Monday, January 11, 2016

Wild Geese & Abandon: What We Need is Here

Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer's end. In time's maze
over fall fields, we name names
that went west from here, names
that rest on graves.
We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed's marrow.

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye, 
clear. What we need is here.

--Wendell Berry, from Collected Poems 1957-1982 (North Point Press) 


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Zero Barrier: A Found Poem

Zero Barrier

(A poem of word scraps collected in a tea bag envelope over an 11-day silence.)

Break out of established years:
be peace brewing.

created magic
fizzy life brew.

First carry water.
Pick desired experience,
pull petals,
color yellow,

sprinkle triple green goodness,
serving, gentle cycle,
wholesome balm

Emerge root strength - 
grand, free, leaf home.

Feeling verified.
Made perfect, complete.
Spirit herbalists in the world. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Anchor and the Feather: Inner Secrets of Attraction

I've had it in mind to write this post for months. But then I talked myself out of it.

These truths are difficult, personal, and still in formation.

And yet, a young woman friend said this meant so much to her, and would I please share it?

So here's the story.

It started with attraction.

My life was in a state of flux, my first marriage was dissolving, and I was working for a temp agency, never sure how long each assignment would last. I was an inconsistent, confused parent of two little girls. I was scared, but embracing new things.

I took up hiking, discovering unexplored vistas.

That's where I met Blue Eyes.

I was riveted by this single dad and his concrete way of being in the world. He'd had the same career his entire life, had lived in the same house for more than a decade, poured milk over Shredded Wheat every morning at 5:25 a.m., drove the same way to work every day in his aqua blue Honda Accord. Everything about him was solid.

I fell hard.

Two and a half years later, we were married. This man who was so dependable and committed brought me the stability and schedule I craved. His strengths reinforced all that we did as a family, and helped our kids to become beautiful young adults. He was my anchor.

Thirteen years later, Blue Eyes and I started going through a Marriage Shift.

Our nest was newly empty. I felt lost.

Indeed, there's nothing like a partnership to test personal growth. Our culture gives us the idea that relationships should be an endless round of getting your needs met by an intimate partner. It isn't so. Relationships are reflections. A relationship reflects the inner you.

Ever notice that the same issues come up, over and over, with different people in your life? Even if you have the same lifelong romantic partner, your relationships with kids, friends, neighbors--they all reflect what is going on within you, they all point to where you need to grow.

And we are attracted to what we need to cultivate and create within.

And so, in this place of confusion, something happened to me.

It was an attraction.

I was on a committee with a guy friend. He started occupying my mind. It was a magnetic pull. I couldn't shake it. I tried to reason it away, pray it away, ignore it, squelch it, even entertain it. Nothing brought peace.

This guy was playful, changeable, creative, always trying new things. Not the kind of man I considered relationship material. Not one to be tied down. A minimalist. Free. Flighty.

A feather.

I felt guilty, disoriented, and devastated. As I struggled with my feelings, I started finding feathers--

along trails
in parking lots
on beaches
in forests
on streets
afloat in puddles

It came to me, my own heart needed to recognize the feather qualities. My attraction wasn't about the other person. It was about needing my self.

That woman who had navigated change, all those years ago. The one who faced dangers, took risks, explored. What had happened to her? I was yearning for lightness. Play. New horizons. Flight.

I'd pushed these qualities away, and now my heart was crying out, trying to get my attention. I needed to unfold wings, to change. To trust.

And so, rather than pursuing another human being, I fumblingly started pursuing my own nature. It propelled me on the Camino de Santiago.

I spread my wings for a solo journey to Spain, and though I felt nervous and clueless, I did it: I flew.

When I came home, I felt renewed appreciation and love for the husband waiting for me, my anchor.

Then again, the anchor's strength and stability are a reflection of me, too. I need both sides, I've come to understand.

And I need to recognize where they play out within my soul. The anchor and the feather both call, and can't be ignored.

I need to honor my heart and home commitments. I need to be there for my family. I need to give myself space, time, territory, and still, deep waters.

I need to live on the creative edge. I need to push myself to unknown heights. I need to soar above whatever holds me back. I need to fly to new things, risking failure and mistakes.

The greatest adventure in life is to love. That love is first kindled within our own hearts. It won't always feel comfortable, or appear to be giving us what we want - but ultimately, it fulfills every longing.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Weather of the Heart

Emotions. Sigh.

I envy those people who power through their emotional states without seeming to slow down or be affected.

That's not how it is with me.

Yet I know that my capacity for deep feeling ties into my creativity and empathy. Shutting down the emotions of body and soul only diminishes my human experience.

