This poem was inspired by the non-duality (advaita) retreat I was part of at Kissos in the Pelion with Michael A. Rodriguez and friends. Another attempt to express the learning of living and diving in the liminal 

me naked swim plaka jul 17

BOUNDLESS

That day I saw
There was no division
Between the sea and sky –
The haze quivered alive
And illuminated a wonder;
Whilst I walk the divining line
Where dance these elements,
Holding their opposing poles
In my arms, my chest
I also disappear, here, there
Into what cannot be divided.

Your withdrawl, O my soul
Gives me the eyes to see
I am wholly part of you;
I am the total sensation
Of what I truly seek.
To know you, to touch you,
To draw you with my pen.
To shape my beingness
Into this nonexistent edge;
The door that has shut you out,
Has shuttered you into beliefs,
Filtered your image through
Perfection and imperfection,
Through safe and unsafe,
O the constant push and pull…

Suddenly this very threshold
Stirs and opens; light spills in
And a shadow takes on form;
It is a human being walking,
Through the shining haze,
Shimmering, appearing,
Disappearing and
Interrupting
These lines
Word into
Silence

me naked swim 3 plaka jul 17

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Flourish – August 2017

August 9, 2017

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo my poem below is about questioning, a word that begins with ‘quest’, which is going out into the unknown, with a question we want to ask of the universe. Questioning is such a deep motivation of the human spirit, the fact that there may not or ever be an answer does not deter us; we swim out and at times risk even drowning in the not-knowing because it is in the end the only way to live, to grow, to love. Here is a line from a beautiful poem of Rilke… ‘for where I am closed I am false’… When we allow our self to be taken by the ocean of un-knowing, the unanswerable somehow becomes the way, the opening, the truth. So the poem really comes from opening to my own lostness, and I woke a few mornings ago experiencing my body in the curled shape of a question-mark. The dot at the bottom became all the unanswered questions and unfinished sentences, the humiliation of it all… and yet the surprising joy of this lingering in liminal space where the human resides. I then saw dear soul friends and friends and acquaintances and those I’ve seen or don’t yet know or will never know, spanning out to everyone who’s risked this journey of life, all as bobbing curled little question-marks, each finding ways to tread water or swim in the unanswerable, because deep down we want to be and meet others and be known in this un-knowing. The quote by William Blake then came to me, and the sense that perhaps the ‘deities’ are the deepest questions that we ask of ourselves or others from the heart; the deity waiting to be seen, heard, touched. In all its shapes and forms. In here is the knowing and in turning towards is the flourishing.

FLOURISH

I lay and wondered,
Is there an answer to this?
My body is curled, without question,
Whilst my head marks out this line…

I am a lone dot who, like you,
Is some times treading water
At the bottom of my unknowing,
And some times a swimmer,
Fold and reach within the wave,
Carving streams in sweat and salt,
In oceans of other curling bodies,
Each with their unanswerable,
Un-joined sentences and dots,
Yet these, all deities and mystery
Residing in the human breast!*

My body lifts its eyes
And thinks, now for itself,
Today it is fine to hope,
Rise, walk into the garden,
All wetted by the tide of night,
And curl your toes,
Open out your arms,
Not for rescue but to
Be O so all-human,
Humbled, divine,
And flourish.

** ‘All deities reside in the human breast’ – William Blake

pickaxe roundhouse kissos july 2017

The round house at Kissos is a really beautiful space; all variety of workshops and gatherings, meditation and dialogue happen between its bamboo walls, where the rising and setting sun casts stripy glints and shadows on the floor. On one side a view of the vegetables growing on the terraces and on the other a panoramic masterpiece over the stone-slated roofs to the forests and glittering sea; on a clear day it’s possible to see the mountains of Evia and the Halkidiki peninsula, ending in Mount Athos. Over past days however, as a final resort to be rid of an infestation of ants, we had to dig up the foundations, remove everything apart from the roof, to reveal this unsightly mud floor… and a plethora of wriggling nests! So all hands to the pickaxe, and like so much of life when I take the time to look and listen, this mundane task became surprisingly symbolic. Because through the season here I’ve been struck again and again by the words and imperative of this poem by Rumi called The Pickaxe. Its language is a powerful blow to our ego preoccupation and tendencies to spiritualize, waft around, disassociate, waste time and energy with frittering and not being true… so to be read with care. But in the end this is where the treasure is; when the ground we know is pulled from under our feet, exposing our weak foundations, and we are drawn to look beyond, into the fertile, broken, new earth. I’m left questioning, what are my ‘two glints in the dirt’? What are yours…?

