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,

queuing up for the adventure

Image result for human beings lined up with communion

No, this post is not about yet another wilderness adventure, at least not in the more literal sense that you might imagine it to be, given my proclivities. That is unless you consider, as I do, that this experience we call life is one wild (and precious) adventure.

On Saturday, I attended the funeral of a friend, a dear soul whose life’s journey overflowed with the depth and breadth of all that being human brings — beatific bliss and wretched despair, profound joy and deep regret. Of course, in truth I really knew so very little of her, merely the small bits of her life that brushed up against my mine, my understanding of which was most likely colored by my own experiences of life and subsequent interpretations of hers.

This reality struck me poignantly during the funeral, how little we are known by, how little we know of, one another. Each person in attendance, more or less touched by this woman’s life in some way, glimpsed but a fragment of the mystery that lay beneath the surface of this precious human life. All of the storytelling, put together, was but a morsel of the feast, a hint of the fragrance, and drop of the essence of who she was, and Who she was. I was affected particularly by the observation that it is so often the children of the deceased who are the primary storytellers in these moments, knowing how distorted a perception of our parents we all carry.

Later, at the church service (which I’d questioned myself about attending, especially as the service of poetry reading and sharing at the funeral home had felt so complete), I was moved, as I frequently am, witnessing the procession of humanity, pressing forward in that continuous stream, making their way toward the altar for a taste of this exquisite life, a taste of its sorrow, its nurture, its sacrifice, its love, it’s blessing. It always feels to me like so many souls lined up, a throng of beings at the gates of life, waiting for the chance to taste humanity, fully knowing the extremities of its expressions and experiences, saying ‘yes’ I want to be a part of that.

It is such an extravagant mystery.

Today, the snow falls heavily outside my window, visibly piling up on the winter-bare earth, its invitation also beckoning. I too am drawn to step out into that bitter beauty. Though I am cozy and warm next to the fire with a quiet view of the wonder, I want to be IN it, to feel its sting, to taste its beauty, to breathe its cold joy.

We were to be in Canada this week, camping and snowshoeing there in the 2 feet of snow that fell last week on the several feet of snow that already blanketed the earth there. But here I sit instead, my wild heart choosing, freely and naturally, to say ‘yes’ again, to be where Love calls me to be, present to the pain … and the beauty ….. of life.

My son called, on the morning of my friend’s funeral, the day before we were to depart, broken open by the pain that his father-in-law had died unexpectedly and suddenly the previous night. His heart was torn apart at his own loss, but even more so, at the loss for his wife, and the loss for his two young daughters of their beloved grandfather. How would he tell them this news, which would crush their hearts, breach the cocoon of their childhood innocence, where all is love and safety, to introduce them to the deep grief of this life.

I have felt blessed by the these days companioning my son, holding his heart as he walked through terrain, new to him, along this journey of being human. He didn’t really need me after all, his heart is so big. I just reassured him that he knew the way through— how to tread lightly, how to hold tenderly, how to listen compassionately, how to trust love, how to be human. I simply reminded him Who he is.

These things he knows. He is a phenomenally loving man. And just as I am so often astounded by the crush of humanity lining up to say ‘yes’ to life, I also frequently find myself in awe of the profound wisdom and tenderness of my adult sons, the ways they embody Love. I don’t know why it astounds me when I catch a glimpse of them like this, when the beauty of their souls shines through, but I always feel the blessing of that glimpse wash over me like a baptism .

Of course this experience – this very real human experience- of profound loss and deep grief- in the paradoxical way that life always presents itself- is also allowing this part of him to come forward, to grow, to become more fully incarnate, if you will. It is allowing him to taste the terrible beauty of life that he perhaps signed up for. Last night, he mentioned that he is in awe of the tender beauty and strength of his little ones.

Perhaps that’s why we line up for it, after all, for a chance to know this wonder, to be filled with this awe, to touch this tenderness, to taste this feeling, to know this Love.

Addendum

This evening I received a phone call from a friend with the news that our mutual friend’s son took his life yesterday. And this is also true about life, that for some the terror looms too large, and the redemption of pain never comes. I wonder if at the end some part of them simply says ” I didn’t sign up for this”, or I’m so tired of waiting for something nourishing to eat.

