A voice in the darkness

I have been thinking for some time “I must write my blog, I must write my blog, I WANT to write my blog!”  And so, last Thursday, at long, long last, I sat down to do just that.

And you know what?  NOT.  A. THING.  N O T H I N G.

I started writing a few different pieces, dragging the words out of myself and then deleting them all.  My mind was blank.  I literally had nothing to say.  I am not the greatest of thinkers or orators at the best of times – this I know – and yet, and YET..!  The emptiness and loneliness I felt in that moment was really painful.

Since we returned from Canada at the start of December last year, my mind has been in varying states of turmoil.  In many ways, I’d say (and have done, numerous times) that almost every aspect of our lives is in question.  Where are we going to live?  How are we going to earn money?  How are we going to continue educating our children?  How do we fit into the world?  Where is our place?

Lately, I’ve been experiencing a fine line between non-attachment, in the Buddhist sense – essentially practicing release from desire and therefore suffering – and disconnection.  Because that is what I have been feeling since our return – disconnected.  From everything, and (almost) everyone, myself included.  What I have come to realise is this: people like to have answers for things!  Where ARE you going to live?  How ARE you going to earn money? Etc..  And when I can’t answer these questions, not only can it make the person I’m talking to feel really uncomfortable (does it make them call into question their own life choices?), it can also throw me into a state of uncertainty and anxiety.  I can go from experiencing the openness in our lives as liberating, full of potential, exciting even, to being full of worries and concerns about all those limitless unknowns.  And so I feel myself detaching and going into myself more.  As if I were curling in and around my invisible core, to keep it protected somehow.

At times like these, I know I need to remember my Medicine Card for this year – Black Panther – and the words of wisdom that accompany its medicine of “Embracing the Unknown”.  And I take to heart, too, these words by Rilke, shared by Pip Bondy at a Way of Council workshop I attended this past weekend:

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue.  Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them.  And the point is, to live everything.  Live the questions now.  Perhaps you will find them gradually, without noticing it, and live along some distant day into the answer.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

These words came to me like a soothing balm, at a time when I was feeling particularly small, particularly vulnerable and particularly voiceless.  I was surprising even myself with the level of aloneness that I could experience, surrounded as I was by strong, safe, solid, open, loving and generous hearts.

These words allowed me, too, to open my own aching heart.  To pour forth what I have been keeping from view for so long.  To ride the waves of shame and fear that threatened to swallow me up, to raise my head and speak directly from my heart into the hearts of others there, waiting patiently and with compassion to witness me and my story.

This is profound work.  And it is painful.  And, I know I will go back time and again into these sacred circles to open myself up – not only because I know of the deep healing that resides in this space, but also because I know this is where I remember how to connect. With myself, yes of course; also, crucially, with others, and with Spirit too.  Way of Council is often described as a place where people find ‘home’.  I know what that means, without really being able to explain it.  It is like a resting place, where soul can settle, and spirit can breathe out.  A place to come back to in those moments of darkness that always return,  knocking us off our feet and taking away our breath.

In our circle, I heard myself speak and I witnessed myself being heard.  And I was welcome.  It brought home to me that when we really, truly, deeply, honestly, openly speak from our hearts, and we really, truly, deeply, honestly, openly hear from our hearts, profound things happen.  We are all capable of this.  All we need to do is listen.  Our voice is always there, and we always have something to say.

Medicine_wheel

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Samhain medicine

Today is Samhain, beginning and end of the Celtic New Year.  A time where the veil between the “seen world of matter and the unseen world of spirit” (Glennie Kindred) is at its thinnest.   It is a time for our Ancestors to step forward from the land of shadows and sit with us once again in the circle of light; a time to honour all those who have gone before us – those that once were here in body and now are gone beyond our Earthly reach.  We name them and we remember them, for it is in this naming and remembering that they remain alive to us always.

As has been tradition in our home for a few years now, it is also the time where we all choose new Medicine Cards.  Medicine for us to muse on for the coming year.  Medicine that may help to shine a light on those places that may be hiding from us in our own shadows.

For me, this year is for the Black Panther, whose medicine is Embracing The Unknown.

If the Black Panther has appeared today, it may be telling you not to worry about the future.  Trust that you are not supposed to mentally “figure it out” at this time.  You may need to confront fears of the unknown, of being less than you truly are, or an inability to simply BE.  Let go of fears that appear as obstacles or barriers.  Embrace the unknown and flow with the mystery that is unfolding in your life.  The next step may be leaping empty-handed into the void with implicit trust.

Medicine Cards, The Discovery of Power Through The Ways of Animals Jamie Sams & David Carson

In many ways, Black Panther tells me nothing I do not already know.  And… the words I read today allow me to peel back yet another layer of the mystery that continues to unfold before me.  Indeed, Black Panther’s medicine speaks to me LOUD and CLEAR.  This Entering the Stillness and Embracing the Unknown are journeys I am very familiar with.  Words such as ‘trust’, ‘acceptance’, ‘void’, ‘stillness’ are ones that echo around and around me with faithful repetition on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis.

