Darkness.

This is a piece I wrote last year. It felt appropriate to share again as the winter months approach.

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

Listening to Soul

The idea of “listening to your soul” can sound like some ethereal concept that is hard to grasp, or just fluffy language within the newest spiritual fad. It’s not. Not in my opinion anyway. If I am honest, I really believe it is the most essential way to live.

The thing about soul, is that it encompasses our entire being. It is not limited to our intellect, or heart; our emotions or feelings. It is not just our physical body or intuition. It is all those things combined. It is our essence. It is our psyche and consciousness. It is the energy of our being that moves through the world and is connected to something larger than us. It can be hard to define, because the soul comprises all of these things and has an impact on every aspect of what makes us, “us”.

Our soul speaks to us. I believe that with every fibre of my being. She whispers in ways that result in a deep knowing about something or someone. She can manifest in our bodies feeling physically ill or in pain when we don’t listen to her nudges. She can bring about a moment of sharp clarity in our intellect and mind.

Our soul has a sacred intelligence that is unique to us, and goes beyond what we can grasp or understand. Soul sees the bigger picture, and often asks us to trust her when we cannot see that image fully formed.

But what does it mean to listen to your soul? How do we even do that?

For me, it has required a silence and stillness. It usually means getting alone, and quieting my rational mind and emotive heart. Sometimes it means going for a long walk or run. What is it for you?

When my soul is trying to say something to me, it can feel like a few different things:

When she has reservation or hesitation about something, my body feels more tense and on edge. I usually get an unsettledness within me that nudges me to pay attention and take my time. My mind can feel like it is on overdrive because I am trying to make sense of something or convince myself that what I am perhaps intuiting is nonsense. Soul speaks up.

When she has an openness and readiness towards something, it can feel like my whole person is expanding. Like my body is giving a “full and wholehearted yes!” It is as if the world opens up and there is a surge of deep joy and excitement, even if it feels scary and unknown. My mind feels clear and hungry for new knowledge and insight. It is as if the world is a safe place to take risks and play!

When she is quiet and content, it is like my entire person is just at ease. It is as if there is permission within me to just be and continue to be where I am. Striving ceases, I feel a sense of “okay-ness” in who I am, and where I am. That I can keep going and all shall be well.

Are there ways your soul is speaking to you? What is keeping you from really listening? How can you carve out space today to connect to that sacred intelligence within you? 

I leave you with a blessing from John O’ Donohue “May the Light of your Soul guide you”

“May the light of your soul guide you.
May the light of your soul bless the work
You do with the secret love and warmth of your heart.
May you see in what you do the beauty of your own soul.
May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light and renewal to those
Who work with you and to those who see and receive your work.
May your work never weary you.
May it release within you wellsprings of refreshment, inspiration and excitement.
May you be present in what you do.
May you never become lost in the bland absences.
May the day never burden you.
May dawn find you awake and alert, approaching your new day with dreams,
Possibilities and promises.
May evening find you gracious and fulfilled.
May you go into the night blessed, sheltered and protected.
May your soul calm, console and renew you.”

Body.

When you tear your ACL and go through reconstructive surgery, there is little that compares to that kind of pain and awareness of your body (at least in my experience). As much as I wish I didn’t injure myself back in January, the things I have learnt along the way, not to mention the importance of Embodiment, have been quite revolutionary for me.

Whenever talking about physicality and body image, I grew up believing and hearing that it’s “what’s on the inside that counts”. Though this is an honourable sentiment, and even true in a lot of ways, it taught me that my body, and all that makes me a human being with flesh on, was somehow secondary to what was “within” me. It only reinforced the dualism that I subconsciously lived out of for so long.

For a long time, I believed that my flesh, my sexuality, my desires, and even care for my body (how I dress, whether or not I wear make-up, how much I work-out, what I eat etc.) was either vain, or “dangerous”. I did not know how to integrate my Christian faith and spirituality with this (major) aspect of myself. I felt fragmented and quite honestly it sent me into a tumultuous struggle of wanting to be “pure of heart” while still being “human”. The thing is, these two things are not mutually exclusive. To pursue one, does not mean you abandon the other. At all.

Unfortunately, many of us (maybe more so those in the Christian community), have believed this, and it has influenced not only our decisions but our view of ourselves, how we believe God views us. Many of us have been living compartmentalized lives, and more and more I am beginning to realize how detrimental that can be to us.

Just from a psychological perspective, this is where I think so many self-destructive behaviours and habits come from. Where self forgetting, self loathing and harmful habits can originate. It’s a breeding ground for shame.

We do not know how to love our bodies. We do not know that they are actually good, beautiful and made for vitality and yes, pleasure! Made for celebration and emotion, made for service of others and self-care. Our bodies are made to experience this wonderful and terrible life in and through.

And so, what if we actually experienced God/ the Divine in our BODY and even in our SEXUALITY. What if we actually experienced a sense of integration. I believe we really would become more loving, more compassionate, and more “pure of heart”; in the most robust sense of the phrase.

I can only speak from the perspective of a woman, though I know men struggle in their own ways with their physicality, sexuality and body image. Asking questions like, “what it actually means to inhabit our bodies in all of their splendour”, is essential if we are to experience healing and spiritual awareness in all facets of our lives.

