Acceptance

Acceptance is hard. Plain and simple. It can feel passive, or like giving up. It can feel like weakness, and resignation. But it can also feel like freedom. It can feel like walking through life with a spaciousness inside, the kind you get when you take a giant exhale from the deepest part of your belly. Acceptance and strength are not mutually exclusive. I think real strength, an inner strength, comes from a place of acceptance.

The last two and a half months started off this new year in ways I did not anticipate. And I am sure there are people who feel similar. I am starting to come to terms with this more. Things happen so out of our control that we either spin and spiral into the abyss of confusion and despair, or lean into the invitation from love that all of these things belong in the grand scheme of things. If you’re like me, you will oscillate between the two: despair and hope, fight and acceptance, until something just gives and you are able to receive life as it is, moving forward with a little more compassion and openness.

Acceptance doesn’t mean shrugging our shoulders at what life throws at us. It’s not indifference or repression or numbing out. I think true acceptance is feeling the losses, grappling with the injustices and tragedies. It is going through grief in all of its rawness, and then coming through it because we’ve allowed love to kiss the wound.

Acceptance kind of just happens to us, in its own time. We do the work, we sort through our grief; which can look a lot like fighting and bargaining, anger, visceral reactions in the body, random outbursts of tears. However it plays out in our lives, we must let ourselves feel our way through it. And then, it’s as if our days begin to feel a bit more normal, and we slowly feel like we are at home in our own bodies again. But it takes time, and a lot of permission to lay low and go gently through life.

I am not sure what it is for you, what sorts of things you find yourself grappling with or the circumstances you find just too difficult to accept; I only know that which I feel within myself. But may you wake today going gently on yourself. Giving yourself permission to go at your own pace, opening yourself to love so that you may feel her kiss your wound, and nudge you towards a place of acceptance.

A poem for you by Robert Frost 

“When the spent sun throws up its rays on cloud
And goes down burning into the gulf below,
No voice in nature is heard to cry aloud
At what has happened. Birds, at least must know
It is the change to darkness in the sky.
Murmuring something quiet in her breast,
One bird begins to close a faded eye;
Or overtaken too far from his nest,
Hurrying low above the grove, some waif
Swoops just in time to his remembered tree.
At most he thinks or twitters softly, ‘Safe!
Now let the night be dark for all of me.
Let the night be too dark for me to see
Into the future. Let what will be, be.'”

Bennacht by John O’ Donohue 

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

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Moving Forward

Paulo Coelho wrote, from his best-selling book The Alchemist, “When you can’t go back, you only have to worry about the best way of moving forward.” Something we all must come to reckon with. Whether we have left a home, a geographical place, a specific season of life, a relationship, a job, a way of seeing or being in the world; eventually these things become a memory and experience of the past. If we are going to grow, expand and evolve into the spacious, and creative people we are meant to become, we must move forward from them.

Often times, moving forward implies that we also must leave things behind, which is why I think moving forward in the ways we are invited to requires a great deal of courage. Moving forward doesn’t mean we don’t bring along all those experiences that shaped us into the new beginnings we are entering, because we do; for better or for worse. There is a circular nature to life, and all things belong and bleed into each other. These experiences have marked us, and they have been holding places for us along the way. But they won’t sustain us forever; we have outgrown them, and we must go on.

As I entered this new year, I couldn’t shake this feeling of real change that is going to take place. And I don’t just think that’s solely for me. A real moving forward from what was, and bravely walking into unknown territory, for many of us. As I think about this forward motion in my life, I think about the things I am being invited to leave behind, and let go of. And sometimes those things in and of themselves leave us, without much of our choosing. Like deaths, illness, people, jobs, etc. However, there is a ritual of letting go and leaving behind all that has been, in order to fully move into the new internal and exterior places that are presenting themselves to us.

What do you need to let go of and leave behind? Are there things you feel you need to actively leave in the past? 

What things have been maybe taken from you that you are being invited into leaving behind a little more in this season? How can you be more gracious with yourself in the letting go process? 

What things do you feel you are being invited into, in order for you to move forward in your life? Are there specific goals, dreams and desires you have within yourself that you want to bring more into your daily life; into reality?

John O’ Donohue wrote a Blessing for New Beginnings, and it spoke to me in profound ways a couple of years ago when I was transitioning jobs. It felt risky and like entering unknown territory, but it propelled me forward in ways I couldn’t have dreamed of before.

