Fiercely Tender Moments

It’s been a season full of travel.  A flight a month since August. Settle into a breath and some. Focus on my work companioning leaders. Tend to home and heart. Then shift back to preparing and packing. One more to go, in mid-December, and then to sink and surrender into the gifts of winter’s cold and darkness.

Already the anticipation of immersing myself in the making of photo books from two remarkable journeys. Slow dinners of roasted roots and braised meats, best with our favourite fulsome reds, cellared especially for now. Wool and down, fleece and flannel, coats and sweaters, hats and scarves, boots and gloves, took over closets and beds on Labour Day, a month early, but prescient given snow that came well before summer went. Though underneath, until recently, the still vibrant and beauty of autumn. This is the wisdom medicine of such early snows, trusting the hidden beauty remains.

P1040136One of these flights included a trip to Saltspring Island, BC. In October the stars and my schedule finally aligned to attend an annual dream retreat hosted by Toko-pa Turner. I’d been intent to sit in this circle, to learn and practice more deeply the artistry of dreamwork, as a facet of my life work of attending to the inner life to live and lead with kindness, clarity and wisdom.  For three days, this multicultural, multi-generational circle of thirty women feasted on the harvest of our night-time dreams, and the meals lovingly prepared from the organic gardens of Stowel Lake Farm, an intentional community and wellness centre.

Pespectives with Panache, 2018Invited to bring a talisman for the dream altar, and for introductions, my initial choice of a small ceramic evoking Sedna of the deep waters was impulsively over-ridden by Athena, the Wisdom, Warrioress and Writer.  A gift from beloved friends and mentors, with whom a year earlier I was initiate in how to be, witness, and serve in shadowed and breaking times, in a complex circle of chaos and conflict.

She served me well, that statue forged in her Greek homeland, reminding me of tender fierceness and  fierce tenderness. Qualities to embrace and embody. Needed now. Placed on the altar’s corner, she became a presence of “unselfconscious majesty” reminding me of who we each truly are. Need to be. Now. For the duration, she became witness to our sacred dreams spoken in silence, written in words, sang and danced in sunshine and moonglow.

During our final morning, as homage this circle, these women, our dreams, and to what Toko-pa called our “Holy Helpers,” I quietly noticed and wrote, and then offered to the centre as farewell

Fiercely Tender Moments

One sits under the portico. Eyes closed.

Soft breath attuned to soft falling rain.

A colourful blanket wrapped about her shoulders,

keeping her safe and warm in the early morning cool.

 

Another sits writing down her dreams.

Her turquoise heart gift glows with appreciation for a new-found friend.

I can see her as her twenty-year old self. Imagine a long-haired hippy…strong, tall Scandinavian beauty.

 

Noiselessly shuffling tarot cards.

Clunky wooden bracelets a contrast to her long, elegant, gold ringed fingers.

A grace, a beauty that is remarkable, enthralling even.

 

One, then another, and another circle around the dream altar.

Honey scented candles softly illuminate these simple riches.

Taking in, reverently touching. Bowing before soul-filled symbols. Talismans of thresholds.

What is teacher? Healer? Warrioress? How do they feed and inspire my own visionary?

 

Heads bent over journals.

Pens softly scribing night time dreams, day time visions.

Intentions. Reflections.

 

A pause…

Hot creamy coffee sipped.

Buttered toast tasted.

 

Thick rain pouring steadily down, muting the vibrancy of this autumn morning glory.

Kitchen clatter reminds us of home soon to come.

 

Across the room a smile of morning greeting.

Closer still, a touch, an embrace.

Still the sacred silence honoured.

 

We are power in the heart.

Sweet honey in the rock.

PS – This is my first post since I “freshened up” my website. It’d been a few years and was time to refine the focus. Take a look and let me know what you think. Thanks and kindest regards.

A Blessing for the HolyDays

May this Holyday season bring time to cherish all that is good and true and beautiful.

May its dark days invite rest for reflection and renewal.

May nature welcome you to its beauty, magic and wisdom.

May good health be your companion, relationships enliven and encourage,

work and pastimes fulfill and affirm.

May strength in body, mind and spirit allow you to embrace life’s uncertainties.

May patience, love and kindness – given and received – be yours in abundance.

(Inspired by John O’Donohue)

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.

Dreamscape Two – a holy communion

Now the one about the older woman…

She is old.  While taller, by feeling she resembles my Oma, my father’s mother who loved her son, her grandchildren and great grandchildren fiercely.

Always independent, as her husband lay dying of cancer, Oma, in her sixties, learned to drive, maneuvering the freeways, charming the immigration officers as she crossed the bridge to Canada, to us, with her VW Rabbit stuffed with gifts and groceries.  Decades earlier, in the little Black Forest town of Germany, during and after World War II, she worked three jobs to support herself and my father.  Those were her best years, the ones she storied for us with joy, pride and determination.  Until she came to live her last years in Canada, close to her family.

