melt my heart

Dear Loves,

This morning I viewed a short film of the ice breaking up on a northern lake, crystals piling atop one another, pushed by the flow of the season, winds of change. A mere 73 seconds of video and I felt my heart breaking up in a way I hadn’t fully acknowledged was happening in the busy-ness of these last few weeks, my own acting ‘as if’ a way of distracting me, perhaps, from deeper feelings, keeping them submerged, if you will, beneath the ice.

“What are you afraid you would feel if you didn’t distract yourself with your busyness?” Of course, the other side of that sentiment is that sometimes acting ‘as if’, moving our bodies, moves what is stagnant and breaks open dammed up channels, allowing passion for life once again to flow.

It’s hard to justify allowing myself to feel this as a loss, when it seems so petty next to what some are experiencing, but I must acknowledge that this is a visceral part of me now, this northland that has burrowed itself into my heart so much so that it is I who feel uprooted. This morning’s video re-minded my heart of its home.

Yesterday, all the chores of dehydrating and seed planting packed away, I felt the emptiness of ‘what now?’ I spoke to the Red Cross volunteer recruiter on the phone a few days ago, trying to muster up the passion that had driven me to make contact a few weeks ago, though, if I am honest, that flare seems to have died down. Maybe if I blow on the embers a bit… alas, I fear(know?) that at this stage of my life, I am water, not fire.

My sister mentioned to me this week, as she experienced her own grief around a particular loss that has hit one of her children, that she now understood how my pain felt in her body. ( I, as you know, have also been filled with sorrow and fear around my own children’s lives.) Her words struck me and have stuck with me, the bodily way that we feel/know empathy, separate from our thinking. No matter how compassionate we are, it seems, we can keep ourselves distant by living too much in our heads— that heart/head split that I wrote about earlier this week.

I’ve also been re-minding myself this week that what I ‘know’ in my head is really so little. This is a reminder to remain humble, on one hand, to stay out of the hubris of ‘right and wrong’, either/or overthinking, needing to have all the answers, and to continue feeling on the other.

Perhaps knowledge is power, but I seriously wonder if it can also be Love. It usually doesn’t end up feeling that way to me, and when I begin to feel too much power, I wind up being brought back to my knees, where, as Etty might say, ‘someone suddenly kneels down in the corner of my being, and that someone , the one who kneels down, is myself’.

The act of kneeling in humility, in submission, in my own smallness, is suddenly a redeemed act for me. For so long in my life, it felt like being forced to my knees, humiliated. Now it feels like grace. Marrying that humility to tenderness, to sorrow, to profound love, to these feelings of being overcome with the sacredness of it all has felt redemptive. It is beyond human capability to fully take in the mystery of life while standing up. Perhaps this is also what kneeling in the canoe does for me.

And so, back to this feeling breaking through in me this morning, my heart breaking along with that ice. The longing in me for that place—and if I am honest, the feeling of utter sacredness that place evokes in my body. Is that a kind of empathy too? Is empathy with place a thing? Does that melting of the ice remind my body of all that comes alive in me when I am there? Is not one definition of spirituality, ‘that which brings you alive’?

As the moose thirsts for water…

The ice breaks, pushed by wind, currents of flow, thrust

Sheet over sheet, sharp shards

Piling up next to obstacles


The tinkling of crystals, like cubes in a glass quenching

As birdsong returns, and thawed frogs

chorus of love is erupting

Soon enough there will be flowers

seeds of hope

Dear Loves,

Still dwelling in the midst of this great unknown, I am drawn to check in with you again this morning. I find myself this morning wondering, as you look back upon this time in history, if this will be seen as a turning point in the human story, or if these days will fade into time, a blip felt only by those of us who are living it. Will this change us? If so, how? Will we grow more fearful, isolationist and protective? Or will we come to more fully understand our communion with and responsibility to one another…and the earth.

In recent days, I have found myself turning my own attention more and more inward, close to home, away from the national news and the sloothsayers, opening that window to the world for just brief moments here or there, so as to stay aware, but not obsessed nor overtaken by the odor of fear that wafts in through that opened window. Perhaps what I detect in the air is the smell of death… not literal death, though that is happening too… but the death of a culture.  I wonder what will grow from that decomposition , what future way of being – more compassionate, more careful/tender with our choices and our actions- might blossom from this, our own potential spring awakening.

