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.

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.

 

 

This Morning Feels Full Today

This morning feels full today, in contrast to the many mostly still and almost silent ones.  A steady breeze stirs the air, sweet and cool and heavy with moisture from yesterday’s mid afternoon thundershower.  Prayer flags strung between fence posts, then sodden, now flutter.  For a few minutes I hear birds, sparrows and chickadees chirping, crows and magpies’ hoarse and scratching, and then notice my favourite robin song is missing.  Errant males must have finally found their mates. 

This morning feels full today, with eager anticipation.  Travel plans, vacation to-dos, home care projects, restaurant and cafes to sample and savour, friends to entertain, hopefully “al fresco” in gardens now flourishing from early spring warmth and summer rain, now flush with fragrant and heady blooms. Two whole summer months of possibility and promise.

This morning feels full today, outside and in.  I finally make sense of the malaise and migraines that have weighed heavy since the first of June.  Like that first peek of sunshine, the anniversary of my own leave-taking four years ago.  Then I thought I knew my place.  Now feeling the precarious straddling on another threshold.  Then and now.  Certain and uncertain.  A new place, what and where?

This morning feels full today, though somewhat lighter, too.

Perfume of a Pink and Purple Prairie Summer Morn

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Top Notes

Cool water fragrant with thin slices of near translucent cucumber.

Tender pink of a wild rose petal.

Tiny teaspoon of lemon ice, softened for a moment by the rising sun.

Middle – Heart – Notes

One hour later, brighter, deeper into the dawn

Herbaceous green of freshly cut grass.

Spicy geranium and day lily, subtly turning their sleepy fuchsia and saffron heads to the east.

Bottom – Base – Notes

Earth damp from the sudden thunderstorm.

Dew drops warming, trailing behind an iridescent veil.

Robin, sparrow, chickadee, even crow and magpie song and call, waft across the barely-there breeze, awakening sense and presence.

Close your eyes and breathe.

Open your eyes and see.

Self Portrait Emerging

This year I began writing about my current threshold, transitioning from a career to creative oriented life, another of life’s letting go to let come.  A few posts ago, I framed it as the shift from ambition to meaning, and shared some internal signposts that pointed the direction to this new path.

Since then I’ve gotten a good bill of heart health.  And while my crown and bite are still off a bit (the metaphor isn’t lost), I’m optimistic this will resolve in right time.  I’m feeling rested, waking with sweet anticipation for the day like I did those mornings when I lived in Germany for three months, five years ago. I’ve taken up with a flamenco teacher whose “deconstructed” approach to this complex dance form fits better now at this point in my practice.  I celebrated my echoing day in this new eldering decade.  And to celebrate a dear friend’s new decade, I finally found the way into creating the artwork for a story she had written a few years back.  Ta Da…I finished and sent in for a first draft read my collection of love letters to poets.  Right now, I’m participating in a global online dream walker’s course, reviving a practice I know bears fruit, and a couple of weeks ago I attended a most lovely workshop on poetry and photography hosted by local writer-poet, Shawna Lemay.

During the winter interim after registering for BeComing, I read some of Shawna’s work,   her novel, Rumi and the Red Hand Bag (an alluring title with a deep fondness for both) and her latest collection of poetry, Asking.  There, she introduced me to the “poem-essay,” a form  that totally synchs with my way of thinking and writing.  And not a page turned without feeling a quickening of recognition, a jolt to my senses that here is another who is kindred.  When during the workshop, I wrote and recited my quick reflection to her prompt Wabi Sabi, she looked across the room in recognition.  Sources of appreciation and inspiration discovered.  We draw from the same well.  Again the evidence of an earlier realization: everything I need for a life well-lived lies in my own backyard.

Now, a couple of months later, a new invitation to consider this person I am becoming, in response to taking self portraits to see what is evoked, to dreaming images of light and shadow:

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Who is this person I am becoming?

Feet that carry me along the path

Made only by its walking to

God. Knows. Where.

 

It’s been said that by looking at one’s shadow

We come to see the face

We are before

We. Are. Born.

 

A spider crawls upon my hand

To write a web of possibility

To catch a moment of illumination.

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(Not a poem essay, instead a form borrowed from Alice Walker in her collection, Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the Earth.)

Wabi Sabi, Then and Now

Wabi Sabi.  No, not wasabi.

Though when you get a hit of it – wabi sabi, that is – before you know what it means – it’s like a heaping spoonful of wasabi.

               Hits you right in your solar plexus.

               You can hardly breathe.

               You cry.

               Think you’re gonna die.

I know.  Three years ago.  An April Sunday like today.

               Warm.

               Sunny.

               I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck.

And my mouth, like I’ve just come from the dentist and the freezing’s wearing off.

By the end of the day, I look like I’ve OD’D on botox.

               One half of my face frozen, falling down on my shoulder.

The other aged a decade, holding the ravages of stress and fear.

Oh my God. What’s happening?

The nurse in the group who I’ve been consulting since morning says now is the time to get to ER.

Eight hours later, unbeknownst to me, a differential diagnosis of stroke ruled out.

