Beauty, Geography, poetry, Uncategorized, Wonder

Throwing Open the Windows of Imagination

“When the doors of perception are cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”
— Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

The world didn’t have to be beautiful but it is. Morocco’s night skies with a billion stars flung across the heavens like spilled salt, Australia’s Great Ocean Road winding along rugged coastline, Buddhist temples perched on India’s stark and stony Himalaya, wild gibbon calling from among the tree-tops in Borneo, the view of the hillside sweeping down to the sea from a hilltop in Erice, Sicily, Cartagena’s colorful streets—there are myriad beautiful places in the world.

When I recognized I needed to move from my home in Santa Cruz, I didn’t want to leave behind the trees, the sea, the beauty–though I felt that very well might be what would need to happened. After more than a year of looking for a different place to live and finally finding one, we moved in. The yard is large enough for a garden, the house has been updated, and we have pleasant neighbors. I like for things to be the best I can make them, but nothing is perfect. What bothers me about the house I now live in is the floor. It’s not level. The lift and dip can be felt while walking across a room, and some of the furniture doesn’t sit solidly on the floor. Nevertheless, at the last minute when we absolutely had to be out of our previous home, the opportunity for this house appeared and we are here living in it. Despite the floor, beauty can be found nearby. Living here feels right.

Before moving to Sonoma County, we drove out to explore the landscape along the coast. It was then, standing at the edge of the Pacific gazing into its expansive presence I recognized that despite the economic challenges of moving, perhaps my imagination about what was possible was too small. It took Earth eons beyond counting to form the land where I stood, looking out into that particular horizon. Yet there I was in my finite body through some amazing collaboration of circumstances peering into the boundless open heart of Bodega Bay, Earth’s embodied unspoken invitation that I enlarge my mind and imagination.

In her poem, “A Settlement,” Mary Oliver writes about spring–life in all its trembling, hopeful beauty, and the joy that brings–the way I felt about returning home to Santa Cruz, and what I thought would be my forever home, after 26 years of living in foreign countries to live beside the redwoods and the wonder of their amazing presence. Oliver writes,

Look, it’s spring. And last year’s loose dust has turned into this soft
willingness. The wind-flowers have come up trembling, slowly the
brackens are up-lifting their curvaceous and pale bodies. The thrushes
have come home, none less than filled with mystery, sorrow,

happiness, music, ambition.

And I am walking out into all of this with nowhere to go and no task
undertaken but to turn the pages of this beautiful world over and over,
in the world of my mind.

***

Therefore, dark past,
I’m about to do it.
I’m about to forgive you

for everything.

Mystery, sorrow–these are all there alongside the wonder of the world’s beauty that Oliver turns over and over in her thoughts as she walks about. She has no predetermined path in mind, she’s simply absorbing what is–the music of it all. She lets it fill her.

And that immersion of her full self into the landscape’s presence is what allows her to pause and then to take the next leap– to forgive the past. For everything. That pause she takes between the last two stanzas is essential. In it we can feel her weighing everything in her past before making the commitment to release what has weighed her down, perceived failures, guilt, shame–whatever incompleteness might be there.

What we think at one point in time will be the life we will have can change unexpectedly into something quite different. Moving to a new home as well as other large life changes–unemployment, retirement, disease, divorce, death, and numerous more alterations, requires a letting go, an opening, a release into new possibilities. At our previous house in Santa Cruz we had dreams of an art studio, a meditation bench under the redwoods, a greenhouse, and a terraced hillside with artichokes, berry vines and fruit trees. Those never came to be. Just as a plant produces more seeds than can ever be used or that will ever come to fruition, there are many worlds, lives, and dreams inside us. Not all aspirations blossom or come to fruition. Spring carries with it a history of winter but has to release itself from cold days with little sun in order to liberate itself into new life.

As Oliver suggests, I can forgive what I can’t change, the defects of uneven floors, the insights I wish I had but lacked. I can embrace what is and open the doors to what waits past the plains and borders I’ve previously defined. Oliver’s moment of turning in “Settlement” is a kind of invitation to let go of what weighs us down, what we’ve wanted to be different but wasn’t, to let it drop like clothes changed at the end of the day. We live in a world too big for a small inner life. We can imagine something different, plant the seeds of a different reality, stretch beyond the past hopes we dreamt of that never came true.

“We have an obligation to imagine,” writes Neil Gaiman. “It is easy to pretend that nobody can change anything, that society is huge and the individual is less than nothing. But the truth is individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different.” Find an ocean, a sea of billowing grass, a snowy plain, or a desert’s wide expanse. Look up into the infinite sky. We are bigger than other’s definitions of who we are, bigger, too, than the roles and definitions we give ourselves.

It’s literally true, we are stardust. Our very existence depends on the unseen interconnected workings of vast systems of life that hold together not only our planet but the far-flung fringes of the universe. As Charles Eisenstein’s book title states The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible, is waiting for us to discover it.

place, poetry, Uncategorized

Investments of the Heart

20170527_114249

September Afternoon at Four O’Clock
Marge Piercy

Full in the hand, heavy
with ripeness, perfume spreading
it’s fan: moments now resemble
sweet russet pears glowing
on the bough, peaches warm
from the afternoon sun, amber
and juicy, flesh that can 
make you drunk.

This month I moved from a place I called home for decades in Santa Cruz County, California, a location rich with beauty that has filled me with wonder and gratitude where morning mist drifted between tree-covered hills and summer’s noon sun lifted the redwood’s green scent from the forest floor. Wasps drinking the grapes’ sweetness hummed under the arbor on autumn afternoons, crickets sang at twilight, and at night the horned owls call from among the redwoods.

Bees Among the Arbor Grapes

Though I lived abroad for over two and a half decades in urban environments, I always looked forward to coming home to Santa Cruz County to be restored, a place with a multitude of trails through forests, as well as being near the coast with the sea stretching into the far distance. After rains, moisture rose from the redwood duff and the bay laurels, making the earth smell medicinal green. Walking on that earth, I felt the sweetness of being alive, as if I were tasting one of the pears Marge Percy describes in the opening stanza of her above poem.

Mists Among the Trees Out the Back Door, Soquel

When my husband and I moved to our house in the Soquel Hills of Santa Cruz County years ago, I never suspected I would move, never considered that one day it would be wise to have an easier home to manage and a smaller amount of land to care for. We can’t see all the way to the end of a road we’re traveling on. Needs change, bodies age, environments alter, and so do world economics. As Percy writes,

There is a turn in things
that makes the heart catch.
We are ripening…

Whenever we let go of what we’ve loved and held dear we experience loss. We have to leave behind much in our lives when moving–people we hold dear, pathways we’re familiar with, places that bring us joy, routines we find comfort in and all the many memories place holds–the tree we sat under in afternoons, the hill we rode down on a bicycle, the restaurant where we ate a favorite food, the steps we argued with someone on, the school we graduated from, the storm that carried the bridge away or the quake that tumbled the house’s chimney–griefs and joys–all the many ways we experience the turn of light and the sounds of the earth we walk on through the seasons across years.

