writingmybrain

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Big Shit in Our World of Instant—

Bobcat in my yard…what a gift

The first duty of love is to listen—Paul Tillich

Listening is an act of love; however I am split between contradictions. One being, the act of listening really means paying attention, and paying attention really means listening with both attention and focus, and the second being—trust my silence—for a different time.

An act of listening is something I find myself appearing to do, however my mind wanders. It wanders in a multitude of directions: what is really being said; how do I respond to this in kindness and respect; how do I navigate this expression ; what do I have to offer in this situation; to name a few of the things going on simultaneously in my head.

I consider myself a problem solver. When someone talks to me, I am ready to find a solution to their situation or dilemma and provide feedback that may or may not be in service. Repeatedly, especially within my family, I am reminded they are not looking for a solution; they just want to be heard.

This is a constant reminder to me, to stop with the interjections, pay attention to what is being said, and hold-off saying a darn thing. Be silent. I have noticed that waiting for right timing to respond takes time, often weeks, maybe even months before that particular person is ready for a response, or can actually hear what is being offered. And I have to remind myself that perhaps that time will not arise, and be willing to let it go.

This is a challenge; hold my council. Be silent. There are two things at play with me over this: simply I may forget what I wanted to say and second, in the event the topic arises again, will I be able to respond in the moment?  But the cool thing about this unrest I experience, I also know that when I breath into my heart, wait, then move into trust, my heart will express itself through my voice, and what needs to be said, will be said.

The challenge lies in the instant need to get, give, and receive feedback whether it is on one of our varied devises or in person.  It seems to me, because it is so difficult, that holding council is the true gift of love. What I mean by holding council is by waiting for another time, trusting that what needs to be said, will be said, and breathing into the heart to provide the necessary words of expression—big shit in our world of instant.

Taking and giving that space is essential for our mental and physical health and it is really, in my view, my first duty to love. The second is to listen and void all my questions, hold back my own words, and trust my heart to lead me to the right time when that person is able to listen and a mutual conversation arises out of love, listening and hearing.

Writing Practice:  When you find yourself faced with wanting to give guidance, hold back, listen to what is being said by the other person, breathe deeply, again and again; breathe deeply. Wait. Stay silent. Speak if you are so moved.  Journal your experience; how did this new practice feel? What did you discover?  Is the practice something you are willing, ready, and able to integrate into your life? What are your challenges, break throughs, and insights? Journal some more.   


Meet Experience Openly…

“Listening is not reacting or responding but meeting experience openly, the way a lake is filled by streams.” Seven Thousand Ways to Listen—Staying Close to What is Sacred by Mark Nepo P85.

What a beautiful image these words form for me. How integral it is also to the art of listening. I am inspired by its sentiment and realize also that I am far from finding that middle place and space of balance, yet I strive towards its intention.

Of course like thousands, we work towards that middle way, that balance. And yet, in interactions we are perfect in our imperfections, and can only be present when we are able. I find this lack of presence in daily activities, a great goal, yet so hard to either achieve momentarily and certainly to maintain.

In fact, I am hopeful in my working towards, but hopeless in my presence. Not because of anything other than I am pulled, like thousands before, after, and generationally in many directions that tug me away from what I’d like to work toward in myself first, and the community as a whole—be it family, friends or a public forum. I can only esteem towards this when I work on myself in an attempt to reduce my own glitches.  

I may be pulled to a text, a phone call, an email, an ad flashing up on my screen, a meeting, a family need, an atmospheric adjustment due to an outside influence, or simply pulled to respond, or react to something that intersects my path within the hours of my life. This is definitely an intersection. Another is in conversation. Presence often wraps itself in confusion, complication, circumstance, or complexity by anything that intersects that moment.

What I have come to realize is those intersections are all about choice. Even in the most seemingly difficult scenario there is choice. It seems bizarre, almost contradictory, but choice exists with both intersections and conversations. We can listen, we can connect, and we can be present — even in the most trying and grim times we face in our lives, and on the planet—yes, we do have choice.

