it ain’t easy being green

“This is the work: to take these feelings of loneliness and exile and bring them into the furnace of the heart, where emotional abandonment becomes mystical abandonment” – Fred Bahnson

How full of peace I was feeling just a few short weeks ago, at the end of winter, with all of those quiet, alone days on the calendar nurturing the introvert in me. (well, I do live with somebody, but our days and our ways in our tiny cottage seemed to meld into an easy, quiet rhythm with one another this winter).

Back at the beginning of the new year, I’d begun yet another ‘regular’ meditation practice, which included setting an intention and then letting it go, like dropping a seed into the dark winter earth and trusting that it would blossom. One of those intentions, which seemed to swirl about in those dark recesses, was ‘freedom’, which I realized was really about being released to be who I am without shame.  (I wrote a bit about that here   https://emmaatlast.com/2019/02/04/delight/) The second word that came was ‘delight’, which, of course, was where I imagined I might live if those chains ever came fully undone.

But then I forgot about the setting of intentions, and the praying of prayers, and went about living my life. So, I savored the discovery I made at a poetry day a few weeks ago, realizing that I felt so full of delight that I could claim it as What I Know. Yes, I know the feeling of aliveness, of full-bodied (full spirited) presence, of being In Love. It is Who I am and How I Am.

I’m not sure I can exactly trace what has transpired between then and now. Perhaps with the advent of spring, and the opening of the doors, some pollution crept into my House of Belonging, reintroducing shame and clouding the mirrors of my self-perception. Mirrors that made me appear unworthy and unwelcome. Mirrors that distorted, reflecting that I am not enough as I am. Mirrors so smudged that I have felt utterly unseen.

The world outside can cast a harsh light, and I suppose others will always see through the lenses of their own perception, where I will never quite measure up to their need. But I also know that this is my work, to keep polishing that mirror, keep affirming my goodness. As I am. Beloved.

So, tonight, when I heard the author of the essay, On the Road with Thomas Merton, (in which he shared a bit of his childhood, one of adequate food and shelter but not of love) come to his own realization in these words,“This is the work: to take these feelings of loneliness and exile and bring them into the furnace of the heart, where emotional abandonment becomes mystical abandonment”, I saw myself in that clear, kindred mirror. Those feelings of being unloved and unseen crafted the core of a self, an internal mirror that distorts our own vision.

Most days I believe my mystical self has abandoned ME!, at least the part of me that felt so overwhelmingly beloved and beheld, cherished and healed, by ‘God’. She stepped across the threshold of unknowing into the darkness of agnosticism some time ago. Sometimes that abandonment can leave me feeling pretty empty, terribly alone in the universe, and utterly unseen.

Yes, I know this is not what the author meant by ‘mystical abandonment’, but rather an abandonment INTO mystery……

While I do feel, intensely at times, the profound mystery and sacredness of the earth, in all its terrible beauty, and I am deeply in love (In Love?) with it, do I know myself to be Loved, accepted, celebrated by It. When “God” be ones a What rather than a Who, where do we turn to be known? (Does that even matter, or is that merely a need of my ego?)

Can I simply belong, then, without needing to be seen?  I do feel a deep sense of belonging in the solitude of wild places, know myself to be a part OF it, and so it is to those places I go to experience wholeness. Most days, that is enough. Do I need to do/be/know/love/understand/see more than this?

Someone recently used the word ‘inscape’ (rather than escape) to describe such a flight from the harshnesses of the world into the wonders of the earth – perhaps because it is there that we at last meet ourselves, encounter the sacred mystery of our lives.  Within the landscape of the earth, the mirror of the soul is held, and I am simply free to BE, delighting in it all.

Does this sound like I have just talked myself out of my pain and into denial?

Or into Love?

Me and Mary (and evidently a few others)


Algonquin was on my heart throughout the day during a recent Mary Oliver Poetry Day. She always goes along with me when we paddle. I carry a small packet of her poems to read on our trips, so it was natural that so many of the poems reminded me of being in that place I love.

During the morning session, when the presenter pulled out his bird lists, the ones he’s been keeping on 3×5 cards since 1979, I thought of Mary Oliver’s little notebook that she carried in her pocket during her dawn wanderings, jotting notes here and there to carry back with her to her writing desk, where the sparsely recorded words returned her fully to the experience of the morning. I imagine the sensory memory of the morning flooded her heart and mind through the doorway of those tiny jotted words. I know this too… how the recording of my own experiences in Algonquin, in journal entries and photographs, flood my heart with memory, as if I am fully there, the whole experience flowing back to me through those tiny remembrances. Once, when my husband was in extreme, unmanaged pain following an orthopedic surgery in which his bones were manually broken and made to bleed so that they could fuse in proper alignment, he asked me to read to him from the journal entry of a trip we had taken. The pain relief those memories offered allowed him to escape for a time, immersed in the experience of Algonquin.

When the presenter spoke of being in Love with the earth, with place, with immersing oneself, listening to one’s body, I knew that feeling too. The feeling of intimacy with the earth, the water, the persons I share it with, in that place is so real. The rapt attention to it all, the aliveness, the heart wisdom/fullness I feel there. I encounter life there from the very center of my being. I am no where else, my spirit and my mind connected to my body, undivided. No fears of being or doing enough, no anxieties about the other.

My body was restless by the time the second retreat period came around that afternoon of the poetry day, so I heeded its beckoning me to move. Through manicured landscapes and construction zones, where trees were being chewed by giant machinery jaws, I wandered. I got myself turned around in that maze abit and so, the return trip brought me past the copse of trees where I heard the white throated sparrow sing its “Oh Sweet Canada”. Instantly, I thought of the red bird in Mary’s poem we had read. This bird, like hers, of course, was singing the song of my own heart.

And so, I was stunned when a woman in the front of the hall shared her experience from her own afternoon of wandering, of coming upon the bumper sticker on a car, certain she was going to say it was a profound or pithy quote that had stopped her heart. But it was my bumper sticker with the words ‘I love Agonquin’, that stopped her short, bringing her instantly back to her own experience of that place. She Knew!! The way a word can bring you back to the experience of paddling those sacred waters.

During the closing sharings, when we read Summer Day, with its now infamous question at the end, I felt the poem differently perhaps than I have in the past. Not a call to do something BIG or REAL with my life before it is too late, but taken in context with the rest of the lines of the poem…. to take it all in, to fall in love with this place, to immerse myself in wonder, to be present to Beauty, to be idle and blessed, to live from this place of amazement.

I also heard the words of Rumi, ‘The breezes of dawn have secrets to tell, Don’t go back to sleep”. In Algonquin I am awake. When the conversation in the room came around to boats, I thought of sharing a piece I had written a few years ago, taking off of her Summer Day poem, but the moment passed, so I’ll share it here instead

Pray

i don’t know exactly what prayer is, but i do know how to kneel in a canoe, how to ease into it’s belly and drop down to my knees, how to breathe the deep sigh of release as it slips from shore and drifts into dusk, how to move reverently upon those dark waters, watching for what might be present, beaver or loon, turtle or frog, heron or moose, how to share this wordless place with them all. i do know how to softly dip my paddle, let its rhythm attune with the heartbeat, let the drops fall like kisses from the blade, spread out on the water like sun, how to follow the faintest of shorelines, shrouded in fog, how to bathe in the sky. how to be still. let the waters bless me. how to say yes to this. being loved.

All is well,

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