Getting to the Next Story

The Bird Watcher

In last night’s dream: I am trying to find my way to the second floor of the building I am in, but the stairs are really hard to negotiate. They a metal rail stair/ladder that starts four feet off the ground. If I can scramble up onto them, I’ll have to squeeze through a tiny little hole in order to get to the next story.

(Huh. Getting to the next story, eh?)

After I search all over, I finally find an elevator and stand there waiting with some others, and it suddenly hits me–within the dream itself–that this is a constant pattern in my dreamtime: I am very often trying to find the next level, the next story, and I am thwarted by challenging climbs and claustrophobic entrances. Occasionally, there are broad and wide staircases, or hidden safe passages, and there’s the occasional elevator that might just take me anywhere.

I wonder if I am experiencing a period of disjuncture between my heart and my head, unable to find my way safely between the two? That’s got a dream-worker’s reasonableness to it, and I will definitely explore that as an ongoing theme in my life with such a powerful symbol recurring again and again and again.

Or perhaps I feel myself and my world in a time of transition between one thing and the next, and the route from point A to point B feels particularly treacherous and difficult.

That last certainly suits my sense of the times. Here we are on this level where we’ve always done things a certain way (which has for so many, been tragic and deadly), and we need to make it to that next level. We need to climb and crawl and wriggle into the next story. In the case of our national dream, people’s lives depend upon it. We must get to the next story, and we’re going to have to help each other reach that ladder way up there, and when we get to the top, each of us is going to have to deal with our own discomfort and anxiety as we wriggle through the birth passage into the next reality.

Can we do it?


Gratitude List:
1. All the anti-racism resources for learning and growth that are floating around social media right now. Quite a lot of the books on the lists were already on my list to read, but I will make extra time for them this summer, and I am going to compile some lists to post in my classroom.
2. I don’t like taking allopathics if I can help it. I have, as usual, been trying all the herbal and other remedies and therapies for my allergies, but every once in a while, I just need something huge to calm down my body’s hyperactive response to defend me from tree pollen. I’m glad I have that option. My body has definitely shifted out of crisis mode for the moment.
3. The hospitable strangers of the Swann Street Siege. While a twisted tableau of faux faith was occurring down the way, Rahul and his neighbors–whatever their belief system–were acting in the way that The Good Teacher asked humans to act toward each other, harboring people who were frightened and harmed, feeding them and tending their injuries, and managing the boundaries of their homes to keep their guests safe. Hospitality has been a sacred trust between humans in many cultures around the world since first we knew ourselves human.
4. I am grateful for statements and resources being offered by institutions that I love and belong to. Mennonites as a group got it so wrong in the 50s and 60s, holding back, not speaking out (except for individuals). To read the Mennonite Church USA statement yesterday, supporting those who are demanding racial justice and explaining why All Lives Matter is tone-deaf and inappropriate was satisfying. My school has put out a statement of solidarity and a list of resources. The church I attend has formulated a statement of support as well. Yes, we have to put our feet in the story, too, but statements are like signposts for people to follow.
5. Lots of windows. I am on a critical lockdown at the moment, keeping the house closed and not venturing outside while the trees are in the height of their pollen-producing time. Still, I can look out and watch the squirrel with the excessively long tail, the chonky chipmunk, and all the wingfolk flashing by.

May we walk in Beauty! And Solidarity.


“We will not know our own injustice if we cannot imagine justice. We will not be free if we do not imagine freedom. We cannot demand that anyone try to attain justice and freedom who has not had a chance to imagine them as attainable.”
―Ursula K. Le Guin


“Each of us has lived through some devastation, some loneliness, some weather superstorm or spiritual superstorm. When we look at each other we must say, I understand. I understand how you feel because I have been there myself. We must support each other because each of us is more alike than we are unalike.” ―Maya Angelou


TS Eliot:
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”


“Authentic spirituality is always about changing yourself. It is not about trying to change anyone else.” ―Richard Rohr


“Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” ―L.M. Montgomery


“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” ―Jorge Luis Borges

Exhaustion and Exhortation (What’s With the H?)

Gratitude List:
1. The play, while it was absolutely marvelous, is over. I only ushered, and I am exhausted. My son the sound engineer is more tired than I, and I am sure the actors are working on a deficit. It’s going to be a gentle week in my classroom, I think.
2. Fall color. The maple trees are on fire.
3. Listening ears.
4. Challenge. I am trying to lean into the challenges, and accept what they will teach me. Does this get harder with age? Or am I just in a phase of comfort-seeking? In my dream last night, I was afraid to scale a large rock, but when it came to it, I scrambled up without effort. I will carry that sense of personal empowerment with me.
5. Slow and steady wins the race. That’s more of an exhortation than a gratitude. So personal exhortations will be my fifth gratitude. When I find myself in a negative self-talk loop, I’ll add exhortations. You’ve got this, Grrrrl.

May we walk in Beauty!

(Isn’t that “h” in exhaustion and exhortation an interesting bit of extra and perhaps unheeded breathiness? I do like it. Say exhaustion with the “h” and it has a nice helpful exhale in the middle. Exhale–that’s an “h” that definitely gets pronounced. It’s almost onomatopoetic: It sounds like what it is. And the almost enunciated “h” in exhortation is fortifying. Try saying that one in the word, and you’re ready to conquer that coming challenge. Remember to breathe!)

