The New Moon is a good time to come up with an intent for the next lunar cycle. (The moon was dark on Monday and now there’s a sliver in the sky.) On Sunday a small piece in the collage I did, prompted my intent: “At a sale of the unredeemed what will I remember, take back, reclaim, renew?”
An intent usually isn’t in the form of a question, but there you go. The small collage bit was a reproduction of a very old ad for an auction of unredeemed items from a pawn shop. “Sale of the unredeemed” really captured my interest. Just the sound of it created a poem, or at least the title of one. “Redeemed” is a term I would have heard in my early days going to church with my grandmother but right now, I’m thinking about taking back what I may have given up or forgotten.
In the Mary Oliver poem I referred to in my last blog entitled “Living the Questions,” she says: “And who will care, who will chide you if you wander away / from wherever you are, to look for your soul?”
Thomas Moore said something in his book, Care of the Soul, that to me connects with that sale of the unredeemed: “Observance of the soul can be deceptively simple. You take back what has been disowned. You work with what is, rather than with what you wish were there.”
I came across the quote in The Wisdom of the Body by Christine Valters Paintner, a book I’ve been reading as part of my morning practice. It feels to me as if the “unredeemed” may be the gifts we haven’t been acknowledging and if we don’t, they will be surely lost if not already auctioned off.
I got back to a morning practice, sitting at the table in my room, when I read Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations by Richard Wagamese. I was copying out my favourite meditations from the book when I heard that Richard died on March 10th at his home in Kamloops, at the age of 61.
In his book, Richard wrote about his morning practice at the table in his living room and his ceremony there. “Mornings have become my table. At dawn each day, I creep from my bedroom down the hall to the kitchen, where I set my tea to brew and then move to the living room to wait. In the immaculate silence, I watch the world unfurl from shadow.”
Richard had some sacred objects in a bundle that he unwrapped: his smudging bowl, his eagle wing fan, his rattle and the four sacred medicines of his people – sage, sweet grass, tobacco and cedar. He read from “spiritually oriented books.”
He wrote: “I ask to be guided through the day with the memory of this sacred time, this prayer, the smell of these medicines in the air, and the peace and calm in my heart. I pick up the role Creator has asked to play in this reality.”
The meditations in his book came from those early mornings at the living room table. “The table is like my life: dented, scarred, battered and worn, but rich and full nonetheless, and singing its histories. In that way, mornings themselves have become my table,” he wrote.
Richard would then move on to his writing space to write the meditations that came to him “before turning to the writing that is my life and passion and career.”
I’m grateful for Richard’s reminders of a morning practice to begin the day. And I’m grateful for seeing the difference between the morning practice and the writing one does as a “career.” The difference had become murky to me over the last while. “Difference” isn’t quite the word as the morning practice is a beginning, a threshold, an opening into what follows.
Journaling can be part of a morning practice. Writing about one’s dreams as I do. Greeting the guides and elders outside my window including Mt Benson known as Te’tuxwtun, the Grandmother of All Surrounding Mountains, to the Snuneymuxw people. Lighting some sage. Listening to the birdsong outside my window. Tuning in to all the senses.
From another spiritual tradition, Zen Buddhism, Thich Nhat Hanh says in Peace is Every Step: “Every morning, when we wake up, we have twenty-four brand-new hours to live. What a precious gift! We have the capacity to live in a way that these twenty-four hours will bring peace, joy, and happiness to ourselves and others.”
I also move down the hall, as Richard did, to my computer where I may type up what came to me that morning or continue working on something started the day before. Some may stay with that morning practice and call it their “writing practice” without the need for their words to go any further than their private journal. While some writers who publish their work may believe that journal full of words hasn’t reached fruition, the fruition has been in the ever-renewing writing practice itself.
In 1974, Natalie Goldberg began doing sitting meditation. She later studied Zen formally with Dainin Katagiri Roshi from 1978 to 1984. When Natalie had trouble understanding particular aspects of Buddhism, her teacher would say, “You know, like in writing, when you …” One day, he asked her why she came to sit meditation. “What don’t you make writing your practice? If you go deep enough in writing, it will take you everyplace.”
After that wise advice and Natalie’s continuing writing practice, she wrote Writing Down the Bones, published in 1986 with a new edition released in 2005. It was in the first edition of Writing Down the Bones that I first read about “beginner’s mind” which is what Natalie said we come back to every time we sit down and write.
And could we not come back to that beginner’s mind throughout the day? “Part of the Celtic tradition is to bless every moment and threshold of the day to make ourselves more aware of the Divine dancing with us”, Christine Valters Paintner writes in The Wisdom of the Body.
I’m sorry I won’t have the opportunity to tell Richard Wagamese how important his writing is to me. He was to have been at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo in the spring of 2015 but didn’t make it due to illness. I signed up for a writing weekend with him in Victoria in June of 2015 and he was ill at that time as well. I still went to Victoria and walked great distances. I had a bandage on my shin from a biopsy I had done but didn’t know the results of yet.
Many have written with gratitude about Richard Wagamese. In Wab Kinew’s tribute in the Globe and Mail, he wrote of the profound impact Richard’s writing had on him, beginning with One Native Life. I was glad to be reminded of the book too and about the ordinary activities of Richard’s day such as walking his dog in the morning, washing the dishes right after supper, and preparing his partner’s lunch for the following day. “All these things root me just like the more traditional rituals of prayer, smudging and sweat lodges,” Richard wrote.
Marsha Lederman also wrote a beautiful tribute in the Globe and Mail, March 24, 2017 which you can find online. She quotes Richard as saying “Actions born of contemplation are wiser than those made in quiet desperation.”
Here’s a poem by Jane Hirshfield about beginning as “da capo” is a musical term which means “from the beginning.” I love it for the ceremony in the ordinary and for the reminder of beginning again.
Take the used-up heart like a pebble
and throw it far out.
Soon there is nothing left.
Soon the last ripple exhausts itself
in the weeds.
Returning home, slice onions, carrots, celery.
Glaze them in oil before adding
the lentils, water, and herbs.
Then the roasted chestnuts, a little pepper, the salt.
Finish with goat cheese and parsley. Eat.
You may do this, I tell you, it is permitted.
Begin again the story of your life.