Venus Burning Bright

A month ago I gazed into the predawn sky and saw Venus burning bright.

Jet-lagged eyes took in the outline of Andalusian hills.

Travel weary body felt the warm, late summer breeze waft through the open window, fluttering my white cotton gown.

It was the beginning of an adventure to collect new impressions.

writing retreat the pretense to come to Spain.  A week at Finca Buenvino, a beautiful shuttered and pink stuccoed villa in the hills of the Aracena National Park, an hour or so northwest of Sevilla.  The owners, long time British expats with their hearts firmly planted in Spanish soil.  An elegant hodgepodge of inherited English antiques and acquired Moorish textiles, Spanish ceramics and Waterford crystal.  Terraces and balconies, salons and reading rooms, bedrooms and bathrooms.

 

 

A kitchen outfitted for skillful chefs, fresh and local ingredients, and cooking school guests eager to measure and stir and taste Jeannie’s flare for concocting.  I took my turn for an afternoon, tossing ground pork and orange zested patties in the coarse flour, soon to be fried and then braised in valencian orange flavoured  tomato sauce. Sauteeing shrimp in smoked paprika butter.  Polishing wine glasses.  Setting the communal table with silver and linen, its place solid under the wisteria laden pergola. (Eating here was a “pinch me” moment, evoking memories of those quintessential photo ads promoting Tuscany.)

Floating on the surface of the infinity pool, thoughts dip and dive like swallows in the sky between the chestnut groves.  (These nuts feed the Iberian pigs, giving fat and flavor to Spain’s famous jamon.)

Lazing on chaises, umbrellas shield skin from blazing siesta sun.

Six women gathered from Britain, Canada, America and France to write in little red notebooks prompted by sights and sounds and tastes as we hiked into local villages – Aracena, Los Marines, Linares – and sipped “coppas” of chilled, pale golden manzanilla sherry, a refreshing pairing with the myriad of tapas flavours.  Red radishes as big as fat thumbs laying in a platter of golden olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt.  Emerald green chiles fried whole in olive oil, then salted.  Toast with seasoned tomato sauce, Spain’s take on bruschetta.  Smokey olives.  Tangy, hard manchego cheese. Lightly battered fresh fried sardines.  Pink-shelled shrimp with heads intact, eagerly peeled and swallowed, releasing their sea salty-sweet juice.

 

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Sitting together, ensconced in the stone walls and cushions of the Moorish terrace, or the shaded studio overlooking the pool, we quickly capture musings in bigger black journals from prompts offered by our host – memories of our mothers’ cooking, how to be a writer, what a line of proffered poetry or name evokes.

I can see nuggets of story, but for now they rest deep inside, needing time, like the sherry aged in wooden casks, to bring out their full flavour.  An alchemical process required by any act of creation.

This morning I gazed into the predawn sky and saw Venus burning bright.

Now home.  Alchemy at work.

Empathy for Vincent

Vincent Van Gogh is embracing her thick as tree trunk legs, from toe tips to thigh tops.

Stopped at a red light, from my car I watch as she walks across the street, slow, determined steps.  Short of stature and of hair.

Mischievously smiling to myself, I wonder about Vincent’s reaction to this appropriation.  His stars and his steeple now envelop her fashionably feminine butt.

From where I sit, and I confess a bit macabre, enough to cut off another ear with such madness.

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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?

Tending with Grace

Quote

Sisters of the heart, my heart.

Each a sweet heart, dear heart.

 

Life

challenging them to dig down deep

inviting them to reach up high

for strength, and courage, and tenacity, and hope,

for clear heads and open hearts, when

 

Cruel concoction of cancer genes crushes newly hatched dreams.

Life long disease debilitates body, mind, speech and spirit.

Wave upon wave of endings tosses family like flotsam.

 

Sisters of the heart, my heart.

Each the eldest.

Knowing what that means, 

responsible, and caring, and achieving, and sensitive, and

 

Juggling onerous professional obligation

with overwhelming personal need

an attuned sense of balance for what is

right and true

good and beautiful

centred and aligned

for thee and thine.

 

I watch, and listen, and wonder

How does she do it?

Tending with grace, the near impossible.

 

How would I do it?

 

“…the ultimate touchstone of friendship is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.”

 

Tending with grace, my sisters of the heart.

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Quote from “Friendship,” in Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words, David Whyte, 2015.

Fallen Angel

Early Tuesday morning in the before dawn light,  I’d just made my coffee, turned on the radio to listen, as is my semi-regular practice, to The Road Home, and settled on the sofa to begin writing in my journal.