I am aware that there are those who are protesting, feeling their individual rights are being stripped- their right to act freely according to their own sense of what is right or necessary to do. “Give me liberty or give me death” seems to be their motto, as if liberty to act in whatever ways we want has ever been what it means to be fully human. The truth is we have never been truly free to act with abandon in such a way, especially when our actions do harm (which, in the thorny paradox of life, they always do—something always dies so that we might live). We have only acted as if that liberty were true, been unwilling or unable to see how our choices for self so often negate anothers—human or other.  Of course, I also can see how some of these ones feel as if the government’s overarching decision to shut down is negating their own right to life—including their own basic human right to food and shelter (Although theoretically that is being provided for them during this exceptional time, is their ability to be able to do so in the future being destroyed in the process?) I realize it is always too easy for folks (myself included) who live lives of relative ease, who don’t have to worry about cash flow, to judge those who must make choices that fly in the face of our (and sometimes their own) ideals.

Life is always a dance such as this. Some may pretend it is not, for a while at least, the powerful moreso, I imagine, than the powerless. This is the universal dance of life, this dance of birth and death.  Of east and west.  Of freedom and commitment. Of individual and community. Of us AND them.  We are not separate beings, able to be rent free from one another, and the world supporting us, without consequence. We hold one another up or we fall together. How to maintain balance within that dance, grace-fully, seems to be the universal human quest of ages. How to embrace our freedom within life’s constrictions.

Again, mostly, as I mentioned, I have been choosing to focus my attention up close. I’ve noticed that if I broaden that gaze too widely –at world leaders’ decisions or media rantings about those decisions or apocalyptic forecasts– I begin to feel lost, anxious, even helpless. It feels like focusing too much upon fear and death. Perhaps in narrowing my focus I can grasp onto some sense of hope? Perhaps I am ‘choosing life’. Or perhaps this is merely acceptance — of my smallness, knowing that I cannot truly change, control, or even have much impact at all on something so large as a nation. It’s rather like accepting one’s smallness in the face of the universe, or the laws of nature, or of God, if you will. The alternate, to rail against it,  seems an exercise in futile despair. My only choice seems to be, in this case, to Live and to Be Love up close… and to trust that this kind of Love spreads exponentially too, like the proverbial ripples in the pond, like Ghandi’s Be the Change.

I have been thinking a lot about ‘facts’ too, a word that is being bantered about these days, often alongside the words, ‘false’ and ‘fake’. As if, if we had the absolute true facts, we would know what to do, how to think, what to believe, how to feel. Yet, I know that basing one’s actions upon facts can justify any ideal, any belief, any action or feeling. Facts contradict—even true ones. It is a fact that people are dying from this disease. It is also a fact that people are losing their livelihoods, unable to feed their families. It was a ‘fact’ that purity of race was being degraded a century ago, too. It is a fact that farming degrades the earth. It is also a fact that it nurtures us. To live one’s life based upon facts alone sets up a false rationalism, stresses a dichotomy between the head and the heart. Perhaps we need less to ‘check’ our facts, and more to ‘check’ our hearts. How do we ‘use’ the information taken in to our heads and apply our humanity—our wisdom and compassion- to that understanding. This is also a perennial challenge.

I wonder how you are balancing these in the future, my child. Have you figured it out? Have you grown into your humanity—grown deeper your roots, been less concerned about the growth of your crown, perhaps?

Which brings me back to the present. These roots I am nurturing in me. As I wrote about the odor wafting in the window earlier, I had to smile at myself, for last week I carried a dozen or so bags of compost in the back of my car to my son’s home, where I have begun planting a garden. (hmmm…planting these seeds in my son’s soil… that feels meaningful). The odor inside that car, windows closed against the still chilly spring air, was potent. All of that decomposing humus I was carrying with me, to lay in the new bed. Death nurturing hope— hope for new growth, for blossoms, for fruit, for nurture.

I have noticed that the act of planning a garden fulfills some need in me, the pouring over of plotplans and seed catalogues establishing a framework within which a vision for the future can unfold—in its own way and its own time. I cannot control the weather that will befall it, but I can tend it, nonetheless. I’ve also noted the similarity between this season of planning and planting with previous ones of planning and planting seeds for backcountry canoe trips. The planning of routes like the planning of beds, the planting of seeds and spreading of compost like the preparation and dehydrating of food (which I have been also pouring myself into in earnest during these weeks of living close to home, having prepared now enough meals to carry Don and myself into the backcountry for 2 months, if that possibility should ever unfold for us) Both are acts of love whose hope for fruition lies somewhere in the future. The dream of that future brings joy in the present. The imagining of that juicy ripeness, or that place of deep peace and intimacy, makes the work of the present a pleasure.

