sweet darkness?

What is this place? 

This newfound feeling of surrender – could it be healthy relinquishment? Or is it merely giving up? How can a body know?, when each new terrain that a human being treads is previously unchartered territory. I look around and wonder if this is simply what life looks like here, how it feels to be across this threshold, like reaching the summit…

and seeing a desert landscape on the other side.

From this vantage point, I turn to witness the passion of youth, so full of dreams and ideals, and I smile, though it feels like a façade, behind which there lies doubt. I feign because I don’t wish to despoil their hope. It is their time to plot and plan, to imagine and create. 

Perhaps I am simply weary, because if I test this new feeling of surrender, it’s not quite contentment that I am experiencing. It feels more like defeat, as if having hit too many walls, I no longer have the ambition to push back nor the energy to climb. The burning that filled my being even 6 months ago, is suddenly extinguished as if from a flood of rain.

Is this what it feels like to let go? Of attachment. Of desire. Of need. Of longing.

I wonder if vibrance also departs with those. Somehow, in the movement from doing to being, from household to forest, I expected that joy would deepen.

Perhaps THIS is how a body knows then that she has not arrived, for vitality sings of her health. 

Perhaps I have taken the wrong path.

 

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.The dark will be your womb
tonight.The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free inGive up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learnanything or anyone
that does not bring you aliveis too small for you.– “Sweet Darkness” by David Whyte, House of Belonging

 

commune

We’re all hurtling through our lives, and the planet is hurtling through space without a seat belt. We have to discover successively more freedom inside the terrible things that have happened and the terrible things that certainly will happen, and the whole of it is also a mysterious splendor, full of kindness, welcome and cups of tea. – John Tarrant

as dawn broke on this day, i awoke with the same feeling of deep sadness with which i had fallen into that fitful sleep. my dreams had only reinforced my feelings of failure. you know how that can be with dreams. as the morning unfolded, my tears were so near to the surface that silence fell over me like a blanket to keep them undercover.

after spending some time with myself in my journal, some of which i also shared here, i texted my friend, to see how she was feeling today. she has been experiencing her own measure of sorrows lately. we soon made a date for afternoon tea.

that time spent with her, mutually revealing and receiving our fears and flaws, remorses and regrets, struggles and sorrows was to share a communion more healing than any sacramental bread and wine.  being held by a true friend in an empathy that understands, not from an intellectual assertion, but from the mutual experience of being human is truly redemptive.

its not always easy to be vulnerable with another human being like that, but when we find that place of true belonging, acceptance, and love, where we are free to be all of who we are without shame, the saving of our souls from despair is so real. i don’t know how often that happens. i have the feeling i am blessed to have a small circle – a circle that is growing – of women in my life with whom i can get naked like this. i am suspicious that it is my willingness to get naked at last that is making that so.

three mornings a week, after we have finished our morning water aerobic class, i shower in the university locker room with a group of women.  standing naked with all of those fearfully and wonderfully shaped women has helped me to love my own body in ways that i could not have imagined i could ever do. i no longer measure myself against some illusory standard that isn’t even real. that’s what getting naked can do. strip the illusion of perfection we use to hate ourselves and cover over our beauty.

it’s a brave thing to do. get naked. there are still places out there where we will be laughed at or ridiculed, shamed or rejected, judged as unworthy. we do have to learn where it is safe to take off our clothes, but more and more i realize that there are others out there who look just like me, hurting and lonely and doubting and longing and messing up and feeling life deeply.

that blogger i’ve recently discovered, Dr. Kelly Flanagan, whom I’ve mentioned here previously sums it up perfectly.