But this woman of my dream is my height and stature.  And she is Italian.

I am in Italy.  I have just finished a simple, homemade, delicious dinner.  I may be with a friend.  I have been staying here for a while, long enough to have become familiar with, close even to the Nonna who prepared this meal.

She has been a teacher to me.  I feel a deep love and appreciation for her in my life.  In my broken Italian, I thank her for the good, good food.  We laugh together at my attempts to say just how good…

”Insalata, ahhhh…. buonissimo!  Si?”

She encourages me, asks me what else I’ll eat.

“Il dolce?” she asks and playfully hugs and tugs at my body to see if I can afford to let myself have this sweet, the sweetest part of the meal, of life?

I hug her and say in Italian “I love you” through the tears I am now crying, through an even deeper sadness that is suddenly coming up from my depths.

Holding her, despite her strength, suddenly I know she is dying.  I see her face and while she is not my Oma, Oma is evoked.  I love this woman very much.  Again, I say, in Italian, “I love you.”

Again, and again.

Epilogue

Last October I awoke quietly crying from this dream.  I was on a favourite island in the Pacific Northwest – it has become one of my heart places – where, without fail, I spend most nights immersed in vivid dreamscapes.

The convergence of mountain, sea and sky energies are a great catalyst for my dream maker’s talents, though I’m not always able to retrieve her creations, so plentiful that I often awake feeling tired for the travelling.  However, that pre-dawn morning, the dream and feelings it evoked, deeply moved me, and stayed with me for hours, making it easy for me to journal, to contemplate, and finally to glean its gift. Even now as I write, it’s easy for me to conjure the scene and its characters, to step back into the story, to taste those feelings.

With reflection I realized that in my dream, in my broken Italian, I had said to this Nonna, “Mi’amo,”  thinking I was saying “I love you” when really I was saying, over and over, “I love me.”  The dream maker never errs.  This was not a Freudian slip.

This wise old woman, this Nonna-Oma feeds me, loves me, plays with me, teaches me.  I eat her food.  I take in her love, her joy, her playfulness.

I ingest her.  I take her into me.  She becomes me and in so doing, is dying.

A holy communion.

A few weeks later, I read a dear wise woman words about the necessity for us each to take back and eat the hope we have projected onto others, to nourish ourselves so as to become our own hope, our own leaders, and our own fiercely loving, joyful, playful Nonna-Omas.

Dreamscape One – “Yes, I am here.”

Did I tell you the one about the older man?

Cultured, well dressed in a European kind of way.  A man who looks like someone I know – a wounded healer who knows how to listen when the body says no.  Older than me, though I always feel myself younger than I am, and not just when I’m dreaming.  (From what I hear, it’s a function of age, this time standing still inside while outside life goes on.)  I suppose an onlooker, someone passing us by as we walked together –  my arm around his waist, his casually draped around my shoulder –  would have thought us well matched.

Perhaps they would have sensed, as do I, something vital, captivating, alluring in how we walk together, under those renaissance porticoes, along cobbled sidewalks, towards that old grand hotel.  Yes, I feel it to be some old city in Europe.  Place of my heart’s longing and desire.

We are laughing, enjoying each other’s company, oblivious to others on the street, those who turn their heads a bit to notice…something…with a smile.

You, who had been my teacher, with whom I had loved and partnered for twenty some years.

You, whose gift of a book then, inspired now in me the creation of a photo book gleaming and glowing with life, colour and beauty.

You, who are delighted to observe how deeply received and well acknowledged my creation at its debut, among all those who gathered.

We climb the old magnificent staircase, bordered by frescoes.  Fifteen hundred years old you replied.  Past antique gilt and glass and wooden bar, where you’d go for a late afternoon aperitif or morning café.  On our way to our room to make love.

I felt I’d found home with him, this place, this time, my creativity.  I felt all was right and good, true and beautiful, despite our age difference and previous roles.  No shame.  No guilt.  No need to hide.  This was a good beginning in a relationship for twenty years.

Epilogue

The day following, and a year ago today – March 30, 2016 – I thought I saw an owl flying overhead as we walked our Annie dog through the golf course. Out of the corner of my vision, I saw a large light wing span and heard the raucous cries of crows.  It stuck because it struck me as odd. When we arrived home, there it was, a snowy owl, perched in the top of the tree next door.

In the thirty plus years we have lived in our suburban home, never before had I seen an owl fly in the neighborhood, in broad daylight, let alone land in the backyard tree next door, as if waiting for me to say, “Yes, I am here.” (I just realized I had intended to write, “as if waiting to for me, as if to say…” This slip is revealing in its truth…its portent.)