Just as we can’t wear the same shoes throughout our lives and a favorite piece of clothing wears out, even though we may not want it to happen or feel unprepared for it when it does, transitions are necessary. Wanted or unwanted, transformations require adjustment, internal and external. If we can arrive at the place of embracing the change as part of a journey rather than a final destination, we can discover new ways of understanding and being in the world. “We are ripening,” Percy calls it. Potential and possibility are there.

As Percy goes on to say,

Whatever happens, whatever,
we say, and hold hard and let
go and go on. In the perfect 
moment the future coils,
a tree inside a pit. Take,
eat, we are each other’s
perfection, the wine of our
mouths is sweet and heavy.
Soon enough comes the vinegar.
The fruit is ripe for the taking
and we take. There is
no other wisdom.

The past, present and future are all contained in the fruit we hold even though we may not fully see it. The seed, the tree, the fruit, the vinegar–reality is all of these simultaneously, not just one of these things by itself–even if one aspect appears more dominant. Vinegar comes, and with it will come, the sour things we don’t like to taste. But the vinegar is not all. There’s also the fruit. “Hold hard,” Percy says. Let what we love be dear. Feel its weight. Taste the flavor of each other’s perfection and the perfection of the world around us in this moment just as it is, the perfection of its imperfection.

Percy also says, “let go and go on.” Hold on. But also let go! Everything around us is in transformation anyway. It is in relationship with each other and with the world around us that through time we transform and become whole. This is how we are each other’s perfection that Percy describes.

Here are trees I lived beside and called my friends, and this is the garden I nurtured that fed me and gave me beauty, and this is the ocean and fields I loved, though there’s so much more inside the experience of each of these—all the ways the land I lived on whispered its life, bestowed its presence, left its imprint. I hold all these, and more, dear.

There are many ways of knowing something. One of them is to live beside it for a long time, to observe it for many seasons and through many kinds of weather and light until in the end it takes on life. You see the same scene but with more depth, with all its nuances, history, subtleties and character. I have left now these things I’ve held dear, but paradoxically, they are still with me and still alive, as are the many other places and people I hold dear who are no longer with me yet still influence how I live.

The evening I left Santa Cruz for the last time to drive up the coast and then inland to my new home, the sun was setting, an ongoing display of dying light in all its beauty. I’ve entered a new world now, further north in Sonoma County. I don’t know where time will take me from here but I’m holding on to the fruit of this experience, savoring it until it’s again time to let go.

“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid,” wrote Fredrick Buechner. There’s a lot of uncertainty we collectively face as a planet in the years ahead. Moving is a practice in death and rebirth. I hope I can learn to face every future transformation and not be afraid.

poetry, spirtuality, Uncategorized

Diving into Night’s Ocean

black-spotted whip ray

Discovering the Deeper Shades of Blue: How to Night Dive

Let go your idea of needing vivid sun
or the 10,000 shades of transparent blue.

Embrace night’s serene satin, and slip in,
flashlight in hand, to seek life absent during day.

Many divers will wave their torch wildly about,
unable to focus the light they have, uncontrollably
blasting your eyes as if to blind you
without intending to. Move on. 

Let go of certainty and greet the unexpected. 
You’ve changed your lens, are looking
with different intention now. 

Shine your light into hidden crevices
and spot a parrot fish snoozing calmly 
inside a protective mucous bubble.

Go slowly. Gliding along a wall of flower coral
stretching, and retracting their delicate tentacles. 
Hold your magnifying glass close to their daisy-bright 
bodies, and then to ghost shrimps’ gleaming copper eyes, 
their tiny segmented feet intently searching for food. 

Skim past morays’ grinning faces ever peeking
from their window holes, waiting for news of a meal.
Notice others scurry from crevices, swerving
between rocks, looking for better digs.

Take time to shine your light beneath ledges
absorbing a Spanish dancer nudibranch’s salsa,
flexing, bending, and swirling its foot-long scarlet skirt.

Cast your torch across the seafloor to spy
an octopus scrambling to climb a coral-covered rock, 
skin mimicking its color and texture in an instant.

Your air tank nearly diminished, and safety stop complete, 
turn off your light and whirl your arm through the water,
watching plankton trail your movement 
in spiraling beads of green phosphorescent glow.

Daylight holds one world,
night another.

There are worlds within worlds,
things you’ll never see 
if all you know
is what daylight holds. 

Drop into night’s starry sea.
Let yourself be carried into a deeper blue.

Anna down under

There are things we love and look for. There are things we’re not ready to see or embrace though they are present, and there are those things hidden from our site that we only see when we look beneath the surface, willing to greet the unexpected, as the poem suggests. When diving at night, the diver typically moves slower, eyes focused on the band of light one’s torch illuminates. Though vision is limited to what can be seen in the frame of light a diver carries, diving into a night sea encourages a more focused, intimate observation of what might otherwise have been passed over. Similar to how stars are visible at night, things appear in a dark sea that can’t be seen at other times.

There’s a lot in the news these days to carry a person into a metaphorical dive into night. The Smithsonian reports the Colorado River is drying up, drought threatening the electric supply for hundreds of thousands if water levels drop below what allows the turbines at Hoover Dam to turn, writes Robyn White in Newsweek magazine. According to a recent article in CNN, climate change produces more atmospheric rivers making the possibility of another 100 year flood in California more likely. Antartica experienced a heat wave in March, and India its hottest month in 122 years. Wild fires in the Czech Republic, and Spain. Millions in East Africa live on the edge of famine because of prolonged drought. Drought, fires, and floods, we live in a time of uncertainty.

Everywhere we turn, disasters seem imminent. These are global concerns and our futures are woven together. There’s a place for mourning says author and Buddhist scholar, Joanna Macy, yet “what a time to be alive,” she exclaims in this video interview with her, “Climate Crisis as a Spiritual Path.” Be with your suffering. Ground it in gratitude, Macy suggests, so that when panic subsides you can recognize you’re held by life. Our greatest gift is our full presence to life. Suffering can open us to each other and help us find a shared strength in life, she explains.

scorpion fish

When facing the uncertainty of diving in the dark, it’s beneficial to do as the poem suggests, and “greet the unexpected.” Divers have to trust the sea will continue to lift and carry them, even though they can’t see their way. How do we look at difficulty with different intention and find the resources and courage to dive into the dark? Catherine Lombard, on her blog post, Cultivating Radical Hope as Our Planet Collapses explores this article by ethicists David Schenck and Larry R. Churchill  in Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, “Ethical Maxims for a Marginally Inhabitable Planet,” giving six ethical maxims for living forward into the future with the dangers we face and that can serve as a kind of light while swimming through a night sea of uncertainty:

