Fertile Emptiness

We stand today at the gate of the year as winter tightens its grip on the land. The trees are bare, the air is bone chillingly cold and a freezing fog is bringing an early darkness to our valley. The Christmas lights have been dimmed and the frenzy of the season has dissipated. There are no more distractions to come between us and the reality of the season. Statistically, it is often after the Christmas season that many people experience a darkness and emptiness within. When we become disconnected from the great cycles of nature, we fail to hear her story and to recognize that nature’s story is also ours. So as we stand in winter, at the gate of the year, what story is nature inviting us into?

It is the story of the fertile possibilities hidden within the apparent emptiness and death of this harsh season.  I am reminded of T.S.Eliot’s poem “Journey of the Magi.”  This is no sanitized Christmas story. The magi take the difficult journey in the dead of winter “Just the worse time of the year/For a journey, and such a long journey”   Yet they persevere, obeying the call to  step into the void of uncertainty, unaware of the profound change it will bring. They travel in darkness and the cold of winter on a journey that brings no comfort or reassurance, instead “With voices in our ears, saying that this was folly…”  In telling his story, years into the future, the magus questions whether a death or a birth took place, for, on their return home, their old certainties have shifted and they are “…no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation…” However, though it was a long time ago and a very difficult and painful time, the magus states,” I would do it again…”  He recognizes that  birth and death are one experience.   Though this birth was “…hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death…” he does not regret the journey.

The year ahead is the unknown that we step into with trust, aware that the only certainty is change. The dying of the year is a great time to let go of what no longer serves us, be it material things, relationships that have run their course, outmoded perspectives or ways of being.  Today we stand between the death of the old  year and the possibilities dwelling in the fertile emptiness of the untraveled year ahead. It is still an unwritten story and one that will bring us light and darkness, joy and sorrow, birth and death but also the joy of discovery.

 

TO LIVE LIKE THE POET

To live like the poet is to live in sync with the soul’s needs, to understand its language and respond to its call. The soul speaks  the language of symbol, imagery, metaphor, dreams, intuitive insight and understanding. It is a language of the heart which can only be learned when the heart is open and willing to be vulnerable.

To live a poetic life, it is not necessary to be a poet in the conventional sense but to understand how the poet sees and experiences his or her reality. A dance around the kitchen can be a poem, a child’s laugh can be a poem, coffee with friends can be a poem anything that celebrates life can be a poetic experience. To live the poetic experience means to rub away the condensation from the windows of our perception so that we see the beauty of life with more depth and clarity. If you have ever had cataract surgery you will know how the world is suddenly alive again with clarity and vibrant colour when the cloudy lens has been removed.

The poet is one who delves deeply under the skin of life and brings the experience to light. She writes in the same way that a flower opens its petals to the sun and sends forth its fragrance into the air as pure gift. The fragrance just is and does not depend for its value on the attitude, likes or dislikes of those who receive it. It is an act of the generous creativity of the universe. The poet cannot withhold his vision any more than the flower can withhold its fragrance.

Living a poetic life in sync with the needs of the soul does not guarantee freedom from pain and struggle for like all artists, the poet must take the risk of entering into the full experience of life, the light and the darkness. Commitment to the call of the soul is not for the faint of heart for it will demand much of us, as does every creative act. All human beings share in the creative energy of the universe and the soul longs for its expression. She calls incessantly, urging us to create with beauty and compassion our great Opus, our greatest work of art, namely our own lives.

The Gift of Winter

The weather for the last week has been unusually beautiful with  warm, sunny days and cloudless blue skies. But winter suddenly slipped in this morning with an unexpected fall of snow,  just to remind us that the season is on its way and perhaps encourage us with this moment of beauty.

It is possible to feel a pause between the seasons, to sense that something is about to change. During this pause, before the dark storms of winter finally swirl upon us, it is good to reflect upon the gift of the coming season. The miracle of winter lies beneath in the darkness and silence where the work of death and resurrection of the seed takes place. The harshness above hides the growth and change happening below. Without this hidden work of nature there would be no spring. So in a sense winter is the most important season.

