One From the Little Red Jot Book

Sunday, September 3, 2017: a morning walk on the lands of Finca Buenvino, Spain

The first apple, Eve’s temptation, this golden green orb of bliss.

Quince it’s called today, and many speculate this was the original harbinger of the original sin.

 

“I feel like I’m being taken care of…I didn’t expect that,” she says,

somewhat bewildered,

somewhat bemused,

her words landing softly

so as not to disturb this morning gift of remote stillness,

so different from her hustle-about urban life.

 

It’s what women do so well.

Let our hearts be broken open by love and by care.

By beauty.

Like this walnut, fresh picked from the tree.

This fig warm and honey sweet and sticky.

Juicy like Spanish love on a late summer day.

 

I have arrived, walking now with seven sisters.

Echoes of the Pleiades, that constellation of stars in a black blanket sky.

 

I am here, amidst birdsong and warm breeze.

The song of cicadas and buzzing bees.

 

Even the family’s truffle coloured pup is filled with curiosity.

What now?  Where next?

The need to simply do quite a bit of not a lot.

It’s a statement I typed in an email to a friend last week.  Unbidden.  True.

I relish the sudden spontaneous emergence of such pithy truths.

Like the time when I asked another friend for the gift of her skillful deep listening as I weighed a hefty matter needing decisive action.  “Winnowing to essence,” came my reply, as I described the simplicity I was after.

Since then, those words have become a mantra for the gradual process of letting go of a lot of my life’s trappings, and committing to exchange things for experiences.

“Quite a bit of not a lot.”

Zen ThingsI like the roll of this in my mouth, piqued by a bit of paradox.  Like a lemon lime lollipop, sweet and tangy.  Evoking, or perhaps subliminally inspired by, this recent Facebook “share.”

It makes deep and abiding sense.

It feels good and right in my body, the reservoir of wordless wisdom.

And it comes.  Remarkably quite easily.  Ceasing blind urgency and habitual headlong over-ride and over-drive.  Giving over to long moments gazing out the window into the now fully green trees.  Pausing between paragraphs and pages of the latest book to wonder into white clouds suspended in signature azure skies.  Going to bed earlier and sleeping later, serenaded by robins.

Winnowing to essence.  Quite a bit of not a lot.

Mirroring for each other an innate way of being, born of aging.

An Equinox Kiss

Sitting here in my spot for the hundredth time,

(not every day, but more days than not, and is that not fine with God?)

 

Same time or thereabouts,

(and soon that will change as we “fall back”)

in the dark as spring-summer becomes autumn-winter.

 

The light by the sofa was on while I wrote of night dreams and morning musings.

But then I turn it off and sit on purpose in the dark, in nature’s light, to observe the coming of a new day.

 

And as I look out upon the trees,

my tree, that graceful glossy green laurel leaf willow,

and then through and across the fence to the neighbour’s golden ash,

and then further beyond to the dark spruce,

I notice, as I do most days,

a swaying of limbs and fluttering of leaves as if those trees, too, are awakening from their midnight slumber.

As if they, too, sense the energy rising now with the sun, amplified now among our long and languid limbs.

 

And as I watch, minute by minute, soon moment by moment,

the ever-changing sky, watch stars and moon appear to disappear,

I wonder, what kind of day this will be?

Oh, I could get up and check the weather forecast on TV or my very clever smart phone.

But I want to remember that more natural, original way of discerning,

by watching the sky and the trees as they awaken into this day,

enlighten me into this day.

 

And as I watch, I feel an exquisite, piercing joy with what I see,

with my life in this moment of life.

And I realize, as I feel a growing pressure on my palate, in my head, and in my heart,

that joy is not in this moment, nor ever,

quite what I imagine it to be.

 

It hurts a bit, brings me to tears a bit,

as its sweet and utter fullness takes hold,

takes me over,

enfolds me,

undoes me.

 

And I wonder, once again, is this the embrace of God?

The Moments I Rescue

August.  That feeling of “one long Sunday night” persists despite being away four years from a workplace governed by the rhythm of summers off, and new starts in September.  That habitual anxiety arising when one thinks of so much to do before the new season is upon us.

Apples ripen, mountain ash berries redden, cottonwoods golden, crows gather, geese honk.  Dawn that breaks now an hour later.  Dark that comes now an hour earlier.  These reliable, predictable portents.

A month or so ago I wrote about that particular morning’s fullness, holding the possibility and promise that comes with the beginning of summer.  The day before, my first “official” mentoring conversation to begin editing my collection of love letters to poets.  This morning, an utter stillness among the trees as I listen to poetry by Billy Collins, he to be included in those love letters.  Hearing “This Much I Do Remember,” I am as inexplicably, as deeply moved today as the first time I heard it.  The moment he had rescued within that poem became inspiration for my collection of moments rescued within this blog.

