Hello dear friends,
Welcome to this crazy new world of pollen and an epic virus. I don’t even know where to begin. There’s such dissonance between the springtime rhythms of blossoming and the call to shelter in place and practice social distancing. That’s a winter energy. Still, I am grateful that we are, at least in North Carolina, for the time being experience good weather and are still allowed to take walks and be outside as long we practice appropriate social distancing.
Social distancing, while accurate, is not a term I like. Christine Valters Paintner has reframed this as “compassionate retreat.” I like this because it suggests an action that comes from a place of love instead of a place of fear. We retreat out of respect for one another. We retreat out of a recognition that if one of us suffers, we all suffer. We retreat not in the sense of an army leaving a battle but in the sense of taking a step away from our usual modes of being and opening to something new.
For some this compassionate retreat is a welcome respite (hello my fellow introverts!), for others a terrifying place of isolation and anxiety. Whatever our circumstances, we are all, as a global community, thrust into the unknown and forced to live more fully in the present.
On a personal level, I oscillate between periods of exhaustion, anxiousness, and disconnect as my mind struggles to comprehend the situation. It feels akin to the months after Cole was born when the immediacy of caring for a wholly dependent child plunged me into a state of overdrive with very little time to process all the ensuing emotions. Balancing my many jobs, which I am fortunate to be able to do from home, with schooling, entertaining and caring for Cole is a challenge.
And yet, there is much to savor. I rather enjoy working from home. And it’s a treat to be more a part of Cole’s days. He has a whole life in kindergarten that I am not privy to. I try to remember this when he calls “mama” for the millionth time in an hour and when we get on each other’s nerve and lose it by mid-afternoon (or earlier). We’re doing more FaceTime with the cousins.
So that’s just a little about where I am. I don’t really have anything of note to say as I haven’t had enough time to sit with it all. What I do have is an invitation.
This Friday, April 3rd, I will turn 40. I was supposed to be in Boone with a friend. That of course will have to wait. In its place, I’d like to celebrate my birthday with YOU. From a place of compassionate retreat of course.
Ten years ago some friends and I spent our Friday evenings doing advanced asana together. When Hannah turned 40 she tasked us with doing 40 backbends. This remains a pinnacle life experience. When Mike, our host, turned 40, he set up a practice with our entire community and collected donations to support the food pantry.
I’m drawing inspiration from both and THIS SATURDAY at 10:30 or 11 I will live stream a yoga practice from my living room. I won’t make you do 40 backbends but we will do something like 4 backbends held for 1 minute each, or a 40 pose sequence. Something kitchy but meaningful. I’m still working on that part. I’ll also post a link where you can donate to Dorcas Ministries. Their food pantry and crisis ministry are in high demand. They are good stewards of your money and your gift will go a long way to support the growing need in our community.
I will post all the tech details on Friday.
I’ve also created a page on my website with links to a few resources. There are a couple of audio practices I recorded years ago as a well as a video that was filmed as part of a pitch for a book project (more on that another day). It’s just a little something to guide you through your practice since in person classes are not available at this time.
So, stay tuned friends, I’ll connect with you again on Friday.
Be safe, stay well, and know you are in my heart.
Photo © Melinda Emily Thomas
I was working from home last Friday when I heard mens’ voices. From the safety of my upstairs window I peered through the blinds and watched them open the gate and enter my courtyard.
I walked downstairs. I opened the sliding patio door and stepped outside.
They were surprised to see me.
The tall man introduced himself as the head of the homeowners association, the other a landscaper. They are going to cut down the bushes – including the Rose of Sharon I just pruned which is getting ready to bloom – so they can repaint the fencing. He looked with distain at the toys on the ground and my flimsy metal patio furniture and scolded me for things which cannot be seen from the street or any other vantage point unless you are standing right up at the fence looking in. A fleet of plastic trucks harming no one.
I looked up at him, my heart pounding, my voice quaking. “Please leave.”
“Excuse me?” he said.
I pointed to the still open gate.
He looked down at me. Down because he had to. And maybe because he wanted to. “I will leave and I will be polite about it,” then said that the fenced in courtyard–visible only from my windows, accessible only by my door and the four foot tall gate–is a common area and tiptoed just at the edge of saying that as a renter I have no right to expect such a thing as privacy in this outdoor space.
“You could have knocked first.”
“How was I supposed to know you were home?”
“You could have knocked. You could have noticed there was a car in the driveway.”
He agreed to knock in future.
I felt acutely small. A speck of a thing easily picked up and pocketed or swept aside. I wished I were taller, wider, stronger. I wished I’d felt cool confidence instead of hot trembling.
But I used my voice anyway. And for that I am proud. As I saw on an Instagram meme, I will not apologize for the space I inhabit. I will not let my first and last words as a woman be, “I’m sorry.” There is a time and place for apologies and amends. This was not one of those times.
I was civil. I will said please because my parents taught me that manners respect the dignity of other people. I cleaned up the toys. I wrote to my property manager.
