can bear. My experience of this season’s impulse to look back and take stock has a new intensity too. There is a great deal I long to recover about pre-pandemic life. But I don’t want to go back to a “normal” that would lose all that this year taught and gave us to live into.” 

Krista Tippett, The Pause, December 15, 2020

In the past few days, I walked and listened to another of my favorite podcasts, Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us. In the most recent episode, she looked back over all she had learned from reading and prepping for two seasons worth of interviews, to more fully understand her very first episode on “FFT’s” (friggin’ first times) dropped in the early days of Covid-19.  Her recent neuroscience “expert,” David Eagleman, confirmed Brené’s emergent hypothesis that our brains – and we – are exhausted with mapping so many new responses to this year’s unprecedented number of FFTs. The antidote to so much changing so fast is our attention, our acknowledgement, and rest, plenty of rest that restores us, and our brains. The image that comes to mind after today’s snow showers: clearing the walks and roads of snow that keeps falling. No sooner do you get it clear, then you need to do it again, and again, and again.

In this same episode, Brené shared a quote that succinctly sums up life as we know it now:

“‘History is the study of surprises.’
This line captures the world in which we live, we’re living history, surprise after surprise after surprise. And just when we think, we’ve had all the big surprises for a while, along comes another one. If the first two decades of the 21st century have taught us anything, it’s that uncertainty is chronic; instability is permanent; disruption is common; and we can neither predict nor govern events. There will be no ‘new normal’; there will only be a continuous series of ‘not normal’ episodes, defying prediction and unforeseen by most of us until they happen.”

Jim Collins, Beyond Entrepreneurship 2.0, 2020

Hmmm…grim news of foreboding, or the sudden, fresh wakening from somnambulant dis-illusion? Another paradox and invitation to find a middle way, perhaps?

I’ve lost track of the number of times this past year I’ve heard myself say aloud or think the wise words from a past, wise teacher: the trick to living paradox is knowing “it’s all true.” That both sides of the coin are the same coin. That 180 degrees is a straight line connecting what appear to be opposites. That the yin always contains a bit of yang and vice versa. And that there is a field between right doing and wrong doing where I will meet you.

“There is a time for stillness and empty-handedness, a time for holding vigil in the darkness. Winter keeps a secret that is vital to our soul’s knowledge of itself. Before long, the days will lengthen again. But now is the time to be rooted in the silent, patient earth as the planet heaves through the ebon emptiness of space.” 

Pir Zia Inayat Khan, The Zephyr Newsletter, December 2020

Yes. This is so very true. And so too, for so many of us right now, is the isolation and loneliness that fills us with sorrow, worry, grief. That keeps us sleepless when we need rest for our bodies and brains and hearts, and to recover our resilience.

Last week, once again in my favorite Italian grocery store, as I maneuvered my cart into the checkout line, I looked up to see our dear friends. The last I saw them was a year ago, sitting at our cozy round table, enjoying a kitchen supper. Nothing fancy. Just simple Tuscan cooking, fine wine, and edifying conversation. It was a delicious evening, one we anticipated repeating sooner than later, upon our return from Andalusia last February. Sure, now we talk on the phone, exchange “love notes” in the mail or via text, but to lay eyes on each other, bundled and masked, brought tears to our eyes. There we stood, huddled among the pasta and olive oil – probably closer than two meters – impelled to express our love, our gratitude, the miraculous of our chance meeting, the angels that must have conspired for us then and there.

“…we need to accompany each other right now and beyond this season, in what none of us is called to bear and do alone. To honor the many losses we scarcely know what to do with. To dwell with reverence before our exhaustion and our resilience. To cultivate the expectant waiting that is the spirit of Advent. To ponder how we want to live once the virus releases us back to each other. “

Krista Tippett, The Pause, December 15, 2020

Since I last wrote, Covid-19 vaccinations are now being administered around the world. Here in Canada, the first to be inoculated was an elderly woman from Quebec. Here in Alberta, our health care workers are to be first in line. Touted as the light at the end of a long dark tunnel, it’s not lost on me that this hoped for miracle comes during our darkest hours, both literally and figuratively. Personally, I sit in another paradox: knowing it will be many months before I have access to this anticipated release from the virus’ silent, deadly grip and can let go of extraordinary vigilance and precaution, countered by the desire to hang on to the many subtle gifts of this time – a slowing down to savour simplicity and deepening stillness, noticing inner shifts and outer expressions, renewed appreciation and gratitude, a growing and steady contentment. Just as my love of winter’s darkness has grown over time, and I wince knowing that come next week, we’ll once again be on the upswing to more daylight, I hear a whisper of caution to not squander what has been so hard won, an invitation to make anew.