Rumi: The Pickaxe

Some commentary on I was a hidden treasure, and I desired to be known:
Tear down this house.

A hundred thousand new houses can be built from the transparent yellow carnelian buried beneath it, and the only way to get to that is to do the work of demolishing and then digging under the foundations.

With that value in hand all the new construction will be done without effort.

And anyway, sooner or later this house will fall on its own. The jewel treasure will be uncovered, but it won’t be yours then.

The buried wealth is your pay for doing the demolition, the pick and shovel work.

If you wait and just let it happen, you’d bite your hand and say, “I didn’t do as I knew I should have.”

This is a rented house. You don’t own the deed.

You have a lease, and you’ve set up a little shop, where you barely make a living sewing patches on torn clothing.

Yet only a few feet underneath are two veins, pure red and bright gold carnelian.

Quick!

Take the pickaxe and pry the foundation.
You’ve got to quit this seamstress work.

What does the patch-sewing mean? you ask. Eating and drinking. The heavy cloak of the body is always getting torn. You patch it with food, and other restless ego-satisfactions.

Rip up one board from the shop floor and look into the basement. You’ll see two glints in the dirt.

sunset forest kissos july 17

Saturday night there was a huge Greek wedding here in Kissos village. We are in tents on a garden terrace yards away from the village platia; every night, deep into the cooler dark hours, sleep is accompanied by people chatting over honey tsiparo (local liqueur), music, children laughing, dogs barking, cats fighting, crickets purring. Sometimes guttural chanting rising from the ancient church. It is a theatre of surround sound that after ten weeks feels as natural as my own skin; miraculously we slumber through its landscape. But Saturday night was different; it was a wedding and for Greeks it’s a finger up, stuff you, to tip toeing around; it’s time to celebrate full throttle. Unapologetically greek music full of drama, nostalgia, passion, followed by synthesized heavy-bass dance pop, trashed and thrashed through the mountain, breaking through the stars, smothering every other sound, way beyond the dawn. So at 3am I rose bewildered like a sleep walker, picked up my sleeping bag, and stumbled my way onto the pitch black forest path. The darker it got, the more the quietness enveloped the noise, layer by layer. I realised that rather than the clatter disturbing the silence, it was the other way round; its like these noiseless hands were reaching further and further into the hubbub, hushing it to a whispering lullaby. And when I felt fully enwrapped by its touch, I lay relieved on the forest floor. Sunk in under a tree on the side of this mountain teeming with every imaginable form of life, its breath and sound rising and falling from palpable stillness, simplicity. Against this backdrop, the raging party, the marriage in the square was suddenly for me profoundly sacred, full of fecundity and folklore; humanity, sweetness and potential. I fell into dreams injected by life’s longing to know and express its essence, extraordinary. And then this was the view I woke up to, with the words of this poem. It’s true; interruption can come to us in the form of a truth; the shape of our silence may have grown too small for us; through disturbance we might wake up to a horizon that can really contain what we are growing in to, what we are called to gift to the world… “What you can plan is too small for you to live… What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough for the vitality hidden in your sleep.”

WHAT TO REMEMBER WHEN WAKING

In that first
hardly noticed
moment
in which you wake,
coming back
to this life
from the other
more secret,
moveable
and frighteningly
honest
world
where everything
began,
there is a small
opening
into the new day
that closes
the moment
you begin your plans.

What you can plan
is too small
for you to live.

What you can live
wholeheartedly
will make plans
enough
for the vitality
hidden in your sleep.

To become human
is to become visible
while carrying
what is hidden
as a gift to others.

To remember
the other world
in this world
is to live in your
true inheritance.

You are not
a troubled guest
on this earth,
you are not
an accident
amidst other accidents
you were invited
from another and greater
night
than the one
from which
you have just emerged.

Now, looking through
the slanting light
of the morning
window toward
the mountain
presence
of everything
that can be,
what urgency
calls you to your
one love?

What shape waits
in the seed of you
to grow and spread
its branches
against a future sky?

Is it waiting
in the fertile waters,?
In the trees
beyond the house?
In the life
you can imagine
for yourself?

