Sunday, January 29, 2012

Soul Friend Beauty

"Music is what language would love to be if it could." John O'Donohue

From the beauty of the changing sky, from the trees, from "the ancient conversation between the ocean and the stones," we always have the choice, the opportunity to create an inner landscape of beauty.

Beware, in this world, of mistaking glamor for beauty.

Learn the art of inwardness, for there in the presence of inner beauty one may find one's true home.

You never walk the same path twice, or twice sing the same song, step in the same stream twice or write the same poem twice.

Trust your own encounter with primary sources. How do we know beauty? We feel more alive in its presence.

Our family awaits the arrival of a new life, growing. The essence of primary source. In this crowded world, here, too, is beauty.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Shall we dance?

This afternoon we shall have rain instead of snow. How can I be sad for less work and struggle, more comfort for me? Let us learn to dance in wind and fire and sing the songs of all the creatures that lived among us just two centuries ago or less who are found now only in museums.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


On January 16 I wrote a blog that didn't post and in my weirdness I didn't realize. But then-- well, other stuff. So I posted it today-- and it posted in the January 16 slot. So.

Today I had a lovely walk in a spring-like day. I can't help but worry about such warm winter days. I see bulbs pushing up leaves, and trees coming into early bud. We could still be in for sub-zero nights before spring, and the buds...

Yet I also can't help but feel pleasure in the freedom from the weight of many layers of clothes, the privilege of an easy stroll by the creek in conversation with an interesting neighbor. After giving thanks for days of snow, then ice, and lots of fog, here comes another day in which to love whatever comes in the moment.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Layers by Stanley Kunitz

The Layers

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
"Live in the layers,
not on the litter."
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.
~Stanley Kunitz

Kunitz copyrighted "The Layers" in 1978. He had some maturity from which to write. Born in Worcester, Massachusetts on July 29, 1905, he received both his bachelor's and master's degrees from Harvard. He was the United States Poet Laureate in 2000, and the above poem was published then in the book The Collected Poems (W.W. Norton). Kunitz said of his work, "If I hadn't had an urgent impulse, if the poem didn't seem to be terribly important, I never wanted to write it and didn't." He died May 14, 2006.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Tribe of true affections

Another sentence in the Stanley Kunitz poem "The Layers" says,
"Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!"

True affections? Maybe people, family and friends. Yes, a tribe. Maybe formal training and work experiences, practiced or abandoned. Yes, a tribe. Maybe hopes and life dreams, some achieved and experienced, some abandoned. Yes, a tribe. What other elements? Pets... Writings... Music... Habits... Collections... Oh, the list can be long. I wonder, what's on your list of true affections?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Need Fulfillment

Sunday one of my determinedly cheerful friends lit a candle celebrating community, celebrating his claim that if you ask for help then help will be given. What a fine notion. In the non-dualistic reality where I live, though, help directly given only sometimes meets a need. Asking for and receiving from another the help one needs seems a marvelous but insufficient method of creating and sustaining one's life.

"Live in the layers, / not on the litter," Stanley Kunitz writes, deep into his poem "The Layers." Reach through surface and humus to far-down bedrock; extend fingertips into the clouds and beyond. Occasionally a friend from the lives-in-another-skin community can and will meet an expressed need. More frequently our needs are met in the internal community through which we brush along with everyone else, most needs (identified or not) met in mysterious, indirect paths of intention and struggle, body chemistry, life habits that carry us, changes big and subtle over which we have small yet insistent control.

"What do you need to feel better?" asks one line of the doctor's routine-visit questionnaire. That question confounds me. I wonder how he would answer that question. Do you have an answer, a true answer?

This morning snow covers the world within my horizons and sleet is presently falling. The sun rose behind thick clouds, its light so diffuse the world seems monochrome. Close up I distinguish dark green pines, beige stalks of under growth in the woods, variegated browns and winter moss colors on tree trunks. The red barn still shows red, and the red bird. How much our views depend on our place in the picture and the kind of light.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


I talk to myself. I answer myself. I write poems. Who cares? I care. This small, ordinary life is the life I've got. This following is primarily for me. You may listen in, or not.

