I don’t want to write about how difficult things have been. It feels like I’m hitting a single note too often. I will say: I miss the trail.

This morning I saw a new doctor, and we’re making a plan. Driving home I noticed that most of the snow is already gone, even from the hollows and the fallow fields. The winds have picked up, and I can feel them even while driving the car on the motorway. I’m imagining them pushing me forward. Easy – no stumbling.

One good thing is that it’s safe to run again. No imperceptible patches of ice at the edges of each lamplight’s reach. “Black ice” they call it here, and it sounds very much like a curse word in my ear. The mornings are still dark, but less dangerous. The crunch of the gravel, the occasional snap of a twig. Nothing ominous. Nothing frozen in place. Whatever the foot meets gives just enough. Just enough to make this bit of the world, at this point in time, safe.

I miss the blackbirds that hop along the edges of the path, their orange beaks flashing like tiny flames – living talismans – the sun will rise – spring will come. I need to see them. To share the air with them in a real moment, not in a memory, in poems, in theory, as concepts.

I was listening to a woman on a podcast talking about how this “moment” in time is liminal – a transition. But what moment isn’t?

What isn’t?

What is it about us that we want to label things and order them in categories, as diagnosis, in blacklists, as offenses, and more rarely as joys? Someone’s “Golden Age” is someone else’s liminal Hell, waiting for “progress” to trickle down. Every future is an imagined future. Every past, formed: polished and neutered.

That was “this thing” and we are moving toward “that thing”. Is a construction of the imagination. But there are days when I think any myth will do, if it helps us to hold ourselves together.

After all these years, if I know anything, it’s that pinning down the right words – magic as they are – doesn’t change the phenomenon; any witch will tell you a spell isn’t a cure. And it can’t fix the world, in any sense of the word.

Walking Leonard, I pause while he tests the ice on a frozen puddle in the field. The surface over the yellow grass is smooth, and cloudy. I watch tiny white bubbles sliding away from me, nudging the clouds just under the surface. Trapped air, like fishes moving without moving. I find a reference point. Moving, not moving.

I take thirty seconds of film – and the world is absolutely still.

living memory
is an oxymoron too
familiar too
mythical too true to be
shoved into the lines of a poem

Yesterday I ran in the afternoon, after work and before a massage. Getting back into the groove of daily habits isn’t easy. Pushing a boulder uphill is easier with momentum. E. says that from here this is what matters: the pushing on after a pause. Pushing on.

The path along the creek in the town where I work is picturesque regardless of the season. Yesterday the sun was shining. The weather has stayed below freezing for weeks, so everything seems sugar-coated: Christmas-card pine trees. There was a 5-foot snowman guarding one of the goalposts on the football field.

But about 2 kilometers in, I came up on what was left of a blackbird. A full wing and foot, and tendrils of red – I don’t know, sinews? entrails? – in the middle of the path. There were no paw prints or blood smears, so I’m assuming it was dropped by a bird of prey.

I used to take photographs when I came across dead birds on my runs. I didn’t think much about why. I stopped taking them when my sons pointed out how bizarre it was that I had so many photos of dead birds in various states of decay on my computer screen. Maybe, at the time, it was an unconscious act of memori morti: I suppose photography is a kind of meditation.

At any rate, it no longer seems necessary. The photo-taking.

I notice these things now without having to use the camera as a tool. I pause anyway.

E. and I managed to get ourselves up and out the door before dawn this morning. The first time in a month. The sky had the perfect amount of clouds to soften the cold, but leave the waning moon unobscured over the trees. The lake was silent. I talked too much. There are mornings when we get back to the trail-head and I think I need to do it again, “right”. Mornings like these.

Back at the house, I moved through sun salutations then settled down on the mat. Leonard contorting his back oddly to lie close into my legs for the six minutes of breathing.

I rest my hands on his rib-cage. Everything is impermanent. Everything is imperfect.

Snow falls from the crows’
settling in the treetops
for half an hour’s rest
and chatter – moving on, touch
and go, always touch and go

A difficult night last night. Three a.m. text messages are never good news. Even when the news is edged with hope: a turn for the better, an “it could be much worse”.

It’s not the knowing that all things are impermanent that is comfort, it’s the acceptance of this. And I am forced to redefine the concept of “comfort” in my mind.

Again I read in a news article that it is foolish to say we live in uncertain times when the future is always, and has always been, uncertain. It’s a matter of how aware we are of that fact.

An alarm pulling us from sleep, even to offer hope, exposes our most vulnerable nerves. These truths that fade in sleep. Or in dreams, are popped into relief as a kind of rehearsal for the inevitable. Waking is a reprieve sometimes. Awake, asleep – both are ambivalent states of being. There is nowhere to escape from ourselves.