In the open
and lovely
white page
on the waiting desk?

David Whyte

‘…denser and denser the pattern becomes…Take your well-disciplined strengths and stretch them between two opposing poles… Because inside human beings is where God learns.’ – RM Rilke

hands anilio 2017

The word sacrament isn’t used much now and mostly has religious connotations. But I’ve been thinking about it in the context of community; for every intentional group of people there is a sacrament, a glue, that holds the members together and for which each person offers up themselves to some extent for the greater whole. Whether this glue ‘holds water’ for us depends most probably on our individual core values or soma; the experience of our own core emotional and spiritual needs within the physical body.

I guess (in my experience, not trying to speak for the whole) what I see as the sacrament of the community here at Anilio (part of the Kalikalos network) is the sharing circle. Every morning before the day’s work we gather to share part of ourselves, how we feel, what we are experiencing with whoever is in the community that day. One of the wonderful gifts and challenges here is that the members of the circle are constantly changing; different presences, voices, values and contributions ebb and flow in and out, some times indecipherable, some times with a ruffle. But the circle remains, this space. And over time (I’ve been here for almost two months) it’s as though the layers of the personal start to peel back, to reveal what is more true. A web of trust that somewhere deep down we know it is safe to surrender all the mechanisms we have built to survive.

As Rilke suggests in the poem, the pattern gets denser, more entangled… This can be startling to begin with, terrifying even; it can come in the form of vulnerability; sadness or fear or anger. Or boundless joy. The ego has a hard time with such simple levels of feeling and will kick up a fight. This is the painful bit; the sense of losing your individuality in the communal brings up all these default patterns of fight, flight or freeze; we seek out conflict, disappearance or numb out to maintain what we’ve known of ourselves, our role. In my experience, this is when the ‘well disciplined strengths’ come in. For a circle to maintain its shape, it needs a certain tension, opposites, people prepared to witness, listen and hold a mirror up to their own and each others patterns playing themselves out, and to nurture the gifts and strengths each person has to become more fully themselves.

The attitude we try to do this with (not always possible!) is in love, compassion, generosity and free from personal projections. Holding our own gravity and truth whilst being in relation to another is probably the biggest lesson of becoming a human being. Without this balance of care and attentiveness, members either collapse into each other in an unhealthy merging; or the circle falls apart. I’ve seen so many variations along this spectrum over my time living in various communities. So the question is, why bother? Again for me the answer is in the poem; the divine lives through our humanity, we are the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, skin of God. So our task is to find not some form of angelic perfection, but the fullness of our humanity.

I remember a Franciscan monk summing this up thus: ‘We are not human beings trying to become more spiritual. We are spiritual beings trying to become more human.’ When we open out our hands, whether its in a close-knit group or across a great distance, and say ‘yes, send me’, I think we are doing something simple but radical for a world where such values could so easily be smothered by consumerism and personality politics.

With Pip HammondMarina MalthouseSabine SchröpelMichael GaleGabi GoganEmma AppleCorey Tyler

Here’s the full poem:

Just as the winged energy of delight
carried you over many chasms early on,
now rise the daringly imagined arch
holding up the astounding bridges.
Miracle doesn’t lie only in the amazing
living through and defeat of danger;
miracles become miracles in the clear
achievement that is earned.
To work with things is not hubris
when building the association beyond words;
denser and denser the pattern becomes–
becoming carried along is not enough.
Take your well-disciplined strengths
and stretch them between two
opposing poles.
Because inside human beings
is where God learns.

Rainer Maria Rilke

— translated by Robert Bly
— in The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart

tortoise greece 2017

Met another adorable tortoise yesterday, this time on one of the ‘caldorini’ (ancient stone donkey paths that zig zag through the mountain), leading down to the sweet chestnut and oak tree-lined sparkling beach here in the Pelion. I love these creatures, their nibbly mouths shaped in a smile, dinosaur legs and slow ungainly movements.

