On burning things

Taking a short break from my recent daily writing prompts this month, I find myself rereading things I wrote prior to starting up that daily practice. Longer pieces, poems, essays. Sometimes I am moved, sometimes confused. A year or two passes and it’s easy to forget the intensities of any one moment, and also the wisdom that comes out of those intensities. Some things I read make me wince a little, or smile wryly: “Who is this person? Maybe I should listen to what she says.”

There’s an expansiveness in what I read that is not part of how I feel right now.

This past winter, a winter of daily practice, of discipline, of retreat, I wondered where my fire had gone. I missed it, but also didn’t. I missed the connectivity and expansiveness and energy of a few years ago. I missed the vision. But it no longer nourished me. I could finally articulate it plainly to myself and others: I was burnt out.

A few days ago, I said some of this to a friend, with nostalgia but also with an emerging gratitude. She reminded me that when we met two or three years ago, I told her I wished I could write more, but I couldn’t find the time. I was organizing, collaborating, learning, scheduling, planning, supporting others, driving here and there, expending emotional energy and labour. My labour was rewarded in intangible ways, but certainly not renumerated. I was saying yes to everything, on an energy high, not mindful of the costs.

Now, she pointed out, I am no longer doing all those things, but I am writing every day. I am tending much that I neglected then. I’ve found the time.

Earlier this week I said no to something, as I so often do right now, and I wrote to my closest friend, my constant witness: “I feel like I am going around burning things and then being sad that they are gone, but needing to keep on burning anyways.” This is not a new feeling. It’s been with me since at least since last summer, when I stepped away from a big group commitment that I had worked towards for years. It had been creeping up for some time before that, in departures and unravellings of various kinds. I’ve written before about spirals. But it’s only in the last few months that I’ve been able to fully name the sense of ending. Slowly, gently, to lose my paralyzing fear of it and find the freedom instead.

What confused me for a long time was that I thought I’d already done this, when my kids were born, when I left my job, when I turned away from who I had always expected myself to be. But perhaps I simply found new expectations to impose upon myself.

Or perhaps it’s those cycles again, the cycles I keep finding everywhere I look.

Waldorf educators write a lot about seven year cycles. In adulthood as well as childhood. Clarissa Pinkola Estes does the same in Women Who Run with the Wolves. Death and rebirth is a constant in our lives, if we look at them with awareness. Not linear progress. Cycles of death and rebirth. Seasons. Non-linear, non-Western, non-modern time. Last year, at forty-two, I realized that perhaps a cycle was ending.

Cycles of course don’t need to mean full severance. I have been with the same partner for close to twenty-five years now. Our relationship has moved through many cycles. Encompassed joy and grief. Falling in love, taking each other for granted, periods of disconnection, falling in love again, deepening. It has been several different relationships already, and will be several more before we are done. Like an organism bigger than the sum of our two selves, it’s something we need to tend and feed regularly. I am reminded of this often, of how easy it is to disconnect in small ways, to go our separate ways, to not talk about difficult things, to find emotional sustenance elsewhere. Connection is easy to find, but this big project of a marriage of almost two decades, of co-creating a family, of co-creating a home, it’s hard but deeply satisfying. It nourishes my soul and teaches me the biggest lessons.

In the same way, everything I’ve learned and experienced in every part of my life is still mine to keep. As is each connection, each collaboration. It’s all absorbed into the whole, one thread of many, one piece of a puzzle which some day I may be able to see more clearly than I do now, although at each new turn of the wheel it already becomes a little clearer.

I read a book last month called The Joy of Missing Out. It was mainly about technology, and about the exhausting connectivity of the online world. It was about fasting, taking breaks, learning how to moderate our constant contact. But I imagine it also as a bigger choice. At some point in life, we discover we can’t Do All the Things. The cost is too big. Right now, as I have sometimes in the past, I find myself closing doors to make space in myself for whatever needs to happen next. I find myself curious again.

Or as my friend replied, when I spoke – tired, but certain – of burning: “Burning makes fertile ground. Just remember that.” Another kind of fire, with another purpose.

