The Tiniest Motions

There are many roads we travel just once, and there are others we visit again and again. This afternoon, like so many afternoons before, I heard the sound of a voice abandoned. And as I headed out the door to walk in the park, I felt that familiar tingle of a road I recognize. It is such a good thing to remember it – the call to pay attention and abandon the self. To be absorbed into something greater and to make note of the world unfolding, transforming itself into something new every moment.

I’m reminded that we can also be transformed.

This I know to be true: no matter how far I run, or fly, or hide from the work, it’s always there waiting. The pen calling to be used, the imagination painting meaning, the heart saying, go deeper. How did it become so difficult to record? And so difficult to be still enough?

No matter; this is a post about returning: changed, but ready to work again.

Author Anne Lamott writes, “It is easy to sense and embrace meaning when life is on track. When there is a feeling of fullness — having love, goodness, family, work, maybe God as parts of life…”

And when life feels off track, it is just as easy to lose our way. We can run in circles searching for what has changed, and how to fix it, but that rarely leads us home. Oftentimes, we just have to be patient, and forge ahead a day at a time until we can see the light again.

“Most of us have figured out that we have to do what’s in front of us and keep doing it… Every time we choose the good action or response, the decent, the valuable, it builds, incrementally, to renewal, resurrection, the place of newness, freedom, justice…”

As Lamott writes, it is by the tiniest motions that we can find the road again that leads us back to our whole selves.

Meanwhile, I’ve been attempting to leap and sprint, or build a new road altogether. And let me say from personal experience, it doesn’t do much good to take arms against your life like that. Sure, there’s always a time for fighting the good fight, but not the bad one. Not the self-defeating one that demands “change now!”

“If you fixate on the big picture, the whole shebang, the overview, you miss the stitching,” Lamott wisely points out.

Wouldn’t life be sweet if we could trust that gentle, slow hand that threads the needle, drives it into the dark fabric and brings it up again, changed and refreshed? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to forget the need of knowing how it all turns out? The truth is that moment by moment, we have the opportunity to be amazed and to stay awake.

So in honor of the tiniest motions, here is a very tiny poem, and with it, the recovery of a stitch:

What more am I
than the observer
of mottled sunlight
casting amber waves
across the kitchen cabinet,
and a bowl split open,
bleeding pink,
revealing the tender ribs
of the sky?

IMG_0411

The Time is Ours

There’s a damp sweetness in the air as I brush my fingertips across a creamy-white shelf fungus clinging indifferently to a thick Doug Fir trunk. I walk onwards down the trail.

My heartbeat and the occasional gust of wind whispering through the leaves are the only sounds aside from the constant jingle of the creek. It rolls over slime encrusted rocks and trickles between a fallen branch, then eagerly winds around a bend. My boots clomp along, chasing its weaving liquid tresses. Clumps of wet loam, pine needles and decaying leaves cling to the waffle print on the undersides of my feet. I breathe in the fresh air.

If only I could savor this moment forever. A moment when my thoughts have dissolved into the forest, strained and cleansed by thousands of bristly tree hands reaching toward one another, touching. A moment when remembering comes without struggle. The sacredness of this home, this body, this life catches in my chest and I hold it there. Tears come, wind comes, and my heartbeat carries on drumming, pushing my legs to keep marching.

I glance at my right wrist – Be extraordinary – the engraved words shimmer between smooth leather encircling my wrist. Everything has changed since I bought the bracelet on a sunny San Diego afternoon 3 years ago.

Today is the birthday of a friend we lost at the too-young age of 27. And in just under a month from now, it will be the 2-year anniversary of the passing of a dear teacher who encouraged me to keep writing and to go see the world, which somehow, miraculously, I’ve now done. There are so many other things that have changed – some small, some big – the length of my hair, the ending and beginning of relationships, the city I live in, the dreams and heartaches I’ve birthed and witnessed, and seen loved ones through.

Time becomes such a strange entity as we grow older. Although it flexes and shrinks in harmony with our perspective and depth of experience, too often, it feels like it’s zooming by. I recently read a refreshing article, The Disease of Being Busy, and it made me wonder just how much our obsession with productivity impacts our perception of the precious minutes we’re each allotted to be here.

The author, Omid Safi, writes,

“When did we forget that we are human beings, not human doings?

What happened to a world in which we can sit with the people we love so much and have slow conversations about the state of our heart and soul, conversations that slowly unfold, conversations with pregnant pauses and silences that we are in no rush to fill?

How did we create a world in which we have more and more and more to do with less time for leisure, less time for reflection, less time for community, less time to just…be?”

In the absence of down time, we crave connection all that much more, and so we flock to social networks, checking our phones as if our friends actually reside inside the little square apps on the screen. Social media is so tempting because for a fraction of the time and effort it takes to interact face-to-face, we can get a hit of meaning and feel like we’re still a part of our loved ones’ lives. But in reality, we’re missing out on true human intimacy without real time spent with one another.

With our packed schedules, I’d also propose we’re missing out on intimate time spent with ourselves, examining our lives, dreaming of things yet to come, practicing our hobbies and wondering about who we are. If disease is a killer of the body, living on autopilot is death to the soul.

When I feel time whizzing by, I remind myself to do what makes me a human being again – I head to nature, I slow down, I write, dance, sing, cook my meals, listen to my heart’s musings, and tune back into the bigger picture.

The memories of the people who are no longer with us are a reminder of time’s preciousness. These moments are ours for the savoring. Why not spend them intentionally? What will YOU do this week to push pause on the “doing” and return to “being”?

My Nephew smelling a rose on a recent trip to the Portland Rose Garden.

My nephew smelling a rose on a recent trip to the Portland Rose Garden.