And so… on I go…

Knowing that the Black Panther is just there behind me, though, waiting patiently in the shadows, gives me comfort beyond words and a new found confidence in my ongoing journey…

Bridge_WildRiver

On the edge…

Boots_sea

I have been thinking a lot about edges over the past few months.

From a permaculture perspective, special things happen at edges.  Permaculture Principle number 11 states: ‘Use edges and value the marginal’:

The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place.  These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.
David Holmgren
 

Edges can often seem blurred, unclear, impenetrable.  They can be places of mystery, places where we put things and forget about them.  And so, they can also become places that we fear.

Light_sea

What I’ve realised is that I put myself on the edges of things a lot.  A LOT.   Whether it’s finding a task to take me away from the intensity of a group gathering, seeking ‘my place’ on the mountain at the furthest extreme, always choosing to lay my mat at the side and back of a yoga class, or heading for the public toilet cubicle at the end of the row, I recognise I often feel more comfortable when I’m on the edge, or outer side, of things.

So why do I do this?  I could say it’s because I like space around me, to move, stretch, lean into.  I could say it’s because I like to watch over things – like an eagle sitting still in a tree, I can take the wider view, take it all in, oversee everything (not public toilets, honestly).  I could say it’s because, unlike conventional readings of my zodiac sign, Leo, profess, I like to stand back and let others take centre stage.  I could even say that it’s because I know that the most interesting things happen at the edges.  All of these things are even true.

And, I could say it’s because of fear.  Fear of taking up ‘too much space’.  Fear of being seen.  Fear of being heard.  Fear of ‘showing up’.   Fear of being ‘found out’ for who I really am.  Fear of not knowing what to say.  Fear of not ‘fitting in’.  Fear of not being ‘enough’.

And all of these things, too, are true.

Indian_Brook

Edges are always there.  They are easy to see, and they are easy to ignore, because often we are standing over here and looking to over there, and we forget to notice all the change that has to happen in order for here and this to actually become there and that. We are often so intent on looking at the horizon, at the next thing, that we can miss all the wild and wonderful things between now and then.

Beaver_lodge

Each and every one of us has edges too.  Places we can either take ourselves to, or places where other people or events can nudge us into.  They are the places we deny in ourselves, the places we fear, the places we don’t want to talk about, places that, at times, feel so difficult to move past.  They are the places that ask too much of us, places that make us want to shrink back into our older, more comfortable, more familiar, safer selves.

And, this safety net can serve as a natural protection at times too.  Sometimes we are not quite ready to go to the next place.  Sometimes we need to sit awhile, absorbing all that is here, all that is familiar, all that is us, just as we know it, before we move through the edge and into the other.  We need to honour those edges – they are not to be taken lightly!  Yes, there are deep pots of gold there, buried in all the undergrowth, but sometimes we must dig gently, respectfully, cautious of what else resides there, seen and unseen.

In The Wisdom of No Escape: And the Path of Loving Kindness, Pema Chodron writes that “Life is a whole journey of meeting your edge again and again” and I know that she is right.  Where I’ve come to myself, with all this musing, is that I need to really recognise and respect edges, both in the natural world, and within myself, for what they are.  The whens, wheres, whys, and hows of them all.   I need to make sure I’m using these edges wisely, that I am neither overlooking them nor spending too much time in them.  What I realise is that they can be tempting places, these dark and mysterious edges, when I start to investigate them in detail, and I can easily lose myself in them.

Sandals_fire

Into the woods

The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness

John Muir

In the past, T and I have discussed the question “Are you a plains person or a forest person?”  So, if you had to choose, would you live on the top of a hill with wide views all around, open space in abundance, or would you choose the closer confines of a woodland environment, surrounded by trees?  He’s always said forest.  I’ve been plains.

Here, in Cape Breton, we are surrounded by trees.  Everywhere we go… trees.  It is only when we’re on the beach, looking out on to the Gulf of St Lawrence, that there is not forest as far as the eye can see.  Other than the Daintree Rainforest in Northern Queensland, I have never before spent so much time in and amongst so many trees.  And it’s interesting what it’s doing to my psyche.

