There’s no shame in using an abundance of caution in times of pandemic. This is new to all of us. If you’ve been instructed to stay home, and if it is at all possible: Stay home. If you must go out, wash your hands, and wash your hands, and wash your hands again. Check on your neighbors and beloveds by phone or email or text. How can we help each other during these times?
Settle in. Get some exercise. Read. Paint. Play games and do puzzles. Write that book.
Gratitude List: 1. We saw both Golda and Gator in the pond today. She’s a golden koifish, the Queen of the Pondrealm. He is a Vietnamese Algae Eater, enormous and hard to spot. They often swim together. I didn’t see Gator last season. I figured he had died. But there he was today, looming in the depths. 2. Long walks. I am pushing my step-count up for the weeks that I am home, trying to use the time to get in shape. 3. Tree-shadows striping the fields and hills. 4. Good rest. I am sleeping better these days. 5. Poetry.
When I taught at a Waldorf School, we taught a little poem to the children: There live in me an image of all that I could be. Until I have become it, my heart is never free.
For some reason, as I try to recall it, my mind always substitutes “shadow” for “image.” It’s like something tickling at the back of my brain is trying to remind me that I am not only what can be seen on the surface, but that there’s something else there, too, some deeper me that needs to be recognized and integrated before I am truly whole and free.
Several years ago, I wrote a poem on the subject:
Shadow I will be Crow. Stone Steps to the Lady Shrine. Spider’s tidy strands. Moss. Pine cone. Lichen. White stone.
Lady, what have you to say to me?
There lives in me a shadow. . . Water trickling in the grotto. Bark of the Sycamore Tree. Crow. Willow. Acorn. Sparrow.
What have you to say?
An image of all that I could be. Ladybug on Her child’s chubby knee. Spider in the fold of Her robe. Green leaf. Cool breeze. Whisper. Oak trees.
Become the Shadow.
I am the Crow and the Spider. Scent of new boxwood. The whisk-footed Squirrel. Egg sac. Chickweed. Web. Speedwell.
(From Song of the Toad and the Mockingbird by Elizabeth Weaver-Kreider, Skunk Holler Poetryworks, 2013.)
When I look into my own shadows, they’re composed of as many subtle colors and hues as the ones that intersect across my living room floor in the mornings. Some are indeed frightening and uncomfortable, because they are unknown, because they hold the secrets of my unresolved and unacknowledged self. Others hold a thrill, because they hide the daring and adventurous and wild side of me, because they harbor the self hinted at in my dreams. They whisper to me, ask me to take up the work they have.
The various personality and temperament studies I have done often point toward shadow work, to exploring those unexplored regions inside. I have found the Enneagram to be particularly helpful in this work. In the Enneagram, I am a pretty standard Seven, an Enthusiast. I call it Hedonist, to remind myself of the shadow possibilities. The Enthusiast wants to enjoy life to the fullest. What choose one option when five will do? We tend to overschedule ourselves, to take on more than we can handle, to eat too much and drink too much. We have a thousand unfinished projects because we want to try everything. We can be enjoyable companions because we like to pile on the fun. Some of the shadows that dog me are hoarding and gluttony and pain avoidance. There isn’t time or attention span enough to handle all the projects and ideas and things that I want to take on. And I get so excited about the next new thing that I avoid the actual work of other things I have committed myself to. In this case, working with my shadows means knowing this pitfalls, working with the anxiety that comes with saying no to the next new and exciting thing that comes along, learning to discipline myself to do the next thing that might bring work or pain.
And there are shadowselves that call me to integrate my the wilder, fiercer, more daring part of me into my everyday self. The shadows call: “Don’t let yourself be tamed! Don’t become domesticated! Don’t settle into safety and predictability. Don’t settle for the status quo.” It’s these shadowselves that raise their heads when everyday systems of oppression and injustice, patterns that everyone seems to accept, make us raise our heads and look around and start to ask questions. In order to live in a world that actively creates unjust systems, parts of ourselves slide into the shadows in order to function with minimal pain and less of the jarring sense of contradiction. Change in the world comes about when we let these sleeping shadows wake up and live within us.
