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It seems to me that ‘joy’ is a word that has become unfashionable and, perhaps, lost meaning for the modern age.  My aim is to explore the meaning of joy, the ways in which we can develop a capacity to tap into joy, and the qualities of being that contribute to this capacity.

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(See also Why Passage to Joy?)

Embracing the age of the Crone – a view from a distance

At 60, I definitely feel myself entering into the age of the Crone. Some definitions would say you begin to cross the threshold at 50. But it was at 44, writing a journalistic exercise about looking forward to a specific birthday, that I first welcomed the vision of this aspect of later life as a woman.

I am looking forward to delving more into what this means to me over the coming months, but I thought I would start with that early vision.

Blue Crone


I’m looking forward to being 70.  After that I will consider myself to be on extra time, with nothing owed and naught to loose.  I will gleefully claim my freedom to ‘wear purple with a red hat that doesn’t suit me’[1].

At a mere 44, the milestone of my allotted ‘three score years and ten’ lies well beyond the horizon.  But already I feel the first intimations of the influence of the waning crescent moon, symbol of the Goddess in her final incarnation of ‘crone’.

Perhaps bound up with our contemporary obsession with physical appearance, our pursuit of an illusion of eternal youth, the ‘crone’ has had some very bad press.  The word invokes an image of an ugly, wizened, witch of an old woman, maybe embittered and very possibly evil.  Is it any wonder that so many women run scared of the inexorable accumulation of birthdays?

I am not soaked in the spell of paganism, claim no great knowledge of its lore.  But I willingly embrace its vision of the crone as the ultimate, most powerful manifestation of womanhood.  She personifies wisdom, compassion and completion.  Her closer relationship to death is not one of fear but a potent awareness of renewal. 

So, when I reach 70, dressed in crone’s purple, I will cherish my wrinkles and wear them with pride and relief that youth’s vanity is done. I will breathe deep, walk slow and do nothing, joyously!  I will undoubtedly ‘misbehave’ outrageously.  I’m looking forward to being 70.

[1] Quoted from “Warning” by Jenny Joseph, voted Britain’s best-loved poem by viewers of BBC TV’s Bookworm

Gina Bearne, 2002

 

 

 

‘I see you’ – a path to intimacy with self and others?

We can neither see ourselves as a whole, nor can we truly conceptualize that in ourselves which experiences. The answer to the question ‘Who (or what) am I ?’ is by its nature a koan*. But perhaps it is a profound act of self-love to be able to affirm our emotions, our joys, our pain (emotional or physical) with the simple words ‘I see you’, without latching onto them and giving them power over us.

That loving acknowledgement can release the threads of attachment that so often ensnare us. It can enable us to own our darker thoughts and feelings, our shadow selves. We can experience what is as ‘real’, but within the context of the transience of all things. We can embrace the things we perceive as difficult or challenging and let them pass. We can also accept life’s gifts without clinging to them – these too will pass, yet the fact that we have experienced them will not.

One of the greatest desires of every human being is the longing to be seen . . . this is the miracle of love and friendship. (John O’Donahue in Four Elements)

It seems to me that when ‘I see you’ begins to permeate our way of being, it underpins all interactions. It is the grounding space that anchors each human encounter. We find it easier to enter the powerful place of deep receptive listening.

It is also the loving recognition of each creature, great or small, that crosses our path.

‘I see you’ directs us to the wellspring of love.

Unless you see a thing in the light of love, you don’t see it at all. (Kathleen Raine)

* koan – a paradoxical anecdote or riddle, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment


 

Water lily

Who am I?

‘I am’, cries the wind . . .
the song that stitches together
the seams of my life,
its melody
a ribbon running through it.

Crackling flames 
feed the fires of passion,
compel me forward,
agonized and exultant
and alive.
But it is in the still,
red coals
at the heart
of the fire
that wisdom lies.

Feet, firmly planted,
dig into the earth,
skip over fields
and frozen puddle-drums
and hot sand.
Odd that it is in
the dynamic of dance,
as my feet
leave the ground,
that I put down roots.

Held in the flow,
luxuriously floating,
buffeted, battered,
water brings me home 
to the self 
that is so much water,
as I learn and become
the depths
of its calm
that is and was and always will be.