Some times in Yoga I invite people to lie on top of each other spine-to-spine; one person curled underneath, face down, in ‘the child’. The other lying long and extended, chest, heart and belly open to the sky, head resting in the curve of their partners neck. Observing two bodies joined like this is like looking at a tortoise; the heavy encasing shell pressing down on the soft body folded inside. When being the one squashed underneath, maybe it’s the closest we’ll get to actually feeling like a tortoise; heavy, slow but strangely delicious and serene!

tortoise poise greece 2017

The mutual benefit of this posture is amazing and expresses two sides of our human need; to feel containment and safety, gravity pressing us into the earth where we can release historic tensions, breathe into the deeper skin and feel held, that primal sense of belonging and connection. And then to lift and open, extend and feel strong in our capacity to reach and move into the world, the potential to explore and grow into spacious autonomy.

In fact these two positions mimic our first entry into the world, from the timeless, still, silent fold of the womb into the time-bound constellation of our moving life on earth. Maybe find a friend and give this a try! Students report the experience of feeling more grounded and connected to themselves and the earth, and more expansive and light at the same time. Another reminder of the animal body, that nature offers its treasures to us every day, and our shared gravity with the whole universe is how we learn to love and have compassion for all creatures great and small, including ourselves. And how we find that balance of closeness and freedom in our relationships.

 

Mum 1980s

This dark-fringed little woman is my mum. I’m celebrating from afar in Greece; unbelievably she turned 80 yesterday. She hasn’t changed much really! Gray hairs crept in a few years ago, as did Molly our dog’s muzzle before she died a ripe old age. I love this photo, it seems to say something about where she comes from, what her values are. That ruddy glow (like the boots) that comes from we think Swedish roots somewhere. We’ve had our battles for sure, but somehow as my own skin matures the conflicts are absolved by a much deeper knowing. A respect for her journey and a magnificence borne from an understated, often lost, being there for others. That kind of beauty. Anyway posting this poem that grew out of my mother reflections today, it’s such a good thing to do, whatever your relationship with your mum, I’d recommend having a try 🙂

Shell, soil and saline make chemistry,
As waves lap on the lobes of sand;
As pen births these little patterns, arches,
Scratched in open sounds on the page.

So you, like a colour seeping into canvas,
Soak under my skin, over the years;
A shimmer here, the laughing breeze,
And there a loss, the trembling leaves.

It is as though your rose-flushed face,
Waiting, on the shoreline salt of the earth,
Appears, washed by expectant tears,
Then hides again in moss and shadow.

It is in this hiding that I see you now,
A woman who has run into the world
With, practically, too much kindness.
Your vanguard; a stove-side panting dog,
Your red shoes; a pair of garden boots.

And I see your arching spine now,
Bending over in the vegetable patch.
I feel it, bird-like, mixing seeds in a bowl,
Making a cake, patting it in your hands.

You who have turned, in light and dark,
To me, afraid but unflinching in heart,
So I might root the life you gave me.
So we might run free with the wolves.

 

“One of the most important and difficult tasks in the individuation process is to bridge the distance between people… Every relationship has its optimal distance, which of course has to be found by trial and error.” CG Jung

vanessa yoga retreat anilio may 2017

This past week our retreat Journey Through the Landscapes of the Body has traversed many themes through yoga and silence, dance and dialogue, various poets and philosophers, and creating our own writing and images. In our physical and interior being, journey is the word; in the body’s perpetual flux there is no fixed point of balance or belonging. Ida Rolf who developed the structural integration practice of Rolfing says, “our security comes only from gravity and relationship.” She says this recognising that gravity is found only through movement and, like the body, relationship is insecure, “as uncertain as a water-bed”, cannot be fixed or solidified like a wall. In other words relationship is what mirrors our felt-sense patterning of having a physical body.

Jung goes on to describe the pain we can feel when that ‘optimal distance’ with another cannot, for some reason, be achieved: “There is always the danger that the distance will be broken down by one party only, and this will invariably give rise to a feeling of violation followed by resentment.” Whilst we might fear the uncertainty, it’s only by risking ourselves to this relational space that we can truly be alive and available to what calls us.

So in this ever-moving landscape of the Pelion, it’s nature and community, we’ve been experiencing what it might mean to “get secure in an art where there is no security” and “recognise the security of insecurity”… To start to trust it, this state of change. Our constantly shifting sense of gravity then becomes the place where we find that place in our (Achilles) heels; rather than searching for a perfectly-shaped happiness or fulfilment, we allow ourselves the spaciousness of embodiment; to come close and see through the lens of our own and others imperfection. We discover our wound, our threshold of falling, from which our only secure ground is to establish truthful and open connection, that ‘optimal distance’ where we know, in the midst of our longings and confusions, we were born to be free to respond to love.

