I’ve been looking at an excerpt from Letters to a Young Poet that my friend Birdie sent. Rainer Maria Rilke talks of sadness and I have been feeling sadness as part of a listlessness, a sort of ho-hum state, all through the fall.
Having a visit from my friend Birdie in October lifted my spirits and thinking about writing circles for the new year did as well. It didn’t feel like the time to think ahead though and I’m glad I reread one of my favourite passages in Patrick Lane’s memoir, There is a Season.
Go into the garden and learn the world that surrounds you. Look at how you’ve placed a stone. Now the trees and shrubs are bare you can more easily see how they harmonize with the garden. Imagine. Let the images in your mind be companions to your practice. Don’t think of the coming year and what it will bring, rather settle into the now of this season. Rest, reflect, prepare. Listen. There is a story the earth has to tell you.
Rather than skip ahead to make future plans, I took Patrick’s advice to rest in the now of this season. I wrote a poem called “Samhain” which is the winter quarter of the year, a time for restoration and renewal.
Basil in its pot, water-logged and limp.
Japanese maple, two leaves, trembling.
A small vase, blue, forgotten against the railing.
Both deck tables turned upside down
before the storm, their legs like those of women
whose skirts have whisked up around their heads.
Out of bed, reluctantly, you write dreams
from the dark, through the window
arbutus leaning into the rain, the leaden fog.
Mountains, mere shadows.
A season of rest.
And isn’t that what everything is telling you?
It’s been a whole year, and longer, of recovery for me and it’s been a contemplative time. When my Facebook yearly review came up there were several photos from the distant past. I’ve been thinking of loved ones who have passed on. I’ve felt a sense of loss about the last year and a half because I ceased a lot of my activities and haven’t gotten back to them. I especially miss my daughter and my grandchildren in Ontario. I feel disappointed that I haven’t had the energy to engage in many social occasions so haven’t seen friends regularly.
There’s a vulnerability in disappointment David Whyte says or rather he says: “The attempt to create a life devoid of disappointment is the attempt to avoid the vulnerabilities that make the conversations of life real, moving and life-like; it is the attempt to avoid our own necessary and merciful heartbreak.”
In his book Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words, David says, for the word Disappointment: “To be disappointed is to reassess our self and our inner world, and to be called to the larger foundational reality that lies beyond any false self we had only projected upon the outer world. What we call disappointment may be just the first stage of our emancipation into the next greater pattern of existence. To be disappointed is to reappraise not only reality itself but our foundational relationship to the pattern of events, places and people that surround us, and which, until we were properly disappointed, we had misinterpreted and misunderstood; disappointment is the first, fruitful foundation of genuine heartbreak from which we risk ourselves in a marriage, in a work, in a friendship, or with life itself.”
I note the words and phrases: reassess, first stage of our emancipation, fruitful foundation, risk.
My own vulnerability has opened me to others’ vulnerability so that going into the world I feel raw and open to the situation of others. It may be a simple scene like an older man with shaking hands, by himself, having coffee and a small lunch. He didn’t face the door where there were people coming and going at the cafe, he faced the back wall and there was something heart-breaking about that.
David Whyte poses the challenge of having disappointment “bring us to ground, to a firmer sense of our self, a surer sense of our world, and what is good and possible for us in that world, or whether we experience it only as a wound that makes us retreat from further participation.”
I have the sense that while I’m fairly comfortable being a recluse and more in touch with my introverted self, I will not retreat from further participation. I’ll just rest for awhile longer. I’m curious though to know how others are feeing since their “recovery” from cancer.
Sarah says she’s never known anyone who survived cancer. Not everyone speaks of having cancer in the past so she probably has. When she said that though, I realized the fear she must have felt along with mine when we heard a cancer diagnosis in July 2015.
We’re grateful that treatments started the next month and the onerous spindle cell sarcoma was removed in January 2016, almost a year ago. Follow-ups continue including ultrasounds, CT scans, MRIs. Every spot and lump is now suspect. Sarah and I now know how quickly plans can change.
To have recovered I should be overjoyed I would think. I can get back to my life, the things I was used to doing as my plastic surgeon Dr. Hill said the last time I saw him at the clinic at Vancouver General in early November.
Get back to what? I’m changed now and life isn’t the same. Everything is “strangely in-between” and I’m “Unsure of what has been, or what might come,” as John O’Donohue wrote in his poem “For the Interim Time.”
What is being transfigured here in your mind,
And it is difficult and slow to become new.
The more faithfully you can endure here,
The more refined your heart will become
For your arrival in the new dawn.
In one of his letters to the young poet, Franz Xavier Kappus, Rilke said “it is so important to be lonely and attentive when one is sad: because the apparently uneventful and stark moment at which our future sets foot in us is so much closer to life than that other noisy and fortuitous point of time at which it happens to us as from outside. The more still, more patient and more open we are when we are sad, so much the deeper and so much the more unswervingly does the new go into us, so much the better do we make it ours, so much the more will it be our destiny, and when on some later day it ‘happens’ (that is, steps forth out of us to others), we shall feel in our inmost selves akin and near to it. And that is necessary.” (From my copy of Letters to a Young Poet , translation by M. D. Herter Norton, W. W. Norton & Company, 1934/1954/1962.)
In the mornings recently I’m reluctant to engage in my new yoga routine. Then I notice that as soon as I step on the mat, I begin. There is no judgment about the practice. My body is grateful for the attention. On the mat in tree pose I remember what Swami Lalitananda said in The Inner Life of Asanas: “Reflect on the time and seasons in your life, your connection to the earth, the sky and the sun, and how you are sustained by life. For what purpose? Bring in a sense of gratitude.”