the silence of wisdom

When I was a younger woman, I thought of wisdom as something like ‘knowledge gained from experience’ and imagined the sage offering words of it, if not exactly from a cave then at least from a rocking chair. Now that the wheel of life is gradually turning me toward the stage of elderhood, I’m beginning to see how foolish that definition of wisdom was, at least as I see it today (and I am humble enough to realize that my understanding of wisdom will surely change over time, that some day I may look back upon this little treatise with loving amusement, as in some way it is hubris to even speak of it) However, today I recognize wisdom as something more silent than speech and deeper than words.

Wisdom as witness is perhaps a more fitting description of the way I understand it today. The wise woman (or man) is one who has indeed seen and gleaned much of life, but who needs not shout it from the stage or revel in others sitting at her feet. She is content now to bear witness to the unfolding of wisdom in the other, for she understands that it is the journey of life that imparts it, not words of advice or analysis from another.

I correlate this in some way with the great letting go that comes with this stage of life. There is a natural stripping that occurs for most of us around this time. I remember my own grandmother’s house being minimalistic, my mother’s move into a simpler home acheiving the same. We no longer need things to affirm our identity and our worth, to be mirrors of our value. This detachment seems to go along with a quieting and a deepening, a stripping of need for defense or definition. Personally, I experience it as a deepening sense of knowing oneself as made of Love, which requires nothing outside of oneself to fulfill or define it. Rather I am coming to simply experience Love as Who I am and to relaxedly let it flow from within outward.

That outward flow need not be in things, or words, or even deeds (as no doubt my ability to perform will naturally fade with time). What I am noticing now is that the flow of Love can be as simple as this simplicity to which i am drawn — a simple gaze of grace, a glance that embraces, a bearing witness to belovedness, an offering of gracious understanding, which allows the other to blossom under the warmth of that sun.

Another noticing that relates to this one, i think, is this aspect of seeing: I no longer need the other to see me. It is true that there is an invisibility of age, one which we often lament, in our culture. I feel it at times too, of course, the way that our culture reveres and uplifts the achievements and prowess of those ‘pinnacle’ years, and discounts the substantial gifts that other stages of life bring to this place. But from this seat, where i sit this evening, I need not have eyes or ears turned upon me in admiration or reverence to know that I am…offering Love and the Wisdom of Seeing with Grace to this world. I suspect this is the All-knowingness which is true Wisdom.

Nor do i need the affirmation or reception of another to prove (or to speak for me) my truth, to make me feel substantial or real (or right!). I can see how I tried to do that, even not so very long ago, if I am honest, from a feeling of voicelessness or lack of self-agency, when I dressed up my words as ‘wisdom’ and expected the other to don those fancy clothes I offered, believing it was the clothes that made the woman. (I also suspect those clothes were at times defense or deflection, not wanting to be projected wrongly upon…desiring to be understood and seen as good) Now I know it matters not what the other sees. Those foolish clothes have been packed up and sent to the thrift shop along with the other things that I am in the process of relinquishing.

This will make sense to you, or it won’t.

And so, I fall silent more often now. Let things be as they are, unfold as they will. To let go and let another grow under a gaze that honors the beauty and wisdom of humanity and of life itself, is the epitome of Love. Wisdom needs not either ‘do for’ or be seen, rather, as I am coming to understand, it Shines Upon, a witnessing presence that dwells in the ‘all is well’ so deeply that there is no fear of disappearing. An ‘all is well’ that emanates and assures and encourages and safeguards, a safe space in which all are welcome.

And that is all I can see…. or say.

on not poking the bear

Lately, I’ve been noticing bewildering waves of something within me. Perhaps wave is too strong a word, for it is really not much more than a stirring below the surface. Of course, I suppose such a stirring could cause a wave of sorts, subtle, like the ripple that spreads across the still surface of the lake in the evening, when a fish rises for a fly.

Is it hunger then?

The wave that washes like a momentary nausea and then subsides, as I turn my attention quickly and quietly away from the offensive scent, tells me something is a bit off, not as ‘all is well’ as I self-proclaim. I am human after all. Sorrows at times overwhelm my soul as much as they do yours, though those sorrows never obliterate the deeper awareness within me that life is beautiful, as it is.

I wonder at it when it rises, for I feel so utterly and deeply content that it feels out of place somehow. And that makes me wonder if my contentment is merely a ‘seeming’ one, a surface one, though I think not.

I suppose I might simply be invited to integrate sorrow more fully into my ‘all is well’, not keep it in some separate compartment within me, let it breathe — alongside joy and peace. Let it belong to my wholeness, not be a symptom of something broken.

