Ice Storm

The trees are freighted with the accretion of ice; branches that normally spread above our heads are bowed with heaviness, fingering the surface of the skating pond. Crystal coated grass, each blade distinct, and branches held in thrall create a crunching, crinkling, eerie cascade of sound.

Beauty and brutality in equal measure – there is real destructive power in this slow layering of ice on ice.

I am reminded that if we encase ourselves in a brittle, rigid shell – of pain, of grief, of pride or anger – we are more, not less, likely to be broken.

Poetry in Nature – the book

I have just launched a small book, Poetry in Nature, which includes musings, poetry and images on the themes of transformation, connection and more in both inner and outer worlds.

In the first half of 2018, it was a delight to explore the rich territory of nature and poetry with Mary Lou van Schaik and my fellow wanderers during the course Nature’s Poetry

This was a lovely opportunity to connect with nature in a very focussed way. It also reconnected me with reading poetry and with my own poetic impulse. This in turn became something of a deep meditation on the transition between winter and spring.

After the course, a dear friend who had enjoyed some of my writing that emerged from it, asked ‘where’s the book?’

So I honoured what had felt to be a truly special experience for me by drawing together and slightly re-editing many of the posts and poems that I have already added to my Passage to Joy blog. These now form a slim volume, available from Blurb.

The book brings together poetry, musings and images around the themes of nature, connection, transformation, stewardship and more.

Image of book 'Poetry in Nature' on Blurb

Flexing very stiff poetry muscles, exploring eternal life

In a still very tentative flexing of underused poetry muscles, the idea behind the poem below came to me so vividly that it had to be written, even if not well! It speaks to a sudden deep internal awareness that particles are more or less constant in the universe; so all of us, in a way, have an eternal existence.

Eternal Life

When my human days are done

and I walk the path of the long goodbye

I will not be gone.

 

Will some particle of me take form

in rock or stone,

ruby’s heart or emerald’s gleam?

 

Or will my flash of green and red,

touched with gold,

draw your eye to the blur of hummingbird wings?

 
Lake and sky
 
 
Within the flow, catching the light

of the lake’s constant changing –

Is it there I’ll be?

 

Perhaps, in the creaking of branches

and the susurration of leaves,

you’ll sense a trace of me still.

 

Or maybe I’ll be a sprinkling

of stardust on indigo

somewhere far out in the universe.

 

It’s somehow comforting to know

that the particles that make up ‘I’

may scatter, but they (almost) never die!

 

February 7, 2018

 

I wrote my first poem before I could actually transcribe the words onto paper.

Then, in my teens, poetry and my deep connection to the natural world saved my sanity in an era when no-one considered the impact of significant loss and grief on an adolescent.

Every now and again, amid the roller-coaster demands of just living a life, the poetic impulse has bubbled briefly to the surface.

Now it feels as if it is time once again to tap into this part of me. But oh how rusty I feel, how hard it is not to become self-conscious, to lose the flow, to try too hard or not enough – I’m not yet sure which!

 

Gratitude is good for you!

(The third of three interconnected posts on gratitude)

Increasingly science suggests that gratitude is good for us.

Research by Robert Emmons indicates that people who consciously focus on gratitude experience greater emotional wellbeing and physical health than those who don’t. Gratitude:

  • Brings us happiness, boosting optimism, joy, pleasure, enthusiasm and other positive emotions.
  • Reduces anxiety and depression.
  • Is good for our bodies, strengthening the immune system, lowering blood pressure, reducing symptoms of stress, illness and aches and pains and encouraging us to take care of ourselves.
  • Improves sleep
  • Makes us more resilient
  • Strengthens relationships
  • Promotes forgiveness
  • Feeds altruism and compassion

In particular, says Emmons,

“I see it as a relationship-strengthening emotion because it requires us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people.”
Greater Good Website – Why Gratitude is Good

He suggests that “true gratitude involves a humble dependence on others”, whether other people or ‘higher powers’ and lists four reasons for its transformative power:

  1. It allows us to celebrate the present and magnifies positive emotions
  2. It blocks toxic, negative emotions
  3. It provides resistance against stress
  4. It results in a heightened sense of self-worth

He acknowledges that the practice of gratitude can be challenging. It is predicated on acceptance rather than control. It is at odds with the ‘self-serving bias’. It contradicts the ‘just-world’ hypothesis, which says that we get what we deserve, and the sense of ‘entitlement’ that rest on this.