When the Leaves Fall: Loss, Grief & Facing Tomorrow

It was almost a typical Monday. I woke up, drove to work, sat down at my desk, and sipped a cup of hot coffee. One thing that was definitely different than the previous Monday was the weather: dark gray clouds, ominous with the smell of rain, hovered outside the window. It was the Fall Equinox after all, and nature was fittingly showing off her punctuality.

I felt as if I had gone to bed the night before still in the dreamy arms of summer, only to wake up at fall’s feet a day later. But that wasn’t the only thing that caught me off guard. That morning, a message from a friend in Europe was waiting in my inbox with a request I couldn’t have anticipated.

She asked me to write a love letter to a family member who needed something to hold onto — a reason to keep going after the sudden death of her best friend had turned everything painfully inside out, and upside down.

I was stunned first, and then sad second, and then I got down to business. I spent two days thinking about what I’d write. What could I possibly say that could help?

I don’t have the answers; that’s the first conclusion I came to. And although I’ve been wracked with grief myself at the loss of several friends over the past few years, and most recently, my beloved writing mentor, I’m aware that loss touches us in such different and personal ways. There is no “one-size-fits-all” advice to give when it comes to grief. And yet, I was being asked to offer something to a stranger that would somehow encourage her to keep moving forward and still find the beauty in living.

This is not the only person that has been brought to my attention who is currently experiencing loss and change. At this time of year especially, it feels as if a hand has silently grasped the veil of summer’s illusions and pulled it aside, revealing a plainer, much harsher truth. Relationships are ending. Paths are shifting. Souls are departing. But just as there is no problem that exists without a solution, the shadow of life cannot exist without light. These illusions are being shaken loose so we can reconnect with our most primal existence and remember that life is a yin and yang of life and death, love and suffering.

“For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.” -Khalil Gibran

It goes without saying that it’s a tough time for many. The only salve I know of is to take hands with those you love and share the load. We’re in this together.

And in that spirit, I sat on my blue and white bedspread and wrote my 28th* love letter, which I promptly sent through the internet to a country approximately 5, 298 miles away.

With the permission of my friend, I’ve pasted it below. Please note that I’ve changed the name of the letter’s recipient in order to protect her privacy. My hope is that if you are reading this, and you too are suffering a loss of great proportion, this helps ease some of the pain, if even for a few minutes.

Birds Flying

Dear Anna,

I met your sister in a hostel just over a year ago. When I saw her from across the room, she was a glowing mass of passion and energy – a force of spirit. And I am so glad I got to travel with her. Out of her love for you, Anna, she asked me if I’d write you a love letter, because she tells me you are going through a very difficult time — an unimaginably painful time.

I’ve been thinking about you for the last two days, wondering how I can possibly comfort you with my words when you must be feeling as if the world has torn a piece right out of your heart. Darling, I want to tell you that the only beautiful thing that comes from loss is this: you feel your beating heart, albeit its being full of sadness and grief, it’s yours, and it’s beating for a reason. There’s a purpose for your soul here on earth, and this immense trial in your life may be a part of it. Perhaps now some comfort will come from reading other people’s stories of loss. Look to those who have been torn open, but somehow made it through to the other side. Cheryl Strayed, author of “Wild” is one of those people. She writes matter-of-factly about the process of grief:

“Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.” -Cheryl Strayed

My advice is to let the grief exist. No need to fight it. This is your experience, and it’s real, and it’s valid. It’s also 100% natural. There’s no one way to feel grief, so don’t believe the books that tell you about the stages and try to estimate how long it will take to move on. This isn’t a matter of logicality; it’s a deeply personal matter of the heart. The process of grief is one of the core experiences that makes you human and connects you to people all across the globe who also know what it feels like to have lost someone they loved very much.

As difficult as it feels now, one day you will wake up with a little less pain than the day before. Gradually, after many days and months, and years, you will gain a strength you never knew you were capable of. And that strength will guide you to put one foot in front of the other and practice living again, until one day, you’ll feel love bloom in your heart, and you will risk caring about another person as much as you did about your friend. This is how you will know that you’re healing.

Until then, darling, there will be a lot of very difficult days. Unfortunately, no one can protect you from them, so you just have to hold onto what good things you can (like your family, a big oak tree, a walk by a stream, your favorite music, etc.) and ride your emotions like the brave woman you are. You are surrounded by people who love you and want to be there for you. Take their hands when you can. You don’t ever have to do this on your own; although no one can take the pain away, sharing your thoughts and feelings with others will help a lot.

Eventually, after an unknown amount of time, you will find a way to make peace with your friend leaving too soon. But in order for acceptance to come, you’ll have to do some soul searching and reading, and deep thinking about what you think life and death are about, and find a way of making sense of things for yourself. This might take a very long time, and understandably so. It’s okay to ask god, or friends, or family, or yourself the same questions over and over again, and not have any immediate answers. Humans spend their lifetimes trying to understand why things are the way they are.

Still, it won’t change the fact that they are the way they are. And that’s why sorting it out the best you can by establishing your own philosophy will give you a very important pathway to navigate your sadness by. This is what spirituality and religion exist for – they provide a light for you to walk beneath when you are lost in unimaginable darkness.

And on that topic, the universe cannot exist without light. What that means is there will be good things to come for you, Anna. This is not the end. It’s just the beginning of something different. You will get through to the other side.

In the meantime, my heart goes out to you. You are experiencing one of the most difficult aspects of being alive, and it fucking sucks. That is undeniable.

But the light is still all around you and within you, and someday soon, you’ll be able to see it again; of this, I am 100% certain!

Love to you,
Abby

This is what I imagine the landscape of healing might look like before plants break through and bloom in your heart.

This is what I imagine the landscape of healing might look like before plants break through and bloom in your heart.