I don’t know.

Sometimes, on days like today for instance, it is my empathy muscle that hurts and I can easily identify the source of my sorrow. My deep longing for one whom I love to find peace is often disturbed by this dear one’s despair and I need make space for that huge powerless longing for them in me, for I cannot take their pain away. Carrying this empathetic pain around for so very long makes me weary, and at times that weariness weighs heavy, a sorrow I cannot shed. I’d like to tuck it away, put it to bed, trust that all will be well—which my deeper self still holds on to, though if I am honest, at times that thread feels like it is thinning. And maybe it needs to break so that beloved one can walk their own path of becoming whole.

Today’s empathetic response to that one’s pain truly comes from Love , and feels different altogether than an older, conditioned one, whose anxiety was centered more on Fear —fear of being abandoned, unwanted, rejected, seen as unworthy or unlovable. That particular form of empathy was often more about me than the other. Feeling their anger, their disappointment, their frustration, their negativity, their need even, led me to frantically seek ways to ease their pain in order to safeguard myself, in a way. Not a good recipe for a healthy relationship, I took on much more than was healthy for me or for them. But that wound honestly feels well-healed, though at times the scar still itches a bit.

I almost wrote that I have learned to tame that wild beast. However, as quickly as the words came out of my fingertips I realized my error, for that one was not wild at all, rather was a conditioned (habituated) part of me that learned to survive, and dare I say even feed, herself by living in close quarters with those who crossed the boundary of my self to feed me their leftovers. I didn’t learn that I could trust my own instincts, find nourishment that was healthy for me to partake, thrive on my own. So, I suppose, I have gradually freed that wild soul in me, taught her to stop hanging around camps where the banging of pots and shooting of bear spray created such an anxious animal.

Hopefully, this is the way we grow older, after all, with a deepening rootedness in love that sheds the need for external reassurances and can rest in the peace of that deeper love, rather like the hibernating bear, shedding the weight of all that excess baggage put on during the previous seasons of life, when fear of starvation was the driving force. A mature Love like that merely shines upon others, without that hungering need casting its shadow.

And so, I wonder, now. Is that particular unhealthy bear being poked awake? Is that the stirring in me these early winter mornings. I’m not at all sure it is. Sometimes, on days like today, for instance, these feelings of empathy are certainly related to that old mama bear in me. Perhaps an offspring of hers, but one who has learned to forage for food separate from the love that she once drew from others needing her.

But most days when this other bear stirs, nothing particular seems to have stirred her, she rises seemingly unprovoked,, unattached to that thread of empathy that awakened by my sorrow this morning. And She, this seemingly unprovoked one, is the one who makes me curious .

What is she hungry for? Does her hunger stem from something unfulfilled? Does she hunger for something innately hers, something wild?  Or has there been something birthed and nurtured in this dark hidden den within me, something surprising, impatient to come out into the light to play?

I don’t really want to poke that bear awake, if I am honest, but she seems to be poking at me despite my attempts to quiet her with my ‘all is well’. Is there something I’m missing that would bring even deeper satisfaction, growth, contentment, transformation, joy? Does the fact that I’m asking belie my seeming belief that “all is well’?

Or is it, as they say, best to let sleeping bears lie.

Of course, I know the answer. The bear will wake in its own time, after all, without my need to provoke her. Her hunger will wake her, else she would starve in her sleep, and that simply doesn’t happen to a wild creature. One way or the other, her hunger will be fed. I’d rather she not be ravenous and reckless when that happens, so I’ll listen.

Then, I’ll surrender, I suppose, to the inevitable growth in the coming season, in this unending human journey of being and becoming, of birthing and blossoming and dying. Let her rise.

2 haiku and a tanka

  1. Field of white belies
    fluid depths that lie beneath
    Slumber pocked by light
  2. Winter’s letting go
    invites an odd alliance
    Blue jays and red wings

And one more …trying my hand , loosely, at Tanka

Silent frozen depths,
do You long, as I, for me
to answer your call,
leave this post and slide into
your thaw’s impatient beckon

the blessing of emptiness

Sitting here quietly this early spring morn, I watch the snow fall. It covers over yesterday’s newly exposed earth, so raw and vulnerable to trampling as it thaws (at least it seems so to me), its seedlings and ephemerals not yet ready, the light not strong enough yet, and I ponder the way that I too cover over what is not yet ready to be exposed to the light. A feeling nudges, pushing up for a moment. I notice but don’t explore, not ready perhaps to expose it. Its season will come soon enough.

