practicing for the painful days

As our seasons continue to change, autumn slowly begins to welcome winter and our days get darker, my soul is reminded once again how much growth happens in the dark. Most of us know that dark times eventually bring growth, hope, and gratitude.

Usually, these lessons come when the light begins to shine on our dark days and joy comes back to us, but how do we find a bit of light in the midst of the darkest days?

Rolleicord V | Kodak Portra 800

For me, I have learned that without a regular practice, it is almost impossible to do. In the middle of my dark hours, days, or even months, nothing comes easily. Getting out of bed feels like climbing Mount Kilamgraro. Quieting the cruel voices in your head is more difficult than getting 58 kids to be quiet at the park. And any type of prayer or soul care seems fruitless. During dark days, we can really experience how beautifully we are connected- an emptiness in our soul can lead to our mind telling us old lies again and again and our body can feel the physical pain of our heart.

This is when my practice comes and saves me. If I am careful, during the sunny and warm months of life, I practice my practice. I read the wisdom of my teachers, I meditate, and I schedule purposeful rest. Now when life is easy and the days are light, my practice comes most easy. In fact, the hardest part of my practice is actually practicing it.

Rolleicord V | Kodak Portra 800

I read the wise words of one of my teachers, Thomas Merton, “There are days when I am convinced that Heaven starts already, now, in this ordinary life just as it is, in all its incompleteness, yet, this is where Heaven starts.. see within yourself, if you can find it. I walked through the field in front of the house, lots of swallows flying, everywhere! Some very near me..it was magical. “We are already one, yet we know it not.” During the lighter days, it is easy to find the magic of birds soaring in the breeze above me.

I schedule rest twice a week. I schedule one day that I can take a nap and one day that I don’t need to do anything. I can be active, but it is a day that doesn’t contain any “must dos”. You would think the full day of resting would be harder to schedule. It isn’t. The idea of taking an hour to rest- whether I fall asleep or not- is the harder of the two. It is so easy for me to convince myself I am needed to keep this big world spinning. If I somehow take an hour, things won’t get done and the world will come to a screeching halt. It never does. My weekly nap is a reminder that I am not as important as I think I am and I am important enough to get some rest in the middle of the week.

I practice Centering Prayer every day. I start my practice with the ringing of my singing bowl. As the bowl rings, my soul settles into silence. During the days that sun is shining and all my ducks are in a row, the twenty minutes of silencing my soul come easily. My thoughts don’t race, my body settles into easy breathing, and my heart quiets to an eternal peace.

Rolleicord V | Kodak Portra 800

However, when the days are dark my practices don’t feel like they give me life.  In fact, they can feel painful. Merton’s words feel pithy and glub. Go outside and look at the birds? Take deep breathes? But, because it is my practice, I do go outside and breathe deeply and wait for a bird or two to fly overhead. Is there the same magic that I feel in the easy days? No, not at all. But there is a different magic. I am reminded of the magic, the hope, and they lightness that will come again.

My weekly nap no longer feels like a reprieve and rest- it feels lazy and reminds me of one of my favorite lies I tell myself, I am unnecessary and useless. It is almost painful to take that nap.  Fighting for hope and peace in these dark days is work and my body deserves a nap more than ever.

And Centering Prayer? Almost impossible. My body can’t settle. My heart aches. My mind refuses to quiet. Instead of detaching from my thoughts, I hang onto every single one.

Rolleicord V | Kodak Portra 800

The one thing that keeps me going is that reminder of my singing bowl. As I ring that bowl, something deep within my soul awakes. It hears the ringing, and an eternal hope stirs. And while things aren’t suddenly better- all my practices can remain painful and harsh for days, weeks, and even months-there is something within me that remembers. There is something that stirs and gives me the smallest bit of peace or at least, a small taste of the forgotten peace I once swam in.

Practicing my practice in the summer and spring of life brings me magic, joy, and gratitude that helps me continue practicing my practice in the winter and fall. On the darker days, my practice may not bring magic to my moments or joy in my days, or gratitude for my life… but it gently reminds me of the magic and the days that I felt joy and that a gratitude for this darkness will come one day.  And, just like the reminder of the singing bowl, my heart jumps with the hope of spring right there in the darkness of autumn.

