I’ve been on this trail before (a poem)

I’ve been on this trail before,

walking

with small, grumbling children –

hungry, tired –

but that’s not what we remember now:

we remember the snake,

the hawk circling overhead,

the bridge across the wide river,

spaciousness.

And now,

the wheels of this borrowed bike

rattling in the worn grooves of earth,

children speeding ahead,

the goldenrod and asters,

the sumac leaves turning,

the apples fallen on the path,

the sun and shade,

and the darkness of the forest

lurking at my eye’s corners.

My heart is full, bursting

with the lure of the tall trees,

the valleys and shadows

beckoning

with mysteries at the edge of sight.

I could slip off, wander deep,

lose myself here

for a while.

But today I stay,

on this well-trod path,

keeping pace,

keeping my word,

savouring the joy

of this small adventure,

and how much grace is granted to me

in every moment

of this blessed life.

She Who Stays and She Who Goes (a poem)

I am the fire-tender,

the one who weaves the basket,

who puts down her stake and says,

“Here I stay.”

The one who catches and grounds,

protects and nurtures,

who sits in the circle,

and holds the world together:

She Who Stays.

I am the wanderer,

the one who walks out alone,

the restless, impatient one,

who sets out on foot

on the long journey:

to cross the mountain,

to fight the dragon,

to seek enlightenment.

The one who leaves all behind,

and tears the world apart:

She Who Goes.

The yin and the yang of me are stretched thin to breaking.

Spell of protection (a poem)

These words are a spell of protection.

They come from deep in the Earth.

They fill me with the grace I need

to make my way in this perilous world.

They come from the the stars,

from my ancestors,

from the deep fires at the Earth’s core,

from the rushing waters out of which I was born.

They come from the spreading roots of the low plants,

whose green life sustains my own;

from the searching roots of the tall trees,

whose branches reach and twist upwards,

whose strength is always at my back.

They come from the sure-footed creatures,

and the soft-winged creatures,

who travel the forest’s edge,

who whisper to me in ancient voices,

when my ears are ready to listen.

They come from those who walk beside me,

human and more than human,

those who shift their shape with ease,

at home in water, in sky,

in the tangled forest undergrowth,

and in the soft welcoming darkness of the warm Earth.

They come from my heart’s sure knowledge of love,

from the fires banked within my body,

from the simple and complex truths,

of skin and flesh and bone.

They come from passion,

and also kindness,

and from my trust in the truth of my own soul’s song.

They come from my fierce commitments

to those who accompany me on this journey,

and to Creation,

and to Mystery,

and to Love.

You, fragmented by love (a poem)

Sometimes you wake at night

and feel the pulsing of love

in your heart.

You sort through your catalogue of love,

the many-coloured samples.

Sometimes you paint love with sweeping brushstrokes

into your dark corners

and it seeps deep down

to the places you thought

you had carefully sealed.

Your work is particular

but not always measured.

You linger, sometimes, over a detail,

something particularly fine;

but sometimes you are so saturated

with love,

it is like water seeping through your barricades,

slipping in and loosening the boards,

and finding its way even between

the cracks,

so that you are slowly pulled apart,

splintered, and then fragmented,

into a dusting of particles, like sand;

and you can no longer gather yourself

together

into the shape

of what you once were.

Advice to self

Listen:

You heart tells you what you need.

Ignore the advice,

The words of men in books telling you to carve a separate path.

You are part of a thread,

That stretches into the infinite past,

The infinite future.

Your hands reach out to your ancestors,

To your descendants.

The world is not a battleground,

It is a garden.

It is an organism

Of which you are a necessary cell.

You do not need to cut the joy out of your life

To create.

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Last week I skimmed through The War of Art in a bookstore, while in the midst of reading The Buddha’s Wife: The Path of Awakening Together. What a contrast in world-views. In that moment I resented the first (although I will take what I need and leave the rest behind) and was inspired by the second.

How do I create while always in relationship, when I choose not to take the path of shutting the door on the outside world, when I am not prepared to outsource any part of my life, when there are always multiple priorities in front of me?

Always in relationship, always in chaos, always in gratitude, I accept moments of serendipity that open up for me when I need them.

Journeys into the soul of the city

The city I’ve lived in for most of twenty years now is a city threaded through by ravines and river valleys.  Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time in some of them: walking, biking, exploring, tracking animals, playing games with kids, listening, wading, watching, thinking, grounding myself, writing.

I love that the wildest places in this city are under the level of streets and sidewalks and tall buildings. I love being in the depths of the ravines and not being able to see the city above me. I love going down into this network of rivers, creeks and paths, especially on a quiet summer evening, and feeling a mystery and wildness nestled deep down in the abundant greenness of it.

Other cities have mountains, Toronto has valleys. There’s something about ravines that makes me think of Bill Plotkin’s definition of soul versus spirit in his book Soulcraft. 

By soul I mean the vital, mysterious, and wild core of our individual selves, an essence unique to each person, qualities found in layers of the self much deeper than our personalities. By spirit I mean the single, great, and eternal mystery that permeates and animates everything in the universe and yet transcends all.”

Ravines are to soul what mountains are to spirit. We ascend a mountain and see all around us; see how we are small in relation to the hugeness of the world, and how we are a tiny element connected to the vast mystery around us. At the top of a mountain we move towards transcendence and unity. We descend into a valley and find the wild, secret core of the place we live in and of ourselves; find ourselves on a journey into the recesses of our own heart and soul, strange and particular. We discover our own specific gifts to bring back to the world. We need to descend into soul before we can ascend into spirit.

Last weekend I paddled on the Humber River for the first time in all of the years I’ve lived here. An urban river, contradictory: beautiful and full of life, but also polluted and carrying death. Not the river it once was, before the European settlers came.