“We will not go back to normal, normal never was. Our pre-Corona existence was not normal, other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate, and lack. We should not long to return, my friends, we are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment, one that fits all of humanity and nature.”

Sonya Renee Taylor

Now, I literally wait for the linen and yarn and needles to arrive to start stitching.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Day 2 and then some

It’s happened. In the last two days I’ve learned of people I know having their lives impacted by COVID-19. Up until now it’s been something “out there.” Now it’s landed on my doorstep, making these past six months less surreal.

A few weeks ago, while walking Annie, I listened to the second season opener of Brene Brown’s Unlocking Us podcasts. Titled “Day 2” she describes how now, six months into the pandemic, it’s not getting any easier for us. In fact, in a counter-intuitive way, it’s harder. We tell ourselves we should be getting the hang of it, but no. Like the Day 2 of her three-day training events, or what in my profession’s parlance we call the “groan zone”: when, after settling in and getting to know each other, playing around with new concepts and ideas with everything “out there”, the rubber hits the road when we realize, often with resistance, that for any traction and way forward to occur, we need to do a lot of internal pushing, shifting, and changing. We feel awkward, anxious, angry. Tired. Doubting. We want to turn around, get out, and dust ourselves off.

“…let me tell you,
day two of these three-day trainings sucked.
I mean sucked. So not only in terms of the curriculum,
day two meant that we were moving into some of the really tough content, like shame and worthiness, but people were also kind of feeling raw. The first day of anything like the first day of school, the first day of a training, the first day of your work, you’re like, I get the badge and everything’s shiny, and everything feels like a new undertaking, and there’s this sparkle of possibility. By day two, this is dulled. And now you’re kind of in this dense fog where you don’t have the shiny possibility of day one or the running toward the finish line of day three. It’s like hitting the wall.”

Brene Brown, “Day 2,” on Unlocking Us, September 2, 2020

I’d been feeling and saying pretty much the same thing this summer. And while I didn’t think I had a timeline for this thing, knew enough to cancel a September return to Morocco way back in March, heard about the “second wave”, in all honesty, in some deep place, I was holding out hope we’d be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel by now, driving towards it. Instead it feels as messy as ever. But now, since yesterday, much more real.

“…we’re in the dark, the doors close behind us,
we’re too far in to turn around and
not close enough to the end to see the light…”

Brene Brown, “Day 2,” on Unlocking Us, September 2, 2020

Yesterday I went to the store to fetch groceries for my friend, and I swear to God, as I put the mask on my face, my brain fell out. I couldn’t make sense of the store aisle arrows, of how close or far I was to the next person. My glasses kept fogging up. When I finally got ready to checkout, I started placing my items on the conveyor belt before the customer ahead had finished. Yes, I was safely distanced, but the clerk kindly asked me to wait until she had sprayed and wiped the entire belt making it safe and ready for me. Of course, I should have known that. Then I told her I needed two receipts, different bags – theirs they’d pack, mine I needed bag myself – where was my store card? my credit card? Flustered, I finally confessed, “I’m usually pretty competent, but today, I can’t multitask worth a damn.” She laughed with me. Grateful for her kindness, I muddled through, got outside, whipped off my mask, and breathing deep while sitting in my car, realized how rattled I was and why. COVID-19 had arrived on my doorstep.

 “We will not go back to normal. Normal never was.
Our pre-Corona existence was not normal, other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate, and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment, one that fits all of humanity and nature.”

Sonya Renee Taylor

Today is a better day. In fact, the whole of last week was grand, even yesterday, grocery shopping aside, or maybe, paradoxically, because of it. September on the prairies can be a glorious month, and after our second wet, cold summer, she’s pulling out all the stops for us. And October is looking pretty good, too. Every day I walk, I’m enthralled with what I see around me. My basic, single lens phone camera is working a surprising magic.

And those plans I’d put in place – in anticipation of this messy middle, to help me flourish after having felt fallow for months – are panning out beautifully. I’ll write more about that in weeks to come. But for now, I’ll give Brene the last word:

“The middle is messy, but it’s also where the magic happens.
If we believe in ourselves, if we reach out together,
and if we lean into a little bit of that grace that says,
‘We can get through this.'”

Brene Brown, “Day 2,” on Unlocking Us, September 2, 2020

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.