Yesterday began with a few inches of freezing rain coating every surface here, including the frozen lake. By afternoon, the weather was downright balmy, a tropical breeze virtually blowing the ice away, the lake covered with fresh puddles and pools that reflected the sky as if summer, the water’s edge flowing beneath a thin veil of ice. This morning it snows, the lake a vast white field, the ice hard, the far shore indiscernable. Human awakenings can feel like that too, I suppose. One never knows what the day, nay the hour, will bring— sometimes clarity breaks through, more often what is stirring feels indiscernable, then goes back to sleep, to rest beneath whatever it is that we cover it with in our day to day lives.

Even the birds are confused in this inbetween time of not yet. The winter jays intermixing with the spring arrivals–redwinged blackbirds– at the feeder, filling their bellies with what is offered by human hands in these lean days. One lone red squirrel taking his fill— are the stores in his winter pantry empty?

I think of the way we fill our days in order to stave off some nagging emptiness of our own, and how often, perhaps, we mistake emptiness for pain? Can emptiness itself be a blessing, a space in which something might take root and grow.. Or is even the end of that sentence itself making of emptiness merely a vessel for something better, as if the emptiness itself is not good enough.

My friend runs from emptiness, perhaps, in her days of profound loss, busying herself. Not wanting to feel it, she fills it instead. A loss like that leaves one feeling lost, cut loose from one’s mooring, directionless, untethered, adrift. Who am I now? Where does my life go from here? Which way is north? And so instead of re-rooting right in the midst of that emptiness, we run, running on empty, both from it and towards it, circling the void like a vulture, both longing and unwilling to land in order to draw nurture from death. The seemingly cavernous pain, like the empty house, for now too hard to face.

I turn that mirror upon myself and I wonder, for I feel something akin to that in myself these days, recognizing that some part of me also resisted being here alone. How strange a feeling from one such as me who has craved and relished in solitude? What was I afraid of?

A feeling arises and i push it aside just as quickly as it seemingly rose. What is it that I both avoid and evade when that opening nudges me to enter. The quiet invitation to move fully into an emptiness that knocks, saying, “Come, sit awhile here with me.” I cover over that feeling of vulnerability with fresh snow. As if to open that door even a crack is to set loose a deluge of floodwaters. Even if they might be the lifegiving floodwaters of spring’s thaw, rather than a crack in the dam of some overwhelming grief scarcely held at bay, I still choose to respond ‘ Not today’.

I wonder, what if I stop pathologizing, or analyzing, emptiness as ‘something wrong’, falsely believing it to represent some elusive ‘not enoughness’ in me. What if emptiness and spaciousness are simply sisters, two sides of the proverbial coin. Why do we insist upon labeling the one sister as holy, the other as an evil twin?

The image of a womb is potent here for me, as the womb of mother earth now nurtures, hidden within her vast spacious container, all that the coming season of life will bring— flowers and fruit, shelter and beauty. What would it be like to simply crawl inside that spacious emptiness, not to fill it but to let myself be filled by it. To let myself receive Love there. To let the fruits of lovemaking be nurtured there, take root and begin to unfold there, before even exposing them to the light.

I am beloved. This I know more deeply than words can express. My roots are so widely and deeply enfolded by and enmeshed with that sense of belovedness that at their furthest capillary tendrils I cannot discern where Love ends and I begin. We are made of the same stuff.

I draw Love deeply into the very substance of my existence here in this place, even when it is hidden from me, even when I am in a dry, dormant season, a seemingly empty season, a terribly pruned back season, an impalpably embryonic season.

It is hard to not speak in dichotomies here. Each time I move to recognize emptiness as good, my thoughts rush in to fill it …with potential, as if potential is truly the good thing. Perhaps in a human life of seasons, of beginnings and endings, this is the way that a human ‘being’ is most naturally aware, after all. Yet, the emptiness we rush to fill rather than feel patiently awaits…. our embrace… or our entrance… its invitation always there to enter, with tenderness and compassion, to ask what it needs, or conversely what is trying to offer to us. Perhaps it longs to feed us…. even as we busy ourselves trying in vain to feed it, or more so keep it at bay, just beyond our full attention, feeding it with substitutes that never are enough.

Does emptiness have to be synonymous with pain? I once had a friend tell me she liked the feeling of hunger. I was leading a canoe trip at the time and was concerned that persons had enough to eat to fuel the journey. That premise was a revelation to me! Of course, I have always interpreted hunger/emptiness as something to attend to, but only insomuch as to feed it, not simply to notice it, or honor it, or revel in it, or even to ask it what it is offering. I have mistook the feeling of emptiness for pain. Clearly I have never experienced true physical hunger, the type of hunger of one who is truly starving, so my physical hungers have not been truly painful, and yet, the need to eliminate that feeling instantly, as if it is signaling something wrong, is well conditioned in me.