... poetry, which read quickly or encountered in a hubbub of noise makes no sense. You have to open yourself to a poem with a quiet, receptive mind, in the same way as you might listen to a difficult piece of music. It is no good trying to listen to a late Beethoven quartet or read a sonnet by Rilke at a party. You have to give it your full attention, wait patiently upon it, and make an empty space for it in your mind. And finally the work declares itself to you, steals deeply into the interstices of your being, line by line, note by note, phrase by phrase, until it becomes part of you forever. ... If you seize upon a poem and try to extort its meaning before you are ready, it remains opaque. If you bring your own personal agenda to bear upon it, the poem will close upon itself like a clam, because you have denied its unique and separate identity, its own inviolable holiness. I had found this to be true in my study of literature. As soon as I had stopped trying to use it to advance my career, it began to speak to me again.

Karen Armstrong, The Spiral Staircase, 284-285.

Monday, January 16, 2012


Forgiveness includes "letting go of a dreamed kind of future," Rev. Lynn said one recent Sunday.

I've long been aware of the notion of naming a potato for every person or situation one needs to forgive and then carrying around those grudge potatoes until the weight and stink of them gets too burdensome to wish to continue. Thus one experiences the way that forgiving another is a gift we give ourselves. Rev. Lynn also spoke of this at some length.

I was less conscious of the notion that in this moment my experienced, actual life is the one I've got, to be savored and lived in, and old dreams let go. I have struggled with less-than-normal energy all my life, and I have laid down dreams because of it.

Forty years ago I did not dream for myself the life I have. By choice and chance, by trial and error and try again my life so far has brought me here. Some parts of my present situation are much better than what I'd imagined decades past. Some dreams remain unfulfilled, some unfulfilled forever. Still, I believe I've forgiven the unfulfilled dream for I say my life is good. I hope you can say the same.

One Question

Carl Jung said that at the core of each life's journey is one question we are born to pursue. The one question threading through my life here on this beautiful Earth is about how to be fully present to my world—present enough to rejoice and be useful—while we as a species are progressively destroying it. Joanna Macy, World as Love World as Self, Paralax Press, 2007. 11.

Friday, January 13, 2012

When a bulb burns out / we just change it--
it's not the bulb we love; / it's the light..
~ Kate Knapp, from her poem "Seeing, in Three Pieces"
(Wind Somewhere and Shade)

Thursday, January 12, 2012


What a jolly sequence of numbers, today's date. A detail, noticed.

My friend Dana Knighten writes of how in childhood she learned to "focus on the particulars: the shape of a leaf, the fall of sunlight in a trapezoid on a honeyed oak floor, an ant crawling over dirt flecked with mica beneath the sheltering branches of a maple in our side yard, the fuchsia blaze of crepe myrtle blossoms outside the dining room window in September."

Oh, yes, me too. The details of a moment, the "world in a grain of sand." A smile in the numbers denoting a date.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Cytomel, the T3 thyroid hormone

I am feeling so much better, I'm grinning all day long. The enduring, always-present hum and mumble of "everything hurts" is gone. I cannot remember the previous time when I didn't have an undertone of pain, some level of everything-hurts pain. What an adventure, to explore my body and the world with approximately-normal-for-age energy! I am so active, most days, that I am experiencing some sore muscles, simply plain, overworked sore muscles. I am so thankful that all these years I've pushed myself to walk, walk, walk so that I still have some muscles to work with. And it's not my lower body that's sore... Oh, these ordinary aches from age and overwork are so precious.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Technology and Noticing the World

"Technology is the art of arranging the world so we don't notice it."
- my latest fortune cookie
, writes my friend.

Is this true? Yes. No. Both-and.

Technology is a tool, like fire, like a cast iron cook pot, like shoes, furniture, a bicycle. Think of a microscope, or an MRI machine, or the Large Hadron Collider. Think of a computer that compiles and analyzes huge amounts of data and organizes it into forms that allow humans to contemplate the information found therein. Tools, old and new.

Human choice determines if one practices the art of arranging the world so as to not notice. Noticing and telling the truth of what we notice can be both terribly painful and ecstatically rewarding.

My feeling about truth-knowing shifted as I got off pain medications and lived day after day after year with a non-stop hum of whole-body pain. I leaned how to look at the experience of pain-in-the-moment, look straight on, to examine the exact details of it, to recognize the variations of it, to recognize the precision with which it enhanced my awareness of the zing of life with the sometimes sharp, always blanketing ache and misery of it. I learned how to carry this, too.

Now I am experiencing hours on end of not-everything-hurts. Now I'm aware that I can't remember when I was last previously without that constant hum of whole-body pain. Now I understand clearly that there is absolutely no way to communicate to someone who has not lived there what life with constant pain is like. Like we can't communicate exactly our experience of a color, or a flavor.

