Letting go of what is holding you back



Taking the back path from my home, with this complicated word, Burden, pulling uneasily on my heart, I walked as slowly as one might in David Whyte’s poem, ‘Sometimes’, * wondering what my camera might lead me to notice. Seeking something that looked like the way the way a burden feels in my body, I scanned the landscape with care… a pile of rocks constructed in an inadequate attempt to hold back the weight of the earth here, a discarded soda can that could take eons to be absorbed and assimilated by the earth there. Not quite. There is a visceral sense for me of what the word feels like, something subtly different than merely heavy, something more akin to weary in many ways, as if there is attached to my heart an unconscious body that I must both hold up and drag along.

Along this particular path there have been some old stumps and piles of fallen trunks for some time. I always take a peek inside the hollow stumps and appreciate such rare glimpses of the intricate insides of what is most often hidden from view, beneath a tough layer of bark. I experience a sense of deep reverence in the presence of any fallen tree, as one might in a graveyard, and I notice that there have been several added to the fallen here. It seems there is something killing them… not only the Hemlock, consumed by the wooly adelgid, and the Ash, by the borer, but also the Chestnut Oaks in this place.  Sadness soon joined the other feeling, pulling on my heart.

Soon, I began to notice the others, the ones still standing, but no longer living. Though no trees here are yet pushing their buds, it was simple to tell which ones they were, for someone has been through and marked them for felling. So many, so very many. Indeed I had come to the ‘place whose task was to trouble me’, and my camera and I moved even more solemnly, bearing witness….

At once, that other poem, Tree, by Jane Hirshfield, bubbled up in my heart.

It is foolish
to let a young redwood
grow next to a house.

Even in this
one lifetime,
you will have to choose.

That great calm being,
this clutter of soup pots and books –

Already the first branch-tips brush at the window.
Softly, calmly, immensity taps at your life.

It seems in this particular place the clutter … of homes and intrusions, of one kind or another… is winning.
A heart too can become cluttered, I think…with heartache, deep worry for loved ones, with shame, fear, regret, grief …holding up more than it can bear, unable to thrive in such conditions.  These devastating emotions can seem to attach themselves, not willing to let go of their hold. I have felt the weight of these things in my life, a heaviness that seems to be most deeply ensconced right in the places of the heart that also have known the deepest love. I don’t know if I wish to call these things burdens or not, but I know I have had to learn ways to set them down, while still holding onto the love, creating more space for Love to grow.
Otherwise, my internal landscape may look as despairing as this one before me today, so many dead ones filling the space as if they are living, but unable to take in the light.


*David Whyte: “Sometimes”

if you move carefully
through the forest

like the ones
in the old stories

who could cross
a shimmering bed of dry leaves
without a sound,

you come
to a place
where the only task

is to trouble you
with tiny
but frightening requests

conceived out of nowhere
but in this place
beginning to lead everywhere.

Requests to stop what
you are doing right now,

to stop what you
are becoming
while you do it,

that can make
or unmake
a life,

that have patiently
waited for you,

that have no right

to go away.







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Who can capture a photograph of mystery?

The very suggestion feels impossible at best, oxymoronic at worst. For is not mystery something intangible, ineffable, invisible, inconceivable? If I can’t touch it, speak it, see it or think it, how do I begin to image it? Mystery is something beyond my mind to capture, let alone my camera.

Then I began to notice the light in the kitchen, the soft way it diffused through the weave of the curtains or fell into panes on the floorboards. The way it brightened into sharp distinctions and then faded and blurred into something undefined. I stood for some time at that window, my hands in the sink, my gaze drawn to the clouds passing over the sun, their movements connected somehow to the spinning windcatcher that was causing the windchimes to ring as if at a wedding recessional. My gaze landed at last on the plant, basking in this fleeting late-winter brilliance, on the cart by the door.


I could end there, and perhaps I will…..I mean the way that a plant turns sunlight to substance? Whether I seek to understand that literally or metaphorically matters not, it remains pure wonderment to me. Light assumes form, becomes matter, becomes life!. Light makes matter become, grow, move….  Even if I can comprehend on some level the microbiology of photosynthesis, and the cycle of life set in motion, which passes along the light of that sun, my wonder is never squelched by my understanding. Not simply the ‘how’s’ of it all, of course, but ‘why?’

This particular plant was, 10 years ago, potted into a cracked clay pot, one that I’d dropped, intentionally, onto a cold stone floor then tediously and anxiously pieced and glued back together. It was an exercise in deep imagination for me and the others who were with me, as we imagined the audacity of saying ‘yes’ to this thing called life, agreeing to be dropped into this place guaranteed to break us, while being asked to bear the precious cargo of Life itself. That day, as each pot hit the ground with a crack, my heart broke open with love for my fellow travelers, as if I were witnessing birth itself.

That plant overtook that small pot, though I tried to keep it confined for some years, finally passing along the pot to my daughter (at a time when I thought she needed its message), and repotting my rootbound and practically soilless plant into something larger, deeper, wider.

But, of course, that too is the way of life, as it is the way of light. As humans we do pass along our brokenness, no matter how much we try to keep it contained. Much of that transmission occurs before we have engaged in our own work of transforming that pain into light gathering, life bearing, nurture ready treasure.   It baffles me that this is the way  (though so often it is the arrival of those ones drpendent upon our nurture that sets the transformation into motion) But somehow, in this great paschal mystery, brokenness becomes beauty, as the cracks let the light in to where it can take substance and form becoming something we can touch, see, feel, speak — hinting at something Unknown.

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