“Bells Palsy, we think.  We don’t know what brings it on.  There’s no cure.  Treatment – time, and oh yeah, here’s a script for prednisone.  Get it filled right away to reduce the inflammation of the facial nerve.”

Cracked my life open.  My whole life. Wide open.

Took some time before I could talk about it, let alone chew, smile, sip, blow bubbles, whistle, wink and do all the things, make all the expressions we take for granted with a fully functioning face.

“Wabi Sabi,” is how a friend described it, me.  The first I’d heard the phrase.  A gift really, both her introducing me to it, and what it means.

“Wabi Sabi,

a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.

a beauty of things modest and humble.

a beauty of things unconventional.”

Like the green dollop in the corner of the cracked white porcelain sushi plate.  The goose poop on the pristine patch of grass.

Life.

(A “poem essay” in response to the writing prompt, “wabi sabi” and a photograph of – yes, goose poop on the lawn of the Devonian Garden’s Japanese Garden – at BeComing, a poetry and photography workshop hosted by Shawna Lemay, held in the Japanese Pavillon at the Devonian Gardens, Sunday, April 17, 2016.  Posted on the third anniversary.)

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.

9 - Easter

Born of star dust

from ocean waters

the full moon face of the new born,

then and now.

 

Fasting From Facebook – My Lenten Ritual

“The sacred duty of being an individual is to gradually learn how to live so as to awaken the eternal within oneself.”  John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes (4)

Today is Ash Wednesday signifying within the Christian tradition the beginning of Lent, the forty days of spiritual preparation before Easter Sunday.  A week ago today, The Scientist and I made our way home from our first-in-a-decade warm winter sojourn.  We both like Alberta winters, so it wasn’t so much an escape (especially this year in the midst of an especially balmy El Nino system that’s been wreaking havoc on our city’s winter festivals) as a time for rest and renewal, with minimal decision-making and distraction.

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Packing, I finally decided to bring my tablet to continue work on the project that emerged during my first writers’ retreat in December. (I’m happy to say I did spend a warm afternoon under the cabana’s thatched roof typing away on a new love letter.  Not finished, but the bones have been set and now wait to be fleshed out once I’ve done a bit more research and reading.)  And I did check emails, only to delete spam and non-essentials so as not to be overwhelmed by an inbox of hundreds upon my return.  I’ve learned that’s a sure fire way to quickly undo the benefits of any time away.  Good plan until my little ASUS Transformer refused to turn on.  And then I received the unexpected gift of being unplugged.  Talk about a transformer!

I’ve come to know that not only am I an “adapted extrovert” – deeply introverted at heart but out of necessity and habit have learned to be “out there” and engaging – but I’m also highly sensitive by nature.  Regular doses of silence and solitude are necessary for my health and well-being.  Also, prone to anxiety and worrying, I’ve realized that too much time on computer, e-reader, and cell phone, especially in evening, overstimulate my already finely tuned system and thwart sleep.  If I’m to read at bedtime I need to feel the weight of a book’s good story in my hands to soothe, settle and sleep.

twitterinstagramLinkedinI’ve never been a big “tweeter” or “instagrammer,” and seldom go to LinkedIn except to occasionally update my profile or announce an upcoming event I’m hosting, but I really like Facebook, for lots of good reasons.  FacebookSo it caught my attention, when at our family’s Ukrainian Christmas celebration a few weeks back, I heard my thirty something nephew-in-law refer to Facebook as “Facecrack.”  It didn’t matter that I knew I used Facebook as a contemporary form of social activism, to “wage beauty” as an antidote to the day’s grief and terror. (OK, and to save a good recipe or bit of decorating whimsy.) I knew I was hooked.  For all its good, I saw how much precious time I used scrolling and sharing, distracting myself from Life, filling in the pauses meant to restore if left empty.  I felt the extent to which I’d be thrown off my centre, awash with emotions like despair, fear, anxiety, anger, jealousy in reaction to what I was reading.   And while intellectually I know there is nothing wrong with these emotions in and of themselves, the stew they created inside me took more precious time and energy to process or ignore, and then emerge ready to focus on whatever I knew really needed my attention.  So it came to me yesterday morning as I journaled that I’d continue to abstain from social media as my Lenten practice.  I would fast – from Facebook – observing the ritual undertaken by devotees across time and faiths, “to awaken the eternal within.”

I was born on Good Friday in a Christian Lutheran home, so its archetypes, stories and rituals resonate deep within, and I uphold many traditions, though now, woven with the richness coming from the various spiritual traditions I hold dear to my heart and being.  This ritual feels right, now.  I trust how it came so spontaneously, with no pre-thought, appearing in black ink from my pen as I wrote on the white page of my journal.  This is my “sacred duty.”

I look forward to what will come in these next forty days.  I look forward to the pauses that invite noticing. I look forward to time reclaimed to write my love letters, to heeding my heart’s ache that I live my life aligned with its calling.

Annie’s calling.  Time to take my ally for a walk…another sacred duty. 


If you are called to follow a practice “to awaken the eternal within,” I invite you to join me in two spring-time offerings, Lectio Poetica and Painting from Within. For details and registration please go to my website’s “Upcoming Events” and complete the contact form.  I’ll be back in touch via email or telephone.

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.

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.”