Maxim 1: Work Hard to Grasp the Immensity. (…it is always difficult to accept bad news that has a finality to it…Some turns of events demand a change in one’s whole view of the world.)
Maxim 2: Cultivate Radical Hope. (…[only] when one reaches a certain level of despair can new resources of hope emerge, in oneself and in the new world in which one finds oneself.)
Maxim 3: Have a Line in the Sand (things you won’t do, modes of living you won’t embrace.)
Maxim 4: Appreciate the Astonishing and Unique Opportunity. (Appreciate the opportunity you have to accompany humanity in this extraordinary transition and to be present to the earth and the biosphere at this time.
Maxim 5: Train Your Body and Your Mind. (Learn skills for getting beyond the emotional and physiological limits of ego.)
Maxim 6: Act for the Future Generations of All Species. (Speak for those without voice: the poor, the future generations, other species. Speak for the forests, the seas, the mountains.)

moray eel

We view things newly and understand the world differently when swimming in a sea of circumstances where it’s difficult to see beyond the band of light directly before us and yet it’s still possible to feel free. As if an eel smiling from inside a rocky crevice or the beads of phosphorescence bubbling in the water’s surge, because of the challenges to vision night time brings, new insights and ways of responding to suffering can emerge from beneath the interior ledges of our selves. While humanity has not previously faced the kind of ecological collapse scientists indicate is coming in the decades ahead, we do have examples of how people have endured hardship with hope. In a recent Time magazine article. “Far From Home,” Afghan women now living in various parts of the world tell the story of what life is like for them, one year after the fall of Kabul. What especially struck me as I read the article is the women’s repeated expressions of determination to build a meaningful life though they have lost a world they knew and held dear. These women have endured serious ongoing hardship, yet when asked how she would describe herself in one word, one of the women interviewed, Batool Haidari says, “I am a warrior. Not because we are at war but because we are fighting to survive.” Another Afghan woman, Masouma Tajik says she is “unstoppable,” and Najiba Ebrahimi describes herself as “free.” Certainly, these women have cultivated radical hope, and continue to train their minds to grasp what has happened to them, as well as to respond to the opportunities they now have.

schooling lattice soldierfish, Seychelles

We can practice transformation now with every difficulty we experience in daily life and we are not alone in our effort. As Thich Nhat Hahn says in a practice called touching the earth, we have the energy of our ancestors in us, “wisdom transmitted from so many generations…I carry in me the life, the blood, the experiences, the wisdom, the happiness and the sorrow of all generations. The suffering and the elements that are to be transformed, I am practicing to transform. I opened my heart and my flesh and bones to receive the energy of insight, of love and of experiences transmitted to me by all my ancestors… ”

There are worlds within worlds,
things you’ll never see 
if all you know
is what daylight holds. 

Drop into night’s starry sea.
Let yourself be carried into a deeper blue.

Lying on the earth, your floor, or imaging yourself floating through the sea, you can prepare for transformation as you listen to Thich Nhat Hahn’s Touching the Earth practice, allowing yourself to be carried into a deeper blue.

Pacific Ocean, Santa Cruz, California

The poem, “Discovering the Deeper Shades of Blue: How to Night Dive” is part of my newest book of poems, Buoyant, published by Bellowing Ark Press.

Geography, poetry, spirtuality, Uncategorized

In a World of Sorrow and Immeasurable Beauty

“Everything is beautiful and I am so sad.
This is how the heart makes a duet of
wonder and grief.”

— Mark Nepo, from his poem, “Adrift”

Saudi Arabia is a country of amazing geological interest and the Al Qarah Caves in eastern Saudi Arabia near Hofuf are one of Saudi Arabia’s extraordinary sites. A series of narrow passages, the caves were created through the geological process of erosion in the clay, silt, and limestone earth forming a series of “very deep and narrow joint-controlled fissures.” (The Jabal Al Qarah Caves of the Hofuf Area, Northeastern Saudi Arabia: A geological investigation.)

Deserts are important. While deserts seem to be bare, treeless places and can feel like a bleak wilderness, it’s from deserts that some of humankind’s important cultures such as ancient Egypt rose. Thirteen of the fifteen types of minerals on our planet are found in deserts. Plants and and animals found in deserts have developed ways to adapt the harsh conditions and still thrive. (More of desert’s amazing qualities described here.) From deserts came innovations such as irrigation helping to nurture and sustain life across the globe. In a world where things seem increasingly bleak, and where metaphorically speaking it feels we’re heading into the depths of a desolate land without water or shade, perhaps it’s a good time to contemplate the desert.

At some point in our lives most of us come to a place where the world turns arid, lonely and vulnerable. You sense you’re in a wilderness by yourself where the path you once followed has disappeared and you recognize you need some further kind of internal strength to keep going. Barbara Brown Taylor details this wilderness experience in her talk on subsistence spirituality with these words, “In the beginning, you weep. Because all the familiar landmarks are gone, because you don’t know where you are. Because the only food left in your backpack is disgusting. And the little bit of water in your canteen has turned green. You’re hungry, you’re tired, you’re lost, you’re alone, it’s getting dark. And even if the sky is clear enough for stars tonight, you don’t know how to read them. You always meant to, but you never learned. So now what? If you’re a pray-er, you pray. If you’re not a pray-er, you pray. What else can you do once you’ve come to the end of what you can do for yourself? It’s time to find out what faith means out beyond the boundaries of where you were warned not to go.”

When there are no answers, when you’re waiting and waiting for a change in circumstances that never comes, how do we make the waiting bearable? Some wait their entire lives struggling to sustain themselves with adequate food, shelter, and clothing. Though they may be resourceful and diligent, some never obtain opportunities that allow them to develop the abilities they have to the full extent of their longing. Though kind or honest, some people aren’t treated with respect. When coming to the end of our resources of what we know to do, how do we continue? How do we allow our suffering to transform us into people of deeper wisdom and heart rather than fall into a pit of despair or gradually grow bitter?

In his poem “Adrift,” Mark Nepo writes,
In the very center, under it all,
what we have that no one can take
away and all that we’ve lost face each other.
It is there that I’m adrift, feeling punctured
by a holiness that exists inside everything.
I am so sad and everything is beautiful.

While none of us likely wants more suffering or grief, when adrift between seeing all we have and and all we’ve lost, as Nepo points out in his poem, that is when we feel the puncture of the inseparability of wonder and grief that somehow makes us aware of the sacred. It’s this insight that can be the catalyst for internal change that enables us to find a way to live alongside the unbearable.

Saudi desert near Hofuf

Saudi Arabia may be a desert country but it also holds one of the world’s major sources of energy: oil. Organic life from previous times transformed under pressure and with heat has become a source of energy. that which has died transforms into new life. Though a place of interest and beauty, nevertheless, pressure and erosion created the caves at Al Qarah. All life is in a process of ongoing transformation.

In the nature, we can experience the inseparability of life and death, how the dying of one life form engenders the birth of another. John Muir wrote “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.” The oceans, as well as the mountains, are also a fountain of life, and spending time there is transforming. Saudi Arabia borders the Red Sea, one of the most phenomenal areas to scuba dive in the world, as it is where two continental plates, the African and the Arabian, have pulled apart creating an enormous and extremely deep rift. Inside this Red Sea rift over 1000 species of fish and 150 species of coral can be found–beauty and life thrives.