‘I am’, cries the wind . . .
and the invisibility of air
surrounds me,
and I know ‘am’
as the invisibility of air . . .

“Who am I?”

July 2018
written during a retreat focused on Awakening Devotion and Heart Wisdom

Connection and responsibility

A powerful circular experience of a breath meditation sitting on the ground on a glorious day blessed by a gentle breeze;  the moments when the boundaries between my being and that of water, rock or tree blur into an acknowledgement of oneness, of connection – these are true moments of grace. They are only possible when the boundaries of ‘I’, of ego-self loosen, moments of ‘awareness’, of being truly awake; the inner experience carries such certainty, sounds a resounding ‘yes’. It all seems so obvious at that moment of awareness!

Such experiences shape the core of my being, make it imperative to live from a place rooted in mindfulness, integrity, wonder and joy.

‘all breath in this world
is roped together’
~ Hannah Stephenson


As we moved to this beautiful place, where nature gently loosens those boundaries on a regular basis, I was startled by the unexpected strength of a sense not of ownership but of stewardship of the land; of a deep love and great desire to do right by it and by all the beings with which we share it. This sense of responsibility underpins my life here.

Cranberry Lake

 

Sharon Blackie writes of ‘the enchanted life’, which for me speaks to that sense of connection and responsibility:

“Enchantment. By my definition, a vivid sense of belongingness to a rich and many-layered world, a profound and whole-hearted participation in the adventure of life. Enchantment is a natural, spontaneous human tendency – one we possess as children, but lose, through social and cultural pressures, as we grow older. I believe that it is an attitude of mind which can be cultivated: the enchanted life is possible for anyone. The enchanted life is intuitive, embraces wonder, and fully engages the mythic imagination – but it is also deeply embodied, ecological, grounded in place and community. To live an enchanted life is to be challenged, to be awakened, to be gripped and shaken to the core by the extraordinary which lies at the heart of the ordinary.”


When we wake

All breath in this world is roped together!

Each breath has the capacity to shift
a stray lock of hair
and a universe.

Everything is bound
in an eternal dance
of particulate and elemental commonality.

It is always so,
but our experience of living
is not always so.

This is something we know
only in the moments
when we wake to enchantment.

May 2018


So what is the challenge of stewardship?

In terms of both outer and inner worlds, I guess for me stewardship is about doing that which supports and maintains healthy states of growth and being, all the while maintaining an awareness of succession.

Practicalities

When we first arrived here, we had a visit from Watersheds Canada looking to participate in their Natural Edge program); in the event, our shoreline was so healthy there was nothing they felt we needed to do! But it helped our understanding; we are careful to cut back rather than in any way ‘clear’ the steep bank down to the water, we do not use phosphates that may run off into the lake.

Nature - a rhapsody in blue - jay and lake

In our wetland, we try to encourage the cattails but not the phragmites; monitor where turtles are laying their eggs, again avoiding chemicals that may damage this habitat.

We have bat and bird boxes and feed the birds all year, but especially at times of particular hardship.

We retain dead trees and brush-piles for their importance as habitats.

We welcome the beings who share this beautiful place respectfully but without the desire in any way to tame them. With time, there is a growing sense of relationship, understanding, even intimacy (into me you see).

Most of our planting is of native species, particularly those supportive to pollinators, humming-birds and butterflies – we seek to supplement what is naturally here rather than unduly to shape or tame it.

Spring wildflowers

We monitor our trees, making decisions as to which saplings to encourage and which to potentially protect from our resident beaver (whose presence in our bay most evenings currently delights us).

Inner stewardship

As to the inner world, hitting my head blessed me with the impetus to develop a much more regular meditation practice than previously (part of my prescription from a neurologist!), which I try to maintain. There is also, I think, a certain discipline required in truly noting and engaging with the world around you in a mindful and joyous way that is a part of nurturing the inner world.

I am trying to learn to say ‘no’ to being the person whose job it is to make things right for others all the time.  I am also trying to learn that I don’t always have to say ‘yes’ to heading into every challenge full-tilt.

Sometimes it is enough simply to observe
and let the universe unfold as it should.


 Coltsfoot

All is not reaching, striving, 
choosing to force growth
and embrace pain
to fertilize the soul.

