Suffering is not enough. Life is both dreadful and wonderful…How can I smile when I am filled with so much sorrow? It is natural–you need to smile to your sorrow because you are more than your sorrow.
THICH NHAT HANH

If that is not the perfect definition of real “self-care”, what is?

So many years ago a therapist told me to imagine myself as a child, and to comfort her. It’s interesting to revisit this now. Back then, I was in the position of an older sister. And now – I’m old enough to be a grandmother to her, and the exercise is an entirely different experience.

It’s funny to notice how easily my attention turns back to my current self and my current “sorrows”. Even in the midst of the exercise: “Oh, but what child takes an old woman’s words seriously?”

But I do notice this happening, and I can smile at myself – at both the my sorrows and my silliness. I’m counting this as a sign of maturity, as well as proof that I am still gloriously fallible, i.e. human.

Tending to wounds becomes habitual. So habitual that we learn early how to make them ourselves, to serve our tending.

We cut ourselves down to be able to experience nurturing. Even if we are alone in nurturing ourselves.

And maybe this isn’t a wholly bad thing: maybe this is how we learn to recognize our better selves.

This morning I’m thinking I don’t want to lose this complex relationship with myself. I’m not ready to even aspire to be singular – as the wisest version of myself. It’s enough that I glimpse her now and then these days. I’m not ready to give up childishness entirely. What if that means an end to growing –

when I’ve so much still to learn?

We have a responsibility to hold to the power of love that we know to be true,
and to not allow the world around us to deaden that in ourselves.

LUCAS JOHNSON

So many thoughts this week. And so little time to write.

It’s been a week of un-braiding the aspects of my life – working out the tangles.

The work, the relationships, the writing. And the assumptions, the expectations, and the goals I’ve half-consciously made for myself – and have taken for granted.

I began thinking about Neil’s comments. About his generosity. About his question, ” When did the sense of intimacy become available without any qualification?”

The deep truth here that – this is what we are all longing for, isn’t it? It is encompassed in that moment before a first kiss: the deep inhalation and the diving-in, opening oneself to the messiness and un-staged reality of intimacy. The moment where everything is at stake and you are only in that moment. Listening. Being. Trusting.

Not evaluating. Not judging. Just giving into the moment.


This thing beyond decorum, beyond language – after all what is language but specific decorum? I know when to say “please” &”thank you”, and when to say “fuck”.

But beyond that, under that surface: we are all body, and instincts, and vulnerabilities.

This body is new to me.

Sometimes it is like greeting a former lover who’s been around the world, and come back smelling of strange perfume, touching you with unfamiliar gestures. There’s a slight inflection when she says your name, and you think it might be an affectation. You hope it is an affectation.

“Just knock it off, will you?”

And you wonder if you ever really knew her at all.

This week I’ve been soft with myself. Trying to will the muscles to ease in my neck and upper back. Trying not to berate myself for not having more strength, more resilience – more sense from sensation.

But my hand fell across my stomach last night.
Just as I was falling asleep.
And I thought, “So soft.”

And I exhaled
and I thought, “So beautiful”.
“This thing that moves me through the world.”
“Through this life.”

And there wasn’t a qualification of any kind.

And I wonder if I’ve ever known my own body intimately
before that moment.

The world is changed by your example, not your opinion.
PAUL COEHLO

With all the words of wisdom printed and spoken among us, it’s easy to forget that words are not wisdom – are not whole incantations. They are abstractions, shadows and lures.

We stand on ceremony. Recipes must be followed: eye of newt obtained and boiled.

Though I still long for an easy fix of magic words alone. No quest necessary.


How old were you when you realized that you and someone you love could be sharing time and space and still experiencing entirely different realities? I believe I learned this later than most.

I believe there is a communicative purpose in silence.
I believe words can be a distraction at best, and lies, all too often. Unintentional or not.

A heartbeat cannot lie. A touch sometimes reveals more than intended.

Tension in jaw, or the ease of intercostal movements with each breath – these things can be heard, read, understood. The rest is metaphor and presentation. And the words, oh, the words can be nonsense and music: a chattering that says “I’m here, I’m still here.”


I am able to run again. I wonder if the truth for everyone is “again”. Every morning is a confirmation that nothing follows effortlessly – that life is not a matter of momentum, but of obstacles and exertion. Struggle is optional.

A clean MRI and “normal” degeneration, because despite what we tell ourselves, life is not a straight line of growth, it is a curve – if we are lucky.