Cultivating gratitude, therefore, has to be a conscious choice and lifelong practice.

The infomatic below, included by Robert Emmons on the Greater Good website, gives a great sense of why you might want to cultivate the practice of gratitude.

What good is gratitude? Infomatic

For more details of this fascinating research, I would encourage you to explore the University of California, Berkeley Greater Good website.

 

(See also Gratitude and Joy – an intimate relationship and Grateful to whom?)

Buying human

“I’ve never lived anywhere where I am on hugging or flirting terms with so many of my local shop-keepers.”

I’ve quipped this to a number of people, flip, mildly amusing. But there is a deeper strand to the thought.

One day, at the Brickworks Farmer’s Market, I watched other people’s children engaging with the process of buying food. It struck me that there was an en-joy-ment that is mostly absent from the supermarket experience.

I am increasingly choosing to buy much of my food from people with whom I have developed some relationship, where I have some sense of where it has come from, how it has been raised or grown. Many of these people are passionate and hugely knowledgeable about what they do.

Bill, at Art of Cheese on Kingston Rd., really knows his cheese but is also expert in the kind of banter that keeps you coming back for that connection as well as the cheese.

Royal Beef on the Danforth are Master Butchers, skilled in their art; they keep us stocked with naturally raised beef, pork and chicken, as well as wonderful creamy goat feta, artisan Salami and more. But we also go back for the warmth of welcome from Carm and her staff, the well-informed suggestions.

Our garlic comes from Ross of Stone Soup Farms, who grows a number of different varieties north of Brockville – I never want to have to go back to supermarket garlic; this tastes so much better! A first meeting at the garlic stall at Soupstock and chance re-union at Royal Beef have grown into a friendship.

In each case there is a combination of a quality product, passion and expertise, and what I would term ‘relationship marketing’.

Similarly, when I buy clothes, more and more I seem to seek out smaller shops where, again, there is genuine passion as well as a line of connection through to the maker. Jennifer at Ziliotto epitomizes this; she seems to have an innate understanding of ‘relationship marketing’. A couple of times a year or more, I find myself at the Danforth store, sipping wine, nibbling cheese and meeting interesting people. Alongside this, I have expert input from the designer and her staff on the clothes that suit me and how to work them. I also get to meet the craftspeople behind the jewellery, belts, bags and hats that the store stocks in addition to Jennifer’s designs. The hug when I leave, often accompanied by a small gift sourced from another local business, is genuinely warm. In between times, that vital sense of connection is stoked by an excellent weekly video blog. This approach epitomizes to me the point of intersection between authentically human relationship and good marketing.

What I have noticed is that, whether buying food or clothes, if I buy from this connected, passionate space, the authenticity of the experience imbues the ‘product’ with a richness that is largely absent from my experience as a ‘consumer’.

When I have talked to Bill, Carm or Ross, or a local producer in the Farmers’ Market about what I am buying, I savour every mouthful. And every mouthful comes with a host of subliminal connections and emotions that enhance the experience. It seems to me that I even eat less, because what I eat satisfies more than the physical need for sustenance.

To wear one of my Ziliotto dresses is, at some level, to relive the sense of embrace of the buying experience. Team it with a Susana Erazo belt and I’m already surrounded by friends before I start my day! The material objects have become imbued with connections and meaning that enrich my living.

It strikes me that both obesity and the constant need to buy new things can, in some part, be traced back to the lack of connection and meaning that is so often the mark of mass consumerism. We crave more food, more clothes, more everything, because we live with a sense that our appetites are never quite satisfied.

So this is by way of a salute to that small but growing band of entrepreneurs who understand that passion, meaning, friendship, connection – all those qualities that define the best of what it is to be human – can also be good business.