Vulnerability is a beautiful thing. And it sucks. It gets a little easier over time, but not much. Because vulnerability is always a door thrown wide open for pain. So, why keep doing it? Because it is also the doorway to grace and worthiness and connection and belonging and passion and purpose. And joy of every surprising kind.

i realize that i also do this here, with you. get naked. sometimes it is scary. i wake up and wonder what i have done! like a woman the morning after taking off her clothes the first time with a new lover. then i take a deep look in the mirror, rereading my words, and realize i’m not so mishapen at all. i look just like everyone else. 

i hope that my vulnerability is likewise a gift to you. a mirror. a sip of tea. a lump of bread. a moment of connection and grace. a place to be human. a place of belonging.

as we hurtle together through this terrible, beautiful life without a seat belt.

see

there is a situation in my life that causes me deep pain, has been causing me deep pain for a very long time. i have gotten caught in the trap that if i just could fix this, i would be free at last to be happy. i could finally let go my frustrations, my longings, my weariness, my fear.

perhaps my deeper wisdom has known that this is not true, but i can’t seem to live in and from that deep place as much as I’ve thought that i could.  of course, my love is tangled up in that pain. it seems that is always the case. again, my deeper wisdom knows a deeper Love that can hold it without getting hooked into the spiraling chaos.

i slept fitfully last night, after having gone to bed early to get away from it for a while. my dreams were plagued by starving children and unforgiving adults. there is no escaping it, i suppose.  so, here i am with my journal, seeking the wisdom she so often reveals – beneath it.

i see that i need to stop hooking my happiness upon others, whether it is upon their happiness or their understanding. likewise, stop blaming them. look to myself for it. not in a self-centered, armored kind of way, as in ‘i’m going to take care of myself from now on’. but in a looking within- to how it is that i contribute to my own despair. how is my own behavior – thoughts or actions- harmful to myself and to others. what unskillful patterns have i taken on as model ones. it is hard to see myself clearly, both in the somewhat impossible way-from within the blindness of my conditioning, and in the painfully difficult way when i do finally glimpse the truth.

of course, the trick is always how to go there without slipping into self-hatred or self-condemnation, with the resultant popping back out of that place with a determination to atone my humanity. humility is needed to simply acknowledge my self- my blindness, my striving, my clinging, my fear, my flaws – and stop trying so hard to be perfect, or frantically fix what i perceive to be broken.

this going within is one kind of way, of course, to separate myself from the drama. move into the eye of the storm. sometimes that feels like escape, like running away, like not addressing the problem that keeps spinning out of control. i have learned, however, that i am quite small and powerless in the force of that storm, and i am learning what is not mine to fix. i need to step away from that.

of course, sweet companions of mine (we who eat of the same bread), you know that stepping out of the fray is also what i experience when i escape in another way into the woods and the water of the wilderness.  i hold dear to my heart an explanation given by a psychotherapist on the process of individuation, those passages in our lives when we are shedding old roles and ways of relating and growing a new way of expressing and being our selves. clearly, she said, there is a necessary break away that is a part of that becoming in order for the new self to emerge, outside of the tugs, pulls, hooks, that dismantle one’s identity before it can fully take shape. i see a caterpillar inside it cocoon here, hidden and protected from the beaks that would consume it before it had wings.

the classic example of this is a young adult leaving home for college. but I’ve often been taken by the Hindu life stage referred to as ‘the forest dweller’, which honors this need in the older adult as well, as she moves away from the householder stage. separation is a valid way to transform oneself and one’s way of relating with the world. we have similar stories in our culture, most often something like Cheryl Strayed’s experience on the Pacific Crest Trail.

the test of whether the change goes deeper than the surface, or whether it is also simply escape, can be when one returns to one’s ‘ordinary’ life. just as daily prayer or meditation practices, which invite one to access a deeper wisdom within from which to live, can so easily erode over time, so can the sense of deeper identity one finds out there.

metamorphosis cannot be hurried. wings cannot be forced open, or the butterfly perishes before it becomes.

time. deep time. i need.

in order to see who i am.

 

 

 

 

follow

The door closes behind her. It is finished. The great task of her life complete. 

It was a world into which she had been thrust 30 years prior, as if plucked from her life and cast into that cell for walking down the wrong street, her old self gone in an instant. In shock, at first, she was resilient. Quickly she learned to survive, to make herself skilled in what was needed to do so. Love not only made that possible, but necessary.  Thriving was required of her if the children were going to flourish.

