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National Poetry Day and Barbara Crooker

What to Remember When Waking by David Whyte Today is national Poetry Day and so in honor of the event, Id like to share a poem by one of my favorite poets, Barbara Crooker. One of the things I love most about Crookers work is how wonderfully she reminds us of the poetry that exists within the ordinary.

Poem on a Line by Anne Sexton, We are All Writing Gods Poem

Today, the skys the soft blue of a work shirt washed
a thousand times. The journey of a thousand miles
begins with a single step. On the interstate listening
to NPR, I heard a Hubble scientist
say, The universe is not only stranger than we
think, its stranger than we can think. I think
Ive driven into spring, as the woods revive
with a loud shout, redbud trees, their gaudy
scarves flung over barks bare limbs. Barely doing
sixty, I pass a tractor trailer called Glory Bound,
and arent we just? Just yesterday,
I read Li Po: There is no end of things
in the heart, but it seems like things
are always ending—vacation or childhood,
relationships, stores going out of business,
like the one that sold jeans that really fit—
And where do we fit in? How can we get up
in the morning, knowing what we do? But we do,
put one foot after the other, open the window,
make coffee, watch the steam curl up
and disappear. At night, the scent of phlox curls
in the open window, while the sky turns red violet,
lavender, thistle, a box of spilled crayons.
The moon spills its milk on the black tabletop
for the thousandth time.

Today I urge you to look around you and behold the poetry

Love Your Life: An Illustrated Interview with Maurice Sendak

In less than 6 minutes, allow Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are and artist Christoph Niemann to touch your heart and soul

http://www.karmatube.org/videos.php?id=3741

To Love and to Feast on Your Life

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How easy it is to judge ourselves, so much more difficult to unconditionally love the struggling imperfect selves that we are. And yet, I have come to believe that this is our most essential task to love. To not only love others, but to love the unique, one of a kind spirit that came into the world as you. And to love the troubled but still beautiful world that took you in.

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the others welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Wolcott

Imagine how your life would be different if just for today you feasted on your life.

Becoming Holy: Three Questions to Ask Each Day

frampton Saint Dorothy

I listened to a talk by Jean Houston on Gaiam TV today and was moved tremendously by one observation she made in particular. She noted that each of us gets wounded during our life times, and that if we live long enough, we become so full of holes that we ultimately become holy.

My own life has taught me that my wounds will ultimately diminish or enrich me, depending largely upon whether I meet them with a closed fist or an open heart. Ive also come to understand to my amazement that an ordinary day can be transformed from the mundane to the holy not so much by what happens during the course of it, but by what questions I choose to ask of myself when I first encounter it.

Michael Beckwith urges us to ask the following three questions each and every day.

How can I grow?

How can I give?

What can I celebrate?

Ive found that every morning that I ask myself these three questions and then commit to living the answers by the end of the day, my life is so much more likely to be experienced as the profound gift that it is.

When Love and Death are Teachers

lens1635638_1316755611angel_grief_rome

This is a dark and dismal season of grief for me. Three months ago I lost my mother, and within this last week I have lost my oldest childhood friend, my anam cara my soul sister

I still remember the first moment that I saw her. She was a tiny little waif, leaning against my grandmother and laughing at something that had just been said. I was a lover of fairy tales and with her blonde hair, dancing blue eyes, and pixie face, my eight year old self imagined that here standing before me, in my very own kitchen, was Goldilocks!

At eight she enchanted me, by ten she was fully integrated into my family, and by twelve she was my confidant and best friend. Im not sure when she became my sister and an essential part of me, but she did.

Her maiden name was Joy, which was both fitting and ironic. As a young child she and her younger brothers had been removed from her parents and placed into foster care. As a very young woman, one of her brothers was diagnosed with schizophrenia, followed by the sudden death of his twin. Next, soon after she and her estranged father began building a relationship, he died from lung cancer. And then, eight years ago, her husband of nineteen years went to work one morning and never came home. He died instantly, leaving her to finish raising three of their four children alone.

Yesterday, as the great storm Nemo surged towards them, those same beautiful children bravely and graciously greeted friends and family who had come to honor their mothers life. She had gone into the hospital with pneumonia and died there.

The amount of pain and suffering she and her children have faced at such tender ages is completely incomprehensible to me. The temptation to scream up at the heavens, why!!!!!!!! why!!!!!!!!!! Why!!!!!!!!!!!!!! sits wound tightly in my chest, threatening to explode, scattering pieces of my shattered self everywhere.

