Waging Beauty with Empty Shoes

Last October I co-hosted a small gathering for the community of practice alumni from my Leading in Emergence learning lab.  Six of us came together that last Wednesday morning of the month, in the warm and comfortable living room of one of our members, in, as Otto Scharmer writes, “a space for profound collaborative renewal.”

I was eager to prototype a simple reflective practice based on a recently acquired book, In Times of Terror, Wage Beauty by Mark Gonzales.  The title alone captivated me, both in that resonates with a deep knowing that beauty is an antidote, if not cure to the world’s pain and suffering, and with its paradoxical injunction to “wage” beauty, a verb often used with “war” and aggression. This simple and elegantly designed volume of brief ideas, observations, insights, and mantra-like wisdom speaks to the power of story, ancestors, empowered choice and bold action.

Each of us was invited bring an image of and reflect on an ancestor, mentor or respected elder.  In circle we shared a brief story of how that person’s life served as a beacon of inspiration.  We created a communal collage, dedicating our images and stories to the future.  Then, we closed by sharing our impressions of the beauty seen before us, held within, taken with us.  Below, the “caught” poem:

Waging Beauty: A Collage of the Imagined and Ineffable 

Gardens of colour transformed by garbage and utility into communities of wonder.

New growth in nature.

Connectedness building strength and vibrancy in empty shoes that belong to us all.

Resilience in a sense of place.

Wisdom in a world wise and enraptured by third eye seeing.

Sensing synchronicity that defies labels and logic and contrived manipulation.

Silence shared with strangers and near strangers.  The simplest beauty there is.

What strikes me now is the uncanny prescience, from that morning a month before, of the beauty waged in Paris, days after terror struck the city and killed over one hundred of its citizens enjoying their Friday evening.

empty shoes in Paris


Ten thousand empty shoes silently displayed in the Place de la Republique on November 29, 2015, represented the peoples’ determination to “have” their voice in a symbolic march against climate change on the eve of the UN Climate Conference when their actual presence was forbidden due to safety and security concerns.

The strength and vibrancy in empty shoes that belong to us all.

Who Are Your Allies?

“Each life must find its true threshold, that edge where

the individual gift fits the outer hunger and where

the outer gift fits the inner hunger.”

John O’Donohue in Angeles Arrien’s The Second Half of Life

When we are on the cusp of a threshold, making a commitment, finding a new way, it’s helpful practice to reflect on and pay tribute to our allies.  These are the 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 December when I participated in my first ever writers’ retreat hosted by StoryCatcher Christina Baldwin and TravelPoet Kristie McLean, at Aldermarsh on Whidbey Island, one of our first acts of creative expression was to create a visual collage in tribute to, and then write about our allies for this endeavor.

P1010138I love collage, particularly when I’m not fixed in my ideas of what I want to create, what images and words I need to find to make the “right” representation.  So that evening, as the heavy grey day gave way unnoticeably to night, with no particular ally in mind, I skimmed through a few magazines, borrowed scissors and glue, tore and cut to create a circle of images and words that I would then fold and keep in my writing journal.  Here is what I wrote, inspired by the words I found:

The Prayer to a Changing Woman

Sifting through ashes of the lightning struck tree

the long trail of water…

A mandala

A labyrinth

A work of art – an intolerable beauty.


By that I mean a beauty that does not, will not tolerate.

A beauty that claims the secret canyon of a woman’s body, of my body

In and down

Through and beyond

Into the ground

Up through the sky.


Where the true meaning of the sacred and mundane

are captured in the dog’s kiss upon my own lips.

Her solemn eyes gazing at me, into me

beseeching me to understand and appreciate

animal and people together and that everyone (and every being) is

the age of their hearts.


And at the centre of this circle

spiralling out, weaving words and images


The Garden of Divinity,

a place of solace and strength and surrender.


