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.
In circle work, as taught by my teachers and elder “heart sisters,” Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea in The Circle Way, knowing when to call for a pause is a practice tenet. To regather one’s thoughts or focus, to recentre to purpose, taking a deep breath or several in silence supports the moving through and forward.
So it is that after a month of walking, and another two reflecting and writing about it here, I am pausing from writing my Monday posts. I may return to posting my Friday feature photo and poems, and in fact, have one lined up for Friday. But I’ll see how it rolls. Needing my attention this month are a few projects: writing the foreward and composing poetry for an anthology of women’s leadership in education, fine-tuning my poetry manuscript for the next round of submissions to publishers, and preparing the next issue of SAGE-ING for our September 21 online publication date.
In signing off for now, and “tucking in” my reflections on the Camino, here are beautiful words that affirm who I am and how I show up in the world, evident in my recent Camino photostories. Again, one of those timely Facebook finds:
“Are you happy? In all honesty? No. But I am curious – I am curious in my sadness and I am curious in my joy. I am everseeking, everfeeling. I am in awe of the beautiful moments life gives us, and I am in awe of the difficult ones. I am transfixed by grief, by growth. It is all so stunning, so rich, and I will never convince myself that I cannot be somber, cannot be hurt, cannot be overjoyed. I want to feel it all – I don’t want to over it up or numb it. So no, I am not happy. I am open, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Every other week I circle up virtually with some dear woman friends. It’s been a way to feel connection and offer support to each other during these continued covid times. We begin, as is our way, following The Circle Way practice, with a reading of some kind to help us land and settle in with each other and ourselves. A bell rung once, twice and we begin to check in with each other, often in response to what has been evoked by the reading, or by whatever is personally stirring and needing to be spoken aloud to the centre.
Last week I as I walked past my bookshelves to fetch my bells, grabbed by the title on the spine, I grabbed “The Wild In You: Voices from the Forest and the Sea” (2015) by Canadian poet, Lorna Crozier. (Lovely synchronicity in that as I’m sitting here tapping away, in the background I hear The Road Home’s Bob Chelmick read from Lorna’s 2018 volume, The God of Shadows.) A beautiful compilation of poetry and Ian McAllister’s photography, I quickly flipped through the pages, arriving at “A Winter’s Sleep,” companioned by a magnificent wolf sleeping on the seaside sand.
A Winter’s Sleep
So much sleeping in this place. Think of all that lies beneath the snow, lake trout below the ice, bears in their dens, their warm snores drifting above the treetops that are sleeping, too, high above your own long sleep.
Even raven, with so much to say and do, closes his eyes, tucks his beak under his wing and sinks into the season’s dream-rich dark where all his stories start.
Lorna Crozier, 2018
As is our way, we meander in a conversation punctuated that evening by long pauses and the shared recognition of how fatigue, grief and the need for Nature’s stillness were embroidering our days of late. One shared another poem, another mentioned a book, Wintering, the title of which evoked a memory that I’d written about it. When I read aloud from the post I’d written last February, I knew it was an idea worth repeating here. That even though my interior state has shifted from what I described then, today, as the winds blew a constant icy cold, the temperature plummeted, and too, the hours of daylight here on the Canadian prairies, it is wintering.
WINTERING, originally posted February 1, 2021
“Dashed and disheartened – again,” I emailed a friend. What with last week’s winds having blown in Arctic cold temperatures and flat light skies, reading up on my country’s vaccination rollout debacle and delays, virus variants that are proving to be highly contagious and perhaps more deadly than the original, and a speculated move to mandated mask wearing outside, this might be an understatement. Certainly enough to have been stalled again in writing here, having missed two of my usual Monday postings. Plumbing a bit deeper, what with my husband having celebrated his first “Covid” birthday two weeks ago, we realized with age, and life as we’ve known it “on hold,” we’re feeling quite wistful. Most apparent for me is missing traveling and all that it gives me, more fully appreciated now in its absence. I’m resigned to the probability that this will be another year, and most likely then some, of staying put. Too, the whisper of a question held this past year, “Will I – we – ever travel again as in the past?”
A few days ago, somewhat warmer with soft snowflakes fluttering down, Annie and I walked, she happy for her full-length coat, and NOT having to wear her fleece boots. I plugged into a recent On Being podcast, curious having read Krista’s weekend letter:
“Katherine May, in her book, Wintering – The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times (2020), meditatively explores ‘wintering’ as a season of the natural world but also as a place our bodies and psyches need to go, a season that recurs again and again across a life. We cheat and dismiss this in life as we’ve been living it, but it has presented itself insistently in a pandemic year we might reimagine as one long communal wintering.