It is not always so!

The coltsfoot 
opens a  yellow face
to the sun

but closes itself
to the dark shadows of evening
and the grey of a rainy day.

As the sun shines,
it transforms effortlessly
into radiance.

Soon, soon
its leaves will form
a carpet of green hearts.

 

I do not have to keep myself
resolutely open to dark
and storm.

I too can close up
when shadows fall,
ready for the sun’s return.

May 2018

Coltsfoot - first flower of Spring

Transformation, mystery and water

Fluent

I would love to live
Like a river flows,
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding.

~ John O’Donohue

I look out onto my beloved lake as it transforms, very visibly, from the illusory immobility of ice to its fluid state and I listen to what it has to tell me.

Water is the true stuff of life,
The deep mystery at the centre of all that is.

Water exists in a continuous state of flow,
a constant state of transformation.

Confronted by heat or cold, it turns shape-shifter;
mysterious mists weave their enchantments,
clouds build castles in the air,
Jack Frost traces ferns across the glass,
the land is pelted by hail and graupel,
and blanketed by a quilt of snow.

The lake freezes and, later, thaws;
watching the ice come in and leave
teaches me patience with the ebb and flow,
the unseen nature of transformation.
After days of retreat and revelation
a clear sheet forms over the returned water,
once – oh joy! – with the exquisite,
unexpected blooming of frost flowers.

Yet the process of change
continues inexorably,
moment by moment rewriting
the relationship between ice and water
in patterns of constriction and release,
of return to rigidity, then surge and flood.

Transformation exists
in every moment.
What is now
is not the same as what just was
or will be.

Out on the lake,
the ice lets go as we watch;
the clouds race across
the new-blue sky
casting shadow spells
or float in the emerging reflective stillness.

Clouds on ice and water

Beneath all is the constancy of water
and a process of transformation
without beginning or end.

Water is the true stuff of life,
but life is all transformation!

 

My inner transformation,
in this body that is more than 60% water,
is similarly complex.

There is much that goes unseen.
Just when it seems the ice is melting,
something inside rigidifies once more.

There are moments of unexpected joy and light,
but also times of constriction and the flood of overwhelm.

The lake reminds me that 
all is unfolding, in its own time,
exactly as it should.

As I embrace my own transitions,
may I remember that this moment is all that I have,
is all that I am or need to be.
Let me inhabit it fully,
wrap it round me like silk
then allow it to slip away . . .

Lake in transition

Transitions in the seasons of the soul

I think there are multiple layers to the manifestation of inner seasons.

The internal season

On occasion in the past I have been very conscious of a specific internal season, particularly of winters of the soul as times of dormancy, retreat, grieving even. This is one layer and, from this perspective, I see myself now as in a transition from a winter that has been a time of  mystery, of deep and subtle transformation, of stillness and silence, of hidden growth requiring patience and faith. 

What has been interesting is that, in paying attention to the shift in nature these last weeks, I sense that it is not some human failing that we rarely transition smoothly; if this is the path nature takes then it seems to me that the two-steps forward one-step back dance is an inherent aspect of the character of change.

Thaw - land steepingI see the land, still frozen, steeping in the thaw water that it is not yet ready to absorb, grungy, muddy, yet with hints of the possibility of spring. And I realize that I am content to live this within my own transition, to steep in a flood of insights that I am not yet fully able to soak up. I see the lake existing as thick white ice, clear glass and sparkling open water simultaneously and something inside me whispers ‘yes!’ in affirmation and recognition.  In focusing on the subtleties and nuances of this time between winter and spring, I am newly comfortable in my own space of between.

Water in three states - between seasons

Carrying all the seasons within

At another level, I am aware that I carry all the seasons within me, and can draw on the riches of each as I need or choose at any given time.

The turning of the year

Finally, there is the part of me that responds to the turning of the year, increasingly delighting in the changing rhythms that inform my living in both the exterior and interior worlds.

As winter leaves the lake . . .

 

Now, in this time of increasing intimacy with both the natural and the inner world, each season, each new manifestation, each day of brilliant sunshine or unrelenting rain, each moment, is becoming equally precious. This is becoming almost as true for the seasons of the soul as those of the year’s turning. I try to sit with each, knowing that all things pass.