A note from Erin:
these beautiful little seasonal invitations to mindfulness are created by my dear friend at https://wrennarose.com/
Long ago I fell in love with a beautiful little book called I Will Not Die an Unlived Life by Dawna Markova, (who, serendipitously I got to meet and spend time with during our Embodied Life training years later.) I still love it. It’s gorgeously written and makes me want to whip out my journal and write. Like me, Dawna seems to be a fan of good questions, and I found one of my favorite guiding questions in that little book, one which I’ve been carrying with me ever since.
What do I need to do to deepen my self-respect?
I’m reminded of Rilke’s timeless advice.“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
I love living into this question, again and again and again.
What do I need to do right now to deepen my self-respect?
Sometimes to deepen my self-respect I need to clean my desk, or close the computer, get outside and go for a hike. Sometimes I need to write. Sometimes self-respect asks me to reach out to a friend who is struggling. Other times, my heart and gut (my beloved hut) tell me that I better have that difficult conversation I’ve been avoiding. Or complete thaaaaat thing…
Lately, this question keeps inviting me into the midlands, into the stretch between things, the murky territory of both/and. It plucks me right out of the imaginary paradise of clear and easy answers.
Grief and gratitude – living with both of them acutely present, every day. Especially as I hold climate change and the agony I feel for so many disappearing species. The ache I feel as a parent who wants to keep my kid safe, always, and knows that that’s impossible. The piercing concern I hold for my son and future generations. What will life be like for them? How can we help them have a good life? My heart hurts about unknown changes and challenges coming our way. What will the weather be like? What species will go? Will there be ample food? Will there be beauty?
Simultaneously, my heart is full to bursting with an acute appreciation of all the things it’s been so easy to take for granted.
Suddenly everything is a miracle. Goldfinches at our feeder! Little yellow miracles of evolution, and how lucky I am to witness them and hear their songs! There’s been enough snow and rain and also not too much, and the maple and nectarine trees in my front yard are starting to leaf out. What a miracle! Having read about the huge demise in insect populations in recent decades, I’m stunned by the miracle of bugs. And at least this one, with its translucent greenish wings and gentle presence on my arm, is still here!! I’m wowed. And have you paused lately to examine the genius of moss?
Self-respect requires me to read the articles about deforestation, vanishing ice, many earth changes unfolding and not look away, even though a part of me desperately wants to zone out and pretend it ain’t so.
Self-respect requires me to keep assessing: Is the work I am doing actually contributing to the wellbeing of life on this planet? That question, like yeast when added to flour and water, keeps changing me, having its way with me, turning me into something that is hopefully more delicious and true. It’s part of what led me to train in Joanna Macy’s pioneering Work that Reconnects.
I love embodiment work! I love natural movement! I love meditation! And yet if the ways I and the people I work with as clients and students end up engaging these potent practices as a fancy way to avoid the challenges of our times? I simply can’t do that anymore. Self-respect is asking for more.
Thank the gods I’m not an uptight dogooder anymore. I also like to laugh my ass off and enjoy an episode of Game of Thrones on the couch with my love, a pour of Larceny Bourbon and a big bowl of homemade popcorn. (GOT fans – we’ve got less than 2 weeks!! Eeeek!)
I hope it’s clear that what my inner compass guides me to do as an expression of self-respect will inevitably be unique, and so will yours.
Both Joanna Macy and our mentor Francis Weller have said that one of the greatest dangers of our time is people numbing out. Amnesia. Anesthesia. And it seems so many things are conspiring to help us do just that.
How wonderful then that agony and concern give birth to awe.
Here’s a line of Mary Oliver’s which Carl and I had on our wedding invitations 15 years ago, “All my life I want to be a bride married to amazement. I want to be the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.” Paradoxically, the fear and darkness and challenges of these times are turning me into that bride and bridegroom more than anything else.
What a gift.
This question about self-respect also asks that I stay reverent to the Mystery. Honestly, y’all, I have no idea what’s unfolding, or what will. It’s too big and too complex. It’s a great mystery. A great unknown. It might just be beautiful. More likely, it might just be a mess of good and bad, beauty and awfulness, as it always is and always has been.
I’m reminded of another favorite guiding question from another wonderful little book called Open and Innocent: The Gentle Passionate Art of Not Knowing by Scott Morrison.
Do I wish to live this moment with as much attention, care, and affection as possible, or am I going to do something else? There’s no point in judging the something else as good or bad, it’s just that it’s important to know who is making the decisions.
I offer these questions today not only because I adore them, but I wonder if you might too.
I wonder if we might join as a quiet community living into these questions together.
What do you need to do right now to deepen your self-respect?
Do you wish to engage this this moment and the next and the next, which together make our one precious, fleeting life, with as much presence and heart as possible?
I love imagining how these good questions might be a thread we can hold and keep following as we find our way, one breath, one day at a time. I trust that beautiful things will unfold if we can keep our hands on this thread. Or as Rumi might say, keep our hands on this oar.
photo from the Storypeople book by Brian Andreas
If you put your hands on this oar with me,
they will never harm another, and they will come to find
they hold everything you want.
If you put your hands on this oar with me, they would no longer
lift anything to your
mouth that might wound your precious land-
that sacred earth that is
If you put your soul against this oar with me,
the power that made the universe will enter your sinew
from a source not outside your limbs, but from a holy realm
that lives in us.
Exuberant is existence, time a husk.
When the moment cracks open, ecstasy leaps out and devours space;
love goes mad with the blessings, like my words give.
Why lay yourself on the torturer’s rack of the past and future?
The mind that tries to shape tomorrow beyond its capacities
will find no rest.
Be kind to yourself, dear- to our innocent follies.
Forget any sounds or touch you knew that did not help you dance.
You will come to see that all evolves us.
If you put your heart against the earth with me, in serving
every creature, our Beloved will enter you from our sacred realm
and we will be, we will be
And here’s this potent little poem from Dawna’s book of the same name.
“I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance,
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom,
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.”
So grateful, as always, that we’re in it together.
Prayers requested for Coleman Barks, beloved poet and translator of Rumi.
We have heard from Lisa Starr that last week Coleman Barks suffered a massive stroke. He is in a hospital in Georgia and has a strong and wonderful family surrounding him. He is very compromised mentally and physically but is still with us. Lisa and the family are asking for us to send our love and prayers.
p.p.s. Do you have other favorite guiding questions? I’d love to hear!