We can’t move forward without grieving all we’ve lost in the past year. Closer to the ground, this means we have to let in the fact of sadness — a precursor to pain and fear — with some reverence. If happiness is a skill, Katherine May says, so is unhappiness. Winter embodies the strange complexity of reality. It is the bitterest season, we blithely say. And all the while it manages not to be the death of the life cycle, as Katherine May reminds, but its crucible.”
Krista Tippet, The Pause, January 23, 2021
That would be the odd place in which I found myself last spring and summer. Whereas I’d used the words “fallow” and “lost”, as I listened to Katherine May, I recognized in her words a fuller, more accurate description of those several months lying cold and low, when all around me blushed and blossomed.
“…wintering is a metaphor for those phases in our life when we feel frozen out or unable to make the next step, and that that can come at any time, in any season, in any weather; that it has nothing to do with the physical cold…”
Katherine May, On Being podcast, January 21, 2021
Not bound to season as we know it, but a necessary and recurrent place to drop into when we appreciate the cyclical nature of our lives. Thinking back, during an actual winter fifteen years ago, I dropped into depression. Not major, but enough that I and others noticed I was not myself. Little energy and enthusiasm, waning concentration, major exertions of effort to get through a day of work and home chores. Enough that once on the other side that spring, I’d mentioned it to my family doctor, and upon closer examination, recognized its cyclical nature. Perhaps a bit of seasonal affective disorder with some inherited family predisposition towards the winter “blahs.” Never since as severe, though I have a letter I wrote to myself then, upon the suggestion of my doctor, “to be opened in the dark days, to remember.” I’ve never needed to, though I know it’s perched on my desk amidst a collection of mementos. And that brings reassurance enough.
“Plants and animals don’t fight the winter; they don’t pretend it’s not happening and attempt to carry on living the same lives they lived in the summer. They prepare. They adapt. They perform extraordinary acts of metamorphosis to get them through. Wintering is a time of withdrawing from the world, maximizing scant resources, carrying out acts of brutal efficiency and vanishing from sight; but that’s where the transformation occurs. Winter is not the death of the life cycle, but its crucible.”
Katherine May, On Being podcast, January 21, 2021
I wonder if because we are mostly acculturated out of such natural rhythms and rituals, those embedded deep within our DNA and beneath our consciousness, we find ourselves in “winter” out of season? That if we heeded Nature’s signs and stirrings, we’d ready ourselves, with each other, for wintering’s alchemical invitation. I feel a growing love and appreciation for winter, the season, since being unfettered by work’s imposed schedule, demands, and need for driving. And as many of us have felt during the pandemic, in lives slowed and diminished of obligation, its paradoxical gifts.
“It’s a time for reflection and recuperation, for slow replenishment, for putting your house in order. Doing these deeply unfashionable things — slowing down, letting your spare time expand, getting enough sleep, resting — is a radical act now, but it’s essential.”
Katherine May, On Being podcast, January 21, 2021
Recently I came upon these words from Toko-pa Turner’s book, Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home. They echo the hidden transformative gifts in this crucible of winter and wintering:
“Like the bowl that has yet to be filled, there is an emptiness that precedes creativity that is alive with potential. With ordinary eyes, it’s easy to mistake this emptiness for stagnancy. We may think, “I have nothing of substance to offer! I have no original ideas!” But down at the invisible base of things, there is a holy dance taking place. Though we may want to run from the tension, the polarities are in constant motion, readying themselves into harmony. Far from dormant, this dance is the active receptivity that calls things into form. We are such a vessel. These times of nothingness are actually busy with living into a new capacity.
Originality comes when you stay close to that emptiness, making it a welcoming place, adorning it with your divine longing, learning the shape of it, and filling it with your questions. Every great artist I know is obsessed with a question, and their artworks are less attempts to answer that question than they are exaltations of asking. As Jean Cocteau says, ‘The poet doesn’t invent. He listens.'”
I listened last summer as I wintered, lost and fallow. I remembered it as a familiar season of my life and followed its nudges to find my way through. Walking with Annie. Reading and writing. Photography and painting. Making love notes to friends. Cooking and circling up with women friends. And now in the fullness of its season, I sleep longer, nap more, give myself permission to pause the writing until I feel stirred. I let myself feel, once again, dashed and disheartened, trusting them to be worthy of these times. And I wonder.
“I recognized winter. I saw it coming a mile off, since you ask, and I looked it in the eye. I greeted it and let it in. I had some tricks up my sleeve, you see. I’ve learned them the hard way. When I started to feel the drag of winter, I began to treat myself like a favored child, with kindness and love. I assumed my needs were reasonable and that my feelings were signals of something important. I kept myself well fed, and I made sure I was getting enough sleep. I took myself for walks in the fresh air and spent time doing things that soothed me. I asked myself, what is this winter all about? I asked myself, what change is coming?”