As our best and worst, we remain one molecule; a droplet in a stream on its journey to the lake; to the sea.  We are part of the whole, one moment at a time. Listening comes from inside out, rather than outside in, and listening within our conversations for the choices, is one way to make a difference in our lives as well as those around us, and life as a whole on the planet. In making choices, we aim to listen well for the intersections and conversations and leap into the whole without reacting or responding but meeting experience openly as the stream meets the lake; the sea, and is part of the entirety.

Writing Practice: A Reflective Pause—Journal Question excerpted from: Seven Thousand Ways to Listen—Staying Close to What is Sacred by Mark Nepo P.88.

Watch someone doing something they love. Listen to the motion and rhythms of how they work. Name and describe the song of their work. Journal this experience openly and be amazed.  


Poetry as Practice

“Poetry is the unexpected utterance of the soul. Much more than the
manipulation of language, it is a necessary art by which we live and
breathe.” Mark Nepo writing on the Nature of Poetry http://www.marknepo.com/

In my later sixties, I now recognize the heart of poetry, my heart of poetry. I began to express a deeper sense of connection through poetry when I was in my first decade. In fifty years of poetry, I have deepened that practice. Poetry is my go to practice when there is something unsettling in me, or in the world around me. An incongruence that I feel needs to be expressed in a form where I can digest it, move through it, and find resolution.

Yes, there is much to be unsettled about in our world at this time; much to be concerned about, much to find resolution about, within us and around us. How can we solve it? Many turn to spirituality, many turn to avoidance, many turn to numbing, many turn to denial, many turn to action. Each turning moves us past overwhelm to a place where we find either a peace, or further unsettling through acts and actions.

I have, through the years turned to poetry, perhaps as a form of resolution, but also as a form of expression—to tap into something sometimes I am consciously unaware of, bring it into my awareness, and release it into a concrete form; sometimes as an expression of contradictions, conflicts and confusion. Most of my work, or practice over the years was for my eyes only as a form of therapy for my psychological health and wellness. I am grateful for its presence in my life, truly a mainstay.

Because poetry has the capacity to reveal the rawness of our soul and spirit, the dichotomy and contradictions in our world, often we are shy to share because poetry makes us vulnerable. I can say this about myself at least. Poetry makes me vulnerable. Vulnerability opens me up for judgement, criticism or makes me wrong somehow in the eyes of others, and it hurts. However, I can also say that poetry elevates my sense of well-being, my mental, heart and spiritual health. And in turn revitalizes my physical health. Expression through poetry from the inside out has the capacity to bring forth, make sense of any chaos or crisis, and transform confusion towards hope. 

As I work with others using poetry as expression, observation, or a collection bowl of memory I am in awe of how the art is unique to the person, yet universal in its capacity to heal, reflect sentiment, and show ourselves to our self. Poetry is medicine. Medicine to our soul, and I recommend it to anyone wanting to explore the territory of the invisible. It helps us makes sense of what we face in our day to day lives. Poetry is not something that is to be known with our head as it was in school, it is to be felt through our senses and expressed through our unique voice onto paper. Poetry can be for our eyes only, or can be shared if you so choose. Poetry is a gift to ourselves.

Poetry Practice: Find a comfortable safe place and space. Allow the surrounding atmosphere to enter your awareness. Listen from inside out. What surfaces? Is there a moment in which your peace explodes through your senses; a memory, an emotion, an incident, an issue that just won’t let-go? Write from that place and get it down on paper. Write from the heart. Massage it much, much later if you so choose but right now, write for your personal expression and illumination. Repeat as the need arises.  In-joy.  


Summer’s Children-Part Two

Through play, we learn about ourselves and others around us—siblings, parents, friends. It all starts with how we play. Do we observe, get stuck in, wait, or blunder in, and see what’s happening as we go? How we play as children, provides indicators of what and how we will do our lives as we grow through the years.

I have been conducting an informal study on play for over fifty years. I started as a teenager looking after neighbour’s children. Three; the middle boy scribbled on walls, jumped on couches, threw pillows and defied everyone as he pushed boundaries. He defied preconceived notions and rules surrounding him. He exasperated his mother and his father dismissed him.