Along with Donohue, the magnificent Mary Oliver writes of the sacredness of ritual and stillness, which I think is the beginning of moving forward to begin with. I had to include her work in this month’s piece, as the world mourns the loss of this precious and fierce soul who left us this week.

May you find the courage within, to move forward into new territory of land and spirit, and leave behind all that has been, remembering it with fondness and gratitude.

For A New Beginning by John O’ Donohue

In out-of-the-way places of the heart,

Where your thoughts never think to wander,

This beginning has been quietly forming,

Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

 

For a long time it has watched your desire,

Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,

Noticing how you willed yourself on,

Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

 

It watched you play with the seduction of safety

And the gray promises that sameness whispered,

Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,

Wondered would you always live like this.

 

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,

And out you stepped onto new ground,

Your eyes young again with energy and dream,

A path of plenitude opening before you.

 

Though your destination is not yet clear

You can trust the promise of this opening;

Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning

That is at one with your life’s desire.

 

Awaken your spirit to adventure;

Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;

Soon you will home in a new rhythm,

For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

 

Today by Mary Oliver

Today I’m flying low and I’m
not saying a word.
I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.

The world goes on as it must,
the bees in the garden rumbling a little,
the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.
And so forth.

But I’m taking the day off.
Quiet as a feather.
I hardly move though really I’m traveling
a terrific distance.

Stillness.  One of the doors
into the temple.

 

 

Expectations.

This new year didn’t begin quite how I expected it to. When the clock turned midnight on December 31st, I danced in the New Year with good friends, with such a hopeful expectation for all this new year would bring. But, I really didn’t expect to end up in a brace and on crutches just a week in.

2018 was a rough one, for many people. But, as I have said before, I really believe and feel within myself, that this past year was a year of foundation laying. It shook up the soul in a way that propels us forward to pursue what we want, who we actually desire to be, and to live in a deep settledness instead of all that frenetic running around internally and externally.

I’ve always wrestled with my expectations, towards myself and for what the world has to offer. These expectations come from my ideals, and it’s both a blessing and curse. I’m an idealist, a romantic and an old soul — a recipe for great imagination and passion, with a side of tremendous disappointment and heartache, if not tempered.

This past week I discovered that I most likely tore my ACL; news I didn’t really anticipate or want to hear. I have been limited to staying mostly in my apartment with the exception of small outings to my little neighbourhood cafe, and trying to not get too stuck in my head (a very real temptation for us introverts!). But, as I sat in my little nook this morning, these words came to me:

“Expectation and Expectancy are different. Your expectations may be shattered, but your expectancy is eternal; untouchable”.

That small little truth gave me a glimpse of hope I haven’t felt really all week. But I really think it’s true. I am not going to lie, the last 48hrs have been really shitty. Almost every insecurity has crept up from the basement and into my living room of existence, and has dwelt there for way too long. I have felt very small, lonely, and weak. But there is this small part of me, I am guessing the eternal part of me, that is determined to let go of my expectations of what I thought this year or next few months were going to look like, and remain open and spacious to this expectancy in the seat of my soul.

I have resolved in myself, that I want to cultivate a sense of expectancy in myself for all this new year might have for me, without clinging to my ideals or ideas of what it ought to look like. The beauty of the eternal truth, that there is Goodness and Love far bigger than our own personal worlds is that everything that happens to us, does not have to be lost to despair. Invitation is always there. An invitation to be opened to a greater love, a greater compassion and greater sense of Self.

I don’t know what all of this will look like, and I would be a fool to think that just because I do believe there will be beauty from this somewhere (insert your own struggle here), that there won’t be days where it will just suck. Because it will.

But, if I have learnt anything already, it is this: Friends and family have quite literally been the hands and flesh of God to me. There are doctors and specialists who care enough to make you a priority when really you are no more important than their next patient. And that not everything can be taken from us. That there is a treasure inside each of us that is untouchable, that is eternal, and that always carries hope.

Whatever spirit and headspace you find yourself in as you’ve entered this new year, may your expectancy for mystery be ever greater than your expectations, and may you begin to touch that small but powerful part of your inner being that is eternally beautiful, good and full of strength.

 

 

Healing.