Hospitality: words in brief

Most of today we spent on the Leslie Spit, a human-made piece of land jutting out into Lake Ontario. Built mid-last-century for vague harbour-related purposes out of sand, silt and stone, it’s now a hybrid of ongoing filling operations, wildlife conservation, and educational programs. Thousands of migrating birds stop here in the spring and fall, are caught by careful means, weighed, banded and recorded. It’s an odd bit of hospitality: a mist net, a small cloth bag, upside-down weighing in a narrow tube, a tiny metal band clipped to one thin leg.

Each child in turn is shown how to put out their hand, how to gently contain a bird with the other, how to release it into startled flight. Warblers, thrushes, red-winged blackbirds, a cowbird, a grackle. There’s one left for me, a tiny yellow-rumped warbler, a small bright bit of fluff and feathers nestled in my palm. The sky is blue and clear, white birches rise pale against red dogwood stems and spindly green horsetails. The city skyline looms across the water, airplane traffic bustles overhead. I love these stark contrasts, this complex urban co-existence.

From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: hospitality.

Decipher: words in brief

I have been asking my soul the past weeks what it needs from me. On Friday, I sat by a creek in the city, still in my warm down coat, listening to the rush of water, feeling the earth and sun again. I asked my soul what it needs. I tried to decipher what came to me in return. I think about the Tarot suit of Swords. The cards seem to get bleaker as the numbers rise. But it’s a progressive journey, a necessary one. I have heard it described as the death of the ego. Swords cut away. Does the soul need the death of the ego to find its truest, deepest form? In my life I’ve collected some skills, knowledge and experience, but again I find myself in an eddy, swirling, confused. Everything is endings, untidy endings. One meanders into another. They drift. When external adornment is stripped away, I am left looking for the parts of me that abide. And what I hear from my soul is “I need you to trust me.” Why is that so hard?

From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: decipher. 

Purchase: words in brief

Today I decided that the last few days have all been part of my ritual. Once I voiced my need to reclaim my soul parts, everything that came in my path seemed something I needed to hear and remember, as in a dream. The walk to the falls and everything I found there, our sudden decision to drive home towards the storm, the relief of my safe return followed by the small crisis that caused my family to temporarily relocate. The wind that split the tree that fell on the hydro wire. The brief blaze of electrical fire. The loss of power to our home. When I walked up to our house today to check on the state of our street, I found large pieces of the tree sawed and moved off the road, the wires back up, the two concrete poles that had crashed replaced by wooden ones, the power restored. I was amazed at the efficiency of it, at the resilience of this complex system. I walked back to meet my kids and realized that the supple green leaves of tulips were poking up everywhere under the snow, the purple crocuses were still blooming confidently, the forsythias were newly burst into yellow flower. I collected all of these images to reclaim what I saw in them – the vitality, the resilience. The sidewalks were slippery and piled with grainy wet snow so I walked through back alleys. There I found murals in secret places, giant paintings of black and purple birds, of blue waves. On an impulse, I stopped at an indigenous art store. I purchased a tiny stone turtle to place on my altar at home; and two post-card sized prints, one called Blossom, which reminds me of the stubbornness of spring, my own stubbornness. The birds sang all through the rain this afternoon – cardinals, red-winged blackbirds, the mockingbird that annually sets up shop by the train tracks. Later, at home, I lit a candle, I spoke my intentions, I reset my altar. I included a small piece of the fallen maple, felled by the power of air moving; a round stone from the ocean, smoothed by the force of water. I reclaimed and reintegrated. I asked for my fire back knowing that there are always dangers. Fire brings risk, but so does wind, so does water, so does burying oneself too far into the earth. Life is a balance, discernment and risk. I can do both. I need both to be whole.

From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: purchase. No attempt for brevity here. This day, this past Monday, I knew what I needed to write about and the writing prompt became an action prompt. I admit it’s possible that I stopped at the little store so I could fit this word into the unfolding of the day. Sometimes that happens: words become actions, actions become symbols. That’s part of what ritual means to me. 

Shadow (2): words in brief

I am noting a shadow lately on my almost-teen’s upper lip. A couple of months ago he said to me in alarm, “When I woke up this morning, my voice sounded strange. I didn’t recognize it.” I could hear it too. His singing voice has now descended into bass, like his dad’s. Every week he is taller, lankier, more like an adolescent, more like a man. I told him at dinner last night, after a conversation with two mothers of teens, “I understand why you are so tired recently. You are completely re-forming. Like a caterpillar to a butterfly.” “Oh great,” he grimaced, “I’m going to liquefy and reconstitute.” None of us look forward to changes that huge, that painful, that necessary. We hold our breath, haul in our reserves, squint skeptically at the miracle of flight promised on the other side.