Rolleicord V | Kodak Portra 800

 

My dear friend Melissa is also writing some thoughts about beginning on her blog. Please click here to read more. 

autumn begins

“Darkness deserves gratitude. It is the alleluia point at which we learn to understand that all growth does not take place in the sunlight.”
― Joan Chittister

This Saturday is the Autumn Equinox, when the sun will move from the Northern hemisphere to the Southern and our days here in the Northern Hemisphere will begin to be shorter.  While we will not enjoy the length of days that summer brings, there is something about the autumn light that my soul loves.  I long for the break of the heat of summer and crave of the gentle warmth of the autumn sun and her cool, slow nights.  As the days become shorter and shorter, I am reminded how much work can be done in the dark. Autumn reminds us to let go and to rest.

With each leaf that falls, Mother Earth reminds us that we must let go of what is no longer giving us life. With each day that holds more darkness than light, Mother Earth reminds us of the deep places in us germinate better in the stillness of the dark.

Let go.
Be still.
Rest.

What are some things you need to let go of? How can you bring more moments of stillness and quiet into your life? Can you commit to a more scheduled time for deep rest and sitting in the dark places of your heart?

I am leaving you with a beautiful prayer from Edward Hays.  As we Autumn begins, may you hope for the hidden promise that will be ripening within you this season.

Dance with delight, O flame of autumn fire,
as the Earth, spinning and leaning away from the sun,
begins to cool from the summer heat.
Speak to me of the promise hidden in this season of autumn.
For spring is seeded in this season of completion,
just as the giant oak exists within the acorn.

Autumn fire, orange and yellow sacrament of the sun,
light up the darkness with your dancing.
Your power is seeded in the ripeness
of the fruit and grain of this harvest season.

Great is God, whose heart is the shrine
wherein lives this whole universe;
great is your heart, my Beloved,
greater still is your unceasing love for me.

May my love for you enflame my every word of thanksgiving
to reflect the golden beauty of autumn
that the Earth dons once again.
Amen.

Edward Hays, from Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim

 

My dear friend Melissa is also writing some thoughts about beginning on her blog. Please click here to read more. 

first roll

My sweet husband gave me a Rolleicord V for my birthday.  I took my youngest daughter out to shoot a test roll.  In honor of her coming out this year, I pairing the images with some of my favorite LGBTQ poets.

Rolleicord V | Schneider-Kreuznach Xenar 1:3.5 75mm | Fuji Pro 400

Rolleicord V | Schneider-Kreuznach Xenar 1:3.5 75mm | Fuji Pro 400

“To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.”
– Oscar Wilde

Rolleicord V | Schneider-Kreuznach Xenar 1:3.5 75mm | Fuji Pro 400

Rolleicord V | Schneider-Kreuznach Xenar 1:3.5 75mm | Fuji Pro 400

The Journey
Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Rolleicord V | Schneider-Kreuznach Xenar 1:3.5 75mm | Fuji Pro 400

Rolleicord V | Schneider-Kreuznach Xenar 1:3.5 75mm | Fuji Pro 400

“Please remember, especially in these times of group-think and the right-on chorus, that no person is your friend (or kin) who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow and be perceived as fully blossomed as you were intended.”  ~Alice Walker

Rolleicord V | Schneider-Kreuznach Xenar 1:3.5 75mm | Fuji Pro 400

Rolleicord V | Schneider-Kreuznach Xenar 1:3.5 75mm | Fuji Pro 400

To all those still living with the secret of who you really are, I pray you will find a safe place where you can be fully you.  We need all of your true, queer, and beautiful self.

for courage

I have a few friends that are going through some dark days.  If we are honest with ourselves, we all have dark days; the days when the little things seem big and the big things seem impossible.  It is hard to be vulnerable and brave with yourself and others on those days. The darkness seems so powerful and overwhelming, we think to hold onto it all alone in the corner is the safest thing to do.  Maybe you need to do that first… for a few moments.  But the only way out of the shadows is to find the light within you and allow it to shine.  And on the days we cannot find our own light, we hold that light for each other.

Hasselblad 500CM | 80mm Carl Zeiss Planar | Fujicolor NPL 160 Professional

For those wanting the courage to find the light within their darkness, a blessing by the good John O’Donohue.

For Courage

When the light around you lessens
And your thoughts darken until
Your body feels fear turn
Cold as a stone inside

When you find yourself bereft
Of any belief in yourself
And all you unknowingly
Leaned on has fallen

When one voice commands
Your whole heart,
And it is raven dark,

Steady yourself and see
That is is your own thinking
That darkens your world

Search and you will find
A diamond-thought of light,

Know that you are not alone
And that this darkness has purpose
Gradually it will school your eyes
To find the one gift your life requires
Hidden within this night-corner.

