Women Who Run with the Wolves

wolvesThis is from the brilliant Clarissa Pinkola Estes of Women Who Run With the Wolves, via her Facebook page today.
Dear Brave Souls: For remembering. Even in the swale: love and limits–as each soul is called to whatever works of lovingkindness are picked up within the range of each soul’s callings. Then follow, as called.
Differentiation: It’s not merely the call the wild and wise creatures wait to hear. It’s that some calls are summoning to action: a worthy endeavor of protection, loyalty, inquiry, blessing of those one is called toward.It’s not mere scent the pack waits to pick up. It’s that some sudden scents are somehow like those reported by saints and holy people and those on the journey of loving soul to soul, causing a person, a creature, even a flower, to pause and feel in all one’s cells, the grandeur, the peace and the magnitude in and all around oneself. Simple Being. Simply being.clarissa's rules

May it be so for us all. Regardless of rivers clotted with offal, regardless of clear sky-open blue water, rather because of both of these environs, let us row onward to the best of our loving abilities, each in his own way, each in her own way, as each see fit in the broadcast range of Love.

this comes with love, and also with Love,

All Hallows’ Eve

I held you in my dreams that night, like I used to, when you were afraid long ago. I didn’t know yet exactly the features of the thing that had broadsided me, and then you, but I had seen it’s shape in the dark, and it brought tears even before full impact. And you were so kind, giving to me that afternoon before you felt its full impact.

I’ve known for some time this day would come, a very long time really.  And though I didn’t know its features exactly, not like I know the features of your face, I knew its shape, I knew it would come and land in our house. I thought my fear might stop it, but fear stops nothing.

Now that it’s here, it helps a little to see its face more clearly, its features, its origins. Still, it hurts as much as I feared. How can it not, when the patches have just come from your eyes, the skin off your flesh, and it has reminded me so much of how my own came off? How can it not when I know how it has all come to be, and that it could not be any other way?

But I have to thank you for being the one to hand me the floodlight to see it all clearly this time. You amaze me sometimes.

A good floodlight, in the form of words on a page, or the face of another who is intimately familiar with the features of the thing that broadsided you, can be a wonderful thing. It is how we see fully the dynamic that injured us, and the exact nature of the injury, which of course is necessary to know which bones to set, which medicines to take. It is what is necessary to help us get our bearings, to see exactly where we are, and where we must go next. It illumines the ground on which we find ourselves in the wake of the collision, and helps us recognize exactly what we must mourn in order for our souls to regenerate.

We, all of us in one way or another, stand on a ground of so many losses. They comprise our foundation as much as does the solid, good beauty beneath us. And the losses are as worthy of traditions that honor them as is the bounty we celebrate at Thanksgiving—it has been my experience that it is only in properly honoring them that they can transform from something rigid and toxic into something fertile and sustaining, something firm enough to support both the laughter and the tears.

You have surveyed other crash sites by other floodlights, I know, but this floodlight is perhaps the brightest and most painful yet.

This lingering on what has come into sharp focus, I can hear some of you saying, is unnecessary; focus on the positive. I disagree. Because without the searing honesty of the floodlight at the scene of the collision, none of the truth of it—not our fears, nor the ways we found to survive, nor the injuries sustained—will be laid out bare and naked, which is essential if we are going to be able to discern exactly what has been broken, where the flow of blood needs stanching, what needs mending, and later, which muscles need exercise.

This is the reason I need to put into words the darkness and the fact of the collision scenes we sometimes find ourselves sitting at. Words have the power to bring to the surface the tears we need to shed. Words have the power to take that which is within and lay it out where it can be seen, where others can help us pick up the shards and help us mourn. And unless we mourn, we cannot grow the soul and resilience we need to live fully.

It is by the illumination of the floodlight that our resistance is disarmed and we can begin to honor that which we find in the dark and transform it into something new and life-sustaining. It is how we can begin to see that things could not have been any other way, how we let go of resistance, shame, and blame. It is what enables us to stop saying If Only. It illumines exactly how our flexibility and bounce have been eroded, how our backs and kidneys have become fatigued, and how we might heal. It is in the light of the floodlight that suffering can begin to ease, that we find the strength to bury that which must be buried.