And so I learn to weather the weather of the heart.

What this means is:

I have to be aware of the signs of shutdown. It starts with a tightness in my chest, a clenching below my throat. I must stay close to this sensation. I need to keep my heart soft.

I spend much time processing my thoughts and feelings, paying close attention to their connection. This is where a journal is an incredible tool, providing an outlet to write down whatever it is noticed, felt, feared, denied. 

Sometimes it can take a while before I uncover what I'm feeling beneath every other feeling. Again, shutting down often seems the easier choice.

I used to prefer the shutdown. I became very good at it, actually.

Inevitably, though, all the repressed feelings would erupt and I'd find myself battling addictions, ignoring my true desires, and hurting others. 

Shutting off my feelings is simply closing doors and windows to the weather, living in a brick house untouched by the world. This isn't the living you and I were meant for.

As a 48-year-old woman, I'm told that emotional turbulence can have chemical roots related to perimenopause. That rings true. And yet so many of my mentor women didn't experience this turbulence, or didn't talk about it.

So I'm talking about feelings.

Once I stop being afraid of them, emotions can be as beautiful as a sneak blizzard or a summer storm. They want my attention, and when I give it, I'm able to live fully in all the elements as they change and bluster.

And I'm ready when the sun comes out. 


Friday, December 12, 2014

We Interrupt This Broadcast . . . with Now

So I'm humming along with my futuristic visions of creations and collaborations, possibilities and projects, and how I'm gonna change things in my life, and how I wish some things would change sooner rather than later, and what everything is going to look like when . . . WHAM!




What's that?


Well, yeah, but . . .



(Clearing throat). Well then. That means my wheel-spinning of plans and schemes and doings and hopes is all in vain. That means what I call my "envisioning" is filling my head with wishing nonsense. That means I'm forever thinking the future will be better while ignoring the beauty and beautiful people right next to me.


And maybe my imagination would be better served loving my life the way it is, experiencing who is with me in this moment and where I am, exactly the way I am, here.


Uh, okay. Got it, I think. For now, anyway . . . 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Camino Lessons: You Will Be Directed

When we are in a lost place, it can take a long time to find our bearings. We may start blaming ourselves for not knowing where we are.

And then we blame God. She must not want us to know anything. He must be hiding the signs. Maybe there aren't any signs at all.

Last year, I felt lost in my marriage. Our sense of direction as a couple was playing Hide and Seek with us. And when so many things were changing in my life, I began to think I would never know my direction again.

The Camino reminded me, in a gentle way, that Divine direction will return.  

Intermittently along the Camino, waymarkers show the path. Sometimes they are feet apart. Sometimes they're distanced by miles. And sometimes the markers are there, but the pilgrim can't see them - because she has looked away, or is hiking in the dark, or the rain has worn down the image. 

The sign of the Camino is the scallop shell. Shells are embedded in pavement, raised on highway signs, carved into stone pillars, or painted on rocks. 

Also, there's the yellow arrow. Arrows show up on fences, buildings, boulders. Or in other creative formations . . . .

"Did you see the arrow?" my hiking partner and I would ask each other a dozen times a day. This became shortened to a point and a gesture, or we'd simply say, "Arrow," and move on.

When you're road-weary from a day on the trail, and haven't seen a marker for the last hour, the absence of a sign fills you with despair.

The day's trek seems a waste. Everything hurts that can hurt. The stomach yowls with hunger.

And you feel forgotten. Overlooked. Incidental.

And then . . . there it is. The sign that says, "Yes. You're right where you belong."
Your heart does a happy handspring.

Indeed, the road winds through strange places. 

It twists behind a tumbledown shed, zigs around an alley, darts through a village overrun with chickens, plummets down a rocky traverse. But it is all okay, because you know you're on the right path.

Sometimes you have to wait for direction.

The waiting can be hard.

This doesn't mean you'll never know your place again.

When the assurance comes, it is sweet.

For me, sometimes I felt like crying, or singing. I wasn't just learning about yellow arrows and scallop shells, but what it is to trust.

In my life, in my marriage - it all began to unfold with possibility. With connection. With renewal. I saw the path forward.  

Since I've been home, that instinct to look for the signs has stayed with me. Once I saw a scallop shell in a wall mirror. I blinked, looked again, and recognized a pleated lampshade.

Another day I was feeling crunched at work and drove up the highway. Stopped and walked in a small town neighborhood. My heart recognized the shell before I knew what I was looking at.

Again, I was in the right place . . .  

The signs are everywhere.

