Since I got the call from life to tend the River of Grief over the summer, I’ve started doing some private mentoring with Francis Weller, who has been such an inspiration to me in so many ways – especially in how he holds space for the skill of grief. Last week when I spoke with him, I was absolutely heartsick and in tears about the state of the world. The tax bill, the southern California fires, the politicians from hell who seem intent on wrecking everything…. I said, “I’m sure you don’t have an answer to this, and yet I’m sure I’m not the only person you talk to who is reeling from the state of the world.” I sniffed. “Do you have anything to say about it?” He said, “Do you remember the story in my book about the woman grieving the Iraq war?” I said “Remind me.” He said, “After she cried and grieved for 20 minutes straight, I asked her, “Did you see that the plum blossoms are out today?” She shook her head no. I asked, “Did you see that the mustard is in bloom?” She shook her head no. I said, “We need the plum blossoms and the mustard and all kinds of other beauty to bear the grief.”
He went on to say that indeed, there’s no answer for how to live during these times, but there is a response… our day by day response. He said a good question to ask is, “How will I keep feeding soul in a culture that is dedicated to death?” Damn good question, right? Will we keep feeding soul? How?
I think it’s true that we need copious amounts of beauty. Sometimes I also like copious amounts of Trader Joe’s gluten free ginger cookies (so damn good), good whiskey, poetry, coffee, comfort foods, music, and playtime with our little guy.
Sometimes I forget that I don’t have to choose. That the pain and trouble in my heart don’t need to cancel out my joy, and that investing in copious amounts of beauty isn’t intended to help me delete my heartache. In fact, I’m allergic to that kind of aggression-toward-what-is disguised as “buck up!” kind of positivity. The deep grief and the stunning beauty, the gut-clenching worry and the deep love can (and must) live together. I’ve never had such frequent flares of intense hatred in my adult life. It’s stunning. And humbling. It’s helped me lately to consider it as not so personal – but perhaps as part of Earth’s own immune response to harmful bullshit. In addition to showing up for protests and calling and writing policy makers, I’ll keep feeding beauty, feeding soul, feeding an awakened heart as passionately as I can. Feels better than just wallowing in the mud.
I came home from a writing retreat in California with Deena Metzger and an amazing cadre of writers to find my porch covered in welcoming rose petals. (My husband really is that awesome.) A simple gesture like this certainly helps bear the dark times. Isn’t it a great idea to create and appreciate copious amounts of beauty? What if we put that at the top of the daily “to-do” list? Who might you sprinkle rose petals for? Why not?
Please. We need it.
At least a dozen years ago, Carl and I got to hear Martin Prechtel and Robert Bly read together in Taos and Santa Fe, New Mexico. I think it was Martin who said, “We are creatures with pockets full of beauty and we should spend it as fast as we can.” Let’s do it. I wish I could sprinkle rose petals on your head as you read this. Since the technology’s not up to par for that just yet, here’s a dose of beauty in a poem from Bly himself, musing on a different kind of manners.
We should ask God
To help us toward manners. Inner gifts
Do not find their way
To creatures without just respect.
If a man or woman flails about, he not only
Smashes his house,
He burns the whole world down.
Your depression is connected to your insolence
And your refusal to praise. If a man or woman is
On the path, and refuses to praise — that man or woman
Steals from others every day — in fact is a shoplifter!
The sun became full of light when it got hold of itself.
Angels began shining when they achieved discipline.
The sun goes out whenever the cloud of not-praising comes near.
The moment that foolish angel felt insolent, he heard the door close.
“Praising Manners” by Robert Bly from The Winged Energy of Delight.
Let’s not be shoplifters. Let’s not burn the world down. Let’s not let the sun go out. Let’s praise.
As I like to remind myself: Pay attention. Find the blessing. It’s passing.
A little praise list hot off the inner-press:
Praise the twinkle lights and beeswax candles and soft lamps that light up the dark evenings in my home. Praise my favorite coffee mug and the friend who gave it to me and the hot black coffee that fills it and the coffee trees in Central America and the coffee cherry pickers and the roasters who did it just the way I like it. Praise the sunshine on my left cheek making it hard to see this screen, and praise the light especially after days of such thick smog that sunshine was only an idea. Praise the drive to Park City where I get above the smog to remember blue skies and deep breaths are real possibilities. Praise the friend who went with me. Praise the naked maple tree in my front yard giving shape to the light and darkness and praise the big squishy blue ball my feet are resting on and praise this laptop on which I write. Praise my shower, oh my holy shower, and the hot water that spills out of it, and the steam I breathe as I stand inside it, and the bright smell of eucalyptus oil and my citrusy shampoo and the warm towel I remembered to put on the radiator for when I stepped out. Praise the Star Wars Lego Advent calendar my brother sent to our boy, and praise my son’s colorful art hanging on the wall. Praise the toothache I don’t have, the million illnesses I don’t have. Praise my beloved friend’s beautiful new book and praise all people who dare to write books, and praise the impulse to write a book that knocks louder and louder in my heart every day. Praise the rose petals still covering my porch, and the beautiful man who sprinkled them there and praise the vet who came to our