But now.

She’d heard the song for some time, coming from outside those cold walls. For years, she’d known it was there awaiting her release. Honestly, at times it drove her to madness during those years when that heavy door was locked. Mostly, it gave her hope.

Standing here, now, on the other side, the song calls from over the distant ridge. Across these winter white barrens, it beckons.

The part of herself she lost.

It is not so unlike the last time she was thrust from all that she’d known, except that walled existence was so full, there was no time to feel lost, it was all she could do to keep up.

But this.

Vast emptiness is more frightening, in so many ways. It’s tempting to turn back, knock on that door, see if she can make herself fit again –except for the terrible heaviness she’s felt when she’s tried.

The song beckons her come. It sounds like Life. Like resurrection. Yes, the stone rolled away from that tomb!

Why is it so hard to reach the source of that elusive voice?

The stone, of course, tied round her ankles.  

Impossible to fly, she’s walked all this way. No wonder

She’s weary.

holy – Wherein vicki realizes that Weariness makes her Irritable and Sunshine brings her Life.

There isn’t a place
in this world that doesn’t

sooner or later drown
in the indigos of darkness,

……………

But I also say this: that light
is an invitation
to happiness,
and that happiness,

when it’s done right,
is a kind of holiness,
palpable and redemptive.
Inside the bright fields,
I am washed and washed
in the river
of earthly delight—

and what are you going to do—
what can you do
about it—
deep, blue night?

-Mary Oliver

I’ve been reading a 1909 novel, wherein each chapter is titled thusly, eg “Wherein Mrs. Comstock Dances in the Moonlight, and Elnora Makes a Confession” and “Wherein Philip Ammon Kneels to the Queen of Love and Chicago Comes to the Limberlost”. Those titles make me smile each time the page turns to a new chapter.

The novel tells the story of a young woman who also finds her solace and salvation in the woods and wetlands surrounding her home, her daily forays an escape from an unhappy childhood and a bitter mother. I came upon the title on a list of nature books written by women. Gene Stratton Porter set her novel in her beloved Limberlost swamp of northeast Illinois, writing at the time that those habitat rich wetlands of the Midwest were being dredged and drilled. Her words describing those forested swamps ooze with detail and delight. (The fact that they were soon thereafter devastated by human folly fills me with sorrow. )

I reread an old post of my own, which came up as a memory for me today. My own journal entry, penned by headlamp in the shelter of a tent, struck me likewise by its exquisite tenderness.

A sensuous paddle ensued as we intimately explored Bonnechere Lake from her chin to her toes, teasing our way down both of her arms, stopping to more intimately investigate a few sites along the way and discovering the charming and hidden, Cradle Lake, where we lingered a while on a slip of land between the two bodies of water. I was rather enchanted by that site, with its natural boulder fireplace and foot trails leading up to lichen and moss covered overlooks, and hope to land there again one day…”

I mean, who writes that way about a body of water?

Someone in Love. You know how it is when you fall in love. The pain of your life falls away, at least for a time, in the arms of that lover. That’s how it is, I suppose, for those of us who find the beloved deep in the natural world. There we can escape and release, forget and forgive, linger in love and be filled with delight.

I wanted to add to that list, ‘be healed and made whole’ but I’m still not certain how to carry that deep peace back into my ‘house’, so sometimes I wonder if that healing is entirely true. Perhaps I require a stronger dose, a continuous drip, an infusion of Love.