Here, on the eighth day of our journey into the shadows of the December labyrinth, let’s walk into those rooms where our shadows wait, and examine their colors and shapes and textures. What might they have to teach us? This afternoon, I must tackle some things I have been avoiding, and set up a plan for myself to focus instead of fluttering from bright and shiny thing to bright and shiny thing.
What goal will you set for yourself? Maybe your natural state is to try to control all the details, and today you will let go of control? Maybe you’re dogged by particular shadow anxieties, and today is the day to look at them more closely, perhaps in the company of a beloved who can help you? Perhaps today is the day to wake up some sleepy shadows and start to make a plan to break the chains in an oppressive system that profits from your sleepiness?
Envisioning: (At the beginning of Advent, my pastor asked us to hold the swords-into-ploughshares vision in our heads, to look for stories of people choosing that vision. For the next little while, I am going to look for such stories as my daily morning meditation.)
I think of the people of Landisville Mennonite Church and others who work with them to be companions to refugees and asylum seekers and immigrants who have been detained in York County Prison. These people are holding a vision of a welcoming community that helps people find their way in a new place. A group of people has come out of this work to raise money to pay the bonds for immigrants in the York detention center. Their website is IBAEPA.org, The Immigration Bond and Advocacy effort, if you would like to participate in their making their vision a reality.
I’ve been thinking about my poetic process, looking through some of the neglected poems that I want to figure out how to publish, and realizing that quite a number of my poems are myth-making poems. I use poetry as a DIY Mything process, taking my own experiences and observations and transmuting them into myths. This thought is tangling with the threads of my current morning writing project of working with the Inanna story. Storytelling, writing, speaking–this whole language gig–is all about how we make meaning in the world. Art, too, as a communicative process, is about charging existence with meaning.
Gratitude List: 1. Meaning-making, DIY Myth-making, poetry, art, communication 2. Participating in a Literary Festival, listening, learning, absorbing 3. Good writing 4. How the sun shines in 5. Oak trees
May we walk in Beauty!
I’ve been thinking again about the process of poetry. In my AP Literature class recently, I have had the students choose a poetic form, no matter how lofty and traditional or edgy and nonsensical, to teach to the class. We’ve had some delightful lessons this week, learning the Magic 9 and the Nonet and the Rondeau and the Fib, among others. Yesterday, we found ourselves with a little extra time after the presentations, and we were ready to do our own thing, so we spent half the period creating our own poetic form! We developed our own rules for our own Lit Poetic Form. The process was delicious and intensely collaborative. At the end, we came up with this:
Lit Poem Two stanzas of seven lines each. It’s a word-count poem, with the following pattern: Stanza 1: 1, 3, 5, 7, 5, 3, 1 (It makes a diamond shape) Stanza 2: 7, 5, 3, 1, 3, 5, 7 (This one makes an hourglass form) When you put them together, they look somewhat like a lit candle. (Get it?) The rhyme scheme goes like this: Stanza 1: abcxcba (in which x is random and unrhymed) Stanza 2: cbaxabc (in which x is also random, and not necessarily rhymed with the first x)
This is how we make meaning. We spent twenty minutes collaboratively creating a world, complete with its order and purpose. Now we have to write the poems to prove its viability.
Gratitude List: 1. Dreaming of crows. The way poet/priestesses unpack the images. Snuggling my shadows. 2. Today I had so many opportunities to do my WORK. Teaching is my vocation, and I love so much about it, but the best thing about it is that it lets me do my Work. It includes tears and hugs and hard conversations and so much self-reflection. 3. Curiosity. When people get curious about each other. Curiosity is a fine engineer, building bridges of gossamer web and light across chasms. But stronger bridges than you can imagine. 4. This fine boy of mine, who keeps being ahead of himself in so many ways. Perhaps what I mean to say is that he is ahead of my perceptions. Or that he grows into whatever space he enters. With grace and thoughtfulness. . .and curiosity (there it is again). He leaves a stage of childhood behind tonight at his eighth grade graduation. 5. Cool breezes. This means exactly what it says, because my room is hot as a sauna. But then it means more than that because your poems and your wisdom and your presence in the world are cool breezes to me, my friends.