What surprised me – ahhhh, the gift of emergence –  was that our Annie dog appeared as my ally.  She came to us four years ago during a summer of deep upheaval.  I had returned from three months’ travelling to learn my position at the school board, the work I had created and in which I thrived, had been abolished, and that my new “no choice” assignment would become the catalyst for my departure a year later.  Our Lady dog, who for a week was on death’s door during my last trip to Italy, and for whom I prayed at a sacred pilgrimage site of Santuario Santa Rosalia Monte Pellegrino in the mountains of Palermo, Sicily, rallied until my return and then passed mid summer.  Just a few weeks later we received the urgent call, “If you want another dog, you need to get her now,” as his wife’s health was being seriously challenged.  I didn’t want another dog.  I wasn’t ready for a kennel dog who wasn’t house trained.  I didn’t know how our aging Peggy dog would cope.  But we did – ahhhh, the gift of resiliency – and Annie proved to be an attuned, respectful companion to the elder, small but sovereign alpha Peggy until she passed last spring, probably giving her more life and years.  Today, sovereign in her own way, Annie has become my companion, laying beside me as I work in our office, or when I sit in the sanctuary of our living room, reminding me to take time to play and walk with her.

In a month’s time, I will be co-hosting Soul Spark, an intimate retreat for ten men and women, who know this is the time to reflect on and discern wise action to creating a work-life aligned with intention and their heart’s desire.  A time to discover their life’s “true threshold.”  There, I will be an ally for each of them in the space and time we are together, by virtue of creating a safe and respectful space for solitude and companioning, and designing a process that gently invites and inquires into what really matters for them, now.

While we must each walk the path of our own life, it’s good to have allies to walk by our side.  And too, as David Whyte reminds us in his essay on Friendship, it’s good to be an ally, to “have accompanied another for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.”



An Epiphany of Creation


The Goddess’ Cauldron

Into Sedna’s icy seas

I cast wisps of prayer and blessing for this new year.

From her dark depths

cold crystalline shards of unknown shadows

float to the surface,

intrigued and captivated by the phosphorescent luminous.

All now, swirl and churn, mixed with my morning kiss.

Embraced by its heart and heat

All now, melt and merge.

All now, transformed

into wave and mist, cloud and rain

crashing, soaking, washing

shoreline sands, rocky cliffs, silent forests,

skin and scale and fur and feather.

Time will stand still and breathe anew

into this vow of creative surrender.

(Inspired by this clay plate from Newfoundland artist, Peter Sobal, and spontaneous invocation at the Self as Source Writers’ Retreat, December 7, 2015.)

Why I Rise Early

Not every day, not every week, but enough mornings to know that rising early, before dawn, grounds me in the new day.

Golden light on the emerald leaves of the laurel willow and last standing mayday.

Birds singing for a new day – less now but in spring and early summer, the only sound that fills the still starry sky.

Bob’s quiet voice, spoken word and song selections echo The Road Home.

Morning breeze gently kissing awake the backyard trees, inviting them into the new day dance.

Sister Moon’s sliver of shine gives way to the light of her Brother Sun.

Still mind metta meditation for friends and family challenged by illness and travails.

Full hearted prayer of thanksgiving for this Life, my Life, this new day.

Newfoundland Vignette 6 – The Great Northern Peninsula

Access to Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula, via three nights’ stay at Tuckamore Lodge in Main Brook, gave us the opportunity to visit the old French Shore fishing villages of Conche and Englee, sail into Iceberg Alley off St. Anthony, and head to the island’s northern most tip to the UNESCO World Heritage site of L’Anse aux Meadows, now known to be the first settlement of Europeans on North America.

Given this was billed as a hiking, kayaking and arts tour, we were treated to a hands’ on demonstration of the embroidery used to create Conche’s famous French Shore Tapestry, a 220 foot long linen and wool mural depicting the history of Newfoundland from its earliest times to present.  Designed by French-Newfoundland artist Jean Claude Roy, and meticulously stitched – over 20,000 hours and four years – by a dozen of the village’s women, this colourful labour of love hangs in the local community hall.  After a picnic lunch of cod au gratin, tea and date cake, prepared and served by some of these same women, we strolled through the village, taking in the sites of fishing dories and lighthouse, the iceberg in the cove, sunshine sparkling on blue water, painted clapboard houses. The wind blew cold and I was bundled accordingly, while June’s summer sun brought out short sleeves and flip flops on the locals.

Eager to see more, several of us drove further down the coast into Englee for a viewing of hand hooked rugs.  Again crafted by local women, this was a project, like many along the island’s fishing coasts, that served to resurrect an old island craft, provide revenue from tourism, and instill confidence in communities left bewildered and bereft by the Cod Moratorium of 1992. None were for sale, as this would be a collection travelling throughout the island, and I was inspired to make a purchase at the Grenfell shop in St. Anthony of a small hooked sampler featuring vignettes of my favourite sites, my souvenir.