I found his capacity to play extreme as he pushed limits with a mischievous smile. He seemed defiant to see how far he could go. His ingenuity was captivating as he tested, re-tested and continued to test. I discovered his play was integral to what he expressed emotionally and later, how his life unfolded. What he felt came out in his play. As the young teen I was then, I witnessed links between behaviour, play, and attitude.

He became a salesman, and a general all-round dare-devil; motorbikes, jumping out of planes, extreme sports. It was part of his play at four, and it manifested in his play at 14, 24 and 34 each time intensifying play. I’d hazard a guess that at fifty-four and eighty-four he will somehow push boundaries.

Of course, I’ve had my own kids since that time, have grandkids and have worked with hundreds of young people and I have to say, in general, how a child plays as a youngster is frequently a gauge for what they will chose as work and more importantly, what activities really make their heart sing—where time evaporates—sometimes called soul or spirit purpose.

On those occasions, where we cannot imagine doing anything else; that activity that wakes us in the small hours, get us up in the morning early on a weekend, even on holidays. Chances are—our spirit awakens us to this activity because even in its most challenging moments—it feels like play. 

This excitement is what I see in children, still. I see the adult they will turn into and those activities that bring them alive. I think the sadness of it all, is not that it exists in each of us—that is its gift— it is rather that so many of us ignore it, and feel the drive and perhaps obligation to do what makes most money, rather than allow our awareness to grab onto that one thing that makes us come alive. It isn’t easy that much I recognize. We wander around a bit, sometimes an entire lifetime, but when we arrive at that place that ignites us, inflames our heart, that is our happiness, our joy.

Perhaps it is a luxury of opportunity, yet I see it as an inner compulsion that we are unable to let-go of because it feels like play to us. It helps us to connect to ourselves. Our inner selves and if there is a luxury attached to it, it is the luxury of age, and having time to reflect, and give it breath in our lives. That play—perhaps not the actual play of our youth—but our attitude toward play, still exists in our lives as elders. I like to track it backwards now, see if I can guess what they did as a child, and see how it is reflected in their life today. Awesome stuff!   

Writing Practice: Remember a time when you were actively playing as a child where time seemed to disappear. Write from that standpoint; identify your feelings, thoughts, the activities themselves, and how your inner and outer landscapes altered, or didn’t, during the experience. If you can’t remember a specific feeling, or thought, imagine it as you re-tell the story. How does this reflect in your life today? Does it? If not imagine how it may have. Have fun with this; its play!


Summer’s Children – Part One

Summer's Children-2 copy

Summer is vital (we get to PLAY), energy is vital, combined there is no stopping us—any time of the year.

All we need is a simple unfoldment of time, experience with a dash of hutzpah then combine this with our know-how, open mind and our sense of curiosity—and in the words of my 98 year old former mother-in-law—bingo, bango. Her expression when something is complete or understood—my interpretation—you’ve got it, all is good, let’s do it, there you go… 

These six ingredients: time, experience, hutzpah, know-how, openness and curiosity individually or collectively give us the backbone to embrace our lives, the ups and downs and the ho-hums.

Last week I spent the day with two very wise elders’ also known and dubbed wrinklies by my elderly folks. As a boomer wrinkly myself, I am not insulted by either the name, or the implication. It’s true, wrinkles emerge. Reality is such, we are born, we die and it is what is done in the in-between times that can change the world, for better or worse, and that is a choice we make in each moment of our life, knowingly, or unknowingly slowly, at the same rate as our wrinkles surface. They are the indicators of time and a life lived fully. They are the contours that represent our journey.

One woman, born in Holland was nine-years old during the occupation of WW2, the other was born on the coast of Nova Scotia. One travelled over a mountain pass with a baby in a hand carved papoose on horseback to the back country with her Park Warden husband with four months’ supply of food; the other lived in the States, Mexico, Montreal each time following her husband in his work, learning the language, raising the family and adapting to the cultures. One became a well accomplished wood carver, the other a well-rounded pianist. Both hold the keys of engagement in a life well-lived, well-embraced and well-balanced.

Recipe copy

Writing Practice: What is your recipe for a good life? What are your six main ingredients? Play with it; bring joy into the experience. Create a visual representation of your recipe. Tack it on a fridge, on a mirror. Smile at it, embrace its sentiment. If your recipe alters, change it, write another. The choice is all-ways yours!