Revolution of the Heart

“The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us?” ―Dorothy Day
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“I have long since come to believe that people never mean half of what they say, and that it is best to disregard their talk and judge only their actions.” ―Dorothy Day
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“Don’t worry about being effective. Just concentrate on being faithful to the truth.”
―Dorothy Day
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“I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.”
―Dorothy Day
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“The Gospel takes away our right forever, to discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving poor.”
―Dorothy Day
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I’m not very good at praying, but what I experience when I’m writing a poem is close to prayer. I feel it in different degrees and not with every poem. But in certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” ―Denise Levertov
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“Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps because I am afraid, and he gives me courage.”
―Gandalf
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“Look deep into nature and you will understand everything better.” ―attributed to Albert Einstein
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Look into me, for I am the light in your eyes. ―Rumi
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“People say, what is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.”
―Dorothy Day
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“When it comes down to it, even on the natural plane, it is much happier and more enlivening to love than to be loved.”
―Dorothy Day
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“Paperwork, cleaning the house, dealing with the innumerable visitors who come all through the day, answering the phone, keeping patience and acting intelligently, which is to find some meaning in all that happens–these things, too, are the works of peace.”
―Dorothy Day
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“An act of love, a voluntary taking on oneself of some of the pain of the world, increases the courage and love and hope of all.” ―Dorothy Day


Gratitude List:
1. I hear: My family members singing and humming and whispering to themselves as they go about the work and play of the evening.
2. I see: Incredible photos that my friends post online. Such beauty there is in the world, and such tender eyes my friends have to notice and mark it.
3. I feel: The perfect temperatures of this week. A little cool, a little warm. Thermal delight.
4. I smelled: Coffee brewing.
5. I tasted: Broccoli on toast with melted cheese. And applesauce. Delicious supper.

May we walk in Beauty!

Visitors

IMAG1733
Yesterday, just after Ellis and I got home from school, all four of us were hanging out at the picnic table, talking about our days, when a vulture (I think turkey) flew low above the poplar tree and settled on the telephone pole at the end of the drive. I managed to grab my camera, and just as I  raised it and got into position for the photo, she opened her arms and turned her head like this. Like someone from an ancient Egyptian papyrus.  Holy moment.

If you don’t know me, and only read my daily gratitude lists, I wonder if my life might come across as unbalancedly charmed and positive. Five things every day to be grateful for. Happiness, joy, contentment, satisfaction. It really is all there. But every life has its challenges and pain, too.

If this daily practice of inward-looking is teaching me anything, it is that the examined life must name and engage all the feelings and experiences that enter the heart.  And the practice of intentionally naming the gratitudes isn’t about ignoring the pain, or even simply putting the difficult things into context so that I can look away and only focus on the wonder and the loveliness. Sometimes it is about looking the hardest things in the eye and welcoming them in, too. Friendship and love bring us support and companionship and deep satisfaction, but opening the heart to others means that we share their griefs, carry their pain, open ourselves to the risks of broken relationships.  Noticing the hummingbird nest in the sycamore tree brings falling-down-on-your-knees wonder and daily magic, but it also makes heat waves and storms and predators anxious realities when your heart is filled with the fragile life of tiny birds. And wonder is not only the exquisitely impossible hummingbird, but the ancient bald vulture opening her wings in the sun.

My favorite poem on this topic is Rumi’s “Guesthouse”

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Jellaludin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks

Gratitude List:
1. The vulture visitor
2. Yesterday I finally saw a hummingbird baby peeking a tiny head over the rim of the nest after the mother flew away. First a tiny ruffly wing, then the needle beak, then the round marble of a head–smaller than a marble! My heart fell down on its knees.
3. Welcoming it all, open-winged, like the vulture on the pole
4. Challenges that keep me from complacency
5. Fierce and tender mothers. My sister friends, holding each other through difficult times. Hummingbird.

May we walk in Beauty!

(Blank) Sheet, a Grouchy Little Poem

<Prompt 4: (Blank) Sheet> I really did have this one finished yesterday, but I fell asleep in the recliner while I was waiting for my turn at the computer.  I am having a little more trouble trusting Mockingbird this year.  I want my poems to be just a little more polished before I post them.  I don’t want to go with first impulses, which feel flimsy and light.  Instead of trusting that writing will bring the inspiration, I am waiting around and pushing for it.  Then I get stuck.  So this poem turned into a complaint.  Here goes:

A sure-fire method to freeze the gears,
to gum up the fine workings of the Muse:

Tell the poet to write
about the Blank Sheet.

The Blank Sheet is the yawning chasm
we stare into, the poet’s dark
and treacherous Void.
It draws me in like a moth
to the challenge and the danger.

Tell me not to think about the elephant
and suddenly everywhere I see an elephant.

 

I need to keep reminding myself that the first time I did this, lots of days were duds.  The whole point is to keep the lines open, to keep fluid and hopeful, to begin to shape the inner work of the daily life into pieces of a poetic puzzle that fit together.  Even though something in me is cringing at my early attempts, this grouchy little poem is exactly what I needed today, even if it won’t make the chapbook.  Today’s prompt (I will try to be more prompt in execution) is a two-fer: Write a concealed poem.  Unconceal everything.

2013 November 008

Gratitude List:
1.  Pushing through
2.  Those leaves!  I feel as I if I died and went to Vermont.
3.  Rilke
4.  Elephants
5.  Endings and Beginnings: Today begins the last week of CSA shares for the 2014 season.  Now we gear up for December shares.

May we walk in Beauty.