And I wonder /hope if that is what we might be doing in our world today. The opportunity is here, to plan and to plot, to plant and to tend, a dream for the future for you. I pray that we nurture it well.

harvest and hope – sharing small bounties

Dear Loves,

It is April 16 2020, about a month into this new reality the world has been thrust into, also about a month into spring. It’s been an early spring this year, after a scant winter, for us. In some ways, I wonder if it would’ve been easier to practice this self-isolation in that more appropriate season, winter, when hibernation and burrowing and curling up are a natural part of life’s cycle, although, at least with the early spring weather we are able to replenished by the hope of spring awakenings, of sun on our faces, of fresh breezes, of sprouts and buds popping, of bird and peeper song.

This is, however, the reality here for me. For others, who are trapped in their apartments in the cities, or inside of their own trauma, in external or internal landscapes devoid of such hope, that is not so, although small wonders exist everywhere if you have eyes to see them. This morning I read a poem about saving an ant in the midst of the helplessness of doing nothing.  But there are also are griefs and sufferings, big and small, stress and fear exacerbating them all, which make it too hard to see.

I have witnessed the way loved ones have less patience in one breath- a ‘shortness’ of breath perhaps -and deeper forgiveness in the next. I have witnessed wide swings from hopeless despair to wild possibility. I have noticed the digging into new projects (literally in some cases, as back yards are being turned into gardens) and I have noticed the laying aside of dreams (and the inability to get out of bed because of that).  I have witnessed falling apart and pulling together. I have heard anger and tears, and once or twice, laughter. I have read accounts of our potential stark new reality that seem to reach out from the page to pull my heart into my gut, and stories of potential reconstructions that fill me with joy.

Perhaps this is the way of undoing.

I haven’t exactly been ‘undoing’, and I accept that as part of the cycle of ‘undoing’ for me. Not right or wrong, just me. I’m trying to pay attention lightly – to both the world outside and the one inside—not to go into full denial or dissociation from reality, but also not to wallow in it. To notice gently, as in, ‘ Oh, I see you. IT’s ok’

On Easter Sunday afternoon, I drove from home to home of my children, dropping off care packages for the grandchildren, offering a small dollop of sourdough starter to the adults. As I packaged it up, I had the thought that this is the exponential growth that we might perhaps carry forth from this time of dire warnings of the exponential growth of a deadly virus. Perhaps this is also a time which will ferment in us a world that might nurture us all, a love that shares even its small bounties.

These last few days, I have been baking that bread. My first attempt was far from perfect, dense but tasty. I am learning as I go, and that is ok too. We all are learning again how to be. I’ve also experimenting with new dinner recipes and trying out new recipes for the dehydrator – coffee cherry smoothies, butternut risotto, scrambled eggs with polenta. Dozens and dozens of meal packs are stacking up in the overflowing chest freezer for that canoe trip that one day will happen. The kitchen at day’s end (and sometimes that is well after dark) is a disaster.

Looking at my kitchen, I understand that sometimes there is nurture that comes from within disaster too. Indeed, a book that is now in the mail for me to receive, is entitled “Paradise from Hell, The Extraordinary Communities that Arise from Disaster’, by Rebecca Solnit, touted as the ‘freshest, deepest, most optimistic accounts of human nature’.  I took a call this week from the Red Cross Volunteer recruiter, following through with that intense stirring in me to be of service somehow. It seems the greatest need in my area is in disaster response. How we respond is important, being there for one another, holding hope when the other cannot.

I have been pulling invasives at home and planning the new garden at my son’s. (hmmm, now that sentence brings me pause. Is that what is happening in our world also? Have Invasive human lifestyles overrun our cultures, over-competing, wreaking havoc with the balanced ecosystem required for our innate human nature to flourish? Can we start over- plant a new garden? ). And I have been pausing each day for an hour of yoga and meditation, in an unexpected new symbiosis of mutual support that has unexpectedly developed in my desire to support my daughter, who offers these classes.

While cutting the butternut (an organic grown one I received from a local farmer) to roast for the risotto), I scooped out the seeds, laid them to dry on a towel in the warmth of the kitchen. These 2, food and seeds for the future, harvest and hope, struck me in that moment as an icon with which to pray, a prayer that is being whispered with my hands.

And now, as rambling and unedited as this morning free flowing jotting down of my thoughts might be, I’m going to leave it in chaos, not clean it up just yet—the garden is calling— trusting that it is a gift, both messy and blessed.

humble hope

Dear Loves,

Easter Sunday has arrived and I awaken thinking about hope.

