Warming up

Kawagama Lake 13 degrees, 13 mph winds whistling through the seams in these walls, as have those other storms been infiltrating my own walls back home. Here, the red pine boughs quake, bark is torn loose from the birch , and freshly laid snow is lifted from the surface of the frozen lake in squalls of impenetrable white.

Yet, inside the cottage, the music is soft, warmth blowing from the vents, as I sit watching the wavering in those trees, buffeted by winds but still standing. With the backdrop of song, it is almost like watching a ballet. Is that how I appear to the observer as well? To one who does not feel the intensity of those external winds, that cold blast buffeting me?

It is good to be soothed, to be cleansed. How is it that this view, these sounds, enter these depths in me, sweep them , strip those remnants of heartache away as the wind does the remaining dried leaves from last years oak, or those clinging wisps of birchbark, so papery thin it ought to be easier for them to let go.

May I hold fast by roots wizened by seasons of nurture, seasons of strengthening through storms , my stability firm in those depths…

And so …the snow falls, driven by winds so strong that even gravity cannot force it to lay down.

Then suddenly (how long have I sat here?) so softly, swirling in patterns so inviting, I could lose myself in them, close my eyes, feel those delicate flakes light softly upon my lashes, feel their crispness melt on the heat of my tongue…

The music breathes me, it’s warmth melting me , long before the snow outside my window will. Here, this morning, I need not step out into that bitter cold, that biting wind. Here, I can witness with grace, find my center again, remember it’s goodness. Trust that this pruning will leave me with branches that will offer the right kind of shelter, fruit that nurtures, and space for the light to break through.

Placefulness– a brief exploration

A prompt from a friend. A response to her own exploration of how we have been formed, how our relationship to place has informed us, how we belong, how place holds us, bears us, becomes us. The reciprocality of that as well— what it is that we likewise offer to a place by our presence there, by our intimacy with it, our relationship with it….

For my entire life, I have lived within 25 miles of where I grew up. My childhood home was within an area of 1950’s suburban sprawl, outward from the small city of Harrisburg, Pa. I went to school in a similarly sprawling school district, with 12 elementary schools, 4 junior high schools and 2 high schools. When I was a child, the interstate was excavated about a half mile from our home.

When I began having children, I wanted for them more of an intimate environment, where there was some sense of identity and of being known, so we moved to what was then a distinct town- at least somewhat separated at the time from its neighboring towns by farm fields. Since then, of course, the sprawl has connected the dots with strip malls, gas stations, and new developments.

My out of doors time was spent playing in the yard, and as a child, I recall playing outside, catching fireflies and bread-and-butter cabbage moths in the mown, but unmani’cured’ lawn. I loved hiding beneath/inside the Willow tree– which in my memory (who knows if this is true?) my mother had cut down because it was dirty– and climbing the tall white pine that grew next to my neighbors wall, or the catalpa tree, with its long bean pods whose their distinctive smell I can still conjure on my palms. My friends and I would build houses out of that great pine’s piles of fallen needles (they were really more like floor plans, but we loved that game), again the scent of trees upon my hands .

Speaking of scents, I especially loved the peonies and lilacs that grew in the side yard in the springtime. The peonies were root cuttings from my grandmother’s garden. I later would plant cuttings from those peonies in my own garden beds.

When I was 6 or 7 I was sent to church camp for a week in the summertime. I loved it so much that the next summer I went for 3 weeks. It was really quite a manicured camp, but it was out in the country at least, down a farm lane that ended at a creek, in which we swam. The summer after 7th grade I was invited by a friend to go to her church camp (mine had closed by then, as the pastor retired). We attended Mountainside camp, in which we lived in small family units, sleeping in leantos, up on the side of the ‘mountain’, bband cooked our meals out of doors there. I LOVED that week.

We didn’t camp at all as a family, but my uncle had a cabin in the valley, where we spent weekends from time to time and took hikes through the woods and over the creek. I recall the crisp smell of the leaves there in autumn.

I began tent camping when my children were small. I was 24 or 25 at the time and had never slept in a tent before then. Economic necessity motivated those first camping experiences, as we couldn’t afford american style vacations. I borrowed most of the gear we used from another family member. That began many summers of camping vacations at Pennsylvania state parks, where I discovered that the connection our young family had was so deepened during those times. Already by then , things like television, sports, nintendo, etc had begun to offer their distractions and busy-nesses and disconnecting to the simplicity of camping felt profoundly healing. We would take daylong hikes together, cook over the campfire, and play games by coleman lantern into the evening. To this day , when I am in a natural area, my heart almost always yearns to share the place with my children, as the feeling of connection is so married to them in wilder places.

