Recently, I listened to a conversation with the poet Marie Howe. If you don’t listen already, On Being is a great place to hear poets, physicists, and other big picture thinkers discuss…well, the big picture. And the small picture. Really, it’s just a wellspring of inspiration and mystery. Anyway, Marie Howe mentioned that she has her students do an exercise where they must list 10 observations. Not metaphors – no “The sun shines like a golden earring” or anything. Simple, physical, as-is observations using the senses. Of course I scoffed as if I were above this and could do it no problem. Wrong. It’s hard to do, and so very helpful – whether or not you write. If you practice meditation or mindfulness or any kind of organized religion, this is good to do. I have been starting with 3 – 5 observations. Today, I built it up to 10, and stitched together what follows.
Lent has come and gone, Easter and spring are busy making themselves known. I’ve done so very little writing, instead focusing on the joy of a good bit of travel and spring cleaning now that warm temperatures are here. I’ve been trying to practice more intentional mindfulness, not just mindfulness in the midst of anxiety or worry. This poem was the result of that.
It’s been awhile since I’ve written. It started with my week off in February – I figured I’d take a break. Now, though, I’ve just been lazy.
But it’s Lent, a time to get back to ourselves. A time to pluck away the distractions and to plant the seeds of a holier self. I know “holy” isn’t a word people like to hear or read; it smacks of self-righteousness, stuffiness, even silliness. But our distaste for the word doesn’t change the fact that Lent is a time to practice holiness in a mindful way. We balk at things like “holiness” or rosary beads or anything related to old-time religion. But what else is Lent other than 40 days of mindfulness? Or the rosary other than a form of meditation or centering prayer? Whether you choose to be holier, or more mindful, or enlightened, it’s all the same. More awareness, more presence, more peace. And that takes a certain amount of work (and un-work).
I’ve been really trying to do the work to get to a more peaceful, present place. I’ve been seeing a counselor to help me notice, work through, and come to terms with worry and anxiety. That’s hard (weird?) to share with family and strangers on this blog, but hey, here we are. While it’s not ‘clinical’ or restricting my routines, my tendency to worry, analyze, and (falsely) predict isn’t helpful. Or fun. The week I decided to make the first appointment, the homily at church was centered on having to prune our lives of the things that keep us from God. Things that even seem a part of our personality. I realized that making the first appointment was the right thing: I need to remove my anxious, reactive mind, even if it means getting on my hands and knees and getting dirty.
I’ve been getting dirty. It’s not easy to notice all the times you’re reacting and not acting; all the times you’re dramatizing and fixating and living in thoughts and not reality. It’s been a worthwhile Lenten practice; it’ll be a worthwhile lifetime practice.
So, only I wrote a poem this week. Last week I was on vacation from work and also from any sense of responsibility and obligation. What a treat! (Makes up for public school pay, hehe.) In honor of Mardi Gras, and the most delicious cake I have ever baked and eaten, I offer up this poem. It was inspired by the bountiful crumbs decorating my counter, and an burgeoning mindfulness practice.
It’s Wednesday, I know, I know. Yesterday was Valentine’s! And the day before was a snow day! The days go wacky in the depths of this winter weather. We still managed to infuse poetry into our Tuesday. Both of us kind of had slapdash poems; who cares? It’s fun to use your brain in a creative, stretchy, thoughtful way that you don’t normally. Without further ado, the poems.
The snow is falling quickly here, and sideways. It’s a nice occasion to stop and slow down. I’m home from work (hooray for snow days!) and my husband is working from home. This is how life should be: slow, with two or three cups of coffee per person, and people alone together.
There has been so much on my mind. Since last writing, I am feeling less stuck. I am worrying less about if I’m seeing and hearing God. That feeling comes in waves. But what’s been stuck in my mind is the delicate balance of knowing that God is both imminent and transcendent. Meaning: God needs me to care about the daily, mundane nonsense – the nitty-gritty, the politics, etc; God also needs me to care about the greater good, the long-term vision, the kingdom.
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.
That field is the kingdom of God; a beloved community if God is not a part of your vision and vocabulary. I can’t help but feel that I can see that field, a vision of wholeness and holiness, even though there’s a lot obscuring it. John Lewis gave an interview for the podcast On Being, and one of the things he discusses is that those in the Civil Rights Movement had a vision of a beloved community. When they worked toward their goals, it was on the level of the imminent (politics, community-building, etc); the goal, however, was always transcendent. They behaved like it already existed; the worked like the kingdom had already come.
