water and fire

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I walked only as far as my body wanted, grateful for its wisdom, which I too often ignore, bullying it along as my voracious hunger-for-more often can. But this virus has tapped my energy, making my head spin and heart pound, and my body needed to move slowly today, to be still. And so, I made it only as far as the 5th water fall, a small beauty (not pushing it through to the 18th or even the 21st ) before stopping, knowing the climb back would be even more challenging today. Utterly stripped of the ability to strive for the finish line allowed me to simply be where I was. Though in truth, ‘simply’, as it may too often be construed, was far from the feeling of quiet attention and the depth I discovered by staying ‘in place’.

And again comes this recurring call to ‘less’. I mean really, how many waterfalls does one need to see, to collect like so many knick-knacks upon the shelf, marching past without truly seeing at all? And so, I sat, next to this modest cascade, suspecting it would not draw much notice from the handful of photographers, who were seeking to capture something… the moment?, beauty? perfection?… here on this autumn-hued day. (I had intentionally left my camera at home today. These photos are from my phone)

Tucked into the shale-walled cover, carved by the water, I suspect, when it was much, much higher than it is today, I was sheltered from the thundershower that later passed through. Several groups of poncho wearing hikers trailed past, not noticing me or for the most part the ever-present water that continues to sculpt the rock at their feet like a focused artist intent on her craft.

I was pondering balance as I sat, wondering about the delicate relationship between solitude and the need for human bonds, between being and doing, between fullness and space. I was thinking about how rare the day to myself had been the day before (with my husband going off to work by himself), just one day! – so healing and spacious that I found myself actually wanting to spend time with him today.

Ebb and flow

I was thinking about self-agency, choices that come from within that aren’t about external calendars – which always seem to mean catching up and catching one’s breath — but about following an inner compass. My inner compass is not broken, I just need to be still enough so that it can stop spinning, point north.

It is so rare that I am alone in my home and I wonder if this is a source of my restlessness. There is some part of me that has not ‘moved in’ completely, still has one foot outside the door on a contingency route of escape, perhaps because she hasn’t been granted space to deeply inhabit that space. She remains uncertain that this is the soil where her soul will take root and blossom, perhaps because there seems to be so little space here for her roots to find purchase. And so, she plans trips to get away to someplace… someplace where there is quiet, where there is stillness, where there is space for her. The problem is that lately she takes it along with her…. not the people (which is true, when did she last go somewhere alone?) but moreso, this sense of urgency for more, and with it the habituated/addicted busy-ness of one who is yearning to be filled. So hungry, she gorges- like a poor person, with no access to wholesome choices, binging on junk food- and returns unsated, already grasping for the next opportunity.

Instead of ebb and flow, it feels more like being stretched and constricted. For it is true that upon my return there is a crowdedness, as everything left unattended during the spaciousness of away-time crams into the cracks in the always vigilant calendar of ordinary life. And the truth is that, despite my dis-ease in being able to reach the deep stillness I seek in my away-time, (it takes so long to slow down and undo . With one other person, I have read, it takes twice as long… with 4 people, it is 4 times as difficult ) I do taste something , catch glimpses of the self that yearns to come forth and be. I noticed her yearning on that final day, in the quiet of the pre-dawn lodge, gazing out over the rolling morning fog.

This week, I discovered a poem, The Fire, by Judy Brown. In it she speaks of the need for space, between the logs, in order to not douse the flame, in order for the fire to flow forth. That fire is my light, my creativity, my loving, my wisdom. It needs to be built into the structure of my life.

I long to live an uncrowded life, to not feel the need to ‘vacate’ in order to find space to breathe. This morning, I read an article, the highlight of which for me was this line – “To create anything, we need to have the freedom to lead, unimpeded, into the murkiness of our own minds. To work, we need to be alone.”- which affirmed what I have known, have felt, have stated, but continue to seek external validation of its truth because it feels so taboo to give voice to this need in me, as if to admit it implies that I am broken somehow. The article questions why we don’t hear much of women recluses, the ‘woman alone in the woods’ the likes of Thoreau and Merton, who are revered for the nobility and gifts of their solitude. To choose a life of solitude as a woman is indeed culturally taboo -women are supposed to be relational, to put their exterior relationships above interior one- so, there is stigma attached. “ To be female and to demand such things as a retreat from life and from loved ones,’ writes the poet Leslie A Miller , ‘is difficult. To assert the need for retreat seems selfish, stubborn, even crazy.’ I am not surprised that these words come from a poet, knowing where such things as poetry come from. Look at Mary Oliver, May Sarton, Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf with her ‘room of her own’.

All of this is simmering in me as I sit… this plumbing of the ‘murkiness of my mind’, this soul of mine that yearns to lay down roots and bloom – and I am reminded of the oft recirculated (in my psyche) expression, ‘Bloom where you are planted’ , which has become like a zen koan for me, unanswerable even as I seek to live into it. My problem lies in knowing that a lotus flower just will not bloom in a desert, nor will it bloom in a rushing current. While I know that much of the work rests in cultivation – cultivating a quiet mind for instance, or a peaceful one, an attention one, a compassionate one , seeking beauty and contentment (joy even) in the midst of the real and everyday life circumstances one finds oneself in (which includes for me a multitude of relational expectations) , and while I believe it is true that becoming a loving presence in my world is the ultimate gift I can offer, there nags within me the bud of a beautiful blossom, an offering that my soul, rooted in the soil of solitude, might bring forth as gift. And this is the source of my longing.

And yet, and yet, I yearn for connection too. As I note in my desire to be with my husband, my granddaughter, my friend, I am not cold, not without a heart compass. Like the fire of the poem, I require both logs and the space between logs to offer a life-giving flame, one that can warm another or offer the heat of nourishment.

I want to be free to flow naturally like this river, from moment to moment, following my heart, which I know to be good, to be loving. I know that, given the space, there would naturally emerge a rhythm in me, of coming and going, of togetherness and apartness, of connecting and disconnecting. River meets rock and flows around it. Where it can widen to hold more, it does. If widening is not possible, because the rock is too hard and walls narrow, it rushes – in torrents at times –carving a space for itself in the slot. Here, it separates into channels , sculpts potholes and coves and ledges to pool into, fill up and then flow. Some places it avoids altogether, passing by and around, but still creating a cave that seeps. It cuts and smooths, becomes frothy then silky, eddies and swirls, making its way to the sea.

And when there is no other choice, it leaps over the edge, plunging headlong into the still pool it has carved for itself at the bottom.

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tammy
    Oct 12, 2015 @ 14:44:53

    Vicki, the photos look like a very refreshing part of our One Self. When you wrote of the phrase “bloom where you are planted”, I was reminded of the times this bubbles up within me unanswered as well. Today as I read it though, I suddenly felt a revelation of it being my soul blooming within this wondrous, beautiful gift of a body that is deeply rooted in and of the Earth.
    Thank you for offering the space through which wisdom could speak and I was listening.
    Peace friend.

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  2. Trackback: self help | Emmaatlast's Weblog
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