Blue coral, Red Sea

When I consider the processes of the natural world, I wonder about how I might view the cultural rifts and political erosions in a similar way–a process of deconstruction and reconstruction that are occurring simultaneously–a dying while living. The intersection of these seeming opposites is a place where new awareness and possibilities can arise.

In creative acts people take elements and combine them in ways generating change. Alternatively, as Muir suggests, when we spend time in the natural world, it acts on us and we are changed. We physically sense ourselves held inside a greater reality, a greater wholeness. As Kabir Helminski writes in “Beauty as a Way of Life,” “When the spiritual imagination awakens, the world is transformed. It is the same world, but seen differently.”

In specifically thinking about the challenges women have faced through history and continue to face, I offer this poem from my new book, Buoyant.

In Praise of Women Divers

This is for the woman who took her children 
to the Red Sea to paddle through water their father
had never touched, though he grew up beside it
every day looking into its face.

This is for the woman who became a divemaster
though told it was dangerous and she’d be seen
in a wetsuit, how she led other women underwater
though it was illegal, teaching them the ways of fish,
discovering together another world, finding 
every day is a good day to dive.

This is for the women who wore abayas
atop their wetsuits as if they were merely
onlookers while meeting the Coast Guard,
and the men on the boat the only divers.

This is for the friend who stood on the boat deck
wearing her snorkel and mask, black robe
flapping with wind, smilingly determined to explore
what lay beneath the sea’s sun-smoothed surface— 
all of us others planning to join her. 

This is for the women who broke the law 
by choosing to dive, who probed shipwrecks 
and gazed at their gaps, who entered through holes
blasted into steel holds—how vessels once so strong
no water could enter, are now broken open, sunken,
propellers forever halted, going nowhere.

This is in celebration of the women who saw wrecks
in water clear as windows, the happiness engendered when
something so big, so seemingly sturdy, in its destruction
became a place of beauty decorated with soft corals, animated
with angel and broom-tailed filefish sweeping through.

For those of us wandering in a wilderness, Barbara Brown Taylor leaves us with these words. “So I don’t know what your wilderness is all about. But you do…What you gain though, is the rewilding of your soul. Because the desert is the spiritual wildness protection program, open to anyone willing to leave the pavement and be emptied right out, making room for God knows what is coming next.” In the midst of our desert wandering, we can pause and ask ourselves how we can open into what’s coming next, how we can allow for a reef to form from the sunken vessels in our lives.

Puffer fish, hard corals and giant clam, Red Sea

(If you’re interested in getting the book, Buoyant, send me a message, and I will see that you get a copy. Check here for more information about the book.)

music, poetry, Uncategorized, Wonder

Seeing With the Eyes of the Heart

Honu Green Sea Turtle, Hawaii, painting on silk, Ann Pervinkler, photo Tim Pervinkler

“Paying attention is a form of reciprocity with the living world, receiving the gifts with open eyes and open heart.” –Robin Wall Kimmerer

Sometimes, it takes a long time to see something. Maybe you’ve looked at something before and recognized it, but really seeing it can be a different thing altogether. Painting on silk, as Ann Pervinkler does, the artist has to pay attention to shape, angle, blending of color and use of space, but more than that, an artist wants what she’s painting to come alive–to have spirit and life. When I saw Ann’s turtle pillow, I felt the turtle was swimming right to me, and immediately thought of my experience some years back while snorkeling beside a turtle in Sri Lanka.

When I first saw the turtle, I was elated since I’d never before swam so closely alongside such a large turtle. It seemed the size of a small, round picnic table! It moved through the water with grace and ease. Close enough to easily touch the turtle, I began to see it in a new way. You can watch this video version of the poem as I read it to the accompaniment of Kanako Fukumoto on the violin and Satsuki Fujishima on piano, (“Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence,” by A. Senju/ Kimi wo Shinjite.) The turtle in the video was filmed by Marina Goodyear in Malapascua, Philippines.

The Curious Turtle

She wasn’t like other turtles
plowing along the ocean bottom
tearing up coral with her beak.

She didn’t hide under a rock 
when I swam by for fear of what
I might do. No. 

She held intently her full mouth
of food as the surge swept her.
Trailing a string of bright bubbles
she paddled straight to me, placed
her face with its glistening eye
next to mine and peered into me. 

I stared into her eyes’ gleaming depth,
her gaze a recognition. 
Somehow, she knew me.

The universe spinning through 
its layers of mystery, I’d entered
another world, felt how Eve
must have felt in the garden
before the fall, naked, vulnerable
and scintillatingly alive.

Hawksbill turtle, Seychelles

When we give ourselves to something with our full attention, looking with the eyes of our heart, we see the world anew. As Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote in The Little Prince, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” Not a mere backdrop we are moving through, when we look at at something or someone with the eyes of the heart, we become more aware of our interbeing with everything around us, the enormous wonder of reality.

In her 1982 essay, “Living Like Weasels,” Annie Dillard wrote about encountering a weasel and being “stunned into stillness…Our eyes locked, and someone threw away the key…the world dismantled and tumbled into that black hole of eyes.” Dillard’s description is very similar to my experience when the turtle’s eye met mine. I saw a depth there, felt what even might be called a wisdom. No longer merely an animal simply to identify and swim beside. I’d met another being with a history, a presence. When we looked in each other’s eyes, something in me woke up: the turtle’s life had depth and a way of knowing beyond my knowing–and one to learn from. I understood the turtle saw his life equally important to mine with his own interests and pursuits. Reality had expanded.

The encounter with the turtle was a gift, changing the way I see not only turtles, but animals and the natural world as a whole and my relationship to it. We can see the world as objects or we can look into the eyes of the world and see it as a marvel alive with presence.

Artists use their skill to help us see the world with the eyes of the heart to help us recognize the wonder that surrounds us that we might otherwise miss without their assistance in bringing it to our attention. Looking into the eyes of a live turtle paddling by, or into silky turquoise water the turtle Ann Pervinkler’s pillow swims through, or the tree branches rolling with wind along the road as you ride home from work–wherever you find yourself, the world is alive and is speaking. Open the eyes of your heart. Listen.

Maldives

You can explore more of Ann’s silk paintings here.

“The Curious Turtle” appears in my newest book, Buoyant, published by Bellowing Ark Press. If you’d like a copy, contact me and I can send you details of how to order one.

place, poetry, snorkeling, Uncategorized

Buoyant

“If there’s magic on this planet, it’s contained in water.” –Loren Eisley

whale shark, Seychelles

Diving is one of the most otherworldly experience a person can have while still on earth. Immersed in a different world than that of everyday life, one sees wonders that open the heart and boggle the mind with the beauty of the natural world.

Drifting through the water, eyes attentive to fish activity and the surrounding terrain, a diver grows conscious of being both a drop in the ocean and an intimate part of the intricate interweaving of all that is. Snorkeling alongside a whale shark is a rare opportunity allowing a direct experience of that wonder.