I have seen in others, and experienced for myself, the harmful ways that this dualism has at times brought. It is something I have grown more passionate about over the years, because for too long we have made our decisions, compiled our beliefs and approached God from a place of fear, rather than a place of love. And how many times have we read and heard, “Do not be afraid.” So, let us not fear any longer.

Here are some questions to consider:

What is your relationship to your body like? What is your relationship to your sexuality like (and I don’t just mean whether one is having “sex” or not, but as a whole)? Do you experience God within these things or separate from them? 

I leave you with a piece I wrote in light of this. Peace & compassion to you and your body.

 

I am my body

 

Silk and tender, fat and fleshy

like the cut of meat, most flavourful.

‘Feast on the world!’

It is juicy. It is delicious.

I am my body.

Strong and tight,

lean, and a long waited resilience

she speaks up, damnit!

It is brave. It is power.

I am my body.

Seer, taster, toucher and hearer.

Breather, feeler, thinker and yearner

I am my body.

Trauma and healing, lodged between her

Desire and pleasure, cry out of her

Pain and dis-ease, know her.

I am my body.

My body speaks to me. May my body listen

My body speaks to you. May your body hear

Your body speaks to me. May my body receive.

A home for all that is,

I am body.

Transitional Grief

I’ve been reading quite a bit on Transitional Grief these days. The term itself is a comfort. To know that what we all, at some point or another, may feel the grief that comes with transition. Any change in our lives can bring with it mixed feelings and sometimes can be confusing when one feels both deep sadness and great joy, at the same time.

When do we experience transitional grief? Ultimately any form of change or adjusting to a new normal can bring about transitional grief. Events like: having a baby, divorce, moving, breakups, marriage, leaving a job, retiring, graduating, children leaving home; all of these and more bring about this sense of being in transition. Leaving what was and adjusting to a new normal.

I remember when I first read about transitional grief, I felt a wave of warmth come over me. Mostly because I haven’t really been able to put language to my experience internally lately. It has been hard to pin-point. There is deep loneliness and yet I am surrounded by some of the most beautiful people, in this new city. There is disorientation, a sense of not really feeling “at home” anywhere. There is longing, for the people I have left and yet longing for the start of the new adventure school will bring. There are mid-afternoon meltdowns, and evening solace in the comforts of my new apartment. There is anxiety, and there is deep peace. And to top it off, you may also feel shame. Because some of these choices and decisions to change something in your life are ultimately GOOD, so why are you feeling so blue? But shame too, is normal. It’s terrible, but it’s normal. Just because you’ve chosen something good and healthy for you, does not mean you won’t experience the more painful emotions that appear on the other side of the coin.

I was talking to my dear friend, Justin, the other day. He is someone who has also gone through a similar transition, and he said it well,

It’s an unusual grief because you’re still tethered and attached to something you love, something that is very much alive, but also something you can’t have or touch or hold. Nothing is dead or dying other than the form or shape of something in your life.”

I knew this move would be daunting and bring about its own challenges, but no one can really prepare you for what’s on the other side. Just as I would imagine those friends of mine who prepared to give birth to their babies. You really can only prepare so much for that moment. You just have to go through it, and experience it as it comes.

I have found voicing my emotions to be of great help. Even if they are a blubbering mess to the people on the other end — thank you by the way. I have found meditation and centering prayer to be what grounds me. I have found exploring the “new” around me to cultivate a sense of play and adventure within me. I have found reading novels again to be companions for the journey when it’s lonely. Cooking new meals and getting good sleep. Connecting to my body (even if it’s limited right now) by swimming, biking or just a small physio routine to remind me of the present moment.

There really is no right way to grieve. No right way at all. So, be gentle with yourself. And if you are a close friend to someone who is going through a transition, or in some form of grief, be gentle and patient with them too. They most likely wish they didn’t feel all that they feel. Be present with them, and remind them they can do it. Remind them that this will take time. Remind them that you believe in them and that they have what they need within them to venture into this new territory. 

In the words of Mary Oliver

“Things take the time they take. Don’t worry.

How many roads did St. Augustine follow

before he became St. Augustine.”

 

 

 

In-Between

To be in-between something is defined as “being situated between two extremes, or two categories”; an intermediate thing; between two clear states or stages and therefore hard to “describe or know exactly”. To be in-between is somewhat uncomfortable and often where, I think, most of our growth and exploration happens. It forces us to not settle for simplistic thinking that doesn’t get at the core and rawness of where we actually are. It nudges us past dualisms and into a more nuanced and expansive way of living and believing. But this can be hard for us. We like to keep things neat and tidy and clean and clear. The in-between is always an invitation to look beyond that, and to discover more.

I am quite literally in an in-between these days. Geographically and physically yes, but that too can mirror the in-betweens we find ourselves internally as well. I moved cities a couple of weeks ago, in order to pursue some vocational goals. And it can feel like I am in-between two worlds. I have not yet started my program for school, and so the days here are very slow and simple and lonelier without the community that became family to me. I am slowly meeting new people and making this a “home”. But, it is not about leaving the people and places back in Hamilton behind and venturing into a completely new life here in Ottawa. It is all about integration. It is about the merging that can happen, and that does happen in the in-between. It happens in the tension of stepping away from something, from a place, and leaning in towards a new landing place where the old and new can merge.