In the days since I last wrote, my mood has lifted.  Perhaps that has come about simply because I have withdrawn from reading overmuch about the pandemic, which fills me with worry about the future of my children’s lives, with the what if’s of the unknown. I want to be realistic, to face the truth and not hide my head in the sand. Yet, in today’s media climate it is so difficult to sort the truth from the doomsayers. So many of our news sources, on both sides, are tilted towards  a negative bias, reporting only what is terribly wrong with the world from their point of view, that it’s become impossible to not get sucked into their soul draining vortex. Being an empathetic soul does not serve me well in that arena. I feel that negativity as despair. Perhaps despair is indeed what lies beneath their negative world view. No hope in anything.

So, I have taken a little break, peeking just for a glance each day, but not letting the onslaught barrel in through that open door to overtake my house. Still, my heart(h) does not wish to grow cold. Nor do I wish to carry on as if real suffering is not a part of this unfolding human story, but to maintain a balance.

Earlier this week, these balancing words flowed from my pen “I must exhale the hope of transformation even as I breathe in these tragic stories. I must make space for both sorrow and hope in my heart, be willing to behold both terror and beauty, to hear the wailing of death and of birth, to cry out the same from my throat’

And so, throughout this holy week I have been dehydrating camping meals. As if. As if a canoe trip this fall might be possible (the spring trips have already been aborted). As if finding that place of wholeness and healing, of beauty and belonging, of undivided love, of joy and peace, is within reach.

And I have also been sewing masks, as if we might need them for some time, while listening to books about human tragedies of the last century (of all things, these are the ones that became available on my library audible books!) One of them was set during the great dust bowl that devastated hope in the midwest of the United States during the 1930’s. The other tells the story of orphans who were taken from their unwed mothers during the 1950’s, the unadopted ones committed to asylums because the Quebec government would pay the Catholic Church to house them in mental hospitals but did not financially support orphan homes. Last night, my husband and I watched a film that told the story of Native American Residence (assimilation) ­schools in Canada through the eyes of one young boy, who suffered their abuse from 1960-1974, and its aftermath.

We have endured so much.

Yesterday, we tilled a new garden at my son’s new house. He and his wife moved into their home the 1st of February, just before things began to unravel. They both are still able to work- one from home, the other in the hospital – for now. Even as I plant the seeds, I bury in the soil of my heart the worry about their future. Will a nonprofit farmland preservation organization be part of our future economy? Will sports or schools reopen (the daughter-in-law is an athletic trainer, contracted work provided by the local hospital’s sports medicine department. Temporarily she is being used by the hospital for other types of work)

Still, I planted seeds, trusting they will grow. As if. As if the house and its land will remain in their hands.

My daughter, apartment bound in Chicago, has begun dreaming of opening an urban wellness center – yoga, café, bnb, healing arts, planting her own seeds of hope. Will person’s have expendable income for such a place? Will yoga studios, with persons lying 3 feet away from one another while exhaling deeply, be reopening? Will the Stretch Lab, which has been a large portion of her seed money (and her sustenance), where she works one on one with clients, in close physical contact, reopen for business?

Another son and his wife work in the restaurant industry. Before this all began, they signed a contract to buy a new home, downsizing even then to ease their overwhelming financial burden. That new home represented so much hope for them, dreams of family time unstressed by 60 hour work weeks and keeping up with the Jones’. Their mortgage lender is now scrambling to figure out how to approve the sale on unemployment compensation….

‘Will schools reopen in the fall’? is another question that is being bantered. What will happen to all of the children whose parents might be called back to work (and those children whose parents must work even now—in healthcare, food stores, or other essential services) if there is no school for them to attend during the day?

But we all go on, as if. As if travel into the backcountry will be possible for us. As if restaurants and schools will be able to reopen. As if sporting events will resume.  As if expendable income for nonprofits and wellness centers or big building projects (another son is a project manager for a company that manufactures commercial solar installations) will be present. As if persons will be comfortable being face to face again. (ok, confession, I read a NYTimes article that filled my heart with dread about these questions)

Behaving ‘as if’ is not the same as hope, really. In some way, ‘as if’ assumes a re-turn, back to the ways things were. Hope is a different animal. Hope assumes you cannot see what is coming. Hope imagines the unseeable, without specifics of shape. Hope does its best to let go of fear and fall into trust, not blindly, but humbly.

Humility feels appropriate (of course it always is). Humility says we do not know, because we are too small to see over the top of what feels like a monolithic obstacle, but we walk forward one step at a time, nonetheless. Humility accepts that we cannot control, we never really could, but we can Love.

We are all being stripped of Ego.

Humility begs me not to think so much, to get out of my head and into my body. To let my Love flow and grow from there.