Naming the World

It’s an interesting thing; this aging. I am surrounded by elders. I enjoy them, their wisdoms, insights, and the one commonality that distinguishes the ones still active and engaged, are their passions and passion for life.

It may be writing as an example, it may be walking, it may be reading, playing scrabble, canoeing, camping etc. but those that remain engaged in life are the ones that remain active in some way. A great example is my mother-in-law—98. She continues to name the world, practice Sudoku, walk, pick berries in season and enjoy her great, great grandchildren on those many occasions she connects with family.

A further example may be another elder who dragged me lake swimming this afternoon! Of course I joined the ranks of an elder when I turned 65 this year, but this woman far exceeds my enthusiasm for lake swimming and she is twenty years my senior.

I took my camera and ventured that way in support of her engagement. She loves to swim and last year swam daily in the river with a mutual friend my age! This week again I was impressed with another friend—88—her energy and our diverse conversations kept us up late. Last year, her husband died, and she is adjusting to this change.

My own mother is showing distinct signs of dementia and I can’t help link it to her increasing lack of interest and engagement in life over the past ten years. This year she had a stint insertion to stretch her aorta. Now she is getting the necessary oxygen, yet her attitude of engagement still wanes.

Personally, I experienced this with a contemporary a few years back. His physical decline coincided with angina attacks. His brain, as his arteries became more blocked and oxygen reduced, simply wasn’t getting to organs. His behaviour collapsed into this new habit of apathy and it was difficult to get him off the couch. Ultimately I let go because it was his choice.

Simply put, no-one can persuade anyone to do anything they don’t choose to do themselves. All the cajoling in the world won’t make a difference. Lasting motivation ultimately comes from the inside out rather than the outside in. A distinction I see with elders is those that remain involved in their passions, remain engaged in life. Those that lean into apathy tend to fair less well.

My friend—88—still journals, and has done so for over seventy years when she first began her practice in the wilderness backcountry of Canada; in part to track her days activities, observations, inventions and the emotional landscapes of her life, and in part to write extensive letters to friends. She began this practice early on, and keeps it up today. I call it—naming the world—she calls it writing.

Writing Practice: Go outside listen to the sounds of the wind in the trees. If its’s a calm day, listen to the sounds that meet your ears. Smell the air, touch the ground, feel the weather, taste the atmosphere, imagine the story, recall a moment…begin to write. Keep going for 15 more minutes without stopping.


Earth’s Manifesto

Do you wake at night and wonder
at the groan of Gia?
Is she labouring under neglect?
we impose by our disregard?

At first I thought it an excavator
moving the earth, digging
through landscapes of indifference—
then I thought—how unusual to be working
under a night sky—then I wondered
if it were the voice of Gia, I heard
speaking, or the sound of planets
taking communion—only to be heard
during a still night—

Of course I wondered
at my sanity—really tho’ what if

It is the groan of Gia speaking
in sounds we choose not to hear
during the day—are deaf to—
tuned to another frequency?

It is at night, I hear it—the voice
persistent. I hear heaviness;
a call for recognition, for help perhaps,
or—is it a hum for humanity asleep
to wake-up, tune in, listen—or—

just plain happiness—hum,
humming along? I wonder

©April 9, 2018—angela simmons

Poster: Earth’s Ten Commandments: text ©1990 Ernest Callenbach; illust. ©1990 David Lance Goines; Celestial Arts

Writing Exercise: On Earth Day (April 22) find a quiet place-preferably outside, take out your journal, or sketch pad and embrace the five senses, capture them on paper in words or image. Take photographs. I particularly like what I call 360 degree photography. I take a light chair/stool into a natural area, place in a space I can swivel my butt around on in the chair/stool, and contemplate what I witness. I am always delighted at what is revealed to me from just that one spot as I slowly (in a meditative, reflective  space) rotate. Later choose an image-or series of images-and write capturing again your experience. I feel certain that these practises-or one of these practices-will move you to personal and planetary health and wellness.  Here’s another thought-make every day Earth Day. It is in our hands…