We are not separate from the basic laws and cycles of nature. Perhaps as we experience the immense and often chaotic changes both individually and globally which are taking place in this twenty first century, we should remember the words of Max Ehrmann, “You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should…”  (Desiderata.)

The secret gift of winter then is trust, trust that what we perceive with our five senses is not the full picture. so “in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul…”  This is not a time to sink into fear and despair but to trust that what lies beneath is a process of evolution and change for the better and to trust that the Universe is the one in control of this evolution. Life abhors stasis and must of its very nature, as the compassionate, creative energy of the universe, push towards greater life and balance. This process may require a great shaking up as old paradigms shift and disintegrate and new paradigms are formed. As the service for the Christian burial says, “Life is changed, not taken away.”

It is up to us whether we decide to learn through wisdom or through kicking and screaming, struggle and pain but learn we will as all is brought back into balance. The Trumps of this world are the catalysts put on the path to challenge us to change. Their very behaviour forces hard questions into the light so that we are pushed to question the very fundamentals of how we live and how we want to live, how we have all individually and collectively created this hate and violence in our world. Healing requires courage and brutal honesty if we are to shift these dark times into the light. Winter has its time and its purpose but the new growth of spring will only come  when the work of winter is complete. As the lyrics of Tom Paxton’s 1970’s song states, “My own life is all I can hope to control, so let my life be lived for the good, the good of my soul…Peace will come, let it begin with me…”

Fall Transition

As a former teacher, September rather than January, spelled new beginnings and it is hard to break that association. However, nature seems at odds with this sense of new beginnings as she starts her preparation for winter. As September proceeds, the fullness of summer begins to wane, flowers and foliage wither and fade. The gathering of the harvest grain begins. The days grow shorter. The birds prepare to fly south. Animals gather food for hibernation. I love this season with the cooler weather, the sparkle of frost on the grass, the scarves of mist that slither over the fields in a blue dusk and of course the blaze of sunset colours that carpet the forest floor. Fall is a relatively short season of transition into the dark days of winter but if we look at Fall as part of a cycle and not a season in its own right, the feeling of new beginnings is not so odd, for all transitions are part and parcel of the cycle of endings and beginnings.

Transitions are part of a path to a new beginning at whatever level we experience it. The task is to let go of what must die in order to open up new growth within and without our world. Fall is a wonderful time to pause and reflect, to drink in the beauty of the falling leaves and trust the dying and loss we see and feel all around us. The falling leaf and the new budding are but one moment in time. If we allow it, the splendour of the season reminds us that death and life are one and loss and grief are an inescapable part of everyone’s experience. As the tree sheds its old foliage and undergoes a stripping down to core, we know that this is not the end of the story for come spring, the new leaves will re-emerge in a splendour of translucent green. Under the ground, in the darkess and silence of winter’s seeming death, new life is already stirring. There is no death, only the appearance and perhaps the colours of Fall are shouting this message to a despairing world.

Creativity

There was never a time when creativity was more desperately needed than today. Creativity, intuition, spirituality. They are all aspects of the one energy which informs our world. When our innate creativity is denied or suppressed it tends to erupt in its shadow form, wreaking havoc and destruction.

What then is creativity? It is simply the divine spark of life energy within us all which desires to manifest. This impulse to expression is not the prerogative of specialists and artistic experts only nor is creativity confined to the expressive arts, though the arts are a sublime expression of the creative impulse. All people hold this gift  but unfortunately we do very little to encourage the young to find this gift within themselves and in each other. To be human is to be an artist for it is a participation in the vibrant energy of life itself. Life is proliferate and generous and invites us into the creative dance of opposites. Life calls to life, exploring its own magnificence and experimenting with myriad creative expressions at every level of our existence.

Creativity must be nourished if it is to develop and grow. When the focus is on entering fully into the process, our artistic endeavors produce wonders. Creation is a deeply spiritual act and the artist must practise the art of surrendering fully to the process. Eventually the song will begin to sing us, the story will write us and the wood carving will pull our spirit in.

Song of the Woodcarver

I caress you gently with my hands

and feel the ancient heartbeat of the wood;

a legacy in bark and bole that sang

a history from the start of time until

the humming saw with violence came

and cut you down in pieces to be sold

away from sun and wind and rain

and seasons passing tale within your spine.