Later that night, inspired by the fierce-woman-fire-poetry of Amanda Lovelace, I wrote this:
I spend so much time
around the middle,
except for the moment
when you looked
down at me and said
A fire giant,
tattooed in ink
for taking up
behind this fence,
you to please knock
I do not
but pay for
so my son
has a place to play
b r e a t h e.
May you know how to say please and still inhabit your own space, without apology. Without fear.
Last week I was in Ireland, a country I’d never thought much about visiting. But now I am in love.
Before my departure, people told me, “You’ll love it there! The Irish are so friendly and have a great sense of humor.” Seemed like a broad generalization but they were right. Everyone I met was genuinely friendly. I took a particularly hilarious bus tour of Galway billed as “See the Sights of the Medieval City.” Yes, we saw the landmarks, but the majority of the tour consisted of our guide’s running commentary on the activities of the people and animals we passed.
Ireland is also a very allergen friendly place. The menus have a code of 1-15 with each allergen assigned a number. The numbers are listed under the items on the menu with notes about whether or not the dish can be amended. There were plenty of gluten free options and any time I asked for one, I was met with an easy smile instead of the not-so-subtle American eye roll.
The majority of my time was spent on the sacred island of Inishmore off the coast of Galway. It’s a small, windswept place of grass and stone; massive cliffs and wild waves; ancient churches and beehive huts where solitary monks spent their days. Population – seven hundred. The family of the man who drove us from the ferry to the B&B goes back 7 generations on the land. While the islanders all speak English, Irish is their mother tongue.
I went to the island because I was invited by Christine from Abbey of the Arts to assist with a retreat which involved setting up chairs and tending to the candles. They called me “Keeper of the Flame.” The rest of the time I participated in writing, song, dance, gentle yoga, long walks out of doors, and delicious, home cooked meals that included fresh baked gluten free bread and desserts. Did I mention how easy it was for me to eat there?
Within all the blessings of food, landscape, and people, the biggest gift was joy. My phrase for the year thus far has been “trust joy.” On the first day of the retreat it occurred to me that I wasn’t delving into the inner work from a place of crisis and heartache. Just joy. I spent the six days free from anxiety.
Joy is a state that transcends happiness. The capacity to remain open and attentive to the difficult emotions and circumstances is key to living a joyful life. And yet, there are times when the ebullient nature of joy supersedes a heaviness of heart. That’s where I was last week. Trusting that the good can and will continue to unfold. Not everything falls apart.
Amidst the rocky island landscape bloomed a multitude of enchanting wild flowers. They inspired this poem. May it bring you joy.
The Language of Wild Daisies (after Kim Moore)
Be cheerful, they say.
If we can manage to bloom
on this island of grass and stone
and whipping wind that lashes us
with cold from the sea,
so can you.
In your everyday cares
of meaning and money
build within yourself
a cone of sunlight,
a center of happiness.
Construct it out of sticky pollen and sweet nectar,
Gifts received. Gifts shared.
As for your petals,
stay soft and daring.
Be playful. Add a touch of pink to the tips.
Know they are held in a cup of love,
a stem of gladness,
a wide base of leaves open
like your palms
ready to catch sunshine and rain.
Above all know this.
You are not alone.
We are a wild magnitude
and there is plenty of joy to go around.
Photo © Melinda Thomas
*** To see more photos of the trip, follow me on Instagram @benedictineyogi
Happy Spring Friends,
It’s been a long time since I’ve written to you. My creativity has been diverted into poetry, most of which is not fit for public consumption.This happens sometimes when I am in the liminal space between projects, reserving energy and words for future output.
But I’ve missed writing to you. So I’m sharing with you the only thing I can. It may seem an odd choice of theme for the first day of Spring but it was inspired by painful anniversaries some friends are moving through, and something Rachel Manetti wrote in her most recent newsletter. (Thank you, Rachel.)
It is difficult to be present to another’s pain because we feel at best powerless over it, at worst, annoyed. This can translate into well meaning but callous remarks that inflict unintended shame on the person in pain. For instance, more than a decade ago a friend survived an attack. Now that day brings energetic reminders that start weeks ahead of time. To say, “It’s just a day. Don’t let the calendar rule you,” doesn’t help.
Yes, that is true. It is just a day. And we don’t have to let the anniversary of one event ruin that single day for a lifetime. We can choose what to do with or on that day. But our emotions, our times of anger and grief and wailing, they choose themselves.
Think of it this way, we are quick to celebrate the demarkation of days that brought us joy. We savor the cycle of nature’s seasons because it brings connectivity to our lives. But marking the days that brought us pain? How deeply we feel them, and how easy they are to dismiss in others.
On the Spring Equinox when we celebrate a day of equal parts light and dark may this poem help you create space in your own life to feel what needs to be felt, to hold that same space for others, and in doing so, participate in rebirth.
Today is the not the day of the
thing that hurt you.
You rise and eat and bathe.
But you are not being hurt the way
you were on this day one year ago.
Two years ago.
Still, the pain is real and resides
in the unseen parts
of your soul that remember
whether or not there was rain
and how the earth smelled even if
those details cannot be recalled.
Your soul knows this and notes it
on a calendar in your heart so
when the day comes around again
you can remember and be healed.
Photo © Melinda Thomas