Circle of Life by Capstone

Circle of Life by Capstone

Listening to Bob weave, with song and spoken word, the morning’s theme of the Great Mandala.  Pen in hand as I scribble a snippet of lyric, “Take your place on the great mandala as it moves through this moment of time…”

Pulled from my reverie as suddenly a crash to my left. Rising to investigate, I find the paper and porcelain, peach and terracotta angel that has hung for several years suspended from the ceiling by a brass hook, giving quiet oversight, has fallen to floor, taking hook and invisible line with her. Intact except for one broken wing which can be easily and almost invisibly repaired, I begin to resume writing when I realize this inexplicable moment deserves my attention.

Stay together, friends.
Don’t scatter and sleep.

Our friendship is made
of being awake.— Rumi

I think about something dream walker guide Toko-pa Turner wrote in a recent post – “Our purpose is to welcome these refugee aspects of the Self into belonging” – that impelled my reply – “Thank you for this beautiful story. Your words above struck a chord…and I immediately thought of our current global refugee crisis being the macro manifestation of the consequence of our micro, individual repression of the refugee aspects of Self.”

Bringing light and life to shadow.  Bringing our refugee aspects home.

Fallen angel.  Banished from Heaven.  Lucifer, the angel fallen from grace.  The angel crashed to the floor in my living room.   This is what she brought me:

Fallen angel with a broken wing.

Aren’t we all like her?

Aren’t we all stardust from Heaven (whatever that means for any of us?)

Suddenly arriving.

Stepping onto the stage of life, into a play mid-way,

not sure of our lines or the other players.

 

Oh, glorious sweet thing, ashamed and hiding the wound, the broken wing.

When can’t you see we’re all the same

Fallen angels

Earnestly trying

To fly our way home.

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The Paradox That is My April

A week or so ago, during an early morning meditation,

I sat

hearing the furnace blow its warmth

as the robin sang his heartsong,

watching snow flakes float and whiten

the new greening grass and purple and saffron crocus,

smelling the pungent perfume of lilies

now wilt and faded with days since gracing Easter’s joy.

 

Today, Friday, the echoing day of my birth,

when on another Friday, six decades past,

a Good Friday,

new life broke through like Cohen’s crack.

 

Sun and Moon dictate Easter’s arrival: the first Sunday following the first ecclesiastical full moon that occurs on or after the day of the vernal equinox

a Christian’s most celebrated day

but always foreshadowed by that Friday’s

death and darkness.

 

Regardless of the day on which my birthday falls,

I always feel the pull of my first birth day

primal as the ocean’s tide in response to the Moon

archetypal in symbol, suffering, surrender,

the promise of celebration.

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Born of star dust

from ocean waters

the full moon face of the new born,

then and now.

 

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.

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

MIGUEL MEDINA, VIA GETTY IMAGES

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.

Three at Play

It’s said there’s something auspicious about things happening in threes.

A week ago, that was the case when I tuned in The Road Home as I turned in for the night.  As luck would have it, I heard Bob, the program’s creator and host, give an update to an episode I’d heard from the previous week, wherein he recited a wonderful story by the great Persian Sufi, Hafiz, as interpreted by Daniel Ladinsky. I was deeply taken in by his first reading of “Bring the Man Here,” and then I and the community of Road Home devotees were treated to hearing it again, as context for his friend, Danny’s reply to receiving a recording of that original reading.  Then, given some restless nights last week, I heard for it for the third time, early the next morning during rebroadcast.

Bring the Man to Me

A Perfect One was traveling through the desert.
He was stretched out around the fire one night
And said to one of his close ones,
“There is a slave loose not far from us.
He escaped today from a cruel master.
His hands are still bound behind his back,
His feet are also shackled.
I can see him right now praying for God’s help.
Go to him.
Ride to that distant hill;
And about a hundred feet up and to the right
You will find a small cave.
He is there.
Do not say a single word to him.
Bring the man to me.
God requests that I personally untie his body
And press my lips to his wounds.”
The disciple mounts his horse and within two hours
Arrives at the small mountain cave.
The slave sees him coming, the slave looks frightened.
The disciple, on orders not to speak,
Gestures toward the sky, pantomining:
God saw you in prayer,
Please come with me,
A great Teacher has used his heart’s divine eye
To know your whereabouts.
The slave cannot believe this story,
And begins to shout at the man and tries to run
But trips from his bindings.
The disciple becomes forced to subdue him.
Think of this picture as they now travel:
The million candles in the sky are lit and singing.
Every particle of existence is a dancing altar
That some mysterious force worships.
The earth is a church floor whereupon
In the middle of a glorious night
Walks a slave, weeping, tied to a rope behind a horse,
With a speechless rider
Taking him toward the unknown.
Several times with all of his might the slave
Tries to break free,
Feeling he is being returned to captivity.
The rider stops, dismounts – and brings his eyes
Near the prisoner’s eyes.
A deep kindness there communicates an unbelievable hope.
The rider motions – soon, soon you will be free.
Tears roll down from the rider’s cheeks
In happiness for this man.
Anger, all this fighting and tormenting want,
Sweetheart,
God has seen you and sent a close one.
Sweetheart,
God has seen your heart in prayer
And sent me.

