Bedroom: words in brief

My children were both born in the same bed they were conceived in: an old brass double with a high headboard that came with their father into our marriage. The bedroom was the same too, west-facing, with the bulky radiator against the window and the large wide maple outside. The first time, the bed held me up as I squatted at its foot, naked, bearing down hard as I clutched the heavy post. Perhaps I held back, until the threat of moving to the hospital loomed, a shock to my insistent planting in this place only. I clenched my eyes then, traveled deep down into the pain and through it, emerging new with my child on the other side. The second time, my body began to push before the midwives arrived, and the baby slipped out like a fish, capped in his thin slick caul. His brother woke an hour later, as the commotion waned. I can see him standing beside the bed, backed up against the radiator: small, stunned, wide-eyed.

From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: bedroom. From one of the final days. My 100 days of writing prompts and daily witnessing and being witnessed are over, for now. How I miss them already!

Drawing: words in brief

Drawing, I have learned, is primarily a form of focused attention, a meditation integrating the eye and the hand. Writing is also attention: the careful observation of the nooks and crannies of inner and outer landscapes. Recently, taking time for yoga most days of the week allows me to devote attention to each part of my body and discover what it needs. Attention, I think, is love in its simplest form. What I pay attention to, what I let myself see and listen to and feel, is where I will direct my love and my energy. When I say to friends, long-term love requires work, I don’t mean that it should be a constant struggle. I mean that love is like a plant that will always need water; that like a hearth-fire, it requires regular tending. But with a lifetime of trust it is also true that sometimes the fire can burn down to its coals and still be set ablaze again by a few deep sustained breaths; that plants with deep roots can soak up rain after periods of drought; that it is possible – sometimes or often – to forgive each other’s mistakes.

From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: drawing.

Interview: words in brief

I interview my parts:
my limbs today are strong and stretched,
yoga widening space in my lungs and heart.
Each day my body’s new-found sweetness
shifts away lifetimes of clutter,
clears space for joy.

My heart is softer now,
appreciative of ordinary kindness,
awake to simple possibilities.

Sometimes I fear the future; or mourn
the enthusiasms of earlier decades, or grieve
my heart’s attachment to a village
that was always more a dream than a plan.

I keep vigil with the fears, let them
travel through,
remember that this world is provisional,
my place here is temporary,
and has always been.
But I am still here, finding delight,
finding peace.

My feet are connected to the earth;
I am at home within myself.
My mind is open to the trees and sky,
engaged with poetry and wisdom,
and with my own gleaning of words to fill my hunger;
My hands find ways to make small things beautiful.
My soul can handle truth.

Moods drift past like clouds;
I watch, let them drift where the wind blows,
try not to hold on to anything,
except presence,
except love.

From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: interview. Closer to 200 words, I believe, but this wanted to be said today.

Comparison: words in brief

Comparisons are odious, I tell myself in the mirror, keeping the lights dim, keeping my face angled in such a way that I can pretend to remain in denial about the disappearing act my chin and jawline have been doing in recent years, so that I can ignore my drooping eyelids, so I can convince myself that my features are as symmetrical as they once were. “Can I compare with myself?” I wonder, as I peruse photographs from twenty years ago. “Greater than, less than, equal to?” I ask as I compare sets of fractions with my younger son. I am more present in myself than I was then, both stronger and softer; more grateful for life and health; more aware of everything that is beautiful and worth tending. In headstand, I can trust myself to push my feet off the wall. My balancing point is wider and more stable than I knew.

From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: “comparison.”

Birth Story (a poem)

It started at midnight. Or the night before. It started with the movies, the long walk home, my aching back, the dripping mist, the glare of streetlights, cab drivers turning aside from my tautly rounded belly.

It started with a gush of water, with a catch of breath, with darkness, with pain.

In the middle my body turned inside out. I became elastic, bones came through me, my heart slipped outside my body. It was torment. And magic. And an everyday wonder. And the oldest story told for the first time.

And then there were your long limbs, your blinking eyes, your open mouth; your fragile, red, wriggly being slipping out into the afternoon light. You were more familiar and more alien than anything I had ever known.

I was exhilarated, enchanted, exhausted. All my borders became permeable. The truth is, for some time I only existed for your survival. My body flowed with food for you. I breathed with you, cried with you, laughed with you, slept your sleep, woke your waking, kept you alive.

On this day I was a doorway. I was a boat carrying you into this human life. The wild impossibility of birth brought the rumour of death with it too. One slipped out with the other to dance together through a complicated world.

I was born then too. There was no bridge back. I can’t remember who I was before this day.

Twelve years later.  It feels like a long time ago.  But I want to remember these details.