Because we're meant to know.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Camino Lessons: You are Never Alone

May, 2014. When Heather brainstormed with me about walking the Camino de Santiago in late summer, I told her our plans had to be tentative. "I learned that even though you make a plan with a friend, you are ultimately alone. The Camino has its own plan."

Sure enough, as the weeks played out we looked at different things. Heather made hotel reservations and arranged to see sights. I wanted the traditional Camino - the long-distance walks and low-cost shelters filled with snoring pilgrims. (Yes, crazy, but that experience was calling me.) We decided to meet in Sarria in mid-September if it worked out. 

It was a year of empty-nest examination and cyclones of the heart. Looking at my life, I began to wonder how much aloneness I might have to endure. The confusing feelings about my marriage were a reminder that nothing in life is guaranteed. I was ready to hike the road ahead without expectations.

I was afraid. Yet learning to trust. I trusted my Divine Companion, just as I trusted the Camino ("the Way"). I would get the lessons I needed - and accept the solitude.

And so, on September 2, I reached the convent albergue in Leon, my starting point. As I stood in line to get a stamp for my Pilgrim Passport, a tall, willowy form stepped up. She spoke English with an American accent, and just a trace of something else. "Are you on your own?" she asked.

"Yes! It's my first time doing the Camino alone," I said.

"I'm alone, too," she said, smiling a beautiful smile. Her eyes danced with a spirit of adventure.

Home meant Berlin for her, Portland for me. Elle was 30, while I'd just turned 48. She was an accomplished professional and world traveler. As we chatted, we wandered crooked cobblestone squares and winding streets, getting lost.* A kind local on a bike had to guide us back to the albergue before the nuns locked the doors. 

"Do you want to hike out together in the morning?" she asked as she climbed onto the top bunk and I wedged into the space below. "Sure," I said, thinking it would be lovely to have someone join me for this one, first day.

At the end of our second day, I asked her the same question.

At the end of our twelfth day, we stood in the streets of Santiago together, footsore and grateful.

Together, we had covered two hundred miles. We had hiked hour after hour, day after day. We'd complained about the blisters on our feet, the snorers in the dormitories, the annoying day-trippers who posed as pilgrims. We took Communion with a band of Catholics from Australia.

We commiserated about aching knees, whined about the brutal afternoon sun, and took turns gently urging the other person forward. We told the stories of our confusing love lives. We ate dark chocolate in Astorga and pulpo in Melide. In Molinaseca, she taught me the proper European way to eat a whole fish. We counted kilometers, searched for waymarkers, gasped at the beauty of the Galician morning mist.

We laughed and gossiped; at Cruz de Ferro we held each other at the foot of the cross while our eyes brimmed with tears.

I'd been prepared for solitude; I had never expected partnership.

The walk opened my heart. As I allowed my Divine Companion to walk with me, this human had come alongside. And besides Elle, I bonded with walkers from all over the world. I was taken aback at my own ability to welcome and befriend.   

There were nights of loneliness, even so. I had no phone or tablet, and couldn't find Heather on the date we had set. I skipped dinner with the pilgrims and sat with my journal. Messages of support came from home when I felt most homesick. We must feel our feelings - all of them, and when we do, we broaden our capacity for love. 

Whether in solitude or partnership, what we fear is the sense of being alone. Once we accept this ultimate aloneness, we can allow warmth, trust, togetherness. 

And even more powerfully, I was flooded with appreciation for the man who has anchored my life for sixteen years. I missed him so. I felt his love. A vision emerged, with new ways of relating that will deepen our relationship and help us grow into an exciting empty-nest future.

As for Heather, we did finally connect. We had two lovely meals together toward the end of the pilgrimage. She had a good friend from her hometown as her traveling partner and they enjoyed late mornings and long coffee breaks.

By then, my pattern was pretty much set. Every morning I'd tumble out of my bottom bunk, and my sidekick would tumble out of the top. We'd wrestle our stuff into our backpacks and hike out at 7, watching the dawn swallow up the morning shadows as we got ready to push ourselves as far as we could go.      

"You were sent to me," Elle said. Oh, but she was sent to me, too. What I learned is to always stay open for partnership, even while accepting solitude.


*We did get lost a couple of times on the Camino, but backtracking was easy. Leaving a cafe, we were corrected by an old gentleman in a cap who gruffed, "A donde vas?" Another time, two bicyclers jabbed their thumbs in the opposite direction as they sped along. As if they redirected pilgrims all day long. Which they probably did. (Which brings us to another lesson of the Camino: You will be directed.)