‘This much I do Remember’ by Billy Collins

It was after dinner.
You were talking to me across the table
about something or other,
a greyhound you had seen that day
or a song you liked,

and I was looking past you
over your bare shoulder
at the three oranges lying
on the kitchen counter
next to the small electric bean grinder,
which was also orange,
and the orange and white cruets for vinegar and oil.

All of which converged
into a random still life,
so fastened together by the hasp of color,
and so fixed behind the animated
foreground of your
talking and smiling,
gesturing and pouring wine,
and the camber of your shoulders

that I could feel it being painted within me,
brushed on the wall of my skull,
while the tone of your voice
lifted and fell in its flight,
and the three oranges
remained fixed on the counter
the way that stars are said
to be fixed in the universe.

Then all of the moments of the past
began to line up behind that moment
and all of the moments to come
assembled in front of it in a long row,
giving me reason to believe
that this was a moment I had rescued
from millions that rush out of sight
into a darkness behind the eyes.

Even after I have forgotten what year it is,
my middle name,
and the meaning of money,
I will still carry in my pocket
the small coin of that moment,
minted in the kingdom
that we pace through every day.

What are the moments we rescue?

Four years ago, that first summer after I finished work, as an attempt to create a threshold ritual, I began reading through three decades’ worth of journals to notice and consolidate patterns and dreams into a single volume.  A decade in and a month later, I stopped, bored with my self absorption, embarrassed by my chronic complaining, pained by pages of self doubt and criticism.  On a fall full moon, I made ceremony, burned those pages, and released the stories I had told myself about flaws and shortcomings, mine and others.

With remarkable synchronicity, four years later, to the day, I resumed reading and noticing, this time bringing more compassion and curiosity to the task.  Still pages of self absorption and complaining, self doubt and criticism, but now mixed with occasional moments of gratitude, appreciation, wonder and beauty.  An occasional subtle shift in perspective from old pain to new possibility.  Even a foreshadowing of futures to be realized, like when I wrote in 2004 that I’d finish work in 2012, that I’d travel to Italy during the sabbatical seven years hence.

I still have several volumes to go and I suspect that less-than-conscious pattern will persist. But today, as I take pen to journal, I choose to be more deliberate in noticing what I notice. To more intentionally – without denial but with discernment – rescue on those pages the moments that reveal beauty, that ring good and true, and that tell a story of a life well and wholly lived and loved.

 

 

From Ambition to Meaning

“Throughout our lives, transitions require that we ask for help and allow ourselves to yield to forces stronger than our wills or our egos’ desires.  As transitions take place during our later years, a fundamental and primal shift from ambition to meaning occurs.”  
Angeles Arrien, The Second Half of Life

41GyeErgUvL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_That simple phase, those four words, “from ambition to meaning,” would sum up the four days’ interior journey of those who travelled with me at Soul Spark in mid February.  As the starting point for our first circle conversation, where each of us, having crossed paths before, now sat comfortably together on sofas and rocking chairs, with the fieldstone hearth and fire taking its place of honour, offering warmth and solace, this excerpt from Angeles Arrien’s The Second Half of Life became our touchstone.  Regardless of age or stage of life, occupation or endeavor, each of us, host and participant alike, found ourselves delivered to this threshold, whether by ready intention or “no-choice” choice.

I’ve been writing about this threshold for the past few months, initially catalyzed by my experiences at the Self as Source writers’ retreat in early December.  From the dark depths of winter solstice, I recognized the need to listen and tend to what David Whyte calls “the great inside shout of joy,” that new life that we must call our own,  helped into being by our preparation, practice, discipline and allies.  Then, almost a month later, inspired by that master of naming and blessing thresholds, John O’Donohue, I gave deeper consideration to my allies, those beings – human and non-human, animate and inanimate, living or passed – whose shoulders we stand on, whose backs shore up ours, whose energy, image and guidance we call upon, who walk beside us to remind and help us call forth our resiliency, talents, and wisdom.

In between: a straight forward dental procedure reactivated some Bells Palsy symptoms that emerged almost three years ago, and still has me in irritating distress with a “not yet quite right” bite.  An irregular EKG for which cardiac consultation and testing has occurred.  Hearing that several younger colleagues have suffered strokes, heart attacks and brain injuries.  The passing in January of those iconic musician-artists, each in what is now my decade.

What had been ready intention, has now become my no-choice choice of letting go, paring back, or as I said quite spontaneously yesterday to a friend, a necessary “winnowing to essence.”

Angeles Arrien instructs us that when we stand upon a threshold, we must do the inner work of transformation and integration – the treading, turning, twisting and flailing of noticing, releasing and discarding what is no longer necessary or aligned with our essential nature. Noticing its signposts:

  • Work, that while in and of itself deeply satisfies, the preparation and holding for which energetically costs more than can be afforded.
  • Dreams that have silently, surreptitiously slipped to the background of awareness, attention, and need for fulfillment.
  • Tiredness signaling depletion and misalignment.
  • Anxiety and worry that time, at least in this lifetime, is running out.
  • Pressure to keep telling a story that’s no longer relevant, describing a self that no longer feels true.