What if we receive emptiness, just as it is, without qualifiers, or quantifiers, not as precursor or result of, but as invitation, gift, blessing. Enter into it fully as if it is worthy of our complete and loving attention. Perhaps we will discover the fullness is already there. We need only walk through that dark door, in trust that we will be held within that vast container of Love, for even that seeming emptiness is made up of light.

And yet, there is no forcing spring to come before its time, and in this, as in all things, there is mercy and grace. It will come to us and awaken within us as it will, in its own time and space, sure as this blessed Mother turns over and over in her spacious bed, revolving around the light as she does and will do, taking light into her body as she does and will do, as will we, her creatures, made of her light infused substance. Perhaps our only work is to turn toward that light when it cracks open that door, and say ‘yes, please’, and ‘thank you’.

*in searching an image to go with this post, the image of a deep well came to me. and while this poem was not on my heart when i journaled this morning, i realize it is a part of its content…so here you are.

The Well of Grief
David Whyte

Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief,

turning down through its black water
to the place we cannot breathe,

will never know the source from which we drink,
the secret water, cold and clear,

nor find in the darkness glimmering,

the small round coins,
thrown by those who wished for something else.

i am

I continue bathing myself in this book of Love. Bathing, yes, is the word for it, for as I sink into the words on the page, the feelings of being enveloped in the warmth of Love as I read are as much a part of the experience, as is the feeling of cleansing from my skin that which has stuck to me over the years, dulling the radiance of what I once knew. Yes, there are moments, as i read, of re-sounding remembrance, as there are others of new wonder, as if being shown (shone) more.

Oh, the both/and-ness of our existence. On the one hand, we are so very small (and in this I wonder at how profoundly we are loved , how it can be that we are possibly attended to by so vast and intimate a Love that we cannot begin to express nor comprehend.) On the other hand, we are so very big, much more than our bodies, these small selves that we are here and now merely the receiving/transmitting end of that greater consciousness that we are and of which we are a part..outside of time. *

Even writing these words diminishes it. Exposes it to the ridicule of those who cannot yet see the beauty we bear. And that is ok, too. Part of the healing is knowing the goodness of oneself so assuredly that nothing can cross that boundary to violate. Part of the healing, as well, is loving the other, who knows not… that S/he is Love… who forgets, as we all do.

Recently, the Japanese poetry form, Tanka, was introduced to me (it seems it is a favorite of Jane’s). The big sister to Haiku, its form includes 31 syllables in 5 lines. 5-7-5-7-7.

And so, in response to this morning’s bath, I write.

I am a being
more capable of bearing
Love, into this place
than I imagine my Self
My body, a piece of art.

The piece of art that I am in this small, distinct life, is merely one single attempt at expressing something much greater than I am, in the here and now. Like the human artist, who tries to express something ineffable upon the canvas, yet can never quite distill or capture it, nor can the Divine be truly poured onto the canvas of life so that It can be understood.

I wanted to include the word ‘mere’ in that last line of the tank— ‘a mere piece of art’— but, you see, the form wouldn’t allow it. Wouldn’t allow me to diminish with too many words. Forced me to celebrate the beauty I am…. and the Beauty I am bound to.

*the research about mind/consciousness/awareness and DNA fills me with wonder here. How it is that our brains cannot possibly hold and process all this thought/memory/information, but are merely receivers tuned into a broader nonlocal, unitive One, quite possibly through our body’s specific DNA. Again, I belittle the research in this simplistic writing.

January without Jane

You likely noticed I fell off this particular wagon and I am here today to explain why. Not that there is any need, nor shame, to either stay upon a wagon one has chosen to ride nor to explain. It was as if, along that pilgrimage, I saw a woman bleeding by the side of the road. To have kept my eyes focused forward, to have remained upon that narrow road would have been to ignore the point of any spiritual practice altogether.

Instead, I offer to you Emily Dickinson this morning, upon my arrival home.

The Bustle in a House
The Morning after Death
Is solemnest of industries
Enacted opon Earth –

The Sweeping up the Heart
And putting Love away
We shall not want to use again
Until Eternity –

He died a month ago. At that time, I could not get to her, though I felt the pain of that shattering grief from 500 miles away. I got as far as the border between us then, where I walked the river as it flowed, unable to cross into that sacred territory because the test results did not come in time. So, perhaps the January with Jane was merely a detour for a time anyway, from the true journey of soul I was upon.

I heard the poem above, on my drive home a few days ago, listening to a 2-part podcast on the life of Emily Dickinson. It came near the end of the episode, and I shut the podcast off, drove the miles after in silence, considering.  