Six intentions for 2016

This is a time for setting and sharing intentions for the year, and I’ve got some that have been brewing that I want to put down in writing. Not for the sake of strictly adhering to them, but so I can look back a year from now with curiosity about where my path has led: my inner path as much, if not more, than my outer path.

Intentions are in no way resolutions; they are not even goals that are measurable, or timely, or particularly specific. I think of them as shifts in perspective, in attention, that allow us a frame of reference to steer ourselves towards. Or simply to keep with us in the back of our minds as we follow the current of life.

I think it is something like I learned when I was taking driving lessons more than two decades ago: “Eyes before wheels.” Whether you plan it or not, the direction that your attention is set is the direction that your body will steer towards, the direction that your vehicle will move into.

Intentions are so much the opposite of the kinds of goals we are normally told to make, but I love them. They fit me much better. They help me ask the intimate and big-picture questions: what do I want my life to look like? How do I want to feel within this life? What do I want to spend my time doing each day to feel this way as much as I can? I’m not interested in this context in imposing end results on my intentions, or in stating concrete goals out loud – instead, I want to focus on the processes I need to put in place in my daily life to feel grounded, engaged, and connected.

This year, I want to make more internal commitments, fewer external ones. And set up loose agreements with core anchoring people, who can help keep me accountable to those commitments. Not only because I need a bit of outside help to keep me accountable, but also because of my ongoing tension between introversion and extroversion. Between needing a lot of time within my own inner world, and also regular opportunities for processing and dialogue and collaboration and voicing.

I commit to continuing to work on creating good daily and weekly habits for myself and my family, better internal structures and rhythms that eliminate time wasted and small daily decisions, so that there is more room for creativity and freedom within the time that is open.

I commit to refocusing more of my attention this year to tending my home: de-cluttering, reconfiguring, repainting, tending the garden. I like homes to be very personal – fully of books, pictures, projects. And as a family that homeschools and does many daily hands-on things in a small space, minimalism is not even a goal. But my attention has been on so many external things the past few years, and I have spend so many weekends away from home, that I have much less of a handle on the objects and spaces within my home than I would like to. My children are older; we have been homeschooling for a few years now; we have different goals for the spaces in our house than we once did; and our house is feeling small. This is a big project that will take many hours of sorting and many months to reach any sort of completion.

I commit to making more space in my life for creativity. For writing and art and making beautiful things, for producing instead of consuming. For all of those things that so much defined who I was as a child that didn’t always make the cut as I navigated becoming an adult and then becoming a parent. This year, I want to choose creative practice over external commitments, both alone and with my family, and integrate these into other areas of my life. I want to inspire my family to do the same. As my kids get older, it is easier and easier to integrate my own projects into our weekly homeschooling rhythms.

I commit myself to regular movement, the kind of movement I need to nourish my body and bring my soul into presence. In recent months, I’ve been paying a lot of attention to grounding myself, and have been recognizing how much that entails living fully in my body and bringing every physical and emotional sensation back to my body. Really deeply listening to what it tells me. Scanning where things are stuck and where they are hurting, and bringing love and compassion to those places, so that I can move out into the world with more ease.

And so, I want more room for movement that is intentional, disciplined and strong; but also movement that is celebratory, playful and sensuous. Not movement that feels like pushing (although cycling and walking will never drop off the radar!), but movement that feels like listening. In practical terms this means more yoga and more dancing. And specifically, right now it means Iyengar yoga, which with all of its props and meticulousness drove me crazy when I was engaged in a more vigorous yoga practice in my twenties, but now is exactly what my body needs. And it means any dancing that is ecstatic and unstructured enough to allow full self-expression. Two completely different manifestations of the need for deep listening to my body, and for the embodied practice that comes out of it.

I commit to honouring and celebrating more fully the relationships with the women in my life. Those reciprocal relationships that sustain me, that allow me both to cry and to comfort, that allow me to be fully honest about my shadows and processes, that are both gentle and powerful, that inspire and nurture me and hold me accountable. I want to integrate my love of feminine archetypes with feminist action. And again that means listening to inner knowledge and inner authority and being truthful about my needs and boundaries. It means speaking when it is time to speak and acting when it is time to act, but also waiting when it is time to wait.

I commit to more nature time alone and with my family and friends. This means fewer structured programs, and more personal application of skills and knowledge learned over the past few years. I want more family adventures, more family exploration, more family trips; more spontaneous camping and evenings around fires with my dearest friends; more long walks with my husband whenever and wherever we can manage it. I want more solo time in the wild, both days and overnights. This all means being creative on a limited budget; and celebrating the resources of flexibility and freedom that we have instead.