“I would describe myself
like a landscape I’ve studied
at length, in detail;
like a word I’m coming to understand;
like a pitcher I pour from at mealtime;
like my mother’s face;
like a ship that carried me
when the waters raged.” (Rainer Maria Rilke)

And here a further piece on this theme https://www.google.com/…/yoga-and-embodiment-the-integ…/amp/

me anilio workcamp may 2017

Work camp ending at Anilio before our Yoga, Writing & Art begins today. And glad to have a zen shot of me painting this wall! It’s the characteristic lime-wash you see all over Greece, and also has been quite a meditation that got me thinking how a clear boundary, like what comes uncontaminated from deep in the heart, allows an opening to what is growing boundless and free. And so many of our sufferings come down to the walls we build being made of old material we no longer need, but we keep maintaining them because the views they block out at some point have made us safe or important or whatever. So the same with our politics. With no clear transparent values, how can we have a perspective on the real needs of the planet? And without an open clear view from the outside, from another person or culture, what’s to stop us just white washing these old walls we’ve labelled ‘good’ to keep out the ‘bad’ and history repeating itself again?

Jung believed the only way forward is to meet the nature of our own wall or conflict. This quote has travelled with me for some time now and it’s beginning to make some sense!

“The goal of human striving in the individuation process is the recognition of the Self, the regulating centre of the psyche. That recognition relativizes the ego in the psychic structure, and initiates a dialogue between conscious and unconscious. ‘The only way the Self can manifest is through conflict,’ writes Marie Louise Von Franz. ‘To meet one’s eternal and insoluble conflict is to meet God, which would be the end of the ego with all its blather.’

“If the ego rejects that conflict, then the soul is contaminated by the ego’s desire for more and more power or wealth or happiness. The result is ego inflation. According to Jung:

‘An inflated ego is always ego-centric and conscious of nothing but its own existence. It us incapable of learning from the past, incapable of learning from contemporary events, and incapable if drawing right conclusions about the future. It us hypnotized by itself and therefore cannot be argued with. It inevitably dooms itself to calamities that must strike it dead.’

“Paradoxically enough, inflation is a regression of consciousness into unconsciousness. This always happens when consciousness takes on too many unconscious contents upon itself and loses the faculty of discrimination, the sine qua non of all consciousness.”

A beautifully crafted reflection here on the empowerment of loss and change, how it reconnects us with life… the link to the ancient Greek word ‘psyche’ I find fascinating.

me with horse child photo

“Sometimes an old photograph, an old friend, an old letter will remind you that you are not who you once were, for the person who dwelt among them, valued this, chose that, wrote thus, no longer exists. Without noticing it you have traversed a great distance; the strange has become familiar and the familiar if not strange at least awkward or uncomfortable, an outgrown garment. And some people travel far more than others. There are those who receive as birthright an adequate or at least unquestioned sense of self and those who set out to reinvent themselves, for survival or for satisfaction, and travel far. Some people inherit values and practices as a house they inhabit; some of us have to burn down that house, find our own ground, build from scratch, even as a psychological metamorphosis. As a cultural metamorphosis is far more dramatic.

“The people thrown into other cultures go through something of the anguish of the butterfly, whose body must disintegrate and reform more than once in its life cycle. In her novel Regeneration, Pat Barker writes of a doctor who ‘knew only too well how often the early stages of change or cure may mimic deterioration. Cut a chrysalis open, and you will find a rotting caterpillar. What you will never find is that mythical creature, half caterpillar, half butterfly, a fit emblem of the human soul, for those whose cast of mind leads them to seek such emblems. No, the process of transformation consists entirely of decay.’ But the butterfly is so fit an emblem of the human soul that its name in Greek is ‘psyche’, the word (in English) for soul. We have not much language to appreciate this phase of decay, this withdrawl, this era of ending that must precede beginning. Nor of the violence of the metamorphosis, which is often spoken of as though it were as graceful as a flower blooming.

“There are rituals marking such splits, graduations, indoctrinations, ceremonies of change, though most changes proceed without such clear and encouraging recognition. ‘Instar’ implies something both celestial and ingrown, something heavenly and disastrous, and perhaps change is commonly like that, a buried star, oscillating between near and far.”

Rebecca Solnit:
A Field Guide to Getting Lost