This afternoon I took a long walk in the brisk sunshine.

enter

DSCN0212

i almost didn’t write tonight, as i got good and lost for a time, watching videos of canoe trips.
sometimes a girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do.

for me, that means entering the pages of a book, which chronicles the experiences of a couple who spent twelve months canoeing in the wilderness, and dwelling with them in the vast silence of November;

or paging through a photo album of a favorite memory and feeling the dampness of the air upon my skin, the tingle of excitement when the cow moose with a calf at her heels steps from the edge of the woods, the stretch of the smile across my face at the frolicking of the otters.

or reading an account in a paddling journal, enduring the last mile of a portage in my weary legs, inhaling the ripeness of the earth as my boot sinks into the muck, heeding the electric hum of 100’s of mosquitos,and luxuriating in the comfort of an inflatable pillow in the tent beneath my head;

or pouring over a map and envisioning the sweep of water from a particular vantage, the endless meandering of an alder thicket, the bloom of cotton grass in the marsh;

or basking in a stranger’s video of familiar lakes and rivers, immersing myself in those intimate spaces where my heart sings and sighs.

my memory is the doorway,

my imagination the welcome

my heart the hearth
and i am at home.
as i said, sometimes a girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do.

i‘ve got nothing else to say tonight. i’m going back to enter more deeply into those words and those images. Let more of that goodness enter into my bones.

carry

I spent some time this afternoon preparing a document for a quartet of women who will be paddling and portaging with me in Algonquin this summer. The document included a tentative itinerary, info regarding basic protocols (drinking water, campfires, use of soap, ‘toilet’ facilities, and food prep) as well as essential gear lists for each woman to consider when packing. This year, I included a weight threshold. I’m trying to be clearer about what is expected and required.

I’m learning, at long last, that real empowerment (for myself and for those with whom I am in relationship) requires me to state clearly what it is I am NOT willing to carry for someone else. Empowerment is not at all about taking more and more onto my self, even if I can, but entrusting the other to carry their own weight.

It sounds so very old-fashioned, not terribly compassionate, a bit individualistic and even somewhat surly.  If I am honest, it can be difficult for me to say it out loud, even here.  After all, not isolated beings are we but interdependent ones. We are called to hold one another up, right? Yes, love is a verb and we are not always equally gifted or yoked. 

I’ve been learning about the secret life of trees, the amazing ways that they support one another. It seems that a forest is not a group of individuals but an interconnected organism. Canopy trees take in nutrients and feed it to understory trees. Conifers tend to deciduous trees throughout the long winter. And immunity to disease and infestation, even dna adaptations, are transferred from specimen to specimen through vast underground networks that resemble brains, with nodes and axons of transmission.  Forests are healthier when they contain diverse species, each one contributing something unique that is nurturing and protective to the whole.

Okay, so I’ve just about talked myself out of my empowerment ideas.

Sigh.

Still.

I know that if I carry for another what they ‘should’ be carrying for themselves, I make them dependent in ways that are not healthy for them or for me. Carrying weight makes us stronger – our bones, our muscles, our hearts, our minds, our confidence, our resilience, our sense of self worth.  Carrying too much (or inappropriate) weight wears us down—the weight of the world, as they say? Yes, I have felt the weight of that. On the other hand, not carrying what we are capable of carrying weakens us. Give me a chair lift and soon enough my legs cannot push my butt up from the seat cushion.

There is something about a wilderness trip, where I must take only what I can carry and must carry what I take, that is deeply instructive. I learn a lot about myself. I learn about my fears of not having what I’ll need, but then I learn how creative I am when I don’t have what I thought I needed to carry.  I learn how to set things down, leave them behind. I learn about how the what-ifs can paralyze me, until I just push off from the shore and trust that I am enough. I learn that simplicity is true freedom. I learn that less is easier than more. I learn to pay attention and keep track of where I put things. I learn to rely upon my resourcefulness, but also to get out of my fear-laden self-sufficiency and pay attention to the vast support network that surrounds me.

In beauty we walk, in beauty we walk. With beauty before us, we walk. With beauty behind us, we walk. With beauty above us, we walk. With beauty about us, we walk.

I learn that I am much stronger than I believe myself to be.

I will trust that these are the gifts that I offer to my sisters –my daughters, my mothers-  when I suggest to them that they also must carry what they need and carry only what is theirs to take. I will trust that this expectation and confidence in both their wisdom and strength is yet another way that my love for them becomes a verb, transmitting to them the strength they will need to stand rooted and resilient and strong.

 

 

 

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