WHALE SHARK

Spangled with starry dots and pale streamers on its blue,
night-sky body and the size of a bus, the world’s largest fish,
the whale shark, journeys thousands of miles seeking
warm water and nourishment from the tiniest bits of life
in the shallows, filtering plankton, krill and small fish
through its enormous mouth, along with
a thousand five hundred gallons of water
every hour.

Jumping into the water from the side of the boat,
there it was, ten feet from my body.
I stared directly into the cave of its gigantic mouth.
My entire body could be sucked into its gaping maw.

Thinking of Jonah, I pitched my body
in the opposite direction, swimming hard for escape.

Breathless, I paused to peer down the shark’s long length,
its body’s dazzling radiance.
The ineffable grace of its muscled movement,
colossal tail brushing from side to side.

Effortlessly, the shark glided into water’s seamless, silent expanse,
the stars on its back evaporating into fluid geography.

This isn’t a small life.
Some travel immeasurable distances
to find what feeds the soul.

For a few breathless moments
we feed our yearning, the stardust in our bodies
greeting an ancient light
glowing still, before disappearing
into the invisible.

I’m happy to announce Buoyant, my new book of poems about scuba diving and life inside the sea is now published by Bellowing Ark Press. If you’re not a diver, the poems in this volume will allow you to experience life underwater world while remaining dry. I hope the poems feed your soul.oe

(Let me know if you’d like a copy and I can tell you how to order one.)

Geography, poetry, spirtuality, Uncategorized

Into the Winds of Change

Aran Island overview of Inishmore from Dun Aonghasa

This house has been far out at sea all night, 
The woods crashing through darkness, the booming hills, 
Winds stampeding the fields under the window 
Floundering black astride and blinding wet –from “Wind,” Ted Hughes

Years ago I bicycled with friends up Ireland’s west coast. The day we biked from Galway to the landing where we were to catch the ferry that would take us to the Aran Islands was supposed to be the flattest terrain and easiest ride of all the days of our two week bike trip. But the rain that morning was visibly horizontal in the wind as we crouched beside benches at a Galway bus stop. We hoped the weather would ease up, but after a time, we realized that it wasn’t going to stop raining. Neither was the wind going to stop blowing. We were going to have to get on our bikes and ride despite the wind and rain if we wanted to catch the ferry to the Aran Islands. We got on our bikes and started peddling. My bike seat kept slipping down, making it challenging to pedal. My legs felt like weights. Nevertheless, I kept going, and arrived at the ferry take-off point and boarded the boat moments before it departed.

Aran Island is an ancient place with homes of stone where life was a challenging struggle with the elements. The beehive huts on the island made of stacked stones are thought to date to medieval times. Though their purpose isn’t entirely certain, they may have been built for religious pilgrims. How cold it must have felt in such dwellings! Heated homes, indoor toilets, running warm water–these are current day expectations, not how life was for humans for thousands upon thousands of years.

A trip up Ireland’s coast and to the Aran Islands gives a small insight into changes the world has experienced but going much further back in time, Earth has seen even far greater changes than the fragments of ruins of ancient cultures we see on the earth’s surface. The way we see the world now and the expectations for our lives is not as it always has been. There have been five mass extinctions in the earth’s history to date. It’s hard to imagine life different from what we know when we have only glimpses and fragments of other lives and ways of being but as much as we don’t always like change, it is part of the natural process of living beings and of our planet.

In his poem, “Wind” Hughes describes the effect of the wind on place where he sits, a description that fits the world’s present day situation. “The house,” he writes,

Rang like some fine green goblet in the note 
That any second would shatter it. Now deep 
In chairs, in front of the great fire, we grip 
Our hearts and cannot entertain book, thought, 

Or each other. We watch the fire blazing, 
And feel the roots of the house move, but sit on, 
Seeing the window tremble to come in, 
Hearing the stones cry out under the horizons.

From the pandemic, to rising costs and economic challenges, to ongoing social inequities and oppression, to the effects of climate change, and the current war in Ukraine, people across the world are confronted with strong winds coming from many directions. Day to day we walk in the midst of great change. The day of Thich Nhat Hahn’s recent death, an enormous wind blew where I live. I sat for some time on a hay bale in my back yard and watched the redwoods sway in their roots and the oak trees shake. When I looked high above me, I noticed strands of cloud had formed crossroads in the sky. The sky, the trees, the very earth beneath me seemed to be saying change has arrived, life is different now.

The world is, indeed, shifting, and because there’s so much coming at people at this time, it’s difficult to cope, to absorb and then comprehend how to respond to events. Buddhist scholar Joanna Macy speaks about this time as the great unraveling. Of course what we’re experiencing is depressing and difficult, she asserts in this short film Climate Crisis as a Spiritual Path. It’s not only appropriate to feel grief over the losses and challenges we’re experiencing, it’s important to recognize that the grief comes from a place of love. “The anguish we feel is inevitable, normal, and even healthy, because how are we going to do to create out of the present disarray an exquisite life, sustaining life, respecting society unless we are ready to galvanize everything.” Pain, she explains is the other side of love, and now is the time to expand into our full humanity.

Movement toward new awareness and growth doesn’t necessarily occur in a linear direction, however. Numerous times I’ve thought I was on a path to finding an answer to a question or situation, that I then would be moving in a new direction, only to discover that I was no closer than before, or at least I didn’t appear to be any closer. Questions and dilemmas have a way of persisting. Sometimes it seems to me that perhaps the universe itself is an embodied question wandering around in cycles of birth and death eons long searching for the answer to its own existence.

Ireland’s Saint Brendan is known for his wandering. He set off from Dingle Bay in his thirty-six-foot curragh-like boat made of leather with fourteen (some sources say sixteen) other monks to explore the world in what is thought to be the years CE 512-530. While it’s difficult to tell what aspects of the tale of his journey are factual, or where he actually went, whether to Greenland, the Canary Islands, the Azores or elsewhere, his story is part of a literary genre in Ireland at the time of a hero’s journey to the other world. Their pilgrimage embodied their quest to find the “Earthly Paradise.” All quests require a great deal of faith and theirs was no different.

The legend of their journey describes commonplace encounters such as meeting a boy eating bread and milk that the boy shares with the monks, as well as coming upon an island of birds and an island of grapes. They encounter a variety of dangerous situations however, as when they land on what they think is an island but turns out to be the back of a whale, and when their leather boat is circled by threatening fish, and when blacksmiths throw slag at them as the monks pass by their island. Some of the monks encounters are particularly inexplicable such as drinking water from a well that makes them fall asleep, the appearance of a silver pillar wrapped in a net, and finding a man they took to be Judas Iscariot sitting on a rock in the sea.

Brandon Bay

The central thing that comes down to us through time regarding St. Brendan is the story of his journey. Not the story of his arrival, his paradise found. While they may be valuable or even necessary to undertake, journeys don’t necessarily bring solutions to situations, though they can provide new insights and perspective. Even after his seven year wandering and enduring the many unknowns and challenges, on his death bed, he told his sister, “I fear that I shall journey alone, that the way will be dark; I fear the unknown land, the presence of my King and the sentence of my judge.” External pilgrimage and internal pilgrimages are connected. Meeting uncertainty is never easy, even when you are experienced at encountering the unexpected. Even if you’ve sought it out. Like St. Brendan, we are forever heading into an unknown land.