I know that anything I say here will fall far short of understanding, for I cannot grasp the mystery of this young man’s life, the depths of his pain, anymore than I could catch a glimpse of the soul of my friend, whose funeral I attended last week. It is all so ephemeral and fleeting.

I only hope he is tasting Love now.


Go to the Limits of Your Longing
  Rainer Maria Rilke
                                                                                                                                   
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.
Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
Book of Hours, I 59

delight

In meditation yesterday morning, I received an invitation (yet again) to plant a seed of intention into the soil of my heart, then to trust that spirit (godde, the universe, love) would nurture it, outside of my mere willing it to be so, growing it into something fragrant, or fruitful, or shade bearing, or… Of course, this is the time of the year when such seeds, hidden in the earth’s soil, are doing the same– burrowing and receiving. This day, the temperatures here are such that the recent freeze is melting. I am sitting on my porch, listening to it tap and ping, drip, and trickle, and run. Quenching those buried expectancies.

I wonder if it can happen that way with a heart too, that one day it feels frozen and the next day, something suddenly shifts and you hear music where there was silence.

I hope that you are hearing music on this day.

Often, intention setting is an abstract thing for me, and at the suggestion, I feel like I am grasping for something tangible in the midst of swirling mists.  Whether it was goal setting as a young adult, intended to set me on a specific path, or the ‘tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life’ as an older adult facing the empty pages of the next chapter of my life, I often don’t seem to grasp an answer. Is it that I don’t know who I am?

Or is it that who I am is boundless?

Sitting afterwards (after the meditation, that is) with my journal, I thought to explore what the pen might reveal that I couldn’t see in all that ethereal fog. It played around with the word Freedom, trying to pinpoint this longing in me to feel released from a life-long nagging feeling of never quite measuring up—being enough, doing enough, loving enough—the fear of unworthiness, I suppose. Earning love.

I’m not sure if you caught up with the news that my mother died this fall, her parting message to me a reminder that I had never quite earned her love. (so yes, this has been with me a long time). The season of advent was one of attending to that tender place within me, listening to my body’s wisdom to simply BE with it, to dwell quietly in that darkness, to slow down and be still/tender with it. The natural world was my teacher during that season, too, as I followed the teachings of beaver and turtle, muskrat and bee.

Back in my journal, yesterday morning, my pen led me from freedom to words that spoke of my desire to simply be. Me. As I am. With permission to engage joyfully in life, in the things that bring me contentment, peace, beauty, without fear of judgment or rejection. Somewhere in that swirling mist of intangibles the word Delight emerged. That is I new one for me and I wondered what that might look like. To gaze upon life with delight.

Perhaps it seems a subtle shift from the abstraction of Freedom to the nebulous Delight, or from Beauty (which has been an in-forming word for me for a long while now, with its invitation to seek and to see it in All) to Delight, but in other ways it feels as marked as the shift from last week’s subfreezing temperatures to today’s 50 degree thaw. There is a lightness around my heart when the word, Delight, settles there. A sparkle, like sunlight on melting snow, which is not there when the word Freedom or even Beauty alone holds that space.

Today, during my morning practice, I pondered whether the word should be tempered a bit, with Compassion, for instance. If it is wrong somehow to take delight in life when others are suffering. If it is wrong to deny that some aspects of human existence are not delightful at all.

Our dear Mary Oliver perhaps offers a prescription for this too, in the line right before that elusive question about what one plans to do with one’s wild and precious life, she asks, ‘Tell me, what else should I have done on a day like today…. than to be idle and blessed’, observing life through eyes of wonder– a fitting description of delight.

I shall try to hold onto this promise, not let it slip like mist through my fingers, but let it be tangible as a seed in the palm of my hand. Real. Reality. Let it grow into Joy from that seed in my hand, that seed in my heart, now visible and glowing, after the thawing of winter’s freeze around it.