Her maiden name was Joy. And even as she struggled on a daily basis with the fallout of a heart broken way too young and far too often, she embraced her life and held it and those within its orbit close and tenderly. She created countless special memories for her husband and children, faced her fears, followed her heart, and sweetly coaxed me to join her from time to time. For the past three springs I told her that I thought I could manage a visit during the summer, and apologized each autumn when my plans to visit fell through.

She called me right after my mother died and left a message explaining that she knew that I might not have the energy to call back right away, (I didnt) and that she would simply be waiting patiently when I was ready to talk. She emailed me at Christmas time and warned me that the holidays would be brutal, but that Id get through them. I emailed her back and thanked her and promised that Id call her soon. That was our final contact. Now there will be no more phone calls, no more heart to heart talks, no more promises, no more summers

Shortly after losing her husband, she lamented that in working so long and hard in preparation for retirement, he had missed so many tiny inconsequential and yet precious moments. She had made a promise to herself at his funeral that she wouldnt postpone pleasure in the interest of a tomorrow that might never come. She kept that promise.

Stephanie Ericsson wrote:

Grief is a tidal wave that over takes you
smashes down upon you with unimaginable force,
sweeps you up into its darkness,
where you tumble and crash against unidentifiable surfaces,
only to be thrown out on an unknown beach, bruised, reshaped

Grief will make a new person out of you,
if it doesnt kill you in the making.

Its not my grief that threatens to mortally wound me, its my love. And its not my love that has proven to be my greatest teacher, its my grief.

Thirty five years ago four teenagers sat late into the night talking about life and death and making predictions about how their lives would turn out. Before separating in the wee hours of the morning, they made a pact that when they were fifty they would come back together and see whose predictions came true. They never kept that oath. Not because they got too busy, or forgot their promise along the way, but because the only one who lived to see her fiftieth birthday was me.

I grieved deeply each time I lost one of them, and yet failed repeatedly to fully grasp the profound lesson contained within each death. Its a lesson that we learn over and over again without fully comprehending, one that we pay lip service to but seldom turn our lives around to meet. Those we love will die. WE WILL DIE. And so, we must make of our love a sacred practice, allowing it to flow through our lives like a mighty river. We must invite ourselves to fall in love with life over and over again, allowing life and love to become inseparable.

Both my mother and Missie, my golden girl, are gone now, and this is more loss than I can face today. But theres something that Ive learned through the terrible pain of earlier losses which sustains me. The intensity of this grief will fade even as its lesson comes more clearly into focus. Life is a gift of unknown duration the only certainty is that it ends, and so we must learn to hold it lovingly and closely, like Missie did.

Her maiden name was Joy.

Living with Grief and Listening to Winter

hughes Heart of Snow

The sky is grey today.  My boots crunch and my body tenses when I first step out into this frigid January morning.  I move slowly, huddled against  the cold,  still baring the gravity of  grief and the weariness of long nights with too few exits and too many echoes.

Getting out of bed took little effort yesterday,  my mind was alert,  my movements fluid, and the sun was shining.  I breathed a sigh of relief, finally able to recognize the promise of a morning  without my mother in it.  I didnt have to force myself to leave my house, and I jogged and jumped and danced during my water aerobics class. My body felt light and graceful.  It was going to be a good day.

Someone began to sing, these boots are made for walking and I cheerfully joined her in song, hands on my hips and legs lifting high.  And then my eyes met those of a woman who is older than my mother and the pain slammed into my chest without warning.  I was breathless as a memory consumed all of my oxygen. My young and sexy mother is singing that song while I  prance around her in my imaginary boots.  We are pointing at each other, warning that one of these days these boots are going to walk all over you.  In that moment, all was perfect.  The depression had not found her, she was cancer free - healthy,  happy, and ALIVE.  I was safe.

My eyes filled with tears and to my horror, it occurred to me that I could start crying in a public pool surrounded by perfectly nice and normal women. I took a deep breath, clenched my jaw, called upon my well practiced will, and pulled myself together.

Rumi wrote that our lives are like guest houses. If my life truly is like a guest house, then grief, an unwelcome guest, has settled in for the time being. I cannot move out, and there will be no eviction. And so, If Im to avoid structural and collateral damage, then Ill  need to make accommodations.  Grief, I will make a place at my table for you, but I will not feed you.  Instead, I will infuse my cooking with love and gratitude and nurture my family with them.  And I will stop wasting energy trying to lock you out, instead, Ill open all of my windows and invite beauty in.