I noticed my experience. It's the only one I've got. Yet how presumptuous if I imagine that anyone who has reached adulthood has not experienced real, deep, lasting pain, physical and emotional. All carry their pain. Some by choosing to practice the art of not noticing.

Human. Both alone in our unique skins and just like everyone else. Experiencing life. Making our choices. Using our tools. Noticing and not noticing.

Today the sky is clear, high blue and sunny. The temperature is upper 40s. I will put on shoes and a coat and go notice.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Same Old Dependable Sunrise Story

At the change of day-- sunrise, sunset-- the light from a relatively clear sky appears more pink than at midday. The land looks softened under the softer light. There's a scientific explanation. Same old story made new again and again. Dependable, with just enough that's different.

One of my friends has decided to keep a journal this year in which she daily records one thing for which she gives thanks. She wants each day's entry to be something original. She says she recognizes that at the beginning of the year it's easy to write a new thing daily, but as the days go forward some things will begin to reappear. Yes.

You can change your life! Put old thoughts behind you! Set your intention to _______! You fill in the blank. Think positive. Lose weight, get fit, get strong and well. Let go of that old, negative stuff. Make a million. Save time. Save money. Save energy. The list goes long.

All both true and not true. We do not wake up one day and change our DNA. Cells die and regenerate, making us new, following the pattern. There's evidence in the nature-nurture debate that who we are, how we experience and respond to the world, depends first on our body chemistry. We seek to avoid the problems of a DNA pattern change.

Further, we depend on our habits, on all the world's patterns: natural, engineered, social...

I think of earthquakes, and war zones, and remodeling projects, birth or death in the family, and I am so thankful for the same old story made new again and again. Big changes are tough. Let my changes be subtle, built slowly on a foundation of same old, dependable and known.

Hello, dependable sunrise.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Remember what peace there may be in silence.

So I took that fine advice yesterday afternoon and went down to Eden Mill Nature Center for an hour and half walk by Deer Creek. I arrived around 3:30. The curdled sky hung low over the landscape, and a frigid northwest wind barreled down the creek valley. It cleared away the tatters of whatever pain remained in me, leaving behind only peace and contentment. From a boardwalk bench near the dam’s spillway, I faced west and watched a pair of red-tailed hawks soar and dip, feint and glide, over the floodplain, one of them finally flapping away upstream to land in the trees below the ridgeline, followed soon by the other. The scant light faded, too, the sun dropping at last into a keyhole slot between horizon and the cloud bank’s bottom edge, unlocking hues of mercurochrome and flamingo pink on the bellies of the clouds. Somehow the day, with its sweeping cold, breathed through me. It left me clear in a way I had not been before. For me, the vast silence of winter does that. Dana Knighten

I, too, go out in the cold for clarity like none other. Thanks, Dana

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Breathing joy in another pink-trimmed dawn

... followed by snow flurries and then bright skies again with only scattered clouds on a cold, windy day that feels appropriate to me for January. Early in a new year, early in a new day, but no longer early in this particle of life.

In his poem "New Year's Resolution" Philip Appleman has the phrase, " innocent of loss as any dawn." It reminded me of the biblical, "Weeping endureth for the night but joy cometh in the morning." (Psalms 30: 5). In my experience this sentiment, so beautifully said, is simultaneously true and not true. Yet the true part, the moments of pink newness that sometimes cheers the dawn...

Monday, January 2, 2012

Today I walked and found myself

...wordless under the deep blue. Later clouds came in, lowering the ceiling of the world as defined by my particular horizons.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year

The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts. Marcus Aurelius
Happiness does not depend on outward things, but on the way we see them. Leo Tolstoy

Many wise voices agree, happiness is an inside job. Virtue. Beauty. Goodness. Simplicity. Anger. Anxiety. Sorrow. Fear. Fright. Everything. Consider this progression: seed, soil, sun, rain, thorn, leaf, bud, petal, seed. Which can we do without?

I wish you awareness of your full, skilled, entirely proficient range of experience. Sing your life as the virtuoso you are. Happy New Year.

The weather forecast promises that this morning's clear sky will unfold to temperatures in the sixties. Pleasant for human experience in the moment, and I wonder who/what-- right here, today-- experiences the warmth as difficult? If the earth's temperature rises two degrees... How do you feel if your temperature is two degrees above normal?