We had spent our days cleaning the home they had shared, an intimate space, where loved blossomed and scented their lives with the fragrances of laughter and tenderness, joy and compassion. 
Their time together was too brief, cut short by an explosion in his brain. They were the happiest years of her life. Her own shattered heart now is picking up the pieces.

The poem spoke of our days in their home. No, we were not at all putting love away. Rather her deep desire and intent was to attend to the body with care, as one does before a burial, to honor the home that contained the soul of their lives together. Nor did she desire to sweep the memory of him, (nor even the physical reminders of him) from her heart. Rather, with each drawer we opened--- bathroom, kitchen, pantry, coat closet--- memory spilled from those opened spaces, from even the tiniest of containers, until there was indeed a house full of him. Her heart, so contained for those weeks since his death, seemed to explode too, at last shattering to spill its own contents. Oh how very much love had been packed inside that heart. 

How does the heart contain so much? Does it fold things neatly inside, organized on shelves and tucked into corners to make the most of its space? Or does it grow moment by moment, cell by cell laid down and compressed? For when it shatters and spills it seems impossible to sweep it all up, tuck it back inside those hidden chambers, as if its contents, laid bare on the bed to sort through, cannot possibly fit again. All that love with no place to land.

When the heart breaks, it is always hoped that the breaking will be open not asunder. That the only recourse will be for the heart to grow more spacious in order to accommodate sorrow and love in one room.... grief and joy... yesterday and tomorrow....hope and regret. In order, at last, to hold Love Realized ... its room full of fruit from those fragrant blossoms. 

My hands are raw as her heart, today. My tears wiped into the kitchen floor where I knelt. My heart, recognizing itself in the mirror washed clean of its fog, is full too. For a moment, I gaze upon what it holds, much of which I am dimly aware in ordinary time. No, her grief is not mine, my grief feels more akin to empathy today, an empathy deep and wide and flowing for my friend, who is left to pick up the pieces. Her suffering cracks my heart abit more each day. 

May it open wide. 

an aside -2

The story of creation in the Kabbalah states that at the beginning of time, God concealed Godself , pouring God’s infinite light into vessels, which shattered , the shards of which became sparks of light trapped in the universe, and that (long story, short) the human being’s role is to release these sparks of light so that they can reunite with the essence, that is God. An amazing intuition of the Big Bang, this story of creation also coincides with Teilhard’s vision of the universe containing seeds of the divine , which must reunite in more and more complex ways through evolution in order to reach the fulfillment– the Omega point– the convergence of what was set in motion at the beginning. While the Jewish version of the story sees the world as broken and in need of repair (repairing the broken vessel), Teilhard sees it as intentional , this breaking apart in order to become Something More. (I wrote about this the other day here)

Today, I have been remembering a spiritual exercise we did around this story of the broken vessel 15 years ago. We were each given a clay pot and asked to carry it to the flagstone hearth in our gathering space, where we were asked to drop it. At the time it was a very powerful and profoundly healing experience for me , envisioning humanity walking to the edge of life, saying ‘yes’ before they fell into life, ‘yes’ to being broken. Broken in order to become. Broken in order to grow Love was how i felt it then, and I was filled with tenderness for humanity then.

We were then given back the shards of our pots and asked to repair them. I cherished that repaired pot for many years; it held earth and water, nurtured and blossomed a plant, which gathered light and offered oxygen to me. It’s cracks, while not exactly where the light got in, felt precious, like the Kintsugi pottery whose cracks are repaired with gold. I remember likening that pot, also, to another story of a broken pot, carried on the yoke of a woman’s shoulders, never quite making it back to the village full of water like its companion, the unblemished pot. Until one day, it was noted that the side of the trail upon which the broken pot had been carried was lush with flowers from being daily watered by the leaky pot.

Those were healing stories for me, at a time when I felt so very broken myself, like I could not seem to hold onto the feeling of goodness in me, the feeling of belovedness, the feeling of joy of of hope. At the time i had written many pieces already about the feeling of being a broken vase, unable to hold beauty, Even upon my repair, the water leaked away. I was useless, unable to contain Love, I felt.

Twenty years later, I hear the story of the shattered vessel in a new light. Then, when we were given the clay pot, it represented a personal story… a personal choosing of life, despite the knowledge that one would be broken, a personal story of salvation and healing. My spirituality, perhaps neccessarily so, was all about personal relationship and healing. The mystical experiences I had at that time were filled with images, words, and sensations of being enfolded in ecstatic love. Beloved.

