If the lights go out, just move

Winter field andscape in Sheffield

This past winter I spent a long weekend on retreat in stillness and good company. The theme of the retreat was hidden seeds, the way nature can look as if it’s sleeping or even dead, when in fact it is gathering strength, getting ready to burst forth when the conditions are favorable.

I myself was coming back to life after several months of feeling in the dark, disconnected from myself and the people I cared about. Like the winter landscape outside me, I felt used up and in need of rest. Worse still, I felt disengaged and cynical. I hoped the retreat would help me move through this inner winter.

The retreat took place in England, in a wonderful house filled with quirky landings and hallways, double taps at the sink, with a huge vat of tea standing at the ready. Perhaps less notably English but more eco-friendly were the light fixtures in the bathroom stalls. A friendly note near the door latch explained that the lights were motion activated and what to do if one found oneself sitting in the dark:

If the lights go out, just move.

Poetry filled a special purpose throughout the weekend, allowing us to get to the heart of the ideas we needed to talk about in the way only poetry can. This poem by John O’Donahue closed the retreat.

For a New Beginning

In out of the way places of the heart
Where your thoughts never think to wander
This beginning has been quietly forming
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire
Feeling the emptiness grow inside you
Noticing how you willed yourself on
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the grey promises that sameness whispered
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

John O’Donahue, from To Bless the Space Between Us. 2008, Penguin Random House

Receiving those words that Sunday morning, I realize I have firmly stepped up to the threshold; no, I’ve crossed it. A seed has been lying dormant inside of me for many years, gathering vitality, waiting for conditions within it and around it to be right. The safety and ego that once offered a feeling of competence and accomplishment suddenly felt constricting, bursting at the seams like a jacket that is still considered beautiful but is now too small.

Then, with no effort besides the willingness to be a channel for something bigger than myself, I find myself standing here in delight, ready to head out again with just a few essentials. With spare abundance in both things and company, I trust that whatever I need is here. That there is enough. I trust that whatever I have inside me might just be what someone else needs. That I am enough.

The adventure begins. I notice I already have a map in my hands. I look at it and see that there are several paths; I don’t need to worry yet about which one to take–the exact way will present itself in due time. All I need to do is take a step, and trust. Welcoming what comes next, welcoming myself to come along.

If the lights go out, just move.

Turn your face to the sun

flowers plant spring macro
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

”Like Spring secretly at work within the heart of Winter,
Below the surface of our lives
Huge changes are in fermentation.
We never suspect a thing.
Then when the grip of some
long-enduring winter mentality
begins to loosen,
we find ourselves
vulnerable
to a flourish
of possibility
and we are suddenly negotiating
the challenges
of a threshold…”

Thresholds, John O Donahue

The snowdrops came up this weekend. Their reappearance every year brings a shock of hope so unexpected and intense it’s almost violent. It only took a few hours of sunlight on a warm brick wall and there they were.

It’s easy to forget, when things are hard, that there are forces waiting just below the surface. Dormant, gathering strength, looking for their moment. Not just in nature. Remember the snowdrops, Idealists, and turn your face to the sun.

 

 

Lessons from the teachers at the side of the highway

This weekend we took a trip to my husband’s family’s summer house. On the long trip there and back, we were saluted by beautiful lupines, a dramatic wildflower often found on the roadside in these parts.lupines

As the miles passed, the car seemed to shrink claustriphobically and the GPS estimated our journey home to be increasing rather than decreasing. The dog decided just then to begin wailing at the injustice of it all, my son nervously laughed at the dog’s distressing barks, and my daughter crying at my son’s laughter. Eventually we pulled over so we could all get some air on the side of the road. We reached sensory saturation and were all really stressed. Crispy is how I often describe that feeling. Of being made so brittle by the trigger of stress that one small touch and you’d shatter into a million pieces.

My daughter returned with a handful of lupines and gave them to me as a generous gift. In a moment I was transported back to my wedding day, when the lupines that my mother and grandmother picked graced the tables in the little village hall. It was a welcome liberation from the moment.

I can’t say the rest of the ride was any better though. The dog slept a bit but picked up his howling for the last 20 minutes of the ride. It felt like an eternity and the crispiness was right there with us again. The lupines flopped sadly and I put them in a small vase at the kitchen sink last night with little hope for their recovery, but too grateful to toss them in the compost.

This morning they were at alert once more. I thanked my daughter at breakfast. “Just for you, mom, right from the side of the highway.” She is getting ironic now that she is 10.

Speaking of lupines: Nancy Jay Crumbine, poet and minister who I had the pleasure of hearing preach just once but whose words have stayed with me in the form of her book I purchased from her in the church lobby after her guest sermon has also got a thing for lupines. Or more accurately, they have moved her spirit just as they did mine.

“The lupines have returned,” she writes. “How can we go about our business as if nothing extraordinary has happened? And yet, to really take it in, how can we proceed?… I am daring that many of us have such moments, not wanting to love one more thing, not being able to bear the thought of so much life so freely given, the colors too bright, the bird songs too dear, the debt for being alive too great, the dread of dying too alive.”

“Every June I ask the lupine to teach me, once again, how simply to stand still, bearing witness, being grateful, moving only as the wind suggests,” Nancy writes. Yes, please teach me.