Katherine May, Wintering – The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times (2020)
We place ourselves in circles and huddles, knowing somehow that this way of being together signs the shape of our dreams and longings.
From space we see ourselves round, connected to one another, facing each other, with all our differences dancing around the sun together.
For centuries we have been trying to bring the circle down from mystery skies, to set it stone solid in our hearts, to memorize the knowing of each preciousness equally gift to the circle of whole.
Spirals etched in red rock canyon story the journey out of and into the center then holds all things together. Stonehenge pillars and lintels dragged for miles, scraped into meaning, set in sacred formation with sun and moon. Conical mounds heaped into remembrance ritual the lives of elders who circle the fire of the tribe. Everywhere and ancient the circle is repeated, shaping us to its original wisdom.
Give us each day or daily hunger, to be more than we are now, to be less solitary selves doubting our place, to be more a circle of connection and acceptance, spherical harmony of the heavens.
Each one a single voice, a sacred story, but always in the larger circle of meaning and mystery.
– Gary Boelhower –
As a practitioner, teacher and past board member of The Circle Way, our financial support ensures the practice and resources reach far and wide. Perhaps more than ever, our world needs the skills to sit together in our collective stories of grief, injustice, dreams and longings. Consider The Circle Way in your gifting this season.
Thank you, dear friends. Much love and kindest regards.
Marches have continued around the world this past week protesting racial injustice and police brutality. In my city, right now receiving the much-needed steady soaking from a weekend of rain, it is estimated that 15,000 people gathered during Friday evening’s sunshine and warm weather on the grounds of our provincial legislature. Wearing masks, carrying signs, “taking a knee”, all thankfully without the eruption of the violence other cities have recently seen, though social distancing protocols to stave off infection from the other pandemic, COVID-19, were hard to maintain.
Initially, I had planned to attend, but my best intentions gave way to accepting I was unable to put myself at risk due to chronic health factors, and a growing anxiety that signaled my need to pay attention. While I would miss the march, I would be in this fight for the long haul.
After concluding my participation in the eight week The Soul of a Pilgrim program this weekend, come Tuesday I’ll begin a twelve-week book study, reflection, and conversation of White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, hosted by a small group of thoughtful, seasoned practitioners of The Circle Way. Together, we will create a safe and strong container to do our real, hard, and necessary work of identifying both within and without the systemic impacts of white supremacy and racism. It is a beginning of a long and real journey.
“It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go we have come to our real journey…”
Mindful of so much that has been happening in the world around me, this past week had me thinking back to a year ago when I experienced my first Peer Spirit Wilderness Quest. Hosted and guided by the founders of The Circle Way, Ann Linnea and Christina Baldwin, with their quest guide colleague, Deborah Greene-Jacobi , the stars and my schedule had finally aligned to make the trek to the eastern slopes of Washington’s Cascade Mountains. With “hindsight being 2020,” I’m grateful to have gone last year because this year’s quest had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. Months before my departure, I was thoughtfully and carefully prepared with packing lists, activities to discern my intention, clarifying conversations, and closer to the date, travel and weather details. Once arrived, I joined a beautifully multi-generational, cross-cultural cohort of eleven men and women, some who had travelled from as far as Australia and Germany. Once settled, we soon began in earnest, readying our tent sites and ourselves to fast solo on the Sacred Mountain for three days and nights.
Sitting and sleeping alone, with the sun and moon, the stars and the clouds, the wind, groves of aspen, spruce, pine and fir, birds and bugs as my companions, created a mighty connection and opened a portal through which I felt the wisdom and life giving and saving gifts of Nature. I did not return with answers to questions, nor even clarity as to first step directions to take. Instead, I was filled to overflowing with gratitude and reverence for all and everything that had brought me to this point in my life. I felt a deep appreciation that was beyond words, with no regrets. And I experienced an inner consolidation of hard l/earned presence.
The wilderness quest is very much akin to the pilgrim’s journey. Both are predicated on a final stage of “coming home” to oneself and one’s community, and to incorporation (in corpus – in body) of lessons learned, questions discerned, gifts received. (Again a synchronicity with this first year anniversary is that this last week’s eighth and final practice in The Soul of a Pilgrim is “coming home.”) This to then to awaken to the next call to begin again. Last year’s quest still reverberates and compelled me to follow the energy to The Soul of a Pilgrim. Now both call me into the work of dismantling my racism, taking guidance from this kind and compassionate wisdom:
“What continues to be the deepest wisdom for me is the call to release my effort, the summons to fall into the embrace of the One who offers an abundance of nourishment. I’m learning to trust in the unfinished nature of things. This calls me to give my heart to my work, as I always strive to do, and then wrap myself in the shawl of humility to honor my own limitations.”
Christine Valters Paintner, The Soul of a Pilgrim , 2015