St. Anthony, touted as the “Iceberg Capital of the World, “ lived up to its reputation with an iceberg in the cove below the lighthouse and then a huge specimen off shore, said to be grounded given it hadn’t moved since first its first sighting.  In the distance several miles out, several more loomed on the hazy horizon, barely hinting at their mass, both above and below sea level.  Again our weather was perfect for picture taking – not too sunny – and the swells a visceral reminder of the sea’s enormous power.

The same day we drove north along the Viking Trail to L’Anse aux Meadows.  I did a rough pen and ink sketch, then painted from memory and impression during my overnight in Deer Lake before flying home.  I was heartened to know I’d captured enough of the location and mood that a friend, who visited years ago, readily recognized the scene.  My reflections on that land and connections made to home came several days later.


Long Time Home

L’Anse aux Meadows, NL and Sherwood Park, AB

July 7, 2015

 Two days travelling then waiting.  Anticipation grows with the wish to be settled back home.  Thankfully all uneventful, as a day later, and for several more, re-routing, premature landings, delays, all in response to bomb threats on my airline.  The world’s madness – is it more than ever, or the consequence of instantaneous connection – hits my consciousness broadside, closer to home.

And what of those ancient mariners and the many days’ and weeks’ and months’ anticipation and sailing across the ocean?  What bold imagination and steel-hearted courage, madness even, drove them from their Nordic homeland to what we now call Iceland, Greenland? And then further south, to be the first of their kind, my kind, to settle on this, my home and native land?

L’Anse aux Meadows, the very tip of Newfoundland’s northern most shore.  One thousand years ago.  We now know centuries before the likes of men we call Cabot, Columbus, Cartier.

When I recall the day I disembarked from the van, set foot on and looked out over that first “from away settlement,” over the bare expanse of naked land and sea and sky – cold and windy and grey and raining – I can hardly imagine, in a thousand years, their first reaction to seeing and setting foot.  Unless I search in my own DNA and evoke that of my father’s, when he first saw, from the ship carrying him across the ocean from Germany, and set foot on the land that he would claim and make home, that day over a mid-century ago.

Newfoundland Vignette 4 – Moving On

After three nights’ sleeping at Uncle Steve’s Place in Woody Point, we’d be moving on up the western coast to make our way over to the Great Northern Peninsula where we’d see icebergs and the historic French Shore.  During our last morning at Ivy Crocker’s Granite Coffee Shop, I picked up my conversation with the lovely local server as she fed me coffee, toast, and home-made partridge berry preserves.


Woody Point, Gros Morne

Last Breakfast at the Granite Coffee Shop

June 22, 2015

 “I’d be nervous all the time,” explains the sweet young server,

(can’t be more than twenty-two, eyebrow piercing twinkles a delicate blue, matches her eyes),

sharing a bit about her baby girl,

why she’ll stay put on Woody Point

where the closest traffic light is in Corner Brook,

so Adrianna can run



Newfoundland Vignette 5 – That Remarkable Vista

It wasn’t until I crossed the bog, boarded the excursion boat, took my place in the bow and glided into the fjord’s entrance that I suddenly realized I was looking at the very same vista that took hold of me every time I saw that tourism ad on TV.

Western Brook Pond, still in Gros Morne National Park, a fresh water fjord with 2000 foot rock walls, fed by Stag Brook at the far eastern end and waterfalls along both its sides.  That day, the water like glass, mirroring the emerald green tree-faced cliffs and white cloud formations.  Silently gliding deeper into this magnificence, I was overtaken by the grandeur situated within Newfoundland’s Long Range Mountains, and with learning this was the northern most section of the Appalachians, an ancient mountain range close to my original homeland.

Later, when I tried to paint what I actually saw, I quickly surrendered to a rule of spontaneous expression, gave way to my felt impressions, saved realism for the camera.


Wood Brook Pond, Gros Morne

June 22, 2015

 At last.

That long awaited landscape.

The one I first saw on TV.

You know, the one that grabbed my Heart and fired my Imagination.

The one with the cliffs.

“I’d like to go there one day.”