Our nights are getting so long now. The ground is spread with red and yellow as striking, in their own way, as the blooms of spring. It’s a good time to honor that which darkness read and yellow leavesrepresents, a good time to be coming up on All Hallow’s Eve, a good time to remember that life and death, joy and sorrow are hallowed, worthy of honor. And it’s a good time to be thankful for light that illuminates the darkness.

And you, heart of my heart, will not be alone as you do this work; you too have an entire tribe of us who have gone before you standing there with you.

Space for Grace

The other day, surrounded by the chaos of a thousand boxes, in the middle of sorting it out, I was struck by the truth that there is at times more room in my life for stuff and information and self-indulgence than there is for grace, grace in every sense of the word: generosity of spirit, empathy, beauty, humility, gentleness, kindness, letting go.

Grace is fluid. It flows our way, and through us, and out to others, if we permit it to, if we have our feet solidly on the earth, if our lives are uncluttered enough.

We take in so much—food, affirmation, information, criticism, material things. It does not matter what; we must ultimately break it down, assimilate the helpful, eliminate that which isn’t and which will, if held on to, ultimately become toxic.

Taking in too much, and taking in without taking the time to sort and assimilate and eliminate, without occasional excursions into the desert, will eventually result in an excess that saps our vitality, makes us sluggish, heavy, anxious, egocentric. It will begin to choke out breath and awareness and gratitude and empathy and deep sleep, which are all things we need to repair and heal our lives.

Major repairs, I’m learning, whether they be broken bones or a crushed spirit, can only happen in the absence of gluttony, in the presence of clear water and fresh air and quiet. New cells, new ideas, new ways of relating and functioning—all are best born after the death and proper clearing out of the old, after periods of dormancy.

Grace needs breathing room, white space.

The pruning process, like the removal of a tumour (which like excesses of all kinds serves no lasting purpose), can be exhausting and difficult. But it is, in my experience, absolutely necessary if we are to breathe deeply, to be free of congestion and bitterness, to have space for grace and love and compassion, to have the clarity of mind necessary for restful and plentiful sleep.

I think I may be nearing the end of a fairly dramatic pruning process that has been going on for what feels like a very long time now. It began with my cancer diagnosis nearly two years ago and should now, with this move and the paring down of my physical world, be winding down.

I’m pretty tired, but I couldn’t be happier about the coming winter.


We are Human Mitochondrial Brilliance

Standing in the front hallway of our home, laughing and chatting with my parents, are two beautiful young women. I am mesmerized. They are spirited and glamorous, on the cusp of adulthood. I’m very young, perhaps six years old. One of the women is my aunt, the other is her friend, and they have travelled by bus from Edmonton, to spend their Christmas vacation with us in Lethbridge.

Something in them resonates deeply with me, but the detail that gets tucked away in my memory is that of the extraordinarily large and beautiful buttons on the highly fashionable coat one of them is wearing.

Christmas vacation ends. My life goes back to its quiet childhood routine; theirs to college and their adult lives. I see my aunt regularly throughout my childhood; I don’t see her friend again, nor do I hear anything about her, ever, at least not that I can recall. But we’d connected that day, all of us standing there, and two weeks ago, five decades after that encounter, she showed up as a brilliantly sparkling diamond in my email box.

She’d accidentally come across this blog, put a few pieces of the puzzle together, and remembered that Christmas and the warmth of my parent’s home. And she contacted me.

She’d gone on to university, marriage, a dissertation on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, career and family, and events that eventually lead her to Japan. She describes the adolescent self I met way back then as “rebellious, independent, and impetuous”. I describe my child self as quiet, earnest, timid, and eager to please. We are very different people, our circumstances have been very different, and yet in a single conversation five decades later it’s clear to me that we are still somehow connected.

I happen to believe we’re all connected, through a living and infinite universe, upon which we rely for our very breath. What you prefer to name that source of life does not matter to me, but it is extraordinary. As Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue put it, “The ancient rhythms of the earth have insinuated themselves into the rhythms of the human heart. The earth is not outside us; it is within: the clay from where the tree of the body grows.”