On the river on a warm summer morning, the city is hardly visible. There are egrets, herons, kingfishers and lots of water and shore birds all around, basking turtles by the dozen, muskrats swimming; and turning a corner, a still and silent and beautiful buck, watching us with his soft brown eyes. There are cattail marshes and islands, and lots of answers to questions I’ve had about this river and its inhabitants over the years, and lots of new questions and mysteries to engage me.

I’m learning – perhaps later in life than some do – that paddling on rivers has a rightness to it for me, like snowshoeing all day in deep snow, that meets an urgent need in my own soul.  This particular river journey was brief, like and also completely unlike paddling on a wilder river away from the city.  But paddling on a river in a valley that is part of the deep core of this city that I love – despite its flaws – is part of an ongoing conversation between my own core and that of the city, part of an engagement and commitment to grounding myself in the place where I live.

In that way, it brought me closer to the soul of the city and closer to my own soul.

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In this city

There are rivers like veins

Buried deep

You can paddle

Drift

To the heart of things

To the wild, secret places

Where the deer sleep.

 

deer on Humber riverturtles on Humber

The language of birds

Recently I spent a weekend at a workshop on bird language led by Jon Young, a deeply inspiring naturalist, tracker, and mentor; and author of What the Robin Knows. The language of birds – I always love the way it sounds, secret and mysterious.

In practice, the format involves covering a piece of land with quiet listeners; each person individually recording the tone of the voices of the birds around them (relaxed song, alarm, companion calls to check in, etc.); bringing it all together in a series of expanding maps of the territory; and slowly watching a story emerge. And then doing it over and over again until you become fluent.

Songbirds comment on everything. They have to. It’s how they survive, and all of the other animals know how to interpret what they’re saying. The language of birds is the language of the forest, the field, the swamp, even of your backyard. Learning to listen in on this is an amazing naturalist skill. You start to anticipate what is going to happen – the hawk swooping in, the bobcat slowly walking through the forest, the erratic movements of the weasel. You know where the predators are. You read the forest as a constantly communicating organism. Seeing people interpret the subtleties of this blows my mind.

I have a long way to go on this. Really a very long way. But I am learning that tuning in to what the birds are saying is a form of meditation. Their constant vulnerability, their constant communication moves me; it teaches me to be present; it teaches me to listen; it teaches me empathy.

Companion Voices

I stood under the trees

Rain dripping

I swayed like a tree myself

Rustled my branches, my leaves

Shifted my weight gently

Rooted myself into that place

If only for a while.

I heard above me the small metallic sound

Of a bird speaking to its mate:

Red throat, white breast, black wings

Its mate a soft brown,

Holding each other

In this voiced embrace.

For a moment, a tiny tanager joined them,

A gift of red and black

My first

Then gone.

The pair persisted

Soft and insistent

Never letting go.

I wondered

How can we speak to those we love

As birds call to their mates, their flock?

This is the trust

Of reciprocity

Its even rhythm

Its intimacy

Its commitment.

This morning the forest voiced interdependence to me

In a pair of birds.

 

Why I keep choosing my journal over my blog and what I mean to do about it

I suspect that I am underusing this blog. From posting once a week when I started last summer, I’m down to posting once a month. I wait for inspiration; I get through the rest of my to-do list first; I edit things slowly. It takes me up to a week of loitering to post anything after I’ve written it. The process seems full of obstacles, real and imaginary.

And in the meantime – in my real, everyday life – I write copious amounts in my notebook/journal every week. I love writing for myself – it’s like speaking to a dear friend. Unconditional listening with no judgement. Some occasional heartfelt advice. Words of wisdom gleaned from greater writers and thinkers than myself. To-do lists and notes from meetings and conference calls. Intricate doodles from those same long calls. And then moments of poetry. DSC06359

Rereading my journals sustains me through challenging moments – I can step away and recognize my emotions and processes as waves that pass over me, clouds moving across the sky. When I am absorbed in feeling I am often surprised at how differently I felt a week ago, a month ago, a year ago. I start to see the patterns and cycles, and know that this too shall pass.

If I could save one thing in my house from a fire – apart from the people – it would be my stack of notebooks. Even the thought of that loss clenches a knot in my stomach.

A public forum is not a natural fit for me. A deep conversation with a friend or two or three is. But I’m learning that the trick to being a highly relational, sociable introvert – which I am – is to make every relationship  as personal, particular, and intimate as possible, and then gather all of those beloved people together often.

I want to keep stretching myself to share writing with people who are not yet in that safe space with me. Because as I keep telling my kids, as I encourage them into new situations, every dear friend, everyone I now love, was once someone I didn’t know. And I had to take a risk to welcome them into my life. And so I will choose to continue to take those risks both privately and publicly. Because the potential rewards are huge.

But to write anything to public consumption requires me to give myself a big push, every time.

And so perhaps it is time for some quicker sketches. Conversations starters. Experiments. I am inspired by Rozanne’s and Brooke’s 100 Scribbles. I am not committing myself to a daily post right now (perhaps never!) – I’m away from internet contact intermittently at various times of year, and I like it that way. But I will up the volume, and focus on economy of words. Loosen up. Reduce the stakes. Let go of the curse of professionalism. Just create and share something. And so I believe this is the perfect time to experiment with poetry, which I have been doing the past couple of months. Because why write an essay when it’s so often one simple image that I am trying to carve out. I will start with this one.

A map of the world

I learned once in a dream

That the answer is to dance

To dance across the intricate

Patterns of life

Its forms and permutations

Lift off

Levitate

Leap

In my dream

My body caught celebration

Radiated into wholeness

Hummed with the hum of the spinning universe

Every creature, every tree and plant and micro-organism

Was mapped

Under the loving rhythms of my feet.