I am lucky. Life is more than I’ve expected.

In the mornings – now that autumn is close – I sweep dead petals out of the yoga space. I lay out the mat, light the candles, and finish my coffee staring at the clouds through a rain-stained glass.

The first forward bend reveals the dreams lodged in my joints. The arching of my back makes space for them to free themselves, and fall away.

Right leg back, and arms overhead in a crescent lunge: inhale again. Stay upright. Stay open. Acknowledge the bones of the neck, give them the space they need to speak their wisdom.

By the time I put on my running shoes, I am ready for the chatter.

The year we moved into this huge house, I decided to take full advantage of the room we christened “the atelier”. I had every intention of picking up expressive practices that I’d abandoned over the years – for oh-so-many-reasons.

But I stopped attending the local croquis group after only a few months. All of the models were thin, 20-something women in “pretty” poses. Straight lines, and little movement.

It was both boring and demoralising.

I packed away my sketchbooks.


As an undergrad I studied studio art for a couple of years before switching majors. I remember one model from life drawing class who was tall, slim and in her twenties. She posed with a great deal of confidence. And though she was nude, her poses were always discreet.

During breaks, she would slip on her robe and make a round talking specifically to the young men in the class. She inspected the work on their easels to see how how they interpreted her body in charcoal. Sometimes she would put her hand on their shoulders and lean in, breathing in their ears. Her little ritual made many of them visibly uncomfortable.

It made me feel uncomfortable for – what I must presume were – entirely different reasons.

The power-play of subject/object is much more complex than we tend to consider. I suppose in part because our culture is quick to conflate beauty with sex appeal, and sex appeal with power.

Thinking now: Maybe it was fortunate that I was accustomed early to being invisible among the tall, slim beauties in the room. I never considered myself the subject, nor the object (or ornament) – but an observer. It makes aging that much easier.

However, as an observer I have not always been kind in my interpretations.

And I’ve often shamed myself into the corners of the world – for oh-so-many-reasons.


I remember another model who also posed for us in that life drawing class. She would would always wear a floppy sun hat, and she’d wink at us. Sometimes, she’d stand on her head during the 2-minute sketches. She was – I’m thinking now – probably in her 50s. Thinking then? She was “an old lady”.

And truth be told, her unabashed comfort with her own body made the majority of us visibly uncomfortable. Her poses were in no way discreet. Sometimes I would move my easel to another spot just to avoid having to confront her sex full-on.

Now? How I wish I’d asked her out for coffee.

It is a beautiful thought: lessons can be learned long after the teacher has left our lives.


The artistry in any medium lies in the work’s ability to evoke synesthesia. Each work is dependent upon each viewer’s subjective experiences – and the meanings we assign to them – for its claim as a work of art. We are each ultimately responsible for giving it life from our own lives.

And if – at any point in time – we think we see an objective reflection of the world as it is: a true work of art? Well, … there is no such thing as the world-as-it-is. There is no such thing as a point-in-time, because time exists in memory, so neither travels in a straight line. The world curves back on itself, folding over and over – always indiscreet in exposing the accumulation of what has come before – coming closer and closer to the wholeness of life, to Beauty.


Life Drawing

Ornamentation is not substance.
And the world will always shake off ornamentation.
It will distort the straight lines we work so hard to impose on it.

There is power in rejecting the consensual idea of beauty.
Rejecting it unabashedly.
Because that is acknowledging the substance of one’s own experience.


This is my ars poetica.

When you can’t go far, you go deep. – BR. DAVID STEINDL-RAST

Oh, Di, you wrote: “…you don’t presume to know me. A gift beyond rubies!”

Isn’t that true?

Writing today, when across the ocean from me there are events taking place that I don’t know how to think about – much less talk about. I don’t have a perspective from which to add anything meaningful to what needs to be said – I don’t even know what needs to be said – or done – or witnessed. From the one view, I was and still am entangled in the privilege that has blinded me to other people’s realities. I was a complicit participant in the culture – but haven’t been for 27 years now.

To be clear: I haven’t been a participant of the culture – it does not, however, mean that I am no longer complicit in the problems of that culture. I know that.

So, as I write this, I hope you will keep in mind that I am fully conscious of the narrowness – the “whiteness”  – of what I am going to write about. I’m in no way trying to be reductive about the pain in the United States. Or anywhere else. I’m not claiming to have any perspective on a bigger picture.  I think that our stories are woven into something so large we can’t conceive of the whole.