Gratitude List: 1. Wise and compassionate friends who help me to explore and understand my rage, to settle it, to channel it, to use it.
2. There are always so many new things to learn, so many steps to learn.
3. Sun and shadows on snow.
5. Flan–One of my students brought me a huge slice today. Heaven.
The birdwatcher. Even the arthritis didn’t keep him from a little birdwatching during the storm. (Yes, the chair is getting pretty beat-up. Still, it has a shabby charm that we can’t give up just yet.)
We walk the Coyote Road.
Our eyes are full of night.
A thousand sacred sounds
fill the soft bowls of our ears.
That’s the start of something. I’ll get back to it, find its rhythm. I tend to write poems in snatches and dribs these days, between a stack of student essays, or after reading another chapter to the boys.
Gratitude List: 1. Strengthening–I am adding a little extra exercise to my day. Little but little, I feel myself strengthening.
2. That pasta with cream sauce and spinach and peas that Jon makes.
3. The two-hour delay today was especially needed after last night’s insomnia. I had a craving for some cheese, and that seemed to help me to get back to sleep. Maybe i’ll try warmed milk next time.
4. Tree shadows on snow
5. Passing blessings around
In this book of Native American poems and rituals, “Language Event II” is labelled Navajo, and goes like this:
Hold a conversation in which everything refers to water.
If somebody comes in the room, say: “Someone’s floating in.”
If someone sits down, say: “It looks like someone just stopped floating.”
(Shaking the Pumpkin: Traditional Poetry of the Native American Indians, edited by Jerome Rothenberg)
That’s all there is to it. It reads like a drama exercise or a poetry writing prompt.
I keep trying to write a poem, but none are swimming my way at the moment. Perhaps this is one I’ll try as a verbal exercise throughout the day and see if my children notice.
Gratitude List: 1. A snow day.
2. The way those indigo afternoon shadows flowed across the snowy landscape.
3. The way snow brings every branch and twig into high relief.
4. Persephone never fails to return. She will rise.
5. Fresh start. Tabula rasa. Blank pages. Snowy fields.
A little sun, a slight shift up the thermometer, and I catch my stride again, find my way back into my life. I’m glad we got all those boxes of Giveaway ready earlier in the week. I know that packing boxes would not have helped to lift me out of the puddle of winter blues–it requires too much psychic attention. But carrying them out of the house and putting them in the trunk, taking them to Reuzit–that was a definite pick-me-up. Now the energy flows through the house with a little more grace.
Beth’s Personal Remedies for Winter Blues: (not guaranteed to work for everyone, but it might be worth a shot) 1. Make Gratitude Lists
2. Notice the shadows and footprints on the snow
3. Do yoga tree poses. Lots of tree poses. And king dancer poses. And warrior poses. Laugh when you fall. Keep trying.
4. Get rid of Stuff. Being a Manager of Stuff is energy-sapping at the best of times, but in Winter, it’s numbing.
5. Sometimes: Give in to it. Wrap up in a blanket on the recliner, read a book, and drink lots of tea.
Speaking of getting rid of stuff, I found this great little list at the Pachamama Alliance:
I posted it on my Facebook site, and people began to add to it:
Joyfully do without
Re-vamp, re-fashion, create
So many good ideas.
What would you add?
How can we support each other in community
to do these things rather than settling for the easy path of buying more
plastic junk that won’t last and that we don’t really need, and probably don’t
really want, if we’re really honest with ourselves?
Gratitude List: 1. A good tutor. I feel much more confident about my computer savvy after just an hour of good help.
2. Fish tacos
3. Conversations about grief, sharing stories, opening hearts. I have such wise, compassionate friends.
4. Conversations about Culture and Civilization–more good semantic distinctions to be made. Civilization has gotten us into a peck of trouble, has it not? How does it differ from culture? What do we pass on to our children–what culture do we share with them? I have such wonderful, thoughtful friends.
5. The light within us all. I don’t know how to write this one, because it comes out of a really challenging conversation about why people harm other people, even when they know better, about why people engage in bullying behavior. I recognize too, that I have shadows myself, some unhealthy shadows. That’s crunchy. But liberating.