The environmental education programs at the parks were a favorite, and like many others have uttered , I’m sure, I thought that I would LOVE to have that job! Learning about the natural world filled me with curiosity and wonder, like my microbiology classes at the local community college at that time also did. (The small town we now live in has a small environmental education center nearby, with hiking trails and limited programming. I loved that place when we first arrived here in Gretna. It is literally on the margins of the community, where I am most comfortable, and at one time I felt the most belonging there with the woman who ran the programs. I’d take the grandchildren out there for a program, as well as participating in some myself. Now, with the new board, alot of that programming and staff has gone away, along with so many of the trees that are being forested there).

For years, when I lived down below, in town, on two separate postage stamp properties that were a part and parcel (pun intended) of those beginnings of suburban sprawl in that small town, my connection to the earth, outside of those camping trips, was through gardening. Instead of planning canoe trips in the winter, I’d pour over seed catalogs, and start seeds indoors. I tended a large vegetable garden, with a beautiful strawberry patch, where we’d pick gallons of berries each june, but my favorite kind of gardening was flowers…. from bulbs to seeds to perennials. I could be outside with the children– I’d haul them in the wheelbarrow, or let them freeplay— as i dug and seeded and transplanted. A neighbor/good friend once told me she could always tell when i was processing something (as the marriage became more troubled) because I’d be in the garden, pulling weeds.

During those terrible years when my world was rent in two and I couldn’t find my footing, the earth supported and healed me. I would drive to a friends farm , where i’d literally lay flat on the earth and let it hold me…. or to the Tarn in the woods, where the tadpoles would line up on my toes… or i’d climb up in the crook of the old redbud on the property of the retreat center … or scramble out on the boulder that sat over the creek and feel something come alive in my womanhood again, the orgasm springing from me unbidden.

I’ve already told you about the second garden, the one after Don and I were married, when I promised the land there that I’d give it back something of its wild self…. let it bloom the way it was intended to bloom at least in some small way, te way it healed me. Here is something I wrote as I was leaving that garden behind to come to this new home in Gretna the blossoming | Emmaatlast’s Weblog (wordpress.com)

the blossoming

I dreamed of living in the forest , as the heat of the summer sun on a barren plot of land (stripped of shadebearing trees) had always felt oppressive to me. And for the first year we lived here, we did not eat a meal indoors all summerlong, but took every meal onto the cool porch, where in the spring we were serenaded by peepers and in late summer by Katydids and tree frogs. However, I didn’t realize how much I would miss the sky…. watching the way the rising sun shifts subtly each day… or miss delighting in the twinkling of fireflies and chorus of crickets, or breathing with the wind swept as it swept the field of grass behind the house.

It has been difficult to garden here, nothing much grows except potted begonias and impatiens. Even my attempts at restoring natives to the understory here has mostly flopped. The year of Covid made me get my hands in the soil in the spring, where I attempted to clear the invasive pachysandra and periwinkle long enough to allow something else to take root, but that turned out to be quite fruitless in the end. I don’t know the little piece of earth here nearly so intimately as a result. (those years of walking the kids to the bus would always end with a wander about the gardens, saying hello to each new sprout or bud or blossom)

I have taken a dozen or so hemlock in the public lands under my wing, however… saved them from the axe, so to speak, when it appeared they were too far gone from the wooly adelgid infestations around here. (I wrote a bit about that here Hemlock trees and me | Emmaatlast’s Weblog (wordpress.com)) And like those native suburbia gardens, the relationship between us has been reciprocal.

Hemlock trees and me

I remember once—during a time of feeling the Profound Loss, when Love became less intimate and personal for me and I could not figure out how to pray to, how to find comfort in an all-pervasing, indwelling Love that is everywhere and Nowhere in particular at the same time— hearing an interview with Robin Wall Kimmerer, and suddenly feeling healed of that despair, suddenly feeling profoundly and intimately cared for by the earth itself, right here, outside my door.

During the year-long women’s retreat I led for Oasis, NWSE (nurturing women in the sanctuary of earth), a decade ago, we followed the celtic wheel, meeting on cross-quarter days, solstices and equinoxes, to find ourselves as a part of – in communion with- that natural wheel. The focus of those retreats was asking what was stirring in us, what was being drawn forth or mirrored, by the earth’s season. We looked at the 4 cardinal directions as relationship to SELF, The EARTH, Other WOMEN, and whatever our name for the DIVINE might be. It was a year of deep connection and reconnection in each of those directions, supported by the earth. Those retreats were held at a small camp about 2 hours north of here. It has become a sacred place for us all.