Humility. Human. Humus.  Of the earth. It is there that I plant my seeds.

beside still waters

Good morning, love

Its warm enough this morning to move out onto the porch with my coffee. A gentle thunderstorm rolled through overnight. I heard the rumble as if it was high above the house and then the rain began to tumble. I imagined it as a mother squeezing out her rag over the head of a bathing child, or a sick one, and I received that blessing.

We are all needing a mother right about now. I think of the Dr Suess book, Are You My Mother?, all of us having fallen from the tree into this strange new world. Of course, I don’t have one of those. Few women of my age do. We are the mothers now, called to place those cloths upon foreheads, to encircle sobbing bodies in our embrace, to soothe with songs.

The birds offer their song to me this morning. I do not know their names, cannot ever seem to retain the songs I learn from one spring to the next, save the White Throated Sparrow, beloved harbinger of my Sweet Canada. There is a redbellied woodpecker out there with his vibrato laden call. The tree he chose 2 springs ago, outside my bedroom window, the one I’d climb out onto the porch roof to watch, has lost its limb. It came down upon the porch roof, breaking some boards and bending the gutter last fall, springing us from bed. The water drips from that still-bent metal, beads of water lined up on its edge like birds on a wire.

The steady, but slowing, drip drip of the rain, still dropping from the tree limbs overhead also soothes, accompanying the birdsong with it staccato beat. Last evening, taize songs, shared by the Eucumenical Community and retreat house at Richmond Hill on the computer, did the same, (likely stimulating my parasympathetic nervous system, the yogis and meditators might say). Music soothes the savage within me, the raw edges smoothed. I hauled my flute and my dulcimer, down from the attic last week, intuiting this need to self-soothe within me. Times like these, I miss my piano.

The water in the lake below is doing its annual withdrawal, coerced to do so by the owner of the ‘concession’, who drains it each spring for a month or so, ostensibly to make his inspection of diving platforms and decks. So nothing grows in it, is what I suspect. The water fowl, attracted each spring to its promise, suddenly left to flounder, will soon depart, though last year a family of wood ducks, nesting in one of the trees at the time of the draining, no doubt, survived to delight.  Life finds a way. This year, I’ve not yet seen the huge old snapper, who is often stranded in the mud, wallowing. Perhaps we are all like him this spring, wondering who pulled the plug and why? Will it be good for our ecosystem, this reorientation to our world? I pray it is so.

Without that water to soothe, my body made its own way yesterday, as if directed by some inner compass, along a tiny path-lined, skunk cabbage crammed, stream to the spring fed frog pond up the hill. At my approach, the tadpoles, already fat, darted for cover in the leaf litter at the edge of the pond . I had forgotten about the springwell at its entrance, walked around to gaze into the circular capture, remembering my own well of grief. Here, its overflowing created a home of sorts, artificial though it might be, for tadpoles and eventual frogs, and a few disposed of goldfish that survived the mild winter. Deer and small mammals come to quench their thirst at the edge, as do humans. Below the exit a stray cat, black and white and fat as a skunk, curled up in the sun next to the emptying flow. I imagined him soothed by the sound of the mini cascade. Someone placed a bench for human beings, to still themselves by those quiet waters, I crawled upon it like a child onto her mother’s lap.

Perhaps my own overflowing well might do the same, offer comfort, peace, communion. Soothe the savage like a song, offer a cool cloth to the forehead or a lap for curling into. May my pouring forth be like that well, offering life, not like that draining dam, emptying, the depression left behind devoid of life.

The water continues to drip from overhead, from the spouts, though the sky, peeking through the breaks in the trees, is azure blue. The dulcimer beckons. I’d like to teach myself the song, The Water is Wide. It will be good to give my heart something to sing.

this well of grief

‘I now affirm that I will look deeply into myself without fear’

Dear love,

These last days I have been noticing it more, this deep sadness in me. I mentioned it one of the last times I wrote, the way suddenly a sadness would sweep through me like Rumi’s broom, such that I would have to just go sit down with it. So it’s been knocking for some time.

The yoga classes I am taking are slow flows, restorative, with much time for stillness built in. Throughout them I am often on the verge of tears, as if my cup is full of them always, but somehow the busy-ness of my mind at other times drains them off enough that I don’t feel the nearness, how close they are to overflowing. I picture a spring, perhaps, filling up from beneath with no place to spill itself into in these days, to flow into life-giving rivulets. My busy-ness gives them some escape, but not enough to keep up with the backlog.

David Whyte is offering recitations of his poetry, snippets. A few days ago, I noticed that the one he was sharing was “The Well of Grief”. I didn’t pause my scrolling to listen to it that day, but it rises in me this morning, I know it well.