I pray that you find moments of delight this day, and throughout the remaining blessed days of your wild and precious life, my dear ones, for it is precious indeed.

morning meditation

grace. i am suffused by her, infused by her

she bathes me, permeates me,

swirls like mist into my cracks,

behind closed doors, beneath the sills,

through locked and rusted keyholes.

between my toes,

she softens

every step, like treading upon air…

or walking upon water…

making it impossible

to crush, to trample, to lay

anything to waste.

grace,

never refused, she turns back

the thought that harms, the self

judgment, self critique, self

recrimination.

how can something so utterly soft

turn back hardness such as that?

it is diffused,

perhaps,

into her pillow, my very hardness

is suffused, infused

yes, even that within me

which intended harm

to me, is loved

by her. she softens my whole

being.

moments flow

as if through me,

finding no surface upon which to concuss,

no purchase upon which to snag.

she wraps Herself

about them and they exit

as my breath, as mist

rising from the surface on a cool september

morning, drawn forth by the rising of the light,

grace dawns upon my being,

upon my story,

upon my life,

lifting the heaviness

of yesterday’s grief, of yesterday’s sorrow,

of remorse, of shame

of pain,

moistening my world with dew.

so saturated is my world with her, she leaves

remembrances now upon my skin

as i brush past her gifts, hidden

in full view,

along my way.

Let go

Last evening, I heard from a dear one, who asked me quite gently and lovingly (both to herself and to me) if I would please hold off on texting inspirational quotes and links to helpful articles. She said that right now it just causes her more anxiety and sends her down the rabbit hole that is the internet.

I’d started sending a short tidbit before going to bed each night, thinking that she would see it first thing in the morning and know that someone out there was loving her. She’s been awakening lately in such distress, her mind instantly reminding her of her sorrow, and my hope was that these simple re-minders would point her away from that downward spiral of despair. I thought I was planting seeds of hope.  I was imagining these offerings as something like receiving a ‘thinking of you’ card in the mail in the middle of one’s grief.

But with her request, instantly I understood what it felt like to her. Like too much to an already overwhelmed mind. Like one more thing to absorb, one more way to look at things (as if her way of looking at things was not valid), or as if she needed something outside of herself  – some wisdom or understanding or some new way of thinking (the ‘right’ way) – added to her self in order to be healed or whole.

As if she needed to be fixed.

Or saved.

From herself.

I wondered if it feels invalidating to tell someone she is beloved if that is not at all how she feels, if that is not at all her experience right now. I wondered if it feels like I do not trust her to find her own way.

I woke this morning realizing that it is likely my own fear I seek to assuage when offering such ‘sage’ comforts. That my responses are probably addressing the fear within me — of the intensity of her pain, of the intensity of my own pain in response to hers – more than they are speaking to hers, and are a subtle (or perhaps not so subtle at all) form of control. Even when sharing what I have found to be healing, to one who is trying (needing) to find her own way and to trust her own wisdom my words are not helpful. Indeed they may actually trample the seeds that her own soul is tending.

I thought – Perhaps it is loss that I fear – loss of connection, loss of intimacy, loss of esteem?, or even the ultimate loss, if her despair overcomes her at last. Perhaps I fear my own world crashing down in that devastation. Perhaps my offerings then are thinly veiled anxiety, fear wearing the cloak of Love (or is it the other way around?), masking my pain.

And I knew then, upon awakening, that it is time to let go, to turn my attention inward, again, toward healing myself, not fixing another. Time to gaze upon my own fear with compassion, to hold it in the Love that I try to give to tell to another.

And as yesterday’s message to me was so clear, that it is time to Hold On, this morning’s was just as clear that it is time to Let Go. Let go of control. Let go of striving – to fix, to heal, to save, to safeguard her my heart. Let go into trust. Let myself simply be, powerless as I truly am.

I cannot fix this.

Surrender.

This evening, these words were given to me, as a mantra or a prayer, to nurture (or to seed) this new Grace-full soil within me, to practice this Letting Go.

“I love you.

I bless you.

I release you to your own indwelling Presence.”

Wise words shared with me by a wise friend.

Hmmm.

 But I think they could actually save me.

hold on

Its that time of year when we all need to hit the reset button, when our internal and external systems have become so jumbled and chaotic that something inside of us knows its time to shut down, and start fresh. I don’t think it’s a fluke that we have ascribed such meaning to the turning of the calendar each January 1, just one week after Christmas. In a culture where the month… and more particularly the last week… of December has gotten swept into such a whirlwind of elusive expectation and fraught with the inability to accept our humanity -self and other- as we are, we are all in desperate need of a coming to our senses. All around me, the people I love are screaming, ‘enough’! All around me the people I love are crying, ‘this doesn’t feel like love”

But, you may say, I thought you’d been listening to the earth – both inside and outside your body – found stillness and healing there? Found Love. I thought December had been different for you?