“Deep in the wintry parts of our minds, we are hardy stock and know there is no such thing as work-free transformation.  We know that we will have to burn to the ground in one way or another, and then sit right in the ashes of who we once thought we were to go on from there.”

Clarissa Pinkola Estes  

On the eve of our inaugural Soul Spark (now to be an annual mid-winter gathering) during meditation, I suddenly asked myself, “Who is this person I am becoming?” this person who:

  • Is a bona fide seeker of God and the transcendent?
  • Meditates regularly?
  • Whispers words of loving kindness throughout the day?
  • Wakes before dawn to listen to an hour of poetry and song?
  • Reads Rumi, Hafez, Teresa of Avila, Hildegard von Bingen, and other mystics?
  • Several years earlier than declared, is walking away from professional work to embrace a simpler, more creative life?

“Who is this person?” for she does not yet seem to be me.

IMG_0004(1)This is threshing. This is the process of becoming, wherein I am unable to answer, “Who am I now?” because I’m releasing myself from the story and illusion of who I think I am, who I have been.

Yet what I can say is there is a bittersweet sister found in the threshold, and her name is grief-relief.  The grief-relief of noticing, releasing and discarding that which had served but does no longer.

To give myself permission to notice, name, and feel this most peculiar grief heals, makes space for, and helps me recognize the edges of to eventually claim this person I am becoming.  It helps me make choices better aligned with and in support of who is emerging.  It helps me become my own ally in service of living out loud that inside shout of joy.

A Gift To Self

…Inside everyone
is a great shout of joy
waiting to be born…

So let this winter
of listening
be enough
for the new life
I must call my own.

David Whyte – from The Winter of Listening

Soon the Winter Solstice will be upon us, the darkest day marking the return of the light and lengthening days.  In the past few years with less pressure to rush out the door to be at an office, I’ve come to welcome the invitation darker days bring, a “hunkering down and in.”  This year especially so as I enjoy our home, feeling new with the completion of a long-awaited kitchen and bath renovation and that fresh coat of paint, all creating a comfortable feng shui flow.  I can’t believe how much I’m loving cooking in our kitchen!

Wendy Townley Aldermarsh

Aldermarsh Skies by Wendy Townley

And I’ve just returned from my first ever writers’ retreat, held the first week of December on Whidbey Island.  Hosted by my circle teacher and friend, Christina Baldwin, and circle sister “travelpoet” Kristie McLean, attending Self As Source was a long awaited gift to self.  I imagined being in the Pacific Northwest in December – with its grey sodden skies, wind and rain, living among the cedars, firs and alders with owls and coyotes singing at night – would be the perfect ambiance for listening within and claiming myself, “writer. “ It did not disappoint.  After several days of preparation with gentle prompts and creative activities, our thirty-six silent hours found me sitting by the window tapping out an almost complete volume of love letters, as the rain tapped continously on the glass.  It was, as David Whyte writes, that “great shout of joy” inside, being born.

Now home to full weeks of deep listening to school leaders – helping them create inner space for the grief they hold for students and community whose memories of Christmas are painful; hosting the first of several leadership training circles for the staff of my local women’s shelter; tending to business matters left waiting during two quick trips to Whidbey Island; and making Christmas preparations, my love letters wait, much as our gentle Annie waits for me to rise from my desk and take her for a walk.

Each of the fourteen women in our circle realized that claiming time to write – to listen and tend to that great inside shout of joy, that new life that we must call our own – takes what we experienced in retreat – preparation, practice, discipline and allies, those who support us in doing what we know we must do, and yet…

I can’t keep those letters waiting, any more than I can keep Annie waiting.

It has me wonder:

What great inside shout of joy is waiting for you?

What new life needs the preparation, practice, discipline and allies to have you call it your own? 

While not Whidbey Island in the Pacific Northwest, Strawberry Creek Lodge in the aspen parkland an hour’s drive south of Edmonton has a similar warm ambiance for hunkering down and in.  There, I’ll be co-hosting Soul Spark with my friend, work mate and circle sister, Beth Sanders.

Soul SparkSoul Spark … An annual intimate winter retreat for ten people to step into the fire of doing the work and living the life they long for.  Whether you are in your early, mid, or encore career, here you will have the time and companionship to discern what and how to move forward.

Soul Spark … Strawberry Creek Lodge, a warm log cabin with quiet sitting spaces, a cozy fireplace around which we gather each day, silent walking trails, and delicious home cooked meals.

Soul Spark … February 16-19, 2016

Soul Spark … You are welcome.  Your place is waiting.

Wishing you the warm embrace of winter’s Solstice and Christmas and a new year full of promise.