Today, were I given that clay pot, in that group of a dozen, I would be inclined to join my shards with those of the others, to make of our broken shards of light something new, something larger, able to hold more–more ‘candlepower’ as Teilhard might say. For this is how I understand the way we are a part of the Becoming now, or the way we are to ‘heal’, if you will (though I do not see the brokennes at all as tragic but as inspired, as Love willingly pouring of Oneself out )

To envision this in Teilhard’s universe, is to see the shards combining, then combining, and combining again and again, like those atoms forming molecules forming cells forming mitochondria forming…. and I am (and you are) a part, a bit, an atom, of that becoming More, or as Parker Palmer says (thank you Rayelenn), ‘only one thing among many, not set apart from the life around me, but embedded in the miracle of life itself, an atom participating in the coming together , in the ripening, and together we can bear good fruit’. Having the privilege to participate in this grand becoming both enobles my life and humbles it at once. I am a tiny speck, but an integral one.

So, what does it look like to add my shard to the growing pot?

Today I scrubbed some floors and shed some tears

because I love

and the light shone through the grown whol-er shape of my own shattered life,

and lit up the room like the sun.

January with Jane- 18- I Sat in the Sun

I moved my chair into sun
I sat in the sun
the way hunger is moved when called fasting.

A few brief lines today. What do these lines mean to you?

Is she speaking of the way we might take, say, the sorrow of a terrible loss, that painful ache in the gut that whispers, ‘feed me’, and for today reply, ‘I’m fasting today’. What would such a fast look like? Does it look like my friend who steps outside of her grief each day to walk in the crispness of winter, to breathe in the cold beauty of the earth in this season, to set her eyes upon the golden sun sparkling upon the frozen lake at twilight (or bathe in the layers of gray upon gray, sky blanketing lake).

What does it mean then to not ‘feed our sorrow’. I don’t think it means that we starve it, ignore that aching need. No, not that. For just as we fast from our physical hunger in order to pay attention more closely to our spiritual one, we must return to the needs of the body, bring spirit and flesh into wholeness again. Perhaps a better question is ‘How do we nourish our sorrow’, not deny it at all, but attend to it lovingly so that we can heal. And even that is not to say at all that sorrow is something that needs to be healed, at least in the way that one often speaks of healing as if there is something wrong with us that needs to be fixed or removed, as if sorrow is wrong. No, not that. Redeemed perhaps is a better word. To redeem our sorrows might look like recognizing and reclaiming Love in , with, and for us, might look like including sorrow as a piece of the terrible Beauty in this place….

… so in that way, the walk outdoors into the crispness of a winter landscape, or moving our chair into the sun, is paradoxically nourishing our sorrow’s deeper hunger for wholeness. We fast from that other human tendency to feed the negative, the cynical, the hopeless despair.

Or is Jane speaking of ignoring other human hungers, perhaps. Those that are merely empty hungers, which we feed as if starving and cannot ever get enough. Oh, we have lots of those… hunger for money, for things, for security, for esteem. To set those aside to sit in that sun, under the vastness of that endless sky, receiving the warmth of belonging to something grander than our small hungering-for-more selves can see while closed up in the rooms of our lives, is perhaps what she is saying .

But what of our hunger for Love, as real a human need as is food. Can we possibly fast from that hunger? Perhaps, again, it is that moving of our chair into the Sun. Looking for love in all the wrong places, desperate, we feed like a ravenous dog on its substitutes, not able to feel the fullness surrounding us. And yet, we do need substance, the earth-flesh of a meal to sustain, I suspect, and in the end, for most of us, knowing oneself as Beloved by a deeper Reality when the reality of the earth around us seems to tell us otherwise can feel empty too.

And yet, and yet… there is no other Love, and each intermittent meal we partake of it here is but a morsel of the manna, which is everpresent, in and with which we commune moment by moment by moment, the meal a mere reminder for our tender, fragile, human bodies. Eat this bread.

January with Jane – 17. Cataclysm

It begins subtly:

the maple

withdraws an inch from the birch tree.

The porcupine

wants nothing to do with the skink.

Fish unschool,

Sheep unflock to separately graze.

Clouds meanwhile

declare to the sky

they have nothing to do with the sky,

which is not visible as they are,

nor knows the trick of turning

into infant, tumbling pterodactyls.

The turtles and moonlight?

Their long arrangement is over.

As for the humans.

Let us not speak of the humans.

Let us speak of their language.

The first-person singular

condemns the second person plural

for betrayals neither has words left to name.

The fed consider the hungry

and stay silent.