You know how I feel about Algonquin. The way I fall into a rhythm and a belonging … with myself, with my partner, with the earth, with the divine. I am in the middle of week 2 of dehydrating food now and that makes me recall how it is that I am viscerally aware, on those trips, as the food barrel grows lighter, the 50 pounds of food from the earth taken into our bodies to fuel our journey, walking the portage trails, exhaling the waste products of that metabolism into the arms of the hungry trees, who breathe to me the necessary oxygen my particular body requires. It fills me with gratitude and wonder. Gazing at the campfires each evening fills me in much the same way… how it is that the sun, laid down over years of leaf metabolism in the cells of those trees, is released in that fire…. the trees carbon returning as it burns up oxygen. It is all so terribly marvelous.

Why do I feel such resonance, such belonging in that place. Such a connection. Why is it that my knees hit the bottom of the canoe, like a woman kneeling in prayer, the sigh escaping my lips as my body lets go into the water. Is it a return to the water itself … the waters of the womb, the waters of our ancestors amphibious bodies? ( the landscape where I grew up and live has no lakes at all)

Why does the beauty never grow old there, the way it takes my breath away when I turn to look at the view from the campsite? There is something visceral and visual there for me, something that reminds me of home in some deep way…. perhaps it is something similar to the way they say that we all find the painting of landscape with a lone tree to be beautiful because something deep in our ancestral memory whispers of safety and comfort.

I realize it is the undistracted presence, as well… the way I am able to be there and there alone, attending to what/who is in front of me…. no thought of before or after, no worry about something far away from the present moment. Simply HERE and NOW with the beauty of what is. I’ve often thought that this is what early meditation and prayer practitioners were trying to recapture, this ancestral memory of being present to the sacred moment by moment by moment….

Well… this has meandered. And I’m not at all certain it is a personal spiritual geography (or geology?) at all. I don’t know that it speaks to specific place so much as it does to Earth as home, but it has been a valuable exercise. Thank you for reading.

Love to you,


I have been making my way, again, one short passage at a time, through the book, Consolations, The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday words, by David Whyte, this time around with a friend at our weekly Sunday morning long distance sits. Perhaps you know the book, but, in the event you don’t, within its pages, David turns ordinary words on their heads (making you think of Disappointment , for instance, as a mercy or a friend). Often, we have forgotten to look for the grace in a word, but at times, as in the word of this week, Genius, we have truly forgotten its original meaning.

It seems the original sense of the word, Genius, was something more like, ‘the attendant spirit present in a person; one’s innate essence’. In other words, one’s particular genius. Used to describe a particular place, we use the words ‘genius loci’ to describe the unique qualities possessed of place — its felt sense, a result of its particularity in space, its unique geography, the ancient history laid down within its bones, its specific climate, air temperature, colors, scents, shapes, etc.–a unique convergence of and conversation between innumerable elements that grant to a place its specific grace. Its seems that only sometime after the Enlightenment, as our obsession grew with our ability to scientifically quantify everything, did the meaning of the word shift to refer to something measurable, and a value was placed upon a specific kind of exceptionality.

Later that day, sitting around the table, visiting with my siblings, each of them new grandparents, I was struck by the way each of us delight in the particular genius of our respective grandchildren. You know how it goes– there is no other child can compare to our beloved one, no other child who has ever learned how to walk, or to speak in sentences, or go to the potty, or to read, or to build such complex puzzles, or to dance, or to draw so finely, or to climb so intrepidly, or to act so precociously, or to speak such hilarious things, or to wonder so delightfully . And we, in turn, are filled with delight and wonder afresh, in awe of the way a human being takes on a specific form, the way spirit enfleshes the particualr being of our beloved one with genius. As if it has never occurred quite in this way before…. although, of course, it has…and at the same time, it hasn’t.

And we can’t really explain what it is that is so special, so that another can feel it the way that we do. It’s like trying to describe the beauty of a particular geography (its particular genius, which has transported us to Love) to one who has not experienced what it feels like to fall into love, and joy, and deep peace, in that place. To feel the unique spirit and essence that we experience there.

I’ve heard it said that seeing the world through a child’s eyes, reawakens wonder in us. And while that is true– to see the hundreds of snow geese flying overhead, a child’s hand tucked into your own, as if for the first time is to see the wonder of life on this planet afresh. But, today, I understand the wonder that is rebirthed in us in the presence of a child a new way. It is through our own eyes beholding the miracle of a particular life becoming human.

And we become transfixed, like Merton on the corner of Fourth and Walnut, suddenly “overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs… like waking from a dream of separateness. If only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun. Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed. I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.”

And I wonder. If we could see each person we meet through eyes that wonder at their humanity, eyes that marvel at the particular genius made manifest through them, as if there were never another one like them in existence. How might we delight. How might we fall more deeply in love.

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.

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