Now upon my bench

you lie inert and still, waiting for

the healing stroke of carving tools

pulling to light the poem within your grain

setting the spirit free for all to see.

I cut and chip and smooth in a synergy

of dancing wood that soothes my soul

and lifts me to another world

where creator and creation blend

together into one

and sing a song of wood.

 

 

Going Into The Forest

Someone once said that adventures don’t begin until we “get into the forest.” Going into the forest is a metaphor for stepping off the beaten track and taking a risk to follow one’s bliss. It is the road less traveled that will take the traveler who knows where.  The woods can be dark or pooled with light. The forest can be wet or gently moist and smelling of the richness of the earth. It can also be tinder dry and brittle, erupting without warning into a fiery inferno. The forest hides a myriad of animal and insect life. It can be a safe place or hold many unsuspecting hazards. One must listen attentively in the forest and re-train the clogged city ears. But ultimately, the forest is a place of rich adventure, only available to those who are willing and have the courage and wisdom necessary to step off the beaten path and discover the secrets lying hidden in its depths.

Listen to the Forest

Listen to the singing of the rain, listen to its drumbeat in the fields,

Listen ’til you feel the cleanse of tears,

Then your Soul will come dancing unto you.

Listen to the soughing of the wind, listen to its rocking in the trees,

Listen ’til you feel the touch of love,

Then your Soul will come dancing unto you.

Listen to the running of the streams, listen to the music of its song.

Listen ’til you feel the energy shift,

Then your Soul will come dancing unto you.

Listen to the murmur of the night, listen to the shout of breaking morn,

Listen ’til you feel the circle turn,

Then your Soul will come dancing unto you.

Listen to the wisdom of your heart, listen to the spiralling call of soul,

Listen ’til you feel that you are one

With your Soul who comes dancing unto you,

With your Soul who comes dancing unto you.

 

 

Dance as Meditation

Someone once said to me “A bird can sing with a broken wing but not a broken heart.” And what about us? Can we dance or sing when the body is whole but the heart is not? I believe we can because song and dance are a medium of the heart’s stirrings but also a medium by which that same heart is healed and made whole again.

When I dance as a form of meditation, I experience not only the soaring ecstasy of the bird’s flight but also the tumbling dive experienced by Jonathan Livingstone Seagull (Jonathan Livingstone Seagull – Richard Bach) which left him bruised and bewildered. Both the heights and depths touch upon the Divine with me.

The movements of the dance symbolize this two-fold rhythm by which I am transformed. My feet are firmly grounded on the earth, while my body stretches upward and outward. The pattern and variety of the dance necessitates always a return to the earth before flowing out again to a different physical level. As the weaving shape of my body flows in time and space, I touch upon my truest centre where God is and my spirit is stilled.

Like Jonathan, who felt the stirrings of something new striving to be born within him, for a long time I danced alone. Perhaps my experience is best articulated in the words of the lyrics of Neil Diamond which describes Jonathan’s creative vision.

…And we dance to a whispered voice/Overheard by the soul/Undertook by the heart…

The dance is of itself, like all creative expression, a journey toward our centre. It is a dangerous journey because it takes me not only into the ecstasy of the skies but deep into the dark underground places of my own alienations where the spirit is remoulded and made new. Because it is a spiritual journey, the dance is a transformative force and must of necessity, spiral out again into the human circle. There I reconnect in compassion to all that is and a sense of responsibility and commitment is born. The gift must be breathed out again into the universe in gratitude, birthing beauty and calling to life the Divine within the other. Jonathan passed on his gift because it belonged, not to him alone, but to the whole flock. So he exhorted his pupil “…Night bird find your way/for none may know it just as you may/seek out your harbour of light/let your song be heard…” (Richard Bach)

Sacred meditation dance is a special mode of this expression. Every dance expresses a spiritual essence hidden within an outer form. The dance seeks to shape the dancer’s own inner reality, while at the same time, communicating this reality. Together we create a sacred space wherein the Divinity is touched. In this sacred space, we look together into the well of our being and find reflected there the image of God.