Soap Bubbles

The roads are covered in ice again this morning. Soap-slick the local news calls it. It’s minus four even though the moon is hidden behind clouds. Leonard does what he needs to in the yard and runs back into the house to flop on the floor of the library. It seems we’re up to doing what needs to be done and then giving in to the stillness of these days.

And for once, I’m not feeling guilty about it. There are moments where my body starts itching, and my mind begins racing a little and it’s more pleasant than annoying. It’s like the presence of a nudging puppy that I reach out to pet and put off for just a few more minutes. Just a minute. I’m coming.

For all that I haven’t done this month, for all the activities I’ve dropped, this month has rushed by like a freight train. The one I hear right now, actually, causing the tracks to moan. A snap. I can imagine the spark from the wires above. It is an almost painful understanding – we can slow down, but the world does keep rushing around and under us. 460 meters per second.

I suppose there is a finish line. Billions of years from now. I’ve nothing to do with that. I’m just along for the ride.

“Catching up”: I’m working on letting go of this particular metaphor. Of course there are things to be done, and very real deadlines that come on schedule with the sun’s rising and sinking, and rising and sinking. But I can’t possible run faster than 460 meters per second when I fall out of step – when I feel myself out of sync.

This morning I am remember the warmth of a summer day. The cold, cold of the North Sea along my back while I float just a moment – knowing the ocean is alive under me, the currents flowing, fish hunting, the anemones patiently catching what they need when it swirls by.

A fragile bubble of breath.
This is my time out
before I dive in again.
A temporary divide
A molecular arrangement

A rearrangement of self
and of other
the sea on the horizon
steams against the setting sun
wolves take shape, moving towards night

Rilke, Entirely Out of Context

I think this is the third year that I am trying to read a small bit of Rilke each night before bed. I am good at morning routines, but my days always unravel and evening routines have never been something I have managed to follow through on.

But though I am never patient, I am stubborn, and I am trying yet again. A cursory tidying of the house. A cup of tea. A half-hour on the Shakti mat.


These days I’m puzzling over the idea of comfort – over the fact that it is possible to find comfort in surrendering to what is unequivocally unpleasant. I don’t mean looking for silver linings. But acknowledging what is. Comfort need not be defined as providing hope, as I have always unconsciously understood it. I’ve gone down a rabbit hole of synonyms this morning trying to figure out where I got this idea.

Rilke writes: “A solitary sojourn in the country is, especially at this moment, on half real, because the sense of harmlessness in being with nature is lost to us. The influence on us of nature’s quiet, insistent presence is, from the start, overwhelmed by our knowledge of the unspeakable human fate that, night and day, irrevocably unfolds.”

I’m aware that I’m reading this out of context, as it is presented in this particular book. And I can’t help but wonder what I’m missing. The sense of harmlessness in being with nature is lost to us.

With all due respect, and with admitted ignorance, this morning this orphaned paragraph strikes me as a kind of koan. My thoughts are not half-real when I walk gingerly on the ice-slick paths these mornings. They are surreal. My experience of nature has never left room for a sense of harmlessness. On the contrary. Perhaps for having had grown-up so disconnected from nature it has always been something I’ve feared. Deadly insects, “Jaws”, avalanches, earthquakes. When I was a child, I picked a strawberry from the runner and popped it in my mouth. It’s how I know what a worm tastes like. I didn’t get sick, but it was years before I ate something that didn’t come wrapped in plastic again.

I’ve slowly come to see the value of consciously being with nature. To see the false comfort of brick walls and plywood frames, or a porcelain bathtub against the force of tectonic plates. To understand how the belief that we are walking on top of nature, beside it, is as much of a illusion of perspective as that of the proverbial fish who looks in vain to find the ocean. And that my being in nature certainly not marked by harmlessness.

Rilke wrote about this “unspeakable human fate that, night and day, irrevocably unfolds” in the autumn of 1914. Two months after the assassinations that triggered the First World War. His perspective of human fate overwhelming nature, as though human lives are above or beside “[N]ature’s quiet, insistent presence […]”

I was thinking about a video I saw the other day. It compared the sound waves created by various birds-of-prey. The owl being nearly silent. I thought of the pellets of fur and bone owls cough up and leave behind.

I was also thinking about the ruckus the crows make each morning when E. and I run past their morning congress by the lake. Insistent. Not quiet.