Healing feels a lot like a tearing open, a seeping out of soul of all that was given, taken, shared and remembered. Healing is painful, probably one of the most painful things we will endure. And though excruciating, for a time, eventually it leads us into deeper experiences of pleasure and poise. It is not something we can rush, skip over, short-cut or bargain with; it must be felt and lived through. Entirely.

I hate that this is true. But it is. Healing is one of those things in life that has no formula, no specific time frame or “life expectancy”. It is a journey that the heart, mind, soul and body must take in order to be well, integrated and more whole from where it was left off.

More than ever, I am convinced that to lean into the healing process is one of the bravest things human beings can do. It is much easier to numb, compartmentalize, escape and distract ourselves from the pain that we have experienced or are experiencing. Now, I do actually think distractions, or needing to compartmentalize things for A TIME can be helpful. It can keep us afloat and remind us that life is more than the ache, grief or loss that has taken place. However, these things are temporary, and only reach us skin deep. Healing, true healing, must reach beyond that and into the very life flow of our person. It must get into our bones. If we don’t go there, it will fester and rot, it will turn into bitterness, cynicism, rage, self-destructive behaviours, and relational disasters. It will rob us of the joy, vitality and peace that we were, and are all, meant to experience in life.

Unfortunately, the only way out, is through. Through the pain, through the confusion, through the tears, through the memories, through forgiveness, and through acceptance. It is the only way.

Yes, I believe time is a great healer. But, I also believe in the rituals that we put in place during that time. A lot of the time, the rituals for me look like this: Watching numerous episodes of Friends and Queer Eye. Hibernating instead of socializing. Crying, crying and crying some more. Writing, praying, and yelling. Enjoying a cigar while staring out into a sky much bigger than myself. Exercise and sports. Asking close friends to come by just to listen. Getting away for a few days to retreat, to be in silence and solitude and to really go into the places of pain. Return, and receive what my life is. Actually practice gratitude, even when I am so resistant to it. Make a list of all the things I have learnt, and the ways I can be more true to myself in this time. Remember self-compassion, and let myself laugh.

What are some of the rituals you find helpful when going through times of pain; or a time of healing? Do you have any? If not, how can you implement one or two things so that you don’t remain in a stagnant place, without hope or joy?

Recently, I was having tea with an old Professor and now dear friend. We were talking about grief and healing and how essential it is to let ourselves really go through it. She told me a story she learnt from the Ojibway tradition about Grandmother Moon. In the Ojibway tradition, Grandmother Moon is responsible for making the tides come in and out. She draws out the tides. And Grandmother moon within each of us is responsible for also drawing out the waters within us. That water is often our tears. Grandmother moon appears as a light in the darkness, and her light calls out the water within us so that we may be healed.

In the Christian tradition, we can find deep comfort in the Paschal mystery. Which is the life, death and resurrection of the Christ. A cycle of deaths, waiting and new life that we experience in the cycles of our lives. Catholic writer and Priest Ronald Rolheiser expresses it like this in his book “The Holy Longing”:

  1. Good Friday – “the loss of life; real death.” (Name your deaths)
  2. Easter Sunday – “the reception of new life” (Claim your births) 
  3. The Forty Days – “a time for readjustment to the new and a grieving of the old.” (Grieve what you have lost and adjust to the new reality).
  4. Ascension – “letting go of the old and letting it bless you; the refusal to cling to it.” (Do not cling to the old, let it ascend and give you its blessing). 
  5. Pentecost – “the reception of new spirit for the new life that one is already living.”(Accept the spirit of the life that you are in fact living).

Wherever you find yourself in the journey of healing, remember that your pain won’t be forever. Though time feels slow, and the nights bitter cold, you will soon wake to the warmth of a new day. Though you may be broken, you will be healed. Be patient and gentle with yourself, and may you find that extra bit of courage to lean into the darkness that will too, in time, be a great gift.

A blessing for you as you go:

When Walking With Grief – A prayer from the Common Book of Prayer

“Do not hurry as you walk with grief; it does not help the journey.

Walk slowly, pausing often.

Do not hurry as you walk with grief.

Be not disturbed by memories that come unbidden.

Swiftly forgive, and let Christ speak for you unspoken words.

Unfinished conversation will be resolved in him.

Be not disturbed.

Be gentle with the one who walks with grief.

If it is you, be gentle with yourself.

Swiftly forgive; walk slowly, pausing often.

Take time; be gentle as you walk with grief.”