Where do we turn when life’s challenges seem insufferable, when the longing for change and resolution isn’t found? How do we during such times expand further into our humanity? Viktor Frankl, who endured the Nazi death camps at Theresienstadt  and Auschwitz (as well as two others) said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” The way into the unknown and toward a new way of being may not be a direct path. It may take years of wandering in a wilderness, and the wandering may not finish when we want it to come to an end. It’s the journey, the seeking and the meaning we give to our exploration on our journey that matters.

Torc Waterfall, Killarney National Park

While reaching toward a greater knowing and unfolding, we carry what we know and what we came from. A stream of water has its own character and appearance as it falls over rocks and meanders its way to the sea, carrying with it bits of sediment from the land it has touched. Streams of water do not run in straight lines. The struggle, the pressing forth into the wind and rain while waiting for change has something to teach us. In our search we can stretch beyond what we know, we meet and respond to others who, like us, are also searching. Direct action doesn’t necessarily bring about immediate solutions to dilemmas. As Rumi wrote,

“Things are such, that someone lifting a cup,
or watching the rain, petting a dog,

or singing, just singing — could be doing as
much for this universe as anyone.”

Sometimes things that seemingly have nothing to do with the challenge we face is what most needs attending to. Before leaving her bombed out home in Kiev, pianist Irina Maniukina played on her piano one last time. A choice such as this is a purposeful action that can bring us more into the fullness of our humanity that Macy speaks of.

We may need to go wandering like St. Brendan, set out on a long ride or walk, or maybe simply to sit on a couch and give attention to our dog. Change is upon us, but as Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee writes, “We always belonged to this mystery, and maybe we can begin to find our way back, even if it means following an almost hidden path, unrecognized by our rational selves. Despite the growing darkness and images of destruction, the gate to this garden is always open, and if we listen carefully, we may hear the many voices that still beckon us.” Change is Gonna Come

Uncategorized

Winter’s Green Imagination

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.” –Albert Camus

In the northern latitudes we’re experiencing winter’s shallow light and shortened days. Storms have arrived with record snowfall and rain. We long to discover the invincible summers hibernating inside us that will help us keep in touch with the vibrant green world that lives on, and need ways to wait through the days of cold and the minimal hours of light. Winter is a good time to read, wander through old photos, and to journey out to find new unexplored landscapes. On one such recent journey into a forest area near me, I came across an outcrop of rocks covered with moss surrounded by overhanging oaks, their twisted branches casting shadows across the leaf-strewn floor. It felt an ancient place, one that might be found in Ireland where green is a predominant color and stones can be found scattered across the hillsides.

I encountered a similar shade of green some years back when bicycling up Ireland’s west coast with friends. While on that ride, someone we met told us that the small holes found in trees are places where leprechauns like to call their home. The idea delighted me. Though leprechauns are supposed to live only in Ireland, when I see holes in forest trees here in California, I like to imagine a leprechaun lives there. These tree trunk’s holes are often quite small. It seems there’s a good reason why they are referred to as “wee folk!”

Part of Celtic mythology, stories of leprechauns have circulated in Ireland since the eighth century. Though their profession as cobblers is a humble one, leprechauns are known for hoarding pots of gold at the ends of rainbows, and are thought to be older, playful men who are nimble tricksters and very difficult to catch. Additionally, they enjoy playing the fiddle, Irish harp, drum, and tin whistle. Important characters in Irish folklore and in the cultural imagination and many writers have created stories connected to leprechauns. Now associated with the color green, the poet Yeats indicated that as solitary fairies, leprechauns wore red.

I come to the forest to wander and be renewed by its green life, by its scent and uncertain paths where we explore new ground. Leprechauns are important characters in Irish folklore and in the cultural imagination. In a world often filled with news that feeds our anxieties and fear, expanding the imagination could be what we need to help us create a more pleasant world. Imagination helps us to reconnect with wonder, move beyond areas where our mind is stuck in thought patterns that constrict the flow of life. Using our imagination can enable us to reignite joy.

Sumana Roy, associate professor of English and creative writing at Ashoka University in Haryana, India, in her book, How I Became a Tree, from Yale University Press, writes how she came to the realization that she’d been “bulldozed by time” and yet was not a good “slave to time” as the culture she was living in expected her to be. She noticed trees can’t be hurried or rushed. Trees never stayed up all night to meet a deadline. They keep to their own internal rules and aren’t cramped by the pressure of ambition or success, explains Roy in her article, “Tree Time” in the Paris Review. Trees have a whole different way of relating to the experience of being alive. Tree time, Roy describes, is “a life without worries for the future or regret for the past. There’s sunlight: gulp, swallow, eat; there’s night: rest.” Trees’ organic way of relating to time from within their own internal needs and rhythms is something Roy felt worthy of aspiring to.

A redwood tree in a nearby forest

Before I moved to live beside oak and redwood trees here in California near a large tract of forest, I used to say I didn’t want to live in a forest. It was too dark. But time spent with trees changed me. Now that I’ve lived beside trees for years, thinking of not having them as my neighbors feels like a kind of grief. An abiding beauty, trees greet me when I rise, send out perfume on sunny days, scatter the confetti of their leaves when the wind blows, and reach out to cradle the house through the night as I sleep. Constant companions, their steadfast presence is an ongoing witness to the larger arc of time that reaches beyond human worries, goals and plans, and pushes at the boundaries of my limited awareness.

Similarly, to set out for a stroll in a forest is to be renewed and steadied. Walking beneath the trees, we breathe in the forest’s phytoncides, chemicals trees release that helps them fight disease. The antibacterial and antifungal qualities of these same chemicals aid our health as well, according to the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Recent research has also enabled people to realize the value of forests and other plant life, not merely as objects to be used, but as sentient presences. Amitav Gosh, author of The Nutmeg Curse, in Emergence Magazine‘s November 2021 interview with him explains, “in Europe as elsewhere, people had always thought of so many other kinds of beings as being capable of making meaning. But what’s really interesting there is that many people may today be willing to accept that animals are fully sentient beings, that forests are sentient, that many kinds of trees are sentient, that they communicate—they have incredibly complex communications and so on, which we are now discovering… And humans have always believed in the real presence of these unseen beings.” The language trees use, the way trees, plants sense things (and other nonhuman or more than human presences) may not be the way humans experience the world, but that isn’t to say communication and some form of awareness isn’t occurring. There’s more going on in forests than we previously understood and we are only now coming to understand this through the work of people like Susan Simard, David George Haskell, and Peter Wohlleben. In these new understandings about the world around us, we can begin to imagine ourselves into a new way of living in and responding to the world.