I have absolutely no idea how intimate Rilke was with nature, and therefore I have absolutely no idea what this paragraph means. To him. To Lou Andreas-Salomé, to whom it was addressed in the first place. But I wonder if Rilke was seeking comfort in nature on his solitary walk? If what he saw as half-real, wasn’t real at all? If he was envisioning soldiers killing each other in the woods? On the open fields between them?

I think there is a strange comfort in accepting the reality of nature. When you’re out in the cold, it is easier to bear when you relax. Bracing yourself against it is a waste of energy. Stay loose, keep moving. I don’t have it figured out, but I believe there is a difference between acceptance and acquiescence. I believe one needs to accept the dangers of thin ice before one can begin to plan to take care crossing.

To build bridges, maybe.

Worms naturally bore into the strawberries. You learn to keep an eye out for them. Deal with it. Wrapping everything in plastic isn’t doing the trick.

Playground with Dreamcatcher

I haven’t been sleeping well. Though I suspect few of us are these days. This weekend several of the local lakes were declared to be “safe”, then on Sunday two men fell through the ice of two different lakes. On the other side of the country, an environmental activist fell through and died.

I know that “liminal” has become one of those overused words, but the truth is these liminal spaces are dangerous. The in-betweens and the uncertainties and this continual sense of being on the edge.

Flight, freeze, fight, faint or f#%&. But before that, the suspense, the suspension of our own unconscious flow. Heightened awareness is exhausting.

Even with the yaktrax this morning, the asphalt is dangerous. There’s a light dusting of snow over the ice. The small plow pushes snow into the street and spreads sand on the sidewalk. Leonard and I walk on the other opposite sidewalk as we all go about our business. I want to run this morning, but don’t dare. I’m too unstable, too tired. I won’t be able to catch myself and find my balance if I slip.

A time-out would be nice. Is nice, when I allow myself this. Last week my youngest son visited and told me there is another possibility to the “Flight, freeze…” scenario: submit. Startled and frightened dogs sometimes do it. It’s not the same as playing dead. There’s no deception involved. It’s a matter of softening.

We are so sure that surrender is a bad thing. I’ve been thinking that there is a reason so many religions demand it. We need a time-out from our own will. A reality-check in the midst of all the prophets. Surrender to, acknowledge this moment and its omnipotence. And the next.

I move carefully from Warrior 1 to Warrior 2 and anticipate the pain in my left shoulder. I move consciously into Humble Warrior.

For no apparent reason my practice has taken several steps back. I’m trying to concentrate on ease of motion, rather than range of motion. To return to the beginning and find first a small space of release and flow, before trying to widen the arcs of my reach. It seems like an appropriate metaphor right now for everything in my life, perhaps.

After the flow sequence, I settle on the cushion and breathe. I visualize rough seas calming into a mirror-like surface.

There was a time I loved the teacups at amusement parks. Swing-sets and carousels. But just after my first son was born, I found I’d changed. Something in my body had changed and a spin in a teacup left me feeling hungover the rest of the day. Anxious, nauseated.

There’s something to be said for the carefree way children move through the world, thrilling at shadows, dwelling on twisted dreams. Playacting the bright ones. Through the magic of performance, they have real emotional experiences that are safely controlled, and parallel to what they know and accept as the real world that is outside of their control. Most children are fully aware of the difference.

I think we grow into our delusions unnaturally: Fake it ’til you make it.

I think we have a tendency to cultivate an unconscious faith in the world’s appearance. We move away from wisdom. We cling to our concepts of what we want the world to be. We tear ourselves apart trying to hold onto what we perceive to be the center while everything moves in the directions they move – as it all does – as it all will.

There’s something to be said for submitting while the world moves around us.

To choose to be care-free again? Playful instead of willful?

Humble Warriors, all.

A Trick of Light

I’ve been in one place for a long time now. In some ways.
But the terrain keeps changing. I am continually reassessing, reorienting-

Gearing up – or down. I didn’t expect it to feel like this at this point.

It’s not that I expected smooth sailing, but at least a clear direction.
I figured I would have interpreted the signs,
– have plot a course
and taken each obstacle as it appeared
for what it was.

But nothing is ever
what it was.

It is becoming and un-becoming
and shimmering – always –
a mirage.

Nothing will ever be.
Let it change. No. Watch
it change.