Words from a Poet

My friend Staci Lee and I have been collaborating on some of these writing projects. We decided this month to choose one of our favourite poems to share. I always find it a bit difficult to choose favourites. I have favourites for different reasons, and some that speak to me more profoundly during different seasons of life. For this month, I decided on “Sweet Darkness”, by poet David Whyte.

David Whyte’s words are usually soul gripping and moving. But this poem sums up a deep human experience, while asking the reader more of an existential question; propelling them into the mystical landscape of their own soul. He touches on the themes of darkness, aloneness, vitality, letting go and coming to find your own sense of self in the world.

The last eleven months have brought some very significant changes in my life. Changes that have been excruciating at times, and also some of the most life-giving. If I have learnt anything, it has been that letting go, moving forward, saying no, and having some real self-respect has very much been worth the pain. Choosing to say yes to the things and people that actually make you come ALIVE, and no to those that don’t, no to the things that would be “settling” for you, is a lot harder than we think. Listening to our inner voice can often go against cultural norms, or the opinions from family or friends. It can feel like you are stumbling in the dark, alone. And yet, there is a surety that comes from within yourself, when you enter that space, and welcome it. David Whyte’s words remind us of the sweetness of such a time. That in it, we might actually discover a vitality that we could only dream of before.

Sweet Darkness, by David Whyte

“When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your womb
tonight.

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.”

Darkness.

The days are getting shorter now, as autumn has fully emerged from the warm summer months. Darkness has subtly welcomed our mornings and taken more from our evening light. We wrap ourselves in layers of comfort, to ease the chill of these colder days. Naturally, I think, we take on a slower pace. We cannot anticipate the first snowfall, or the Southern Ontario ice storms. But somehow, we adjust to the rhythms of autumn and winter, to the darkness; to the cold.

Our bodies know that they need to keep warm. That they need a bit more light. They know that we may need to hibernate more than usual; and to walk gently through the world lest we slip. We go to bed earlier, and perhaps allow ourselves that extra bit of sleep in the morning. The physical world teaches us that darkness too has its time and place. Creation submits to the presence of the darker, colder months. Not only does it invite us, but somehow gently nudges us to accept it too. The resistance only seems to make us more miserable.

Truth be told, I am a lover of these darker months. Autumn and winter are my favourite seasons. They have a moodiness, and a melancholic spirit about them. Two things that aren’t foreign to me (sometimes I wish that weren’t the case). However, the seasons in our lives that are clouded by deep darkness, and despair, do not explicitly carry the same magic or anticipation that fall and winter do. They often hold in them much fear, anxiety, confusion and disorientation. And yet, this darkness too is a gift.

I am sure you each have had your fair share of darkness. Perhaps it has been cloaked in grief, loss, or mental health struggles. Perhaps it came from a wrong done to you, a move, a relationship conflict or ending, abuse, or a an unmet longing. Maybe you experienced it, or are currently experiencing it, but have no idea why. It just seems to be there, with no explanation or understanding of it. And you can feel it, almost viscerally.

I know you’ve heard it before, that there is hope within the cloud of despair. That “this too shall pass”. And as cliche as it is, it’s the truth. And maybe just something we all needed to be reminded of. Not only will it pass, but it will mark you, maybe even leave a scar on you, to remind you that you endured, and that grace held you through it. It will remind you, that you too can be, and hold hope for someone else, because you lived to tell the tale of it.

If I look back on my life, it is the times that were completely and utterly dark, that formed me most, and frankly, made me more kind. This is the gift of hindsight. When you are in it however, it feels like complete shit and as though joy will never return to you. But it does and it will.

I can’t tell you how your own box of darkness (as Mary Oliver writes) will shape your life. How, you too will look back on it with some sense of gratitude for the ways it taught you about grace, compassion, kindness, forgiveness and love. But it will. In its own mysterious way and timing, it will cultivate an empathy and spaciousness within you for others to sit, and just be, in the dark.

Just as we let our physical bodies be cared for in these months approaching, with warm baths, and soups, blankets and early nights in with a friend or a book; let yourself be cared for in the times of pain. Make self-care a priority, and don’t feel bad about it! And please, please let others care for you.

I will leave you with a poem by Mary Oliver that a friend gave to me not that long ago. Along with a poem that I often come back to in the more trying times. May these words leave you with a little more hope and light.