We don’t have to believe in leprechauns to expand our imaginations and ponder the idea that the universe we inhabit is composed of more than dead physical matter, and to understand, instead, that it’s infused with various levels and types of consciousness. “The deeper we penetrate, the more restless becomes the universe; all is rushing about and vibrating in a wild dance,” wrote the physicist Max Born. As we walk in the forest, we can allow ourselves to be absorbed again into the landscape, develop a feeling for it, and to allow our imaginations to invent new stories about our lives and interactions.

A while back, one of our recent neighbor’s children created a story about how to catch a leprechaun. After the boy read his story to my husband, the two of them strolled around the hillside singing Ratlin Bog looking for a glimpse of a leprechaun. For the boy and his sister, the forest became alive with possibility. For months afterwards, they left notes and gifts for leprechauns at the base of trees and tucked inside the bends of the trees’ arms. Connecting with our imaginations, we can discover or rediscover a world alive and new, a kind of hidden, interior gold.

Though it might be dark outside or the earth covered with snow, in the midst of discouragement, despair or doubt, we can walk outside and know that even if there are no leaves on the branches, the trees hold within them a dream of a green life that lives on, waiting in the way trees always do, for the time to rise up and burst forth in storied leafy boughs. During bleak times, we can journey inward and draw warmth from imagination’s fire, make new stories and in doing so, remake ourselves. Stories, songs, dance and the many forms of art—there are numerous ways to allow the landscape, internal or external, to come alive and to see the earth as more than a mere object or backdrop but, instead, to develop a relationship with it.

So let us pick up
the stones over which we stumble,
friends, and build altars…

Let us name the harsh light and
soft darkness that surrounds us.

Let’s claw ourselves out from the graves we’ve dug.
Let’s lick the earth from our fingers.

Let us look up and out and around.
The world is big and wide and wild and wonderful and wicked,
and
our lives are murky, magnificent, malleable, and full of meaning.

~ Padraig O’Tuama in Daily Prayer With The Corrymeela Community

poetry, Presence, spirtuality, Uncategorized

Waiting Through Winter’s Uncertainty

Days grow shorter, light diminishes. Winter is on its way. Typically, people don’t like to live in sparse times, waiting in uncertainty for the light of clarity to surface. Winter is a yearly, returning reminder that clarity and the full embodiment of things we hope for takes time. We wait for love, wait for fulfilling work, for the results of a medical test, or acceptance of a visa, wait to learn if we are admitted into a school or workshop we applied for. Along with waiting comes uncertainty and questions about what the results of our waiting will be. Though it might feel difficult or even unnecessary to wait as long as we sometimes do for what we long for, things of value frequently take considerable time before they surface into our lived experience. Bread baking in the oven, the creation of an art piece, coordinating movements in a dance, the birth of new understandings, the growth of a tree and friendships, or the formation of a human life–all these take time. Their development is slow, and requires waiting.

Waiting also implies a period of uncertainty. It’s not a given when planting a seed that life will grow, that an employment position you applied for will be given you, or that a relationship with a person you love will endure through time. Things can get complicated. Accidents can happen. Waiting can carry you into liminal space between worlds and ways of being where one life is actively fading away or has died, and the arrival of a different life is still on its way. The between state of change requires us to leave behind the way things once were and to learn whole new ways of being in the world. When standing in this doorway between worlds for extended periods of time, the experience of uncertainty can be difficult to cope with as it requires us to recognize the ground we stand on isn’t firm.

Ellen June Wright in her poem, “Salt,” exemplifies this idea of uncertainty.

Did we judge her too harshly, Lot’s wife,
walking away from everything she knew?
We become attached to places and possessions
in ways we never imagined. Our feet drag
when we think of leaving the familiar
as though they pull against a magnetic force.
No matter how dismal, the unknown
is more terrifying than the known.

Wright’s observation seems accurate. It’s true that the unknown is typically more terrifying than the known. Most of us would respond as Lot’s wife did when living a place we once called home. After all, she’d raised her children there. We feel attached to the places we’ve lived and look back at the worlds we’ve left behind, longing for them still, even though we might have escaped from a place, relationship, or experience in order to save or improve our lives. We build memories and relationships in places we’ve lived, and these give life meaning. We can picture what our own very human reaction in the story of Lot’s wife would be, and identify with her.

The trajectory of creation itself is toward continuous change and transformation. From rock slowly being worn into sand, to trees waiting for rain during drought, enduring the wait while change makes its way through the subterranean world of existence, is an integral part of physical reality, and is certainly a central part of human experience. From the heartbreaking opening poem, “New Dress,” in Linda Hillringhouse’s book, The Things I Didn’t Know to Wish For, where a young girl waits with anticipation for her parents to return home so they can see her adorned in a gloriously stunning dress she’s wearing, only to have her mother walk directly past her with no comment, and without noticing her whatsoever, to the book’s final poem, Hillringhouse’s book is filled with poems vividly expressing the longing inside our waiting for attentive human connection and care in a world that is often disheartening, and stings with disappointment. As Hillringhouse writes, in “Nieves Penitentes,”

The snow is falling
as if it’s forgotten to stop:
Maybe the mind
that keeps mountains
upright and oceans
in their bed
is setting up some new venture
and I wish I could begin again,
born in a bird’s mouth
in the drunken forest,
into full being,
not some stick figure
stilting around an empty lot
scratching messages in ice.

How accurately Hillringhouse names the longing experienced while waiting to become more than what we see our lives are at a given moment. We want to express something meaningful with our presence, but instead we imagine ourselves unnoticed or isolated while trying to scrape out meaning in a frigid environment where we feel whatever we say will eventually melt away without significance to anyone. We yearn to be a person able to feed that essence in us that allows us to sing and soar above the earth, that something that when it arrives will enable us to be a rich, deep-rooted presence rocking and swaying with verdant life, the tops of our tens of thousands of leaf-tipped branches of creative effort reaching into the heavens, inscribing their wonder. But we’re not there yet, and as the word penitentes in Hillringhouse’s title suggests, waiting for those hardened blades of snow to melt and become something other than what they are can feel like torture.

Living with uncertainty implies a longing for completion. But when does the completion of a canyon or a forest occur? Rivers carve canyons over millions of years and continue carving. A forest can take a thousand years to come into being and continues to regenerate if not disturbed. These are ongoing natural forces. Like the shifting formation of fluid shapes a murmuration of starlings create, since the start of the universe, everything that exists has been slowly evolving. When things arrive at a stage of completion, another cycle of beginnings starts and the evolution, transformation, resurrection or reincarnation (there are so many ways to name it) continues. From a certain perspective, nothing is ever completed as everything, both material reality, and the subtler forms of energy, thought and emotion, are connected to a longer process of transformation. The death or completion of anything is merely the birth of another life that depended on what came before in order to give it new form.

Storyteller and mythologist, Michael Meade, writes, “There are old stories that show that if the world was ever completed, was ever made perfect, that would be the end of [things]…this world and each person in it remains an unfinished project, and remains because of being incomplete….The impossible tasks, the broken hearts, the utter failures actually sustain the world.” What an astonishing thought! Incompleteness is necessary to life! If being alive requires everything to be in a process of change, and therefore by definition incomplete, then finding a way to befriend and honor our incompleteness, our longing for growth and wholeness, of which uncertainty is a natural partner, seems like a worthy thing to pursue.

