Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Unchanging change - losing and finding

Written in the autumn a couple of years ago (I have written a fair number of reflections on this lovely place - the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary - a sanctuary indeed).
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Coming today to the garden

I am seeing change in motion

the seeming solidity
of massed trees and leaves

becomes translucent, now veil upon veil
of golden and green.

My gaze slips through
to the steep hill banks
on the hillside, still
massed and brilliant.

Gold flecks fall and fall
leisurely, separately,
tens at a time

to patter down through
pellucid air -

like manna, like divine
coming into matter.

And here, farther in,
more trees bared

reveal the ordinary
earth and oncoming winter.

Yesterday's bold and brilliant blue

is softened by skeins of cloud.

Change in motion -

beyond our grasp.

Two days ago,
down the brilliant color
of the river valley

the family came canoeing

just when I was here -
snapping pictures of beauty -

their lives were overturned
bythe freak canoe accident

pinning little Rosa in the water.

That evening, as their inconsolable
grief took hold, unknown
yet to us,

in the darkened Quaker meetinghouse
our atheist, god-seeking poet
read out his poem

about children on the water -

like leaves -

"They could be yours."

What he meant to say,
is hearts are breaking

hearts embracing
intolerable pain
of each other.

Soon, the golden mass before me
will be empty,

the veils of beauty on beauty
that lifted me
from sorrow, that seemed to
know it,

and answer with steadfastness,

soon will be no more
than a memory
a handful of photos, flattened

and falsely still.

(Squirrel comes gazing and
gazing at me;
fly lights
upon the page.)

I came to interrogate the garden -

the presumed power of order
and renewal behind it -

and my own unvoiced question:

How do I live?

Stripped to its bark
and bare earth

(as I know it will be)

how can I endure my life?

Today, I said I would come here
to open myself to whatever

might be softly spoken
in the wind.

And now, in this hollow tucked away
at the back of the garden,

I sit - the light can fill it
now most of the leaves are gone.

In front of me a gold-green maple
still holds its leaves -

soon, they'll all drop down
a ball dress shrugged off
at the weary end
of the festival.

Squirrels rustle around me -

unalarmed by my stillness.

A chant comes to mind
(perhaps willed for comfort
perhaps in answer):

"All I ask of you
Is forever to remember me
As loving you.

All I ask of you
Is forever to remember me
As loving you.

"Ishq Allah
Mahabud Lillah
Ishq Allah
Mahabud Lillah."

As the infant looks trustingly
at the parents
who adore their child,

I will gaze at this world
and dare to receive
the laughing affection
of the world smiling back,

they eyes of my heart gazing back.

There is no separation.

Though the sun sinks, the leaves fall,
the squirrels take long naps,

though my energy ebbs,
the brightness of my mind
dims and stutters,

You gaze at me still
and hold me in unchanging affection.

Now, always and everywhere,
as fears of loss and failure
fill my mind with whispers:

may I lay them down
let them go -
wafting in the unchanging change -
leaving me simply here

in the spaciousness of light

companionship of squirrels

digging through fallen leaves.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Not At My Shining Best (and Response to LaMott)

This is a typical end-of-workday mood, when it seems the day has flipped by like pages blown by the wind (in an open book, out on the lawn . . .).

I've just finished listening to Annie LaMott's Grace Eventually: Thoughts on Faith. How is it that Bush-hating no longer seems, oh, so very engaging any more? The administration-we-loved-to-hate is gone, flown away in a helicopter shrinking, shrinking, becoming a speck on its way to Texas. And - it's feeling just as grim, just as perilous, now with another 200+ points falling in the stock market yesterday, now with impending lay-offs in my University (place of employment), now with my dear but not world-wise older son off in New York soon to fall out of my health insurance plan by turning 25. It isn't right that health care is doled out only to the productively employed, or those employed by big enough enterprises (which he, working for a Philly Cheese Steak dive in Manhattan, is not).

(That's my kid.)

But reading LaMott does reassure me that self-loathing can co-exist with being a worthwhile person. I was fumbling at trying to describe this (regrettable) feature of my own psychology back in the depths of late November, when I thought of tying it in with a discussion of SAD and the Dark Night of the Soul. It was so dark, so cold, and I felt so wan, so inadequate. But, really, that was a touch grandiose: who am I to have a full-blown Dark Night? I have a dear friend who is suffering a full-blown depression after the death of her father and the shredding of a recent hopeful relationship. My own anhedonia, distress, discomfort, slippage - not at the same level. Except that I don't believe I've been weighted down by quite this level of self-dislike since, oh, seventh grade. And I'm not really sure where it's coming from.

LaMott has a narrative arc in these quick, comic sketches where there is the build-up of distress and dismay, the overreaction or blunder, and then the interruption of the arc by a realization/recollection/intervention that is what she means by grace. There's a restoration of hope and tenderness. I'm familiar with this experience of self-recovery, or recovery of clarity and reconnection with the sources of joy, but it's not happening as easily these days. And I feel shamed by my stuckness, embarrassed by it (which adds fuel to the inner burn of fear-of-inadequacy, etc. etc.)

Whew! Well, I've said it out loud. I'm having a hard time being me, and not confident that there's some wind, some wings, some easy rise out of this particular muck. But at least I'm comforted that it's not some hideous singularity, some repulsive secret flaw nobody but me has ever experienced. Annie LaMott feels shitty from time to time too, even after becoming a successful writer with many people who are fond of her and let her know it. If only I didn't have inner parental voices that sneer, "So, just get over it and think about someone else for a change!"

(And in the other room, from the television, comes Barack Obama's voice exhorting Congress. . . .)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Weekend stillness

This is a still moment in a rather lazy weekend. I've been sleepy and slow, though I should be doing many things (grading papers, following up on some work projects, cleaning my house, vigorously pursuing insight through journaling), but instead I've been napping.

But perhaps I need to accept the limits of time, and gently release myself from my driven expectations. I need a new way to make decisions about how to spend time: not driven by inner compulsions, or (as often happens) resisting the inner compulsions by wasting time in ingenious ways. How about finding out what would really give me joy? How about connecting to someone I care about? How about doing something to renew my body, like some yoga stretches? What would it be like if I could act out of something positive, instead of this old compulsion-resistance dance?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Just start writing, don't stop to think

I've been wanting to create a structure for myself to do some writing for quite a while. So I'd go out and look at different author blogs, and find myself envious about the give and take that they represented. I'm a former "unpopular kid," and there are layers way down there (hello!) that are unhappy or determined to see slights in every happenstance. This isn't the majority opinion of my inner committee, but the negative pull on things can create such wind resistance that I don't leap out and try something new.

This particular blog was a moment's impulse. I have another one, too, which is feeling too - oh, tender - to make public. In the title of this blog, I mean no irreverence - it's really about my own ducking and dodging from letting my own insights and best mind guide me. And also, I suppose, a recognition that my life is at least in part a comedy channel and I might as well get a laugh or two out of it.

As I was thinking about the experience of writing, I recognized that at its best, it's an expression of mindfulness. When I'm working at being as clear and honest as possible, just staying connected to the thought, to the impulse behind the thought, I'm not in my usual fog of endless rehearsal and instant replay. So it's a good thing to be doing, wherever it takes me.

Friday, February 20, 2009

You know the joke: someone in extremis fasts and prays and finally gets an answer to an urgent prayer, but then . . . is there anyone else up there?

I'm restless, and I don't seem to get Any Answers At All. But then - perhaps I'm not doing the right degree of asking. Or perhaps I'm just too worn out to persist.