Hasselblad 500CM | 80mm Carl Zeiss Planar | Fujicolor NPL 160 Professional

Invoke the learning
Of every suffering
You have suffered.

Close your eyes
Gather all the kindling
About your heart
To create one spark.
That is all you need
To nourish the flame
That will cleanse the dark
Of its weight of festered fear.

A new confidence will come alive
To urge you towards higher ground
Where your imagination
Will learn to engage difficulty
As its most rewarding threshold!

Hasselblad 500CM | 80mm Carl Zeiss Planar | Fujicolor NPL 160 Professional

 

Find your light, walk in it, and let it warm the earth.

greet yourself

Feelings are wonderful, glorious things. Some are easy to love: joy, hope, happiness, peace. Some take time to learn how to love: confusion, apprehension, remorse. Some are hard to see how or why we ought to love them at all: grief, abandonment, fear. Still, they can be, if we allow them and if we are brave enough to feel them, wonderful and glorious things. Confusion can become curiosity, remorse can become a lesson, grief can become love for what was, is, and is to come.

However, some of us don’t allow our emotions to be felt fully and allow them to teach us and reveal their mysteries to us. Some of us were taught at an early age – either by our guardians or by our own mind trying to protect us – that feelings are dangerous. Even the feelings that bring us joy eventually dissipate, so to deeply feel any emotion fully, deep down in our soul, is a dangerous thing. We go through life experiencing it with a stretched out arm, keeping feelings far enough away that they don’t take us over, but close enough to barely taste what could be. Instead of completely feeling the sadness, loneliness, and pain of a loved one’s death, we comfort others in their sadness, only allow death sting to touch us while watching a movie, or simply ignore it all and stuff the feelings as deep and far as possible. We don’t allow it to get deep enough so that we travel through grief until we can appreciate life and treasure the small divine moments it brings us. And while it is easy to see why someone may push the negative feelings away, even if the journey brings good things, what is heartbreaking is that once we start to stuff and hide our emotions, all emotions begin to hide from us. Suddenly, great moments of elation become gentle happy moments. They aren’t bad, we just don’t feel the magical euphoria down to our toes. We keep joy so close to the surface to not allow it to overcome us, that the memory of it disappears with a night’s sleep.

I lived like this. I held emotions far from my soul, which lead to holding others far from my soul, which eventually lead to forgetting who I really was and really wanted to be. I compartmentalized feelings and emotions until there were pieces of me. Through therapy and hard work, I began to become integrated in my thoughts, feelings, and heart. That doesn’t mean that the work is over. To embody life, one must be thoughtful and purposeful.

One practice to help me fully embody life is prayer beads. I chose to buy a necklace so that I could wear it on days I knew I was wanting to push emotions and experiences away. My prayer beads are made of wood and stone beads. The weight of the necklace reminds me to hold and treasure my emotions and experiences and not allow them to quietly pass by without leaving the lesson and peace they were meant to bring. There are thirty stones on the strand, the number of seconds I like to soak in my moments. While living my day I will pause when something exceptional has happened; a genuine smile from a stranger, a kind word from a loved one, a butterfly circling my body until it flutters away. I will start with the top stone bead and think about and treasure the divine moment. I will take a deep inhale, taking the moment in fully, and then a slow exhale feeling the emotion sink into my body allowing my whole self to experience the emotion. I continue to do that with each bead until I have experienced the moment fully, allowing a simple second to embody me, and soak into my soul and heart. And while I will do this exercise with positive, or safe, emotions quickly, I am beginning to do it with some of the harder emotions as well. Just the other day, my heart was breaking as I thought of my brother that passed away this summer. I took my prayer beads between my fingers and thought of him. With each touch of the bead and each dedicated breath, I remembered him. I remembered things that brought me joy and things that brought me sadness and pain. I let it all soak in, feeling it all down to my toes. And while this moment didn’t leave me with the same exuberance that the moment of the butterfly brought me, it did empower me and bring hope. You see, I not only survived my moment of grief, I thrived in it. I felt a connectedness to those who have gone before me. This moment of painful death brought hopeful life.

It can be a fearful thing to travel an unmarked road, a path we haven’t had the courage to journey down. Whether you muster up that courage today to find a way to feel it all and breath it all in, or you begin to entertain the idea to explore your emotions fully, I hope you find a practice that helps you embody your whole self. While I cannot promise an easy journey, I do know what you will find- your beautiful, wonderful, and magical true self.