I’m often at a loss of how to handle the truth of individual insignificance, and still be reverent of the individual.

And that was a weird little disclaimer to give myself permission to brood today, wasn’t it?

I was struck by your words: “you don’t presume to know me. A gift beyond rubies.” I have been thinking about the fact that maybe this is the greatest gift we can give anyone. Strangers, yes: to learn to live comfortably with  (or simply live with the discomfort) of the mystery of “the other”. To let it be. That is quite literally poetry, isn’t it? At least according to Keats. The negative capability necessary in human relationships is the opposite of prejudice.

And I suppose requires us to catch ourselves as we form our thoughts, as we interpret what we hear and see. It makes me laugh to think that my goal should not be to become a “good judge of character”. But rather, to allow myself – not to be child-like at all – but to suspend judgement: to stop, hold, wait. No wonder so many religious paths have a practice of abstaining from one thing or another. I guess, for me, the question is where the strength/faith to withhold judgement will come from.

I think about how it is actually easier to practice this kind of negative capability with strangers than it is with the people we love. We want to pin them down. Even when that means pinning them down as “good”. We feel safer “knowing” them. Secure in knowing who they are – and we are silly enough to think of their unexpected behavior as betrayals.

Isn’t it ridiculous actually that we have this tendency to be surprised by other people? We either say they have changed, or fault ourselves for misjudging them. The former is inevitable, and the latter an absurd mental calculation, in and of itself. Maybe we are at our most judgemental with our children. Boxing them in probably gives us a sense of control over the way their story will play out. Even when the story we write for them is dark, we can at least feel prepared.

I don’t know – am I the only person who goes through life trying to set up narrative safeguards?

I have always thought your returning to New Zealand was courageous. I get this image of room behind a closed door. The door has a long slit of a window. Probably an image of a scene in a move – an asylum cell. The window is so narrow that the people viewing it from the hallway never see the whole person in the room. They see just a strip of hair, shoulder, hip, shoe. And they make their notes for the day.

Did I tell you that once I got ahold of my psychiatrist’s notes and he from an hour session he had written: “Hasn’t brushed her hair today. Had a fight with her boyfriend.”

It would make for a good story if I said that he upped my meds that day, wouldn’t it?

Are the people who thought they knew you “back when”, allowing themselves to meet the person you are? You having come home the same stranger to them, but now trailing long, beautiful stories that smell of simit and tea, basel and salt water – and of things for which I have no names or associations.

I wish I could draw. I would sketch you. Just sketch, though.

My aesthetic preference has always been biased toward the quality of the lines, not the photorealism. Not even the symbolism.

Gestures.

I cannot go home. But before my grandmother died I remember the moments she would occasionally say something over the phone – something simple – she would tell me that she did not really know me. Which made me feel more seen than I had ever felt.

Are you experiencing that? Maybe that is too intimate a question.

Your talks with Jimmy do sound like holy moments unto themselves. I wonder – this awe we have when we are confronted with the familiar/mysterious expanse of sky or the songs that come from the total darkness and the thrill of knowing/not knowing their source. Am I right in thinking you are one of the people who finds this same awe when you sit with other people and open yourself for their stories?

I suppose there is a value in knowing the “right” perspective when taking a portrait. But there is so much more beauty in the candid shots that reveal as much of the photographer’s openness as they do the subject’s.

I am so happy not to know you, Di!

Finally having returned to morning practice, I’ve moved back into my body – with the nudging aches and unexpected pains. With the roundness and the wrinkles. I’m making the required effort of moving with ease now.

I’ve settled into my fears and found them – tolerable. I mean: what’s the alternative? The world keeps turning, as they say.

The cows have moved into the nearest pasture now. I wonder if I will ever pay enough attention to recognize them. The calves are easy to spot, but I have no idea how many of last year’s cows have returned. How many are missing.

img_20200526_075912_1208553628812076858352.jpgI’ve noticed that the squirrels no longer seem to care much when we run by. They often run just to the base of the nearest tree, and wait there for us to pass.

Maybe they’ve just gotten lazy, but I would like to think that after 5 years of daily runs they know us.

I know that’s just a Snow White fantasy:

When people are difficult, I still imagine the animals sensing my fundamental goodness and accepting me. I imagine the deer will come out of the groves to nuzzle my hands. The hedgehogs would putt putt and butt my feet playfully. I’ll befriend the crows, and they’ll bring me gifts.