Love Poems from GodLadinsky is one of the west’s foremost interpreters of Hafiz, having published three volumes: The Gift, The Subject Tonight is Love, and I Heard God Laughing.  I travelled to Europe with only two books, a small handbook of Rumi, and Ladinsky’s Love Poems from God, a collection of poems from twelve sacred voices from the East and West.  Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, on their Spirituality and Practice website, describe Ladinsky as “an audacious talent with a big heart, a keen sense of humor, and a creative way of looking at things,” inviting us to make playful our relationship with the Divine.  Audacious and irreverent came to mind when I read laughing his introduction to Love Poems from God:

“I think God loves bootleggers—defiant poets who ferment the air as they sing and lift the corners of our mouths. Words about God should never bore because God is the opposite of boring. And what we say about the Gorgeous One should make Him appear a knockout. Whoever made this Universe is a Wild Guy. I think only our ecstasies offer any real clues about Him.”

Bob acknowledges that not everyone is as enamored by his audacity, and that he draws severe criticism in more traditional circles.  Nonetheless, I find his interpretations accessible, current, necessary and yes playful, inviting me to take myself less seriously.

So why so taken by “Bring the Man Here?”  An auspicious sign to have heard the story not once, but three times in a matter of days, hence worth consideration. In search of the words, I found myself at a beautiful blog called Heartsteps, a site created by someone who calls himself “Pilgrim,” as his “hook for working through a daily spiritual practice: a journal, breadcrumbs to mark his progress…to remind him to stay on the path” …the road home. Reading and re-reading, as I stayed present with my initial impulses, like dream interpretation I recognized myself in each of the characters: the Perfect One, the close one, the slave, the cruel master.

Suffice to say, there is much for me to sit with and hold light, in a playful way, which in itself might be lesson enough.  And, stumbling into Heartsteps, I realized a simple way to write more regularly here, by rescuing the moment when a poem touches my heart.

The Road Home

Threads

Earlier today, I received my daily dose of good medicine: poems and photos, courtesy of Joe Riley and his Panhala site.  Today’s gift a fond favourite by William Stafford.

The Way It Is 

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

This poem reminds me of a wonderful book I was invited to read when I visited Sufi friends in Cologne, Germany, four years ago today. Balancing Heaven and Earth is Jungian analyst Robert A. Johnson‘s memoir, he the author of several pithy volumes on understanding masculine and feminine psychology and romantic love, He, and She, and We.  In it, Johnson refers to moments of guidance and right action where he followed the “slender threads” of his soul.  Introducing us to the notion in the book’s prologue, he writes:

“It is an audacious notion to put forth in this age of science and willful determination that one’s existence is somehow inspired, guided, and even managed by unseen forces outside our control.  Whether called fate, destiny, or the hand of God, slender threads are at work bringing coherence and continuity to our lives.  Over time they weave a remarkable tapestry.

…Some people seem to exert more free will over their lives.  They make plans, set goals, and proceed with full confidence of being in control.  That has never worked for me, despite my best attempts.

…In my youth I floundered around and followed the slender threads only when I felt like it or when they seemed to be taking me where I already wanted to go.  I often struggled to oppose them.  As the fruit of my old age, however, I have finally come to trust the mystery.  The mystery is this: there is one right thing and only one right thing to do at every moment.  We can either follow or resist the slender threads.”

Across the pages of his life and this book, Johnson illuminates and gives voice to these threads and their impact – sometimes subtle, always significant – on shaping him.

Of late, I haven’t been able to find the thread.  Some days, it’s felt as if I lost or let go of it, when actually it’s simply been hard to see, so fine as to be invisible.  In what I’ll call a ‘consciousness gap’ – like the knowing-doing gap – I am re-remembering how to rely on sensing rather than only seeing.  Discerning signals from my body’s knowing: Does this feel good? Make me smile? Sit lighter on my shoulders, in my heart? Does my face feel “normal” or tingle with residual, bell weather Bells Palsy sensations?

Trusting a deeper knowing that has next to nothing to do with what I think, plan, or control.

Following the ineffable.  Slender threads.

4 - The Web