“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 awoke this morning to snippets of some nightmares. In one, I had gone to get my hair cut, and was tipping the stylist afterwards. I miscalculated the amount of the tip, and was digging through my purse to correct my error, my brain trying to sift through the calculations as I did so, when the stylist ripped the purse from my hands and angrily helped herself to what she rightly deserved. A smallish nightmare, if you will.  In the second, my daughter was screaming, ‘help me’. I heard it muffled at first, couldn’t make it out, but then ‘saw’ that her mouth was gagged with a towel . That one got me out of bed.

Perhaps I need something to get me out of bed in the morning. Perhaps there is too much stillness in these days, nothing to pour myself into. Nothing to lift my energy. Yesterday’s ending meditation in the Yoga practice invited me to imagine fire in my belly. It was difficult for me to find that flame. Perhaps the ‘opposite’ of stillness is not busy-ness, but passion.

But I cannot deny that there is grief. Is it merely my own, I wonder? Or am I feeling the collective? Is this a reflection of my empathetic soul, or is that a cop-out? I am worried, that is true, about loved ones—their sorrows spilling into me. So many losses – income, homes, dreams, security, life itself. Last night I learned that a young mother, in a freak accident, lost her leg. Of course, these sorrows and losses are always and forever with us in this thing we call life, its just that they are so much more cumulatively present in these times. And though I know that such losses feel as if they won’t be overcome, they will, and all will be well, in ways unimaginably so. Still, this day, here and now, contains much sorrow – so much that it overflows, perhaps.

Do I need to get out of my house (literally—and perhaps step out of Rumi’s guesthouse as well)? The walks in the woods help for as long as I am out there, (I’ll share those tender photographs with you) – the earth is sending flowers, but I am snippy with my partner. This sorrow does not slow him down. He doesn’t understand this, gives it momentary recognition, but is distracted/busy in his own way.  How can I expect him to understand that which I cannot name?

And so this morning’s enneagram invitation in my inbox , ‘I now affirm that I will look deeply into myself without fear’ feels a challenge. I realize I don’t really want to return to that place. I have worked so hard to heal myself, I don’t want to return to woundedness. I don’t want that to be my identity. I don’t want to be a burden.

I don’t want to feel this.

I don’t want to pathologize this sadness within me. Perhaps sadness is the appropriate response to the world right now. Perhaps I need only to sit with it, acknowledge its right to be here, now, welcome it onto my lap and let it cry.…….

Perhaps wildflowers will grow along this trail of tears… or that skunk cabbage I revisited yesterday, with its scent of death somehow bringing freshness to this flooded forest floor, a swath of brightness, the buzz of life.



After posting this entry, I returned to Facebook, to share it there as well. Greeting me atop the page were these words, reminding me how to embody the wisdom of my years. So, yes to this too. Both/and.

“Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.

What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take everyone on earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.

One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these – to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity.

Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.”

~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes

heart scan

Here I sit in the morning, once again waking with the suffering of the world on my heart. Here I sit, seeking to discern what is mine to do, scanning volunteer agencies for the need that my heart can fill. Or is it vice versa- the need that can fill my heart?

Scanning my heartI ask these questions

Is it fair to have dismissed this feeling in me as the mere neurosis of one who has anxiety about ‘being enough’ and ‘earning love’? What am i seeking in this- is it a martyr complex, a hero one? Why must every deep human desire be pathologized?

What is this feeling in me? It feels like compassion – that is honest and true. It feels like a callthat is less clear, quite strong but a sound i do not quite recognize. It is true, there is guilt entangled in it- how can i just stand by and watch?- is that a worthy motivator? It seeks action, this compassion in me contains a lot of passion in its desire to be ‘with’. Who am I called to Be at this time? Can i sort my desire to help from my resistance to being told that i can’t?

and so i sit, when i want to jump, and i wonder how i will feel in the end if i do nothing?

images yesterday of chaplains in masks , behind glass…. how to shatter that glass, reach through that wall and administer human touch. makeshift hospitals evoke images of similar ones from previous eras- during wars and epidemics, nurses in starched white aprons, sisters of mercy, showing up… because they were called, because they could not standby, because it is what human beings do.

st francis holding the leper; etty walking into the camp.

perhaps i am truly a coward. it is perhaps too easy to lament feeling helpless when i am being commanded not to help. if push came to shove, would i defy? is it easy to feign nobility from within this safe prison? Words are cheap.

Heaven help me

ephemeral gifts

Yesterday, I saw my first spring beauty of the season. The bloodroots are opening too. It made me think about the ephemeral moments in my own life, when something opened to bloom for a moment in time and I glimpsed unexpected beauty.