When I lived at the edge of a farm in Kentucky our dogs brought us a whole leg of a cow and left it on the porch. I have no idea how that was sorted out – or by whom.

Once they brought us a mole, with a button nose, looking decidedly unreal. Have you ever seen a mole? It was dead, but perfect.

In the spring the dogs would walk around the yard with screaming mice babies in their mouths. They’d eat them…eventually. I was fine with the fact that they weren’t interested in sharing. No doubt that Snow White is a vegetarian, so there was no reason for me to take that personally.

Sometimes on spring nights the cat would jump up and scramble down from my bed over and over, and I’d lie there until she stopped. Then I’d get up to fetch an empty tin can from the trash and look for the dead mouse whose heart had finally given way. She wasn’t sharing either. She was just bored: she was a cat.

Cat’s don’t recognize the fundamental goodness in anything.

On this morning’s run, dodging the slugs on trail, I saw a shiny black ball lying in the middle of the path. It looked like a sea anemone that had blown all the way inland from the beach. As I passed, I glimpsed back to see the splash of orange and red, and I realized  a cat – or a mink – had left the blackbird’s head there like a warning.

Or a gift?

Who knows. Nature is weird.

The world is round, but far from smooth. Gaia is craggy and temperamental. She is the quiet morning punctured with the screeching of crows.

And maybe fundamental goodness isn’t real at all. Or maybe the cats are right and know that we don’t have the perspective required to discern goodness…or beauty.

It is a frightening thought. And worth settling into.

 

Moving closer to the Finisterre-


Afterthoughts on a month of focused meditations. Our guide asks us to consider what lies under our actions.

Underthoughts – it should be a word. Norwegians have the world baktanker – literally back-thoughts. I like the image of thoughts that push us through the world. But google translates the word as ulterior motives, which is the what it really means, of course. Still, I like having this literal understanding of the language as a kind of tool for thinking.

One of the delightful things about having learned a second language as an adult is how an ignorance of connotation invites me to took more closely into how language is inseparable from context. And how context so often is a matter of attributing intention on other people’s actions. So not knowing connotation gives me an almost scientific tool for my ruminations. But translating the ideas into a functioning language can be difficult.

Speaking of rumination, the cows are still in the barns. It seems odd to run along the lake in the early morning –  the sun already up – and find the fields so empty. The cattle have to eat all the harvested feed from last autumn before they’re let out to graze. These days away from routine – sporadic runs at odd times – have pulled me out of the flow of the seasons. The route is a shocking green.

Today we didn’t get to the lake until the crows had left. I’ve never considered their cawing ominous, but I have to admit the songbirds provide a might lighter soundtrack for the morning.

I decided to join this virtual Camino for two reasons. I’ve wanted to walk the Camino de Santiago for years now. In part to say I’ve done it: like running a marathon, or climbing a mountain. And in part for the contemplation it affords – demands. I don’t have photos or calluses or bragging rights here at the end. No stamped passport. But I put in the spiritual work.

When I began I had considered myself as being in a liminal state. But what I’ve come to realize is that there is no other state of being. There is no good reason to think of life as a series of stasis points with periods of growth – or with periods of decay – between them.

“The only constant in life is change”-Heraclitus.

I see it as a kind of responsibility. And I guess I have the existentialists to thank for that. Coasting between periods of effort is a nice little illusion. But maybe it’s been a linguistic problem for me – this word: growth.

I’ve heard far too often people saying things like “I am too old to … “, “Set in my ways…”, as though once the body stops growing we just “are”. Are – or am – is a decision, an attempt at stasis.

The word growing implies a destination – we grow into something. Intentionally or haphazardly. When we talk of spiritual growth we seem to be conversing within a context of hierarchy. We are rising, attaining, and improving. This way of thinking has an inherent judgement. Better than.

I like to think that I am better than I was at 18. At 30. Even better than I was two months ago. But I’ve probably lost good aspects of myself, too. Is there really a point in summing up and measuring my life against some kind of rubric?

What if I just stay in it. And trust that I am growing into death, into mushrooms, into trees.

Bragging requires someone else to listen; I doubt the trees give a damn.

So – circling back to the beginning – what is underneath what moves me through life? It seems awfully dark to say the inevitability of death and the paradoxical desperation for meaning, and for acceptance.

But that’s all I’ve got for now.

Looking forward to the cows to be let out of the barns – for whatever reason.