All the Hemispheres

~ Hafez

Leave the familiar for a while.
Let your senses and bodies stretch out

Like a welcomed season
Onto the meadows and shores and hills.

Open up to the Roof.
Make a new water-mark on your excitement
And love.

Like a blooming night flower,
Bestow your vital fragrance of happiness
And giving
Upon our intimate assembly.

Change rooms in your mind for a day.

All the hemispheres in existence
Lie beside an equator
In your heart.

Greet Yourself
In your thousand other forms
As you mount the hidden tide and travel
Back home.

All the hemispheres in heaven
Are sitting around a fire
Chatting

While stitching themselves together
Into the Great Circle inside of
You.

 

My friend Melissa is also sharing her thoughts about embodiment on her beautiful blog.  Click to read more and be blessed.

home

Home means something different for everyone. For some of us, home is a safe place where we were nurtured and loved and allowed to grow into ourselves with confidence and a fierce sense of self. For others, home was a scary place that needed to be avoided. There wasn’t a sense of safety or compassion. For some, home wasn’t a place to discover all that we were meant to be.

While the girls were growing up, we tried to create a home that would nurture and protect, love and defend, and care and empower. Our house was a place that you could feel safe and be shown compassion and grace. As girls grew up, they began returning this gift of compassion and forgiveness to Andy and me. We weren’t perfect, but perfection wasn’t a goal, kindness and compassion were. Our kids are no longer kids, they are all adults living their lives and chasing their dreams, but this will always be their home.

Hasselblad 500CM | 80mm Carl Zeiss Planar | Kodak Portra 400

My oldest daughter has recently left our home. She got married this April and moved out with her darling husband, and they are beginning to make their own home. And while our house isn’t the place that they live, I hope they still consider our house, a place they can come back to when life feels harsh and unkind.

Each of us needs this place- a place that we can come back to when life is harsh. A home within themselves that they create that is safe and nurturing, even if it is your own compassion that makes it so. This takes work. Just as it has undertaken work for my daughter and her husband to create their new home, many of us will need to do the job of building a new safe home within our own hearts.

Hasselblad 500CM | 80mm Carl Zeiss Planar | Kodak Portra 400

Some of us didn’t feel cared for or nurtured in our childhood home. Because of this, we might not be sure of our own needs and wants. We will need to learn of our needs and learn to nurture ourselves. Some of us didn’t live in a home where it was safe to feel all of our feelings in a constructive and compassionate way. We will need to learn how to experience our feelings with grace and curiosity. Some felt so unsafe that the world seemed like a fearful place with dangers around every corner. With bravery, we will need to see that while the world holds some risks, it can be a place we can move around with more curiosity than fear.

As we recognize the places of our hearts we need to reorganize and find healing, we will begin to create a safe home with ourselves. And as we learn to feel comfortable and secure within our hearts, we will become safe spaces for others as well. We will have created a home that others can come and visit and experience the safety and love that we have surrounded ourselves with.

Hasselblad 500CM | 80mm Carl Zeiss Planar | Kodak Portra 400

I recently came upon this poem.

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 other’s 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 Walcott

Hasselblad 500CM | 80mm Carl Zeiss Planar | Kodak Portra 400

Give back your heart to yourself.

Read those words again, slowly.

Give back your heart to yourself.

It sounds so simple, but it takes courageous work. But it holds such promise. A promise of a home that we can be our whole and beautiful selves in, a whole and beautiful self that this hurting world needs.

How are you creating a safe and sensitive home within your own heart? What practice do you pursue to show self-compassion and care? How are you giving your heart back to yourself?

 

I am thinking about the word home with my friend, Melissa.  Journey to her blog for her thoughts on this word.

 

A Walk by Rainer Maria Rilke

A Walk

My eyes already touch the sunny hill.
going far ahead of the road I have begun.
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has inner light, even from a distance-

and charges us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it,
we already are; a gesture waves us on
answering our own wave…
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.

~Rainer Maria Rilke

Hasselblad 500CM | 80mm Carl Zeiss Planar | Kodak Ektar 100

 

I am taking a wonderful online class, Poetry as Therapy by​ Jenneth Graser. I can’t stop thinking about this poem that she shared the first day of the class.  It holds so many truths for me right now.  I am especially drawn to the line, “So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp”.  What is grasping you right now in your life?  What is the thing you can’t grasp that you continue to walk towards?

If you are interested in the class, follow the link above. It is free and offers daily poems and journaling prompts.