Unfortunately we cannot rush this process. I know how easy it is to want to run back to the “old” way, to the familiar, to the comfortable. It is SCARY to step into and onto new frontiers. It literally feels like you have jumped off a cliff and have not yet safely landed. It feels like our spirit is lingering in the free fall, and it feels fragile and frightening. We don’t quite know what it will look like to land and where we go from there. But, this free fall, this in-between is ESSENTIAL to our becoming and to our growth.

My experience of God, the world and the resiliency within myself has expanded tremendously since I have learnt to embrace these more liminal spaces. It has required a lot of courage and owning my doubts and fear, and honestly that has been painful but so very liberating. I am no expert on these things – all I have is my experience and my knowledge of how others I admire have walked through these tensions. So, if you find yourself in an in-between, this would be my advice to you:

  1. Trust the process. Try and let yourself just BE where YOU ARE. Don’t rush it, in fact you can’t really. These things take the time they take.
  2. Ask yourself questions about the uncomfortable feelings, “What is this fear saying to me? What is it highlighting? Why do I want to stay in the familiar? What does this say to me about how I view God and myself?”
  3. Find your tribe. Not everyone will understand the season you find yourself in. Find those friendships and relationships that are safe and welcoming of you, no matter what; and let them into this time of your life.

May time and love, patience and gentleness embrace you as you journey forward.

 

New

I am on the brink of a lot of “newness”, and a lot of change. Though I know the seasons of ordinary sameness, quite a bit actually, both have their charms and challenges. But this week is my last week, for the next two years anyway, of living in a city I have grown to fall completely in love with; a city I actually consider “home”.

Newness is exciting, daunting and refreshing. There is a new landscape, both interior and exterior, that we are invited to explore and discover as we take the leap into this new change. It can feel like you are entering a season of becoming. I have found this especially true when experiencing new ways of thinking and believing. My spirituality and faith life for instance, has taken on new forms and depths the last two years. It felt like I was completely free falling as I began to deconstruct. But the liberation I experienced during some of the reconstruction showed me how much risk and the “new” are more about adventure than they are about the fear of landing somewhere, or really, the fear of not landing at all. It is in the newness we begin to realize how much he are held by something bigger, and how little we need to hold it altogether.

Newness can bring with it a lot of unknown. The risk we take in leaving what has become our norm, and propelling ourselves into something we don’t quite know as familiar yet, makes us ask all the “what if’s”. It can stir in us some anxiety, doubts or fear. As well as hope, excitement and courage. It is a bit of both/and in my opinion. We can simultaneously feel these paradoxical emotions and it still be a healthy and good change.

Do you feel a sense of “newness” emerging in your life? If so, in what way? What is the fear and anxiety saying to you about it, or about yourself? What do you feel excited for in this newness? Where do you sense hope?

As these summer months begin, let yourself fall into this new rhythm. Savour the moments of sameness, and dig deep into yourself for the courage you need to embark on this new beginning.

I will leave you with one of my favourite blessings from John O’ Donohue

FOR A NEW BEGINNING 

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.

Invest

I am sure you are familiar with the saying, “The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. It’s greener where you water it”. If I have discovered anything in the last eight years of living in this beloved and quirky city, it is that. It can be so easy to compare our lives to the potential life we could have “over there”.

There is a difference between leaving a place or job etc, in order that you may run “towards” something, rather than to run “away” from it. Might be something worth asking ourselves when we are considering our decisions.

As I prepare to move cities for the next couple of years, I am so aware of how fast time is moving and how my emotions surrounding this change sneak up on me in very unexpected ways. There is this oscillation that takes place between pulling the one’s closest to me, closer; while wanting to self-protect and pull away in order to soften the blow of their absence. I find the practice of investing especially difficult when I know things are changing, when I know relationships will look differently than they do now. When I know the more I invest, the more I will love, and the more I run the risk of being wounded. And yet, somehow, it is worth it every single damn time.

It’s a choice. It is always a choice, investing in the people around us and in the places we live and work. It can be tempting to numb out and just move through our lives and relationships without connection, without letting each other in. More than ever have I felt this temptation. But, the more we risk the investment, the more we open to the love that is always there, and available in new forms and ready to be received, if I let it.

“Don’t be afraid to be confused. Try to remain permanently confused. Anything is possible. Stay open, forever, so open it hurts, and then open up some more, until the day you die, world without end, amen.”

George Saunders

Life will always throw things at us, tempting us to close up and invest only in the “safe” ways. Don’t get me wrong, there are boundaries to be had and set, and we cannot and should not invest in everything and everyone. But, who and what we choose to invest in is what makes life rich and full of meaning.

So, let us do so without fear of rejection, without the fear of failing, or the fear of being let down. Because reality is, we will feel those things from time to time. But, continually saying yes to investing, reaps a wellspring of love and friendship that no fear can measure up to.

Stay open. Stay soft. Stay present.