What is our vision for ourselves? It feels so limited, if I look at Twitter or Facebook or the news. It’s pieces of legislation; it’s political victories and defeats. That is certainly important, but it’s not enough, is it?
John Lewis also spoke of the immense inner work that activists underwent, and it strikes me that this is something most of us miss. The revolution is two-fold: inner and outer. The revolution can only be sustained if we can sustain ourselves. The world is broken because it is made up of broken people. We need to address both levels of brokenness.
Focusing on this inner revolution has helped me feel less stuck. What does the beloved community look like, in my own small world? I think it has less advertising, less crappy TV, less mindless surfing of social media. Fewer snap judgments. It has smaller churches and more coffee hours; dinners that we make together. It has hours set aside for games, and hours set aside for volunteering, and hours set aside for consuming art. It supports local businesses, and does not judge when we simply must get to Walmart because our wallets or our time demands it. It resists duality, over and over and over again. It resists duality when it comes from the Right; it resists duality when it comes from the Left.
When I stop getting worked up into a rage, and I close my eyes to everything around me, I can feel my heart open up, into a wide field where my soul can lie down in the grass. Now to actually build that community …
It’s Tuesday, which means poems! Today, there was a strange mix of icy rain and gigantic, spaceship-sized snow flakes that kept the schools closed. For whatever reason, William Carlos Williams’ poem “This is Just to Say” was echoing in my head. The Academy of American Poets has it here for your reading – it’s short, sweet, and beautiful. It’s one of my all time favorites for its clear imagery that somehow manages to pack such a wallop of a feeling. With that in mind, we wrote poems that were short and sweet.
THEME: SHORT AND SWEET, ABOUT THINGS OUTSIDE OUR WINDOW
In the midst of all the noise that was the 2016 election cycle, and is the beginning of 2017, I’ve been quietly doing something that feels radical: unplugging from the matrix. We cut cable at my apartment; I’ve logged out of all my social media accounts and restrict their use to the weekends (mostly). I blocked sites that tend to create a feeling of anxiety within me. In a time where news feels more urgent than ever, and the need to connect more vital, I am opting out.
There was just too much anxiety seeping through my screens. Too much surface level discussions and analysis; too little compassion. Too much need for me to be a Savior.
I can’t save the world. Not with the fiercest advocacy, not even with a march of 10 million people. It’s relieving to say, “I can’t do it” because I expect myself to be able to do a lot of things. This hasn’t stopped me from trying, though. Maybe I’ll be the one to post the eloquent status that goes viral, or the pithy tweet that challenges others in the right ways! I haven’t yet though. Usually just my siblings and friends retweet me; nothing happens except I get more hysterical with each new article I see emerging.
It’s very hard to find God in so much inanity, so much dullness. I watch everyone around me reacting, and that’s not all bad, but I wonder how healthy it is. In my own personal life it is difficult to always be reacting; it’s very tiresome. How does that play out in public life? I don’t have enough reactions.
“The deepest part of me is God,” reads a small plastic card stuck on my mirror. I know and believe that, truly, in my core. I sure as hell don’t feel it right now. I know that hope, faith, and love remain. I cannot see how, or where, or with whom sometimes, but I know it. The feelings of anxiety and of vigilance seem more powerful, though. We just have to ride them out, I suppose. You have to either submerge yourself with a wave, or dive completely into and beneath it to survive. (I am terrible at this in real life; waves are horrendous.) If you dilly dally, you get caught in it and bruised badly, saltwater stinging your nose.
If there were an eloquent way to end this, I would. Maybe I’ll say this: the opposite of faith isn’t doubt, it’s certainty. This is not my idea: it belongs to Fr. Richard Rohr, or maybe Henri Nouwen, or maybe any spiritual thinker worth their salt. Maybe this can be an age to clarify my faith, even if it’s going to leave me with salty bruises.
Yesterday was just one of those days that seems to drag on. Not good, not bad, just long. It can be so easy to get frustrated with those days when you feel stuck in molasses. And between the snowy weather, and a rally in our city we attended, it didn’t feel like the most poetic of days. Still, I managed to whip up a poem.
This past Saturday, my husband and I went into Boston to join in the Women’s March. We were amazed at just how many people – different kinds and flavors of people! – showed up. As an attendee, I’d like to say: don’t believe everything you read, and please ask someone who was there to describe it. I read something very valuable that said, maybe the March didn’t have very specific goals or outcomes, but maybe the point was bigger: the point was to be there for each other. And that is truly how I felt. This Tuesday, we set no theme for our poems and both of us ending up writing poems that reflect something of the March.
THEME: Officially, none; unofficially, politics and/or the Women’s March