Or, as Liam Scheff puts it in Official Stories, “We sprout, as living ambulatory self-conscious plants, from a universal energy being; not as accidents, but as manifestations of an organized, patterning and creative penetrating mind and soul, whose identity we, and all of life and matter, share.”

We are, in other words, part of an infinite, powerful, living, energetic, magnetic and elemental universe. This is a concept that resonates with my experience. The universe feels alive. It feels like love, and love is the energy of life and our connection to that infinitely larger whole, a whole that flows through us and is our breath, our heartbeat.

We are tiny parts of something much larger, distinct but energetically connected, mitochondria in the cells of the universe.

This, in my mind, demands reverence, humility and gratitude. It is a grand energy. And it is at the core of the exchange I have re-experienced with someone I connected with once many years ago when I stood in awe of her independent spirit, knowing there was something in her I needed.

It is love that my friend remembers experiencing in my parent’s home that Christmas, love between my parents, love for their children, and the love they extended to others in need of a soft place for a minute.

Thank-you Veronica for wearing the memorable coat back then, and for finding me now. Thank you for your attention, for recognizing my mother, for putting the pieces together, and for not stopping there–thank you for making contact and giving me a drink at the well of love flowing through you.

Honoring the Moment

You feel alone and pessimistic, tired of your skin, your unique pain. You’re tempted to resignation, to regret, or even things much smaller yet, things like self-pity, or manipulation, or resentment. You’re in the moment, aware of the darkness, but also that the darkness—however long and deep it may be—is not intolerable, nor permanent. You detach a little more, and simply observe.  Alongside the discouragement, you’re conscious of longing and hope too, and despite the more dark-toned emotions, immense gratitude.

You and sit and observe all of it as truth, without judgment. You hold the tension between what is and what you want in your hands, and then offer it up to the universe. You reject self-pity and, still observing and honoring your internal truth, take a step or two to love and nurture yourself, and in doing so, find enough of your essence to spill over onto your partner, your lover, your best friend.

And then the unexpected: you step out onto the street, see an old acquaintance you once had little in common with and normally exchange little more than a hello with. But today your intuition tells you this is no longer true, and you say just a little more than hello, and before you know it, you’re walking together, talking, and your intuition is confirmed: you now not only have something very major in common; you have in each other an ally on a number of sobering weights you have long carried mostly in private.

Or, in your mailbox, a note from someone you don’t remember, but who remembers you, and your family, and who affirms you deeply in exactly the way you need to be affirmed.

Or, you sleep deeply through a long night and wake up refreshed, without pain, and you feel like making carrot ginger soup, perhaps sharing with a friend.

An abundance of wealth.

It’s a way of being, meditation is. It’s living in that place between what is and what might be, that place that has room for our loneliness and limitations, but also room for our hopes and dreams. It’s a way of honoring our truest selves, more than it is something we do. It’s a way of milking all we can from life, embracing the richness of the comfortable alongside the uncomfortable. It doesn’t change things, but it changes everything.

Managing the Morning Mood with a Mower

I’ve found yet another solution to my waking up a ray of sunshine: mow the lawn before getting to my desk. I want my old bouncy morning self back, the one that, for decades, was pretty consistently more annoying to others first thing in the morning than it was annoyed, and I should never have taken that perky optimistic morning self for granted.

But I’ve found a cure for the less perky one. Not one that works for most of the year, granted (I will hopefully have outgrown this stage by next winter), but seriously, mowing, with my good ol’ reel mower in the fresh morning breeze and sunshine works well to break out of that left brain chatter and into right brain awareness and calm.

It’s one of many tools we have to shift our brain activity from the logical left side to the more intuitive and creative right side for a while, the side that facilitates hope and the healing of our bruised selves. Music, meditation, yoga, art, sex, massage, acupuncture, Qi Gong are all effective too. But my new favorite, simply because it’s been a very, very long winter, is mowing the lawn.

Being present in the right brain is important not just for our own pleasure and our own healing, but for being human. Our world values technology and productivity above art, but art and creativity are actually the prerequisite to technology. Creativity is the essence of life, and more primary than technology. It is the engine that drives the rest.