Yes. And none of that has been taken away from me. It is still there, below the noise, this vast opening in me created by the dissolution of that heavy boulder of shame I carried for so many years for being motherless/feeling unloveable. But, Christmas brought with it the realization that there are other ghosts abiding in (or is it wanting to settle into the emptiness of?) that space.

What’s interesting to me, as I write this, is the awareness that, as I was envisioning that feeling of spaciousness in those days prior to Christmas, what came to me was the image of a great tree whose roots had reached, resiliently, around that great boulder of stone upon which it had been seeded. Suddenly freed of that stone, I wondered if the tree would be able to stand without that anchor, how it would hold onto empty space.

I am holding on, though the hurricane that swept through here on Christmas day was devastating — not just to me but to ones I hold dear to my heart. The storm temporarily abated, we are left surveying the wreckage, and I can only hope that something fresh and green will grow in the places now left exposed and scarred.

I know that this sounds dramatic, but it was that painful to witness, and to feel, that terrible breaking, to be in the midst of that storm when someone I love deeply was breaking, and lashing out from that pain to break others whom I also love deeply. I am left feeling bereft — empty in a different sort of way, a way that feels much more like loss.

Of course, it has made me wake up to the truth in some way, too. The ways I have not wanted to accept. The ways I have wanted to believe that all would be well if just given enough Love. The ways that I have denied illness that causes such pain, desiring/feigning perfection, I suppose, in my own way.

And of course, I wonder what I could have done differently in order to nurture deeper roots in these ones that I love. I wonder about my own fatal flaws, the ways that I was too blinded – by love or by my own pain – the times that I was too broken to respond. I feel such remorse over the ways that I failed – to Love in the ‘right’ (the healing) kind of way, over the things I did not hear or realize, the wisdom I did not have, the maturity I was lacking, the pain inside of myself that I was not able to keep from seeping into the soil of our lives. I am filled with regret, and I have been spending these days reliving, revisiting, reexamining, searching for clues that I missed…. or denied. Days journaling my confessions, stripping away my self-defenses, seeking self-forgiveness. Blaming myself.

But then, in a morning meditation* I hear these words of Grace.

I am recalled to remember that displays of fear are places begging for Love. I am invited to become soft in the face of what feels hard. I am invited to feel my distress and my dread, to see it as love rising up in opposition to the fraught frequency around me.

I am invited to walk toward the fear and despair within my own self and invite the healing power of my own compassionate heart, to hold it in love. I am invited to let the walls of self-protection and defense fall away, (erected around my shame, my fear of judgment and self-recrimination), to be vulnerable to Love. I am invited to step into the unguarded, soft aspect of my own suffering, to push gently at the tender spots, to challenge what is hard with loving awareness, to bless what is uncomfortable.

I am invited ‘to let grace find me, to let it sprout up from the cracks in my feet, to let it pour into me” I hear the words imploring me to not recycle the grief, but to root myself in my own goodness, to stand strong in Hope.

*What I heard inside of Sarah Blondin’s meditation, “Access your inner source of Hope”, on Insight Timer


And I know that this was no accidental plugging in of the headphones for the first time in months. I know that this is exactly what I needed to hear- what I must pour into that empty space inside of me where once that huge, impenetrable boulder, which was my relationship with my mother, resided. I need to flood that space with grace, fill it with the decomposed compost of all that has been hard in my life, now softened by Love, press the nourishment of tenderness, compassion, and grace gently but firmly around these roots. Validate my own being.

So that I can hold on.

Not clinging to pain. Not stuck in suffering. Not holding on to the hardness of grief and regret, guilt and shame, remorse and recrimination.

But holding on to Grace.

Hold on to Peace. Hold on to Comfort. Hold on to Freedom. Hold on to Joy. Hold on to Light. Hold on to Beauty. Hold on to Life. Hold on to Song and Dance and Deep silence.

Only by giving to myself what I did not receive can I heal. And only by healing myself can I make it safe for others, whom I love, to do the same. It is all the same fear, this fear of being unloveable, of being unworthy, of being not good enough.

Hold on, my loves. Hold on to Love. Then Stand tall, and reach once again for the light.

.

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