My walk is complete. I return to the home that I now share with grief, close the door, absorb the heat, and resolve to not long for spring, but to listen to winter

The Winter of Listening

No one but me by the fire,
my hands burning
red in the palms while
the night wind carries
everything away outside.

All this petty worry
while the great cloak
of the sky grows dark
and intense
round every living thing.

What is precious
inside us does not
care to be known
by the mind
in ways that diminish
its presence.

What we strive for
in perfection
is not what turns us
into the lit angel
we desire,
what disturbs
and then nourishes
has everything
we need.

What we hate
in ourselves
is what we cannot know
in ourselves but
what is true to the pattern
does not need
to be explained.

Inside everyone
is a great shout of joy
waiting to be born.

Even with the summer
so far off
I feel it grown in me
now and ready
to arrive in the world.

All those years
listening to those
who had
nothing to say.

All those years
forgetting
how everything
has its own voice
to make
itself heard.

All those years
forgetting
how easily
you can belong
to everything
simply by listening.

And the slow
difficulty
of remembering
how everything
is born from
an opposite
and miraculous
otherness.

Silence and winter
has led me to that
otherness.

So let this winter
of listening
be enough
for the new life
I must call my own.

David Whyte

Surviving Depression: Wisdom From Gabrielle Roth and My Mother

As a therapist who walks beside others who struggle with depression, and as a woman who has endured its devastating blows myself,  Im all too aware of what overcoming it demands of us.  We are required to hold on even as our grasp weakens,  overwhelmed by dread and hopelessness.  The pull of life  insists that we get up and face the day when all we really want to do is cover up our heads and refuse to come out.  And we are called during our long dark nights to recognize that those voices (all too often the loudest and the most convincing) that repeatedly remind us of all the ways that we have been wounded and taunts us with our failures, disappointments, and of the vast array of dangers that surround us, can not and  must  not be trusted.  And when almost every fiber of our being seems to be shutting down, we are challenged to acknowledge that the gaping wound inside of us is also an opening one that is capable of ushering in as much possibility as it does pain.

Dancer and wisdom keeper, Gabrielle Roth,  who died from lung cancer this past October, just one month before my mother lost her own battle with lung cancer, wrote that in many shamanic cultures when someone sought a medicine person because he or she was disheartened or depressed, it was common for the sufferer  to be asked one of the following four questions:

When did you stop dancing?

When did you stop singing?

When did you stop being enchanted by stories?

When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence?

As I sat yesterday in the gloaming, mellowed by the sweet territory of silence, I asked myself those questions.  And as I waited for answers, memories of my mother floated in and out of my consciousness.   As a child she  created entire universes within the magic and mystery of her own imagination, enchanted her husband as a young woman by belting out country songs about cheating hearts and lovin eyes, and captivated her eldest daughter with tales of  an abused and abandoned little girl and her faithful dog, buddy.   My mother taught me so much with her stories, and it was both the bitter and the sweet of her own life that offered up multiple lessons regarding how to live, what’s important, what needs to be let go of,  and what’s essential to remember.

And at this moment I am remembering one of my favorite stories of my mother as a child.  She was five years old and it was her first  day of kindergarten.  My grandmother was helping her get ready for school and she was both excited and terribly anxious.  As her mother combed her fine brown hair, she peppered her with the following questions.

Can I come home if I miss you too much? she asked.

No.  You need to stay until the school day is over, her mom replied.

Can you come and visit me? she bargained.

No.  School is for children, not for mothers, answered her mother.

“Can I sing in school?” my 5 year old mother asked hopefully.

“No Brenda.  You have to be quiet and listen to your teacher.”

“Can I play?”  she asked tremulously.

“Only at recess.  You go to school to learn,” my grandmother explained.

“Well, can I dance?”

“No Brenda.  You have to sit in your seat,”  her mother responded firmly.

“Well, the tiny child sighed,  holding her skinny little arms over her head as she started to twirl round and around, then, I’d better dance now.”

And I see her in my minds eye still, almost fifty years from the time that  I first heard this story, and feel my soul reaching out to the child that I came to cherish almost as dearly as I loved the mother that she would grow up to be,  and I am smiling and I am weeping now as I imagine her yet again, swirling around the kitchen, pig tails flying, dancing.

Both Gabrielle Roth and Brenda Byram are with us no longer but their legacy lives on dance.  Dance even as your heart breaks, dance even as your body bends from the terrible gravity of grief, dance even though your stomach aches and your heart trembles.  Dance.  Dance while you can….

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