Yesterday, I convinced my husband to hang out all afternoon cutting up magazines and making vision board-type collages. I was curious about what would come out of it. I approached mine in an intuitive way, choosing images and words that spoke to what I want to focus my energy on right now. It will remind me of things I want to keep my eyes and heart on this year. I also love the one my husband made, and I am curious to see how he recalibrates his life to keep this vision in mind.

It’s time to fully integrate the things I’ve learned over the past half-decade of my life. Time to bring them home. Time to celebrate where I am right now.

I want the calligraphied quote – another by Thich Nhat Hanh – which I stuck prominently in my collage, to remind me of this every day: “I have arrived. I am home.”

 

The map of jealousy

I have become fascinated, recently, with jealousy. My own jealously. Jealousy as set apart from envy, which, in the way I translate the two words, is the difference between wanting what someone else has – envy – and wanting what someone else is – jealousy.

Jealousy is dark and shadowy and for many years I knew that it was not something I was allowed to feel. If it sent its tendrils out of the darkness, it needed to be stuffed down, reburied, denied the light. But in digging recently, tentatively, into the dark and shadowy parts of myself, I’ve uncovered jealousy over and over again. And slowly it has become a friend. Not only a friend, but even a mentor and a guide. A bright shining arrow saying “This. I need this.”

Who am I jealous of? As I started to pay attention, a slow trail emerged of writers, artists and creative people who use their voices, who take risks; of people who put their ideas forward again and again; of people who step forward and lead others through transformative processes; of people who find a balance between their inner and outer worlds.

If I put together a collage of my jealousies, I would create a picture of who in each moment I secretly long to be; of what parts of myself I wish to uncover, of what the next steps need to be, if I’m willing to take them. It’s breathtakingly clear.

Other jealousies, however, are darker and more complicated. I spoke my shining arrow theory of jealousy out loud to a dear friend recently, but then concluded, dismissively: “It only works for some things. Not for others, of course. Not when I find myself jealous of women who are young and beautiful. That’s not something I can move towards becoming more of.”

She thought for a moment and said: “Maybe it is an arrow too, though. Maybe it is an arrow telling you that you need to work on self-love.”

I have been rereading a couple of books by Brené Brown recently. She writes about vulnerability and about shame. Shame – the feeling that we are not okay, that we are all wrong – is something which we repress and keep buried in order to present ourselves the way we think we should be. Women and men have different triggers of shame in our culture, she writes.

Jealousy has sometimes been sitting unpleasantly in my insides in recent years, and perhaps all of my adult life. Like any shame when it is most poisonous, it was something I usually tried to stuff down. Reading Brown on shame is a breath of relief. The biggest trigger of shame in women – still, and maybe even more than ever – is not being “thin, young, or beautiful enough,” she writes. Not meeting the cultural standard of physical perfection is at the top of the list of all the ways in which women fault themselves for not being the perfect beings they have learned to believe they should be.

On the surface, I have known this for oh so many years. I still have my worn copy of The Beauty Myth in my basement, underlined and marked by my teen self, triumphantly declaring my rebellion against all of that. But the thing about those shadow emotions, when we don’t own them, when we don’t admit to them, is that they have their corrosive effect on us even when every rational part of our being fights what they stand for.

Yet, there are cultural standards of beauty, which we can perhaps all agree are cruel and repressive, and then there is my own eye that is attuned to colour, form, symmetry, the perfection of line. When I can’t find those in myself – and sometimes I do – it hurts those sensibilities; it makes me cringe. My judgment is both external and internal. It’s complicated.

What is emerging for me now when I contemplate all of this is gentleness. Since that conversation with my friend a month ago, I have been thinking a lot about self-love. One day last week I sat late at night and watched a wisp of smoke on a small piece of sage that I was burning, and the word that came from its graceful rising curve was gentleness.

There is a verse in a poem by John O’Donohue, A Blessing for One Who is Exhausted, that I have been returning to recently, turning it over and over in my mind for comfort:

Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.

I will be gentle with myself. Self-love, like gratitude, is subversive in our culture.

Jealousy in some way always points to what is buried – our buried dreams, our buried shame – and so it is a fascinating emotion, a telling one, one that we can follow the threads of to find out the secret pathways of our inner maps, to discover where we have been lost or led astray and where we need to find our way out again.

I am allowing myself to dig up those inner maps right now. It’s about time, at forty, to uncover what is still buried underground or, as I wrote last week, to dig up the roots and look at them under the light. Dig, but gently, with respect and gentleness for those parts of myself that I found necessary for so many years to keep buried. With compassion for the ways in which I sometimes try to protect myself from external hurts, and only succeed in hurting myself. There is freedom and grace in allowing light and air into those buried places.