So what fired the Imagination of those ancient mariners?

The ones whose fjords evoke the very one I’m travelling down

right now?

Newfoundland Vignette 3 – Kayaking Off Norris Point

What a perfect way to celebrate this perfect day, kayaking in Bonne Bay!

The Summer Solstice sun shone in full glory as we crossed to Norris Point in the local water taxi. (Later, we saw a “sun dog” – an iridescent halo of light surrounding the sun – something I’ve only ever seen on one of Alberta’s brilliantly frigid winter days.) How this daughter of the water feels at home skimming the fluid surface, smelling the fresh scents of water, feeling the cool wind on her face.

We’d been told that whales – humpbacks and minkes – had been sighted breaching in the bay near where we’d paddle.  For several of the women, to see a whale on this trip would be a dream come true.  The bay was calm, the day’s heat rising as we packed picnic food and supplies into the bows, got outfitted in life jackets and rubber skirts, settled into our seats and pushed off shore, paddles in hand, cameras ready to catch a sighting.  No sooner had we settled into a fairly synchronized rhythm when a blow, once, twice spotted.  And then….


Norris Point, Gros Morne

Our Summer Solstice Prayer

June 22, 2015

Intention held in the hearts and minds of twelve women

wild to witness the whale,

grand dame of our species.

A blow…once, twice

seen along the rock and tree faced cliff.

Colour full kayaks skim the surface,

Carry us Home.

Our hands drum the chant of welcome,

Invoking her wisdom, calling her in.

A tail sighted…once, twice

breaking though the glassy sea.

A sudden breach.

Our collective Heart leaps with the closeness of her show.

A prayer received and delivered.

Newfoundland Vignette 2 – A Sacred Sunday Summer Solstice

Still in Woody Point in Gros Morne National Park, I awoke on Summer Solstice morn to a still sleeping village.  My house mates had already dressed and made their way to the Granite Coffee Shop, the morning ritual for breakfast and the day’s itinerary.  I savoured the stillness and solitude as I collected myself and the requisite supplies for a day of kayaking in Bonne Bay.  I left “Uncle Steve’s Place,” our bed and breakfast, and ambled down the road, camera in hand, present to the awakening day, and promise held in the full rising sun.


Woody Point, Gros Morne

Early Sunday Summer Solstice Morn

 June 21, 2015

 A Bonne Bay full of Sun on this Sacred Sunday Summer Solstice morn.

Shhhh…the only sounds…

A choir of birds.

Robin singing, trilling, thrilling.

Black Crow cawing.

Lark warbling.

Red-winged Blackbird wooing.

Blood red blossoms about to burst forth on the front yard crab apple tree.

Water softly lapping on the stony shore.

Locals sitting on their front porch stoops,

sipping coffee,

smoking the day’s first cigarette.

The “from aways” laughter and chatter break the spell.

I stand on yet another threshold

looking for the middle way.

My Story of Newfoundland in Six Vignettes

A few days after arriving home from Newfoundland, I read this piece from Brain Pickings featuring David Whyte’s monologue on the essence of belonging and what it means to come home to ourselves.  In response I posted, While I enjoyed meeting women on my recent trip, I really enjoyed befriending my creative self who wrote poems and a story, painted impressions, took photos, concocted recipes. A sweet encounter.”  In this and subsequent posts, I’ll share some of what “we” did together.

This first vignette came as we visited the Discovery Centre in Woody Point and learned about the significance of Gros Morne National Park, one of the first UNESCO World Heritage sites, as “it was here that geologists proved the theory of plate tectonics. The Tablelands, a mountain of flat-topped rock of a kind usually found only deep in the earth’s mantle, is a truly awe-inspiring sight.”  We also visited the lower level gallery to see fibre artists’ interpretations of the land, its history and people.  A easy amble down the boardwalk in the Tablelands to the perfect sit spot within the rocks to make my first water colour sketch.  The poem below, written on the painting’s border, emerged later that night.


The Tablelands, Gros Morne

June 20, 2015

The vastness of this Island’s spirit,

holding the Earth’s very own heart

exposed to all the elements.

A paradox of deep beauty, magnificence and awe,

with a cutting desperation for survival.

A people who, fierce and proud –

despite what we mainlanders think –

know what matters.

This mater.

This mother.