Heavy, by Mary Oliver

That time
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
without dying

I went closer,
and I did not die.
Surely God
had His hand in this,

as well as friends.
Still, I was bent,
and my laughter,
as the poets said,

was nowhere to be found.
Then said my friend Daniel
(brave even among lions),
“It’s not the weight you carry

but how you carry it—
books, bricks, grief—
it’s all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it

when you cannot, and would not,
put it down.”
So I went practicing.
Have you noticed?

Have you heard
the laughter
that comes, now and again,
out of my startled mouth?

How I linger
to admire, admire, admire
the things of this world
that are kind, and maybe

also troubled—
roses in the wind,
the sea geese on the steep waves,
a love
to which there is no reply?

Kindness, by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

I have collaborated with the wonderful Staci Lee Kennelly in some of these writing projects.  Please check out her work here:

https://alifedeveloping.org and follow her on Instagram at stacileekennelly

Take Notice

In the last couple of years there has been a surge of literature, both spiritual and psychological, on the benefits of practicing gratitude. If I am perfectly honest, whenever this topic was brought up or encouraged in my life, I would feel a cringe inside of me, almost an aversion to it. I would nod my head and think “yeah yeah, I get it” and go on with my day. I think at the root of that, I just didn’t actually believe in the practice of it. I didn’t actually think taking time to quiet myself enough to give thanks for the outrageous amount of graces I have received in life, would bring a sense of peace or enlightenment. And as awful as it sounds, the popularity of this topic made me want to dart the other way.

It’s Thanksgiving weekend in Canada right now, and though October is my absolute favourite month, and Thanksgiving being one of my favourite holidays (you know, no pressure for gifts, just good food, family, and friends); this year has felt a bit different. A bit clouded and maybe appropriately grey. But as I woke up this morning, made my coffee, sat in my favourite rocking chair, I felt an invitation call me.

As I sat in the silence of my small apartment, I picked up my pen and an inventory of gifts in my life just came out of me. I could almost feel my spirit bow within me in a posture of “thanks”.

And all of a sudden, there were these faces of people, both near and far that came flooding back to me. The encounters with folks who I have met along the way, even just for a week or two who reminded me of simplicity and what really matters in life.

The real friends who stick it out with you. Who sit with you in the shit and mess of life, and who can authentically celebrate your victories. Who make you meals, light candles, and watch your favourite films with you when you’re half asleep.

The family who holds a gracious space for you, no matter what you are telling them on the other line. Who without a doubt is there for you in a second, with unconditional embrace of all that you are. A consistent voice of truth for your dreams and failures.

The mentors who I often think, “How on earth did I end up with these people in my life?” Who have let me into their lives, hearts and spiritual journey’s without hesitation.

Then came the kindness of doctors, counsellors, and pharmacists who care about their jobs and the people who they’ve been entrusted to care for.

For my body. In all of its wonder and imperfection, in its ability to run, walk, cook, clean, feel, and experience the world. The way it has taught me to love with radical acceptance, and care for the created world.

For my mind and heart. For the way I think and feel in this world. The ability to create, to analyze, reflect and respond. For the depth of emotion that reminds me of the layers of experience in life and in God. For the feeling centre of Being and the empathy that it provides.

For experience. For the past experiences that have taught me more about myself, God and the human condition than any dogma or psychology ever has. For the gifts that came from grief, loss and complete desperation and disillusionment. For the moments of complete elation and joy, that propelled me to dream and take steps to live out my vision for life. Because the past reminds me that my present is too a gift. One that I will eventually look back on, with gratitude and fondness for the ways it has led me to where I am going, and who I am becoming.

I think this post is probably more for me than for any reader, and I could sit here for another couple of hours adding to the list. But, for someone who didn’t always believe in the power of practicing gratitude, this morning was a very upfront reminder of the renewing power it has.

I hope that sometime today or this week, you can take a small inventory of your life, however that looks for you. That you would feel the humble adoration that comes from bowing to the power of Grace in your life. Because it is there, we just have to take notice.

A Blessing for Celebration by John O’Donohue

“Now is the time to free the heart,

let all the intentions and worries stop,

free the joy inside the self,

awaken to the wonder of your life. 

Open your eyes and see the friends

whose hearts recognize your face as kin,

those whose kindness watchful and near,

encourages you to live everything here. 

See the gifts the years have given,

things your effort could never earn,

the health to enjoy who you want to be

and the mind to mirror mystery.”