How often those moments were at times of transition, as winter into spring. This gives me hope that this too is such a time in our world, that after the starkness of this season, which has forced us all into our burrows, we will emerge to find unexpected blossoms that we cannot even begin to imagine, that even now are already here. This thought fills me with peace.

Birth. Death. Loss. Trauma. Each of these have somehow mysteriously blessed me, deepening me, opening me to the presence of Love.  It is the paschal mystery, the paradox of being human, that life here is filled with such Terrible Beauty.

In the boggier lowlands, skunk cabbage, which generated its own heat a few weeks ago to thaw the earth surrounding it in order to flower, seemingly grows a full inch even as I stand drinking it in. It teaches me too, that I can create my own warmth to push through hard times.

The small copse of trees surrounding that swamp were atwitter with birds, drawn to the insects, which were drawn in turn to the carrion scent –the scent of death- emitted by those resourceful cabbages. That fragrance is in the air surrounding us all today. It fills our breath with sympathy, with pain, with fear and despair. We are drawn to the stories by our compassion. What follows along behind that compassion may be the first hint of our own spring, songs of love.

This morning, I read the words of a Jewish man, whose family was murdered at Aushwitz when he was a boy. He beckoned to me, ‘you must learn to garden in the dark’. Planting a garden is said to be the ultimate symbol of hope- trust in seeds buried into the dark earth, trust that sun and rain will fall, trust that fruit will be harvested from the act of tending.

This morning, I ordered my seeds.

May the gifts of the earth bring healing to you this day.

the crucible of stillness

Scanning the horizon

You have been forced to enter empty time.

The desire that drove you has relinquished.

There is nothing else to do now but rest

And patiently learn to receive the self

You have forsaken in the race of days

-John O’Donohue

Dear one,

One of the things we all are noticing during this pandemic is that it is revealing things about ourselves that we perhaps aren’t aware of, or can at least more easily deny, in ‘ordinary time’.  Stress reveals our human vulnerabilities- both physical and emotional.  Forced alone time, without access to our usual (functional and dysfunctional) ways of coping and covering, exposes those shadowy vulnerabilities. Weaknesses, fears, and flaws come seeping or screaming out of the now thin veneer. We cannot retreat into our usual behaviors, addictions and drives- even the healthier ones of those.

I see us all sitting down here together at the base of Maslow’s triangle—shelter, food, rest, safety— with all those things we piled atop them, crumbled at our feet.

This is happening not only in our personal lives, as aspects of our personality and the myriad ways we have been conditioned by our culture come undone, but in our communal ones, as well. We can clearly see what wasn’t really working for us, what was built on a flimsy foundation. So, with this newfound awareness, we hope that perhaps when we begin to rebuild that pyramid we’ll choose some different bricks, firm up that foundation. What does real belonging look like? What does meaningful work look like? Can human actualization be separated from performance and the (American) notion of ‘earning our keep’?

That so many of us are struggling so mightily with this call to be still, with the permission given, nay commanded, for retreat, when we have been so conditioned to believe that our human ‘doings’ are what make us worthwhile human ‘beings’, is such a potent revelation. We feel as if we must do something productive! We feel selfish for taking care of ‘just’ ourselves, even when we are being told that very (non)act saves others. We feel guilty whiling our days away. Even when we are being begged to ‘stay in’, we ‘reach out’ with offerings – some of them life-giving gifts of presence and connection, for sure, but many others perhaps are a cry to be seen and valued, so as not to become invisible. We are witnessing so many people making up new kinds of work, so unseated by the notion that their very survival is not dependent upon somebody buying what they are selling (or giving away freely), that they cannot let go into the invitation to do nothing, to trust that they truly are supported (though sadly of course, many are not, and this pandemic continues to reveal that societal disparity), loved without needing to add one more thing.

But if this lasts long enough, IF we can move past the fear of loss clinging to so many of us, IF we can feel safe enough for now, sitting still at that base of the tower, perhaps some of that anxious dust will settle, and we will truly enter Slow Time. The Slow time of our ancestors. And Small Time, finding our connections in the immediate intimacies of daily life.  And Self Time, relying on our own inner resources for hope, strength, peace, and quiet. (Note to self- trusting that others can rely on their own inner resources too)

Yesterday, I became aware of my own busy-making, the covering over of my own tender fears and vulnerabilities. It hit me like a thunderbolt of awareness. ‘Nailed it’, as they say. I’ve been writing a lot these last days of the ways that my heart is seeing so much, feeling so much, the way it has been breaking open—hopefully in order to hold it all more generously and compassionately. I’ve been writing to you about this desire that has been driving me to help in some way. (How can I sit by, when my fellow human beings are suffering?!) I’ve been writing to you about the counterbalance I have been seeking for that energy, searching for the heart of Julian in all of this (How did she hold in her heart all that she saw from the window?) I have been reaching out to all of my loves—realizing how wide is that the net !