From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: shadow.  The first time the same word has come up more than once. But what a versatile word it is. 

Lush: words in brief

My garden each year rapidly turns the corner from lush to neglected. Now, in early April, my heart leaps at the green shoots piercing up through the soil, the tiny purple and yellow crocuses, the anticipation of lilacs. It’s impossible to believe that in two more months the mint will already have run amok, in three the raspberries and gooseberries will hang heavy, in four that I will have thrown my hands up in the air and let it all go wild. Right now it is still a promise, a potential, barely even a plan. Maybe this year I will do better. I will decide what should stay, what should go. I will weed, prune responsibly, build better fences. I will channel skills I am painstakingly learning in the rest of my life.

From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: lush.

Shepherding: words in brief

My second son, as a toddler, did not like people to leave. What toddler does? But he in particular had an instinct for shepherding, a fierce drive to keep everyone physically close. It’s hard to recollect now how emotional, loud, reactive and intense he was then. A highly-sensitive extrovert, no feeling undocumented, no tear unshed. Now, at the still tender age of nine, I am often amazed at his emotional intelligence. His thoughtful deconstructing of his own emotions and the subtle way he tunes in to mine. His smile, touch on my arm, or well-timed kiss the moment my voice takes on an edge of impatience. He’s young still, they both are, but if I can help these sensitive boys grow into thoughtful men, some part of my work in the world will be done.

From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: shepherd(ing)

Symmetry: words in brief

This morning I came across photos of Australian artist Shona Wilson’s work with ephemeral nature mandalas, intricate creations of precise symmetry constructed out of the tiniest plant parts. My breath seems to slow down when I am presented with this order, or when I can conjure it myself in small symmetrical experiments on paper or in compositions of collected parts. My favourite folk art from Poland is the circular cut-paper wycinanki of the Lublin region where I was born, delicate wheels of geometric shapes, foliage and repeated creatures, paper snowflakes taken to a higher plane. I’m soothed by balance, by the perfection of mandalas and medicine wheels, all those radiating mesmerizing mirrors of quarters and eights. Most of us are. We crave the visual representation of the ideal, of the divine. Of a perfect reciprocity and balance elusive to our brittle messy entropic world.

From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: symmetry.

 

Lair: words in brief

This has been a winter of burrowing, hiding out in my lair like a mammal in hibernation, or a wild creature tending its wounds. Digging deep into the earth of myself, I imagine myself as grounded. It’s an internal process, I admit, not visible to everyone I encounter on my daily travels. This week I read the Handless Maiden chapter in Women Who Run with the Wolves, a book that keeps coming forward to meet me when I need its wisdom. She writes of the woman undergoing initiation, soul deep underground, but body anchored firmly in the daily rituals of the outer world. I feel this too, core strength and discipline rising like a tree out of the soil in the barren months of winter, but with vitality humming down in the roots, threading deep in the soil, sap preparing to run.

From my daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: lair. This is from two weeks ago. 

Plummet: words in brief

We climbed up an alternate route, off the trail, always the way it was done, scrambling hands and knees up the muddy slope, me in the heat deciding to take off my boots. Once I took them off, I wanted one more step and then one more, and then stubbornness took over. A spring awakening of my thin skin through all those hours exposed. Over sharp rocks, cool mud, soft moss, tough roots, the prickly dried grasses of last fall emerged not so long ago from under the snow. Brushing by swathes of trillium in bloom, delicate lady’s slippers, columbine. Up to the top of Old Baldy, high up above the hawks wheeling, deer tracks nimbly preceding us out to the rocky outcrop. I climbed down to a lower ledge, held my back tight to the rock. I couldn’t remember whether vertigo was a fear of heights or a pull towards the edge, the fear that one will be lured to jump by the strange magic of earth’s gravity. Of course I imagined leaping, circling boldly with the hawks, suspended in air. I didn’t imagine the plummet.

Word prompt: plummet. Daily writing practice by email with three women across the continent. This is from the backlog.