Together with my night dream, I took it as omen, having been given a statue of Athena with her talisman the owl perched on her outstretched arm.  And almost a year later, driving home very late at night from the airport, returning from the intimate writers’ retreat on Whidbey Island, there he was again and the only time since, that large mass of of light flying across my sight line as I turned off the highway.  Just as fleeting, though unmistakable in the black of night. “Yes, I am here.”

Tonglen for a Young Robin

Sitting in my sanctuary on a Saturday morning.  Journal open.  Pen in hand to capture elusive night messages.

Dream snippets.  Coffee sips.

Sudden thud on the floor to ceiling, wall-wide window.  Reverie broken.  I rise to see what damage done.

A young robin sits still amidst the tall green iris blades.  Tell-tale speckles on his rust red breast and back.  Breathing quick and shallow.  Blessedly alive though in shock.

I soundlessly kneel by the window and begin the ancient practice, trusting its promise for this fledgling sentient being.

Breathing in his incredulity. Breathing out my living yes.

In and out. Slow and steady.

I take into my heart his frozen shock.  I give out to his heart warm life energy.

Despite the solid glass that separates us, I sense a connection.  He appears to sense my prayerful presence, looking up, then finding me, looking at me.

In and out.  Slow and steady.  I direct my breath to him though the glass. Rising ever so cautiously, now through the open window.

I close my eyes.  He does, too.  I open my eyes.  He does, too.

In and out.  Slow and steady.

Head turns from side to side. Check.

Beak opens, closes. Check.

Wings flutter. Check.

Eyes focus. Check.

In and out.  Slow and steady.

And now I can’t see him, hidden under the ledge.

And now I can’t see him, having flown away.

 

Tonglen is the Tibetan word for “giving and receiving” and is the name of a Tibetan Buddhist meditation practice for developing deep compassion and lessening the fear of suffering. Through this practice, we visualize receiving all the pain and suffering of another person (or other sentient being) and giving back to that person (or sentient being) all of our love, joy, well-being and peace.

Watching a Full Life Come Full Circle

Circle-of-Life-635x476A few decades ago, once a month for a week for a few years, I’d pack my bag, drive up the road to the Nechi Institute: Centre of Indigenous Learning and co-teach modules for their Advanced Counsellor Training program.  Sometimes I’d be paired with the same staff trainer, making the dance of co-teaching more fluid with time.  On other occasions, when those trainers were taking Nechi’s programs to other parts of Canada and beyond, I’d be partnered with guest faculty.  Always a rich learning experience taking me to my edges as I immersed in First Nations-Metis culture and came face to face with anxiety, prejudice and racism – mine, theirs, ours.  I remember particularly the week I worked with Vera, an Eastern Cree medicine woman.

We were studying individual and families.  Drawing from my clinical social work training, my role was to give theoretical credibility to the curricula, introducing established clinical frames.  I looked to my co-teachers and students for help to contextualize this into indigenous worldview.  In this case, Vera helped us see how a life fully lived comes full circle: that we leave the world much as we came into it, small and frail, with the characteristics of an infant, depending on others for life.

20081013circleoflife

A few weeks ago, The Scientist and I made the trip “home” to visit our families, to celebrate my father’s 85th birthday, to spend time with his parents.  Both in their nineties, in January they made the overnight move from the house they purchased after emigrating from Germany in the mid 1950’s, into a retirement-care facility to support his father’s declining health.  A farm mechanic who finally applied his trade as after serving in WW II and being taken prisoner of war – “came home no longer a boy, but a man who I fell in love with,” blushes his wife – Dad still received calls for help from the Niagara farmers well into his eighties. Two summers ago, still vibrant with a strong embrace and hearty laugh.  Now, small and frail, using a walker, eating pureed food.  When not sleeping, looking around with wide-eyed curiosity, yet less and less present to in-the-moment conversations.  One foot in this world and the other in the next.

As I bent to kiss him good-bye on the cheek, I thought of Vera’s lesson and saw the truth of it in my father-in-law, a man who now was becoming more child-like in appearance and disposition.

As we drove to the airport to make our return home debriefing the highs and lows of our visit, The Scientist said he heard his father quietly say in a moment of crystal clarity, with his family bustling around as he sat at the kitchen table,  “I’m happy.”

The simple, sweet statement of what has always given him joy.

For Old Age

May the light of your soul mind you.

May all your worry and anxiousness about your age

Be transfigured.

May you be given wisdom for the eyes of your soul

To see this as a time of gracious harvesting.

May you have the passion to heal what has hurt you,

And allow it to come closer and become one with you.

May you have great dignity,

Sense how free you are:

Above all, may you be given the wonderful gift

Of meeting the eternal light that is within you.

May you be blessed;

And may you find a wonderful love

In your self for your self.

John O’Donohue

 

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.