Of course, you also know how I have struggled for so long with my sense of feeling overwhelmed by the impossibility of being enough to those whom I love, knowing of course I never could possibly be.  This is not a new dis-ease in me, but this is being re-vealed in me, laid bare by the stress of this time, for me to look at more clearly.

 I have been scanning my environment forever it seems, checking in on the state of those whom I love, checking in to be certain they are ok, feeling their sorrows and fears as my own, feeling their anger, of course, too. My own anxiety is relieved only when those whom I love are at ease… and at ease with me. Anger, in particular, fills me with fear. I take another’s anger, even if they are simply venting their own frustration about something that has nothing to do with me, personally, and desperately strive to diffuse it.  Putting out fires everywhere, a counselor 20 years ago, suggested.

Yes, those boundaries between myself and the other are blurry. I suspect that a small(?) part of the reason that I feel so relieved and freed when I go on a wilderness journey is that the physical distance creates that boundary for me and I am released momentarily of that which I feel and carry with me always. The discomfort I feel upon reentering afterwards is often guilt for having allowed such a time and space for me, ( so selfish!!) and, unless am careful and attentive, can bury my love with the need for recompense, when what I truly long for is simply to reconnect with those whom I love.

And so it is exceedlingly difficult, feels utterly selfish, to just sit here and do nothing when persons are suffering around me. And the truth is, that there are good reasons for me to be concerned.

Hypervigilance is learned, I expect, and so I can also practice unlearning it.

“I learned early on that I must be who others want me to be in order to be loved, so it’s important to see negative emotions like anger and sadness before they are overt, to pick up on someone’s energy in order to intervene or change tact to keep things pleasant. “

This experience is giving me ample practice sitting with my OWN anxiety–about the intensity of other’s , including loved one’s, fears, sadness, suffering and anger, which I can feel (sometimes quite strongly) and perhaps even can hold but, in reality, cannot take away from them. It is giving me practice making choices for myself without feeling guilt or shame, because I quite literally cannot step in to save them (and even saying that feels so indulgent, as if another person’s suffering is a source of practice for me!)

Oh yes, the moment of ‘nailed it!’ (I almost forgot) Yesterday, I opened my Enneagram thought for the day, (a daily mailing curated for my type, which is motivated  by the need for harmony.) It read simply this,

What would it be like if you spent your energy only on yourself today? Would you lose all your friends and connections?”

Sharing that thought with a friend, his response “Take good care of yourself today. You don’t need to worry about this friend going anywhere.’, brought tears of sudden awareness. That is the primal fear, of course, of being abandoned, unloved, disconnected.

Of course, this time of stripping away those veneers (which we are discovering are more fragile than we imagined them to be) is also revealing/redeeming our gifts, many of which are inverse expressions of those very same vulnerabilities. The flip side of my wound is empathy. Empathy is a powerful force of Love. I do not want to repress that, of course. Empathy is both a source and a sign of bonding, a means of support, a balm for healing, a vital aspect of a resilient relationships, and fosters true acts of compassion.

But I am being asked to very literally to take care of myself (to be ‘selfish), to restrain myself from ‘helping’ others for whom I feel so much empathy, to feel what I feel and to not act ( to hold the FEELING alone), to trust that another will survive without me, to trust that I also am deserving of protection and love. I am being invited/forced to strip away all the ‘doing’ that I engage in to make sure I am safe, to make sure I am loved (to make sure You are safe too, for the loss of you, my suffering one, is a loss that feels too great to bear.)

Maybe this is not perhaps so much a dismantling to the base of that pyramid as it is a stripping of veneer, a removal of impurities that have tarnished who we are. This really is the perfect crucible to burn away that dross, and reveal the gold that lies beneath.

I just can’t imagine what that jewel of compassion will look like. Perhaps this will teach us all how to be Love in a new way.

So, my dear one, I know that for you, there will also be this balance to strike. How to Be Love in your world, no matter what your culture has taught you about what that looks like. How to Love without Fear. It may also be hard for you to trust that each person you Love is connected to their own Source of strength and wisdom, especially when they are suffering. They may simply need you to trust that, or to model it, or to hold it for them for a bit. Calmly. Try not to get swept into the drama of fear, Stay seated in Love. This may be the only way that you can offer hope and strength, compassion and Love for another.

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