Is there comfort?

Soothing is not healing. But doesn’t try to be. What if the largest part of our job is a kind of palliative care? What if all that there is, is the soothing of ruffled feathers? A warm hand on a cheek? An intention to reassure one another: you are not alone.

Breathe, and be here with me. Even over a telephone connection. Like a dream. Listen to the wind against the window. Be here with the wind.

Reaction is not action.

In the theater, an actor’s every, individual action is supposed to be an assertion of the character’s will. Actors strive to inhabit the character’s lack of self-awareness. Acting is the inverse process of living Socrates’s examined life. Don’t act: react.

Art is, by most definitions, artifice. It has the intention of recreating life. But for what purpose? Many diverse cultures have had a tradition of hiring mourners for funerals. Actors, reacting in an act of compassion. We cannot bring back the dead, but we can care for the living. The theatrical is no less real for being theatrical.

And leading an examined life, acting instead of reacting, is no less real for its directorial perspective.

It’s one thing to accept the futility of one’s own will in regard to illness and accidents – the events of the greater world. It is another entirely to accept that there is no one to whom we can appeal for guarantees. No one’s will can stop the world in its tracks. It keeps turning under us, and we are forced to put one foot in front of the other. Because that is what we are here to do.

“You must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

― Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable

Even the most devout of us will caution that not all prayers are answered with yes… And they go on with that knowledge.

In a news report two years ago the journalists described the video that had been online: in her final moments, a young woman who was beheaded by terrorists cried out for her mother. Her mother, who was so far away. And unaware of that moment at that moment.

Somehow the mother, knowing this, goes on. She breathes still, now, beyond the unimaginable. The surreal. What can any of us offer her?

And each other, knowing that this is somehow all of us. All of it.

Of all the scenes in all the films I’ve ever seen, burned into my mind is that moment in Private Ryan where the soldier asks for a time-out. When I react in fear, that scene comes to the forefront of my memory.

If I had Socrates to dinner, I’d tell him that the unexamined life is most definitely worth living. Necessary even. We live for each other. Sometimes we act, sometimes we react. We give attention. We care. This is the nature of us.

This morning I light the candles, and the incense, and I unroll the mat. Through the window, I watch the tree across the street moving in the storm. Inhale through the nose. Exhale through the mouth. Let my shoulder girdle settle. Spine in the center of my body.

I reach upward. Inhale again.

I am tired. I’m confused. Raw. And aware of my fortunate state of being. In this moment.

Who can stay on the middle path when the storm is blowing and the road is covered with ice?

We try.

I’m trying to make sense of every little thing. Every book on the shelf, every spoon in the drawer, and every must-do on my to-do list. I’ve been using new software at work to sort through the information I share with students, and for the tasks I need to do. I’ve done the same thing with my writing projects.

It’s (probably deceptively) satisfying to get everything organised this way. Having an overview only gives me an illusion of control, I suppose. But it does stop my muppet mind from fretting. I can tease apart every concern and spread it over the computer screen as separate entities. With a space between each. Nothing in its own shape seems worth fretting over. Nothing in-and-of-itself seems vital.

Muppets GIFs | Tenor

What I’m still searching for is a way to do this kind of thing with all of the thoughts in my head. I want to – lovingly – sedate every little moth-like idea and pin it to a kind of bulletin board.

I suppose in some ways that is exactly what it is to write in the mornings.

This dawning space: where the contents of my time
spreads thinly, shallow as the sea
flowing over the sand – where
every gasp for breath becomes visible –
this moment of pause before
the day’s rush and the slower ebb
into the dark and the deep
chaos of dreams.

It is exactly what it is to sit on the cushion and let every thought wash up, and pass by.

Without drowning in the process.

May we have the attention to hear when something changes, the perceptiveness to know when things aren’t working, and the wisdom to try something different.

(Adapted from a prayer on a Unitarian Universalist website.) –jobe

The first of the four seals of Buddhist thought is that all compound entities are impermanent. Everything falls apart. And when they do: when they scatter as fragments, as potentials, over the nothingness.

I envision it as a depth of black felt, not cold space. And though this nothingness isn’t really nothingness, since it can itself still be teased apart, it is as far as my mind can see.

It’s here, against this incomprehensible nothingness that every temporary constellation might be perceived and admired, seen and heard. Maybe synesthesia is the beginning of understanding? Maybe it is the universe recognizing itself at play?

In the Christian tradition, God created the world in his own image. This morning I’m thinking that every coming-together, every illusion of form is just the universes’ joyful shadow play for itself. I’m some bit player: both insignificant and indispensable. My presence is vital, my role is not.

But it is so easy to get caught up in the drama. We forget we are looking at our own mind from inside our own mind: just fragments- just potentials.

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.