Friday, December 02, 2016
This week's word hails from the Middle English word comforten, meaning to make strong, thence from the Old French verb conforter, meaning to strengthen. Both forms probably have their origins in a Latin expression consisting of com (a prefix conveying intensity) and fortis meaning strong. Notions of comfort have at their core the idea of being strengthened, soothed and calmed, and the strength involved is not brawn or brute force, but vitality, courage and fortitude - one of the synonyms (and so far unplumbed here) for strength in my tattered thesaurus is connection. It made me think of something penned by Clarissa Pinkola Estes in Women Who Run With the Wolves: "We are strong when we stand with another soul. When we stand with one another, we cannot be broken."
Family and community go right at the top of the list when it comes to comfort, and there is comfort to be found in other things, activities and places (especially liminal places). Mirabile dictu, my comforts can be revisited anywhere and any time in their radiant stillness: bowls of cafe-au-lait served up in my favorite coffee shop, the village on a foggy morning in early December with warmly dressed villagers and whiskery trees appearing out of the mist like magic and then disappearing again; the first snowfall of the season; a fire in the old fireplace burning apple or birch wood; a lovely big fat book, my favorite teapot wafting clouds of freshly brewed chai steam into the air, the Two Hundred Acre Wood in Lanark, rambles among the old trees there with Himself and Spencer (at any time of the year).
There's a special stretch of shoreline on Dalhousie Lake where we love to go in early winter to say goodbye to the geese, and one breathtaking view from the edge of a road in Lanark. One looks out over miles of rolling pine clad ridges and shadowed alleys, and being there expresses the Great Mystery in ways I cannot begin to describe here - the vista never fails to nourish and enchant. I revisit it often in my thoughts and in every season, but most often in late November and early December when the fog rolls in. This week, the image is on my desktop, and looking at it before going off to chemo was like a meditation.
Precious beyond words are things that convey comfort, peace of mind and elemental grace in a world which often seems to be barking mad and totally out of balance. One takes her comfort where she finds it at this time of the year when days are short and, for the most part, dark. Now and again though, individual hours sparkle, and sometimes they sing like birds. One of these mornings I just may start drawing flocks of migrating geese in the foam of my caffè latte.
Thursday, December 01, 2016
You who were with me before I was born,
dark shining on dark,
be with me now.
You who will stay with me after I die,
light traveling on light,
be with me now.
You who are nameless
in the marketplace of ten thousand things,
how shall I call you?
You who are invisible between the stars,
how shall I see you?
You who nurture me with silent wisdom,
speak to me now.
I am listening beyond the sounds of night,
I am looking beyond the sights of the day.
You who fill the infinite void,
travel small on my shoulder now,
show me the way.
Dolores Stewart, from Doors to the Universe
(reprinted with permission)
Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Is this place an ocean or a desert in winter? I am never sure which, but either way, there is always something to feast one's eyes on and capture with the lens. Old window panes, heaps of books, bowls of fruit and cups of tea, it's all good. Isn't a little uncertainty a good thing, every now and then?
There are patterns here everywhere one looks at this time of the year, and they all have to do with liquid turnings and transformation: feathery patterns in river ice, glossy icicles suspended from trees along the shore, field grasses poking their silvery heads out of snowdrifts, beads of water falling in the garden and freezing in midair, fallen leaves with snow crystals shining through tiny apertures in them. Everything my cronish eye alights on is food for thought and camera, a good thing since I am not able to wander far at the moment.
In the absence of the vibrant colors dancing on my palette at other times of the year, winter places are a commonwealth of swirling shapes and patterns, each and every one exquisite. Even an egg yolk sun shining through the kitchen window in a friend's heritage farmhouse delights and enchants.
Sunday, November 27, 2016
Through a genuine experience of identifying with all beings, we may come to see our own interest served by conservation, through genuine self-love, love of a widened and deepened self, an ecological self.
When we plant a tree we are planting ourselves. Releasing dolphins back to the wild, we are ourselves returning home. Composting leftovers, we are being reborn as irises and apples. We can "think like a mountain," in Aldo Leopold's words, and we can discover ourselves to be everywhere and in everything, and we can know the activity of the world as not separate from who we are but rather of what we are. The practice of the "nonlocal self" means that when we work for the restoration of the rain forest, we are restoring our"extended self.
Joan Halifax Roshi, The Fruitful Darkness
resting easy in saying yes to the world
Saturday, November 26, 2016
Friday, November 25, 2016
This week's offering is rooted in the Latin hībernātus, past participle of the verb hībernāre (to spend the winter), kin to the Classical hiems (winter), the Greek cheimá (winter) and the Sanskrit hima meaning cold, frost or snow. Theoretically, all are probably rooted in the Indo-European form ghei-, also meaning winter. That makes our word kin to the name of the mightiest mountain range on the planet, the Himalayas.
Most birds in the northern hemisphere migrate south, but other animal species go dormant and sleep through the long white season, and we call the process hibernating. Bears exhibit an elegant and impressive physiology as they sleep through the winter in their dens. Ground squirrels, marmots, prairie dogs, dormice, hamsters, lemurs and hedgehogs also den up when temperatures fall, sleeping quietly until outside temperatures rise and food becomes available again. Frogs, toads, snakes and turtles are also masters of the art of hibernation.
For humans, hibernation is something completely different, often involving retirement from the outside world to dens of our own or travel to warmer climes to escape inclement weather. We all have our mechanisms for dealing with short days, long nights and deep icy cold, and they are highly personal. For some of us, the accumulation of books, libations, potions and music is our hibernating thing—we kindle fires on our hearths and surround our winter selves with things that are warm, embracing, spicy and redolent of comfort. (A fringed shawl in deep, earthy red comes to mind here, also Bach's Well Tempered Clavier and Mozart's The Magic Flute. We curl up indoors like bears, cocooning ourselves within and enfolded in all that we love best.
In my own case, hibernation also means getting outside and wandering around with camera in hand, trying to capture the light of the sun as it touches clouds, windows and migrating geese, sparks across fields, trees, farm buildings and old rail fences. It's a personal meditative process holding out stillness and tantalizing glimpses of wild, hoary and elusive wisdoms beyond the draperies. Ice, frost, snow and the paucity of light notwithstanding, it's all good, and something to be treasured. Every view is a wonder and no two images are ever the same, even when they are captured from the same place.