Intellectually, I feel excited.  All the reading I’ve been doing over the last year or so, about ‘wilderness’ and the impact of the loss of our native large fauna on our natural world, tells me that this landscape is how our own small and terribly overcrowded island would have looked before the forests disappeared.  This is what projects like Trees For Life, who’s aim it is to restore the Caledonian Forest up in Scotland, are envisioning.  A land literally COVERED in trees.  In fact, before we left home, someone said to me “Nova Scotia is just like Scotland, before they cut down all the trees”.  While this is true in some sense – there are huge numbers of lakes, some vast, some small, there are hills , there are blackflies aplenty (midgie equivalent), there is even a man playing the bagpipes just outside the cafe where I’m sitting right now – I don’t feel the immensity of space that I do when I’m in Scotland.   This is because not only are the ‘mountains’ here that much smaller, but in Scotland the bare and open landscape, devoid of trees in many parts, gives me much more a sense of expansiveness somehow.  And, although the Gaelic music also floats around in abundance here, what I hear around me are Canadian accents, and so I feel very, very far away from my own ‘culture’ and, most importantly, my own land.

But what is “my own land” (by that I mean the land of my birth)?  What does it really look like?  I know WHAT it looks like in present times, of course, but now I also have a sense of what it must have looked like way back when (and perhaps what it ‘should’ look like now?)  And it’s pretty radically different.  While humans have clearly made their mark here – dirt tracks disappear off main roads, marking out thoroughfares used by people living in the near and far reaches of the forest – because of the impenetrable nature of this forest, it feels like there are large areas where no human foot can ever have stepped.  Up there in the hills reside bears, coyotes, moose, and lynx.  The kinds of animals that conjure up feelings of fear, excitement and WILDNESS in me.

So, it’s interesting.  As I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with those ecologists that lament the loss of our native wildscapes, those who campaign for the return of our vast forests, for the reintroduction of our lost megafauna, I also find myself questioning just how I personally would cope living in and amongst so many trees again.  I say “again” because once upon a long time ago all of our ancestors walked these forests. These tree-covered lands are in our blood, in the ancient memories stored in our very bones.  Their roots grow deep within our souls.  We are of the forest and we are one with the forest.  It is only because we cut the vast majority of them down so very long ago that we have lost that conscious knowing of the wild woods cape.  Not only that, but we have also, tragically, become afraid of it.

That comes as a huge sense of loss, for me.  When I was in the Daintree I felt fear of ‘what is out there’.  At times, I couldn’t fully enjoy where I was because I was worried about what I couldn’t see.  And here it is the same.  What is out there IS unknown and unseen.  We, as humans, do not fare well when we do not know and can not see what is coming towards us.  Or, indeed, as my own small family takes its first tentative footsteps out into the world, far away from the comfort, safety and loving arms of our home, family and friends, when we do not know what we, ourselves, are heading towards.

So, I take these forests as a fine metaphor for where I find myself in life right now.  I literally CAN NOT see what is out there.   I must let go of knowing, and trust that, step by tiny step, we will find our way.

When I first read John Muir’s quote above, I thought “Ha, not for me!”  Clearly, I have much to learn.  Or re-learn perhaps…

Forest

Facing the unknown

“Like all explorers, we are drawn to discover what’s out there without knowing yet if we have the courage to face it.”

Pema Chodron

The unknown.  Ah what romance and delights it holds!  What potential, what excitements, what empty, open spaces lie in wait for us to step into and uncover all those hidden mysteries!

The adventure.  The open road.  The one way ticket out of here and into there…

And yet…

And yet, how can we possibly know if we have the courage or not to face it when we don’t really know what IT even is?

Sadly (in my opinion), it is almost impossible to experience the complete unknown in our modern world.  Think of a place.  Any place.  Someone has already been there.  They probably stuck a flag in the ground just to prove they got there first.  And then they went home and wrote a book about it.  It is probably a very ‘interesting’ book.  It might even be the best book you’ve ever read! And I can totally understand that desire to share something you’ve done, something you’ve seen, something you’ve heard, something that feels so extraordinary that you just HAVE to share it with someone else just so that they, too, can get just the tiniest glimpse into just how extraordinary it really was.  (I am a blogger after all…)

And yet (again)… in that very action we take something away.  Not only from the other person, who was not there when said extaordinary thing happened, but actually we take something away from ourselves too. In the very moment that those first words are spoken, we have lost a bit of the preciousness of our experience. We have released it, and, therefore, imperceptible as it may seem at first, we no longer fully, selfishly own it.

Luckily (and frustratingly), we know that no retelling of a story will ever pass on to the listener the true, unique magic of the moment from which our story evolved.  We have all seen and felt that missing ‘something’ in our listeners as their eyes glaze over, their attention drifts, they start to ask irrelevant questions.  How can they possibly see what we’ve seen?!  How can they possibly feel how we feel? We saw it with OUR eyes, we walked it with OUR feet.  And so, always, they will be OUR stories and no one elses.

So perhaps, after all, even with all the maps, books, songs, stories and far flung tales that are out there of lands already discovered, seas already sailed and dragons already spied, it still IS possible to visit new places and discover a whole new story just for ourselves.

Any new adventure takes true courage, yes.

This, I am learning in abundance at the moment, as the unknown beckons me into her mysterious, tempting and delectable depths.  I am teetering on the edge of complete surrender and at times I feel truly afraid.