Lot’s wife, fleeing her home in uncertain, traumatic circumstances, looked back to her disappearing world. As the story goes, she was turned to salt as a result. It’s a disturbing story. If we look at the story with a different lens, however, it’s worth remembering salt is a beneficial element. It seasons food, functions as a preservative, and can help heal wounds. Preserving the memory of our journey toward the self we are reaching to become is important. As she’s not even given a name in the version of the story we’ve received, we don’t know that Lot’s wife wanted to leave her home or if she was forced to do so without understanding the necessary circumstances. Perhaps the salt pillar she became is the solidified tears she shed in memory of the trauma endured in leaving a home she knew and loved, a monument to the effort it takes to leave a place you once belonged. When leaving something or someone we loved, we die to the life we once lived and enter a new life.

As Ursula LeGuin wrote, “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” However we arrive at the place in life we now stand, finding a way to honor our journey as we scratch our way through the icy experiences and what we’ve left behind in order to enter our new life seems valuable. I invite you to celebrate with me winter’s darknesses and, evoking Hillringhouse’s book title, all the many as yet unnamed things we don’t know to wish for. Perhaps it will be a salt that helps to heal wounds while waiting, that preserves and sustains us through uncertain times as we are birthed and rebirthed into the fullness of our being.

Uncategorized

Places That Scare Us

“Yes, it looks bleak. But you are still alive now. You are alive with all the others, in this present moment. And because the truth is speaking in the work, it unlocks the heart. And there’s such a feeling and experience of adventure. It’s like a trumpet call to a great adventure.” Joanna Macy

Halloween and All Souls Day are here but I’ve been thinking about the places and things that frighten me for some time. From ongoing drought to the rising cost of living, to the continuing effects of the pandemic and beyond, so many things in our daily lives can lead to overwhelm and fear. Observing my cat, Teekeh, I notice how she’s ready to jump or leave the room over the seemingly simplest things–the movement of a chair or the sound of air blowing through the heating vents. It seems we humans are not too much different in reaction when things frighten us.

Out for a walk recently, I noticed how a neighbor down the road wove a giant spiderweb helter-skelter through the redwoods, playfully adding to the Halloween atmosphere. Perhaps it’s a good idea, to look at what webs of fear we’ve wrapped around events and people in our lives and how these hinder our thought and movement. Kay Ryan in her poem, “Spiderwebs” writes, “It isn’t, / ever delicate, / to live.” How do we live courageously and open-heartedly alongside events and people that can cause fear and create the conditions that expand a greater experience of life’s regenerative qualities rather than responding defensively, running away, or shrinking back into ourselves? 

When I was in grad school, once each year a dance was held where those attending invented and wore costumes expressing a suppressed desire. Expanding on and playing with this idea a bit, creating a Halloween costume to express an inner fear could be an interesting way to observe a fear we have and what it is has to say to us through the shape, textures, and colors we choose. If creating and wearing the actual costume isn’t possible, we could draw or imagine what it might look like. Then stand at the mirror and have a conversation with the fear. Some things that frighten us we might not be able to do much about. But we could try befriending the fear in conversation, it could be interesting see how we feel in our gut when we see ourselves in the costume, or when we look at it, and what that reaction might have to tell us.

Currently contemplating the need to move from a place I’ve called home for many decades, I’m experiencing an ongoing feeling of uncertainty about where the right place will be. In any one day, I might find myself imagining living in four different locations! I’m hoping to find a place to call home that will carry me deeper into the the rhythm of my life’s heart, and to recognize it when that place tells me “This is it.” Making a wise choice about this move seems challenging when the future itself is uncertain because of ongoing droughts and fires in the West. John O’ Donohue, in his book, Anam Cara, writes, “Wisdom is the way that you learn to decipher the unknown; and the unknown is our closest companion. So wisdom is the art of being courageous and generous with the unknown, of being able to decipher and recognize its treasures…Wisdom, then is the art of balancing the known with the unknown, the suffering with the joy; it is a way of linking the whole of life together in a new and deeper unity.” Finding balance is extremely challenging as it involves not solely one’s own life, but balance within the culture we live in as well as with aiming to live in balance with the natural environment that is increasingly changing and growing more vulnerable. How do we find the balance?

Occasionally, insight arrives in a moment. Other times discernment emerges slowly after long periods of contemplation. I’ve not yet arrived at the insight into what the right move to a new home will be, but talking to my uncertainty makes living with it more bearable. The conversation isn’t necessarily long, but I’ve been taking a few moments every morning to talk to it. I might not be actually feeling concerned about the uncertainty at the moment, but I speak to the emotion anyway because at some point during the day it surfaces. Often I don’t know what to say to this emotion other than something like, “I’m here for you,” or, “I know the uncertainty is uncomfortable. Things are unfolding, even now, though you don’t see it.” Then, I stand there for a few moments, looking into the sky, gazing at the redwood trees’ sturdy height, noticing how despite drought, smoke, or many inches of rain in one day, the trees carry on. Daily, trees live with the uncertainty of drought. But they carry on as best they can despite the challenges. Aware of the wider rhythms of nature, I’m held inside an affirmation that I, too, can carry on. “Stay open,” I say to my uncertainty and then turn to go on with my day.

There are a lot of colorful fears sitting around in the environment and in our brains like pumpkins in an October field. Caught inside the maze of thoughts we can circle around them, playing our fears over and over in the mind causing us to lose the enjoyment of being present in the life given to us each day. These thoughts could become frightening jack-o-‘lanterns if we decide to carve them up in a way that allows us to scare ourselves. Alternatively, we can talk to our fears, set them out in the light and familiarize ourselves with their story, allowing them to simply remain pumpkins without need to take on a sinister appearance of a jack-o-‘lantern. Alternatively, we can transform our fears–turn them in to nourishing soup, delicious muffins, or pies through creative acts such as art, music or story.

In his poem, “My Courageous Life,” David Whyte writes,

My courageous life
wants to be 
my foundation,
showing me
day after day
even against my will
how to undo myself,
how to surpass myself,
how to laugh as I go 
in the face 
of danger,
how to invite
the right kind 
of perilous
love,
how to find 
a way 
to die
of generosity.

We like to feel comfort. We want to feel like we’re riding on the Yusuf Islam (Cat Steven’s) “Peace Train.” We like to know where we’re going and to have clear answers to difficult questions. But these don’t always come readily and there may be no easy answers, as Sami Yusuf expresses in in his song, “Make Me Strong.” Some answers require sacrifice or enormous change. Our joy, uncertainty and despair are connected to the experiences of the world that is both in and around us, both human and nonhuman. Compassionate conversations with difficult emotions we experience is a way to be generous with ourselves, and can also be a way to find laughter as we go, even while facing danger. As Joanna Macy describes how she works with her difficult emotions, “…it’s been central to my life and my work to make friends with our despair, to make friends with our pain for the world. And thereby to dignify it and honour it. That is very freeing for people.”