Forgetting/remembering who we are

Last night, as I was falling to sleep, I read a chapter from the book, “Gifts of Near Death Experiences” by the Linns, longtime teachers of processes of healing, integrating physical, emotional and spiritual wholeness, and authors of dozens of books. In this particular book, they look at the healing that we can receive from near death experiences. Their premise is that we don’t have to experience death ourselves to learn from it, but we can benefit from the experiences of others to be reminded into who we are.

The Linns have gathered hundreds of well-documented stories from across culture and geography from persons who have been declared dead and been brought back to life. The similarities of the experiences are stunning, the same core experiences are present—out-of-body experience, tunnel experience, feelings of profound, inexpressible peace, a deep sense of coming home, seeing beings of light, a life review (while being enfolded in such compassion and love that the experience is indescribable in human language), a reluctance to return, and profound transformation upon returning to life.

The Linn’s believe that we all can learn, grow, and heal from these experiences—remember who we are, restructure our sense of what is important, dwell in forgiveness and compassion, which are universal characteristics of persons who had Near Death Experiences. Profound mystical experiences often result in the same knowingness. My own brushes with both of these (no, I did not die, but I came so close to choosing it that Love swept in to bathe me in such a profound sense of Belovedness that I was forever Bound to Beauty… seeing the Beauty of life is another afteraffect)

The first lesson, shared in the first chapter of their book, is remembering who we are, an abiding sense of how we are loved, and knowledge of our deep unity. Upon returning to life, loving one another is not merely most important, it becomes innate, as it is Who we are and what we are made of. We are not TO Love, we ARE Love . Competition dissolves, as does the sense of separation and heirarchy. Domination, dissension, divisiveness, and desire for more (for ourselves), disappear. Those who return universally exhibit a higher sense of concern for social justice, and desire to come together to help others… to feed the hungry, which is precisely what Jane laments the lack of in her poem.

Some basic Teilhardian philosophy inspires my imagination here. Basically, Teilhard, 20th century evolutionary scientist and priest, understood the trajectory of evolution as both increasing in complexity and moving toward convergence (as things come together they naturally become more complex and that complexity and convergence allow for higher and higher levels of consciousness to manifest) in an integral relationship between the parts and the whole in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. But relationship is key…symbiotic unity means that as bits come together to make up more complex bits (in which function is divided–more on that later) both the bits and the whole are benefitted. (Hydrogen and Oxygen, for example, forming water, in which then all sorts of things can start to emerge at a new level) So, as Unity differentiates into parts, that same differentiation unifies into a Whole– into one larger, more complex body, which cannot survive without the parts. It is all held in and by a unifying whole.

Jane laments the realization that in this embodied life, we have become increasingly individuated, differentiated, specialized , while Tielhard is rapt by the realization. He sees that from the time the first molecules came together to form a cell and so differentiated in function– some of them taking on the role of cell wall, some as cytoplasm (nutrient and information conveyer), some as command post (spirals of DNA and RNA) etc, more and more subtle and magnificent things were able to form . And as we became more complex, with more differentiated parts, and more complex qualities of life emerged, there also emerged alongside or within that complexity more and higher levels of consciousness, (that is the capacity to choose, to move, and to have an interior life. ) Freedom, spontanaiety (no longer function like a machine), self-reflection and empathy emerge.

Teilhard’s great contribution to evolutionary thinking was that consciousness itself was seeded within the universe along with those subatomic particles as the ‘stuff of the universe’, and that in that coming together is formed a greater capacity to express that original seed of consciousness into being, in a fuller expression. I would call that Growth in Love. Though some might disagree. Teilhard also understood the movement as one towards greater fulfillment of Love. As the stuff of the universe becomes more complex it is able to hold (and manifest) to a greater and greater extent, the energy of Love.

But, as Jane has more succinctly and simply stated in her poem, that differentiation more often, from the perspective of one human lifetime, only seems to divide into us and them. We see ourselves, often, as Greater, and the other as, well, less than. As different . The first person, I, condemns the second person, You.

We, as parts, forget the underlying unity and interdependence of which we are a part. We simply cannot see the whole, nor can we appreciate how it is all unfolding.

Teilhard would say we require this tension, the friction, the heat, the folding (the cataclysm of Jane’s poem) in order to force things to come together to form something new, and that the earth is a perfect proving ground for this, even as gravity itself forced things to come together in new and complex ways. (and yes, as its poles force us apart). The great idea here is that eventually all of these independent complex structures, which are our individual human beings will also be forced by the tension that is life here on this earth, to come together into something even more advanced, into one body, if you will, capable of expressing even more the Consciousness of Love. We are each, individually, merely parts in a greater whole whose destiny has yet to be fulfilled. There is not endless space here to keep dividing as Jane fears…. the turtle separating from the moonlight eventually encounters something by the light of day. Our very closeness forces union.