As blogger Kristin Lamb reminds us, here, Mary Shelley intuited the human body as bioelectric long before scientists did. George Eliot knew of the brain’s power to regenerate long before Dr. Elizabeth Gould understood and explained it scientifically. Much as stating clearly our personal goals moves us in the direction of realizing them, our imaginations expressed as art moves us as a society in the direction of the possible.

When I was undergoing cancer treatment last year, a friend sent me a TED talk by Jill Bolte Taylor. By some miracle, given my despair at the time, her eloquent and passionate words captured my attention. We humans are the light-force power of the universe with manual dexterity, she said. The potential in this thought was staggering to me. I longed to escape the chatter of my left brain to expand my consciousness again, to feel connected to the energy of the universe, to be creative and productive, to feel empathy, to be compassionate and understanding and hopeful.

Being stuck in our left brains restricts our ability to be those things, both with others and ourselves, the latter kind of being a prerequisite for the former. It also makes us more defensive in the face of critical feedback—that wonderful but sometimes uncomfortable thing that helps us grow—as left brain logic is too loud to permit us to remain present and mine the good in the words of others. Our left brains, as essential and valuable as they are, are not the whole story, and sometimes simply get in the way of our being better human beings and building a better world.

Teaching is one of our society’s many undervalued arts, and so is healing. By healing, I don’t mean medicine, which is essential and facilitates healing but is highly valued and rewarded. The healing I mean here are the other kinds, the kinds that are viewed as non-essential, even flakey and dreamy, the kind done by the world’s intuitives and artists, those who listen closely and empathize, those who do energy body work and acupuncture and other holistic and complementary kinds of healing.

The visual arts, song, dance, theatre, the healing arts, writing—all of these, though often undervalued, are utterly essential to the health and progress of a society. They are what express our essence, our soul; they nourish our collective hope.

Integrated Therapies and Lamb Stew

Many thanks to Jacob, for nominating me for the Kreativ Blogger Award. He’s the doctor affirming me (definitely not a doctor) on my first timid return to a few tiny bits of health writing since my cancer diagnosis, and I very much appreciate the respect he’s given me. The mention also significantly increased traffic to my fledgling site, and I’d like to pay it forward.

Which I will do, just as soon I can decide on which blogs to nominate.

In the meantime, a quick post that might be of interest to other cancer survivors, or, for that matter, anyone dealing with damaged mitochondria for any reason.

First, April in Edmonton tends to be chilly, dusty, and dogged with snow-mold-laden winds, and it is, for me, the worst month of the year. But despite that, and perhaps strangely, I love it here. It’s where I have lived my adult life of marriage and children, successes and failures. It has the best river valley, friends, restaurants, and arts scene. My husband and I take in plays and concerts and music festivals enough to bring joy to the sorest of hearts, which is supremely important to me right now in my continual quest for health and joy.

This morning, as I have done weekly over the past year, through snow, spring rain, summer warmth, crisp fall sunshine, snow yet again, and now those chilly spring winds, I trotted off yet again to see my acupuncturist/massage therapist. The endorphin-producing magic generated by combination therapy like this is quite something, really, almost enough to help me forget completely last night’s insecurities. And if, as I’ve also written a little about recently, healing depends as much on psychological state as it does on nutrition and the mitigation of toxic factors—if endorphins and the presence of joy instead of pain are essential ingredients to healing—then my addiction to this weekly appointment (and to our arts scene, for that matter), is a good thing.

My persistent craving for lamb stew is a good thing too, it turns out, I see now that I’ve finally gone to the trouble to check out exactly what it is I’m craving. Thanks to The Weston Price Foundation, I’ve learned that it is loaded with nutrients necessary for mitochondrial repair—the right fats, b vitamins, and carnitine. Carnitine, of note to vegetarians with mitochondrial damage, isn’t found in vegetable foods. And the gelatin present in the soups and stews I’ve been making is high in amino acids (glycine and proline) that reduce susceptibility to stress, improve sleep, fight tumors, and improve thyroid function, all of which are commonly desired goals among cancer survivors.

I’ll keep chasing health and happiness, in another bowl of lamb stew, in writing, in a listening ear, being heard and understood and affirmed, and yes, in that weekly appointment at Integrated Therapies. Quality of life is everything.