That is the hope. Hope even in the divisions of our time. I like thinking of myself as a molecule waiting to join another molecule in this new, as yet unknown in potential, body of Humanity.

And, back to the Near Death Experiencers, this is also what they return having experienced, felt, known, this loss of separation from and animosity towards the other, whom they now behold as Beloved. This sense of deep connection and cooperative nature of our Oneness. This sense of being enfolded by Love.

Maybe we need to forget for a time, in order to become, in order to differentiate at all, in order for the tension then to arise, which forces the convergence into Something New, though we wish it were otherwise. In our naivety we long for the lion to lie down with the lamb too soon, for there to be no hunger, for peace to simply be — without division and complexity. Perhaps that glimpse (mystical or upon dying for a moment in time) must therefore be brief?

And yet, the glimpse is everything. The glimpse is Hope, The glimpse is Trust –that though we cannot see it, there is something seeded within us all that remembers and is moving toward that fulfillment of Love’s purpose. The glimpse returns to us the remembrance of who we are, and of what we are a part, of what is important, to the peace beneath and the hidden wholeness deep within the tension. The glimpse resets and restores both purpose and perspective, reminds us how we are to be, resets us on a course that is working towards a nobler goal than our small isolated self can comprehend. The glimpse reminds us why and what is important– puts things in their proper order…and dare I say, phylum, and family- family that feeds its members.

Because from Jane’s perspective, things are simply falling apart.

While from Mystic Julian’s perspective, ‘All is well, and All shall be well, and All manner of things shall be well’.

January with Jane 16- A Cottony Fate

Long ago, someone

told me: avoid or

It troubles the mind

as a held out piece of meat disturbs a dog

Now I too am sixty

There was no other life.

There is no other path than the one we have taken. Looking back, the path we have trod is no longer there. It has vanished! So, there is no retracing our steps, going back, starting over. For even if we turn back, the self that turns back is not the same self, and so the path will be different than the one the old self took.

That’s not to say there isn’t ‘beginners mind’, or ‘begin again’. Each day, each moment we are given that humble grace. It’s just that we are not at all going back when we begin again. As yesterday’s poem instructed so eloquently, we are made new in each moment, with each interaction, each breath.

There is only the next step, unknown until we step forward into it, for there is also no path ahead but the one that we make with each footfall, which will also disappear as soon as we take it.

The idea that each moment in our lives has not led us to the place where we are today, and that the place where we are today would not at all be the same if we hadn’t followed whatever path led us to this place, is to refuse growth. The yearning to go back, with regret, is to refuse to Love what is now, to be blind to who you are because of the path you have trod.

We live in a culture of choice overload. I once heard a social scientist state that the optimal number of choices for human well-being turns out to be 3. More than that and we are paralyzed or cannot committ (will willy nilly jump ship onto another nearby in that sea of choice if the choice doesn’t turn out the way we supposed) or conversely are filled with regret for the choice (now believed to be a better one) not taken. Any less than 3 and we feel powerless, without self-agency or individual expression.

Perhaps that’s why we live life in 3 stages. At least that’s how some pardigms imagine a human journey. Maiden-mother-crone, for instance. In each stage we get to begin again, reinvent, perhaps…. and yet , and yet still, all that has come before is a part of us. We cannot erase it, the path is no longer there to rewind. We may become as a child again, but with the wisdom of the crone.

I’ve spoken of this here before, but I share again, because it fits. I was haunted for years by the oft-quoted and beloved line from Mary Oliver’s poem, Summer Day. You know the one, “Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life” during one of those transitions— from Mother to Crone for me. As a very young mother, I’d fully poured myself into being the best mother I could be and I truly inhabited that role with passion and Love, and yet I also fully believed that my true self was waiting in the wings for her turn to be who she was meant to be. Foolish errand that search for self, outside of my life as it was lived, turned out to be. As if Who I was, was anything other than Who i had been!

There was no other life.

Besides, if you look closely at the preceding lines to Mary Oliver’s poem, you will see that what she is granting herself (and the reader) permission to Be is In Love with Life— for her, that means watching a grasshopper move its jaws back and forth.

In the end I let go those foolish ways, laughing lovingly at myself as I did so, as if waking from a silly dream. My life, and the path that led me to this place today, has been exactly as it should be. Warts and disappointments, losses and traumas, failures and detours, missed opportunities and abandoned possibilities, chaos and deep sorrow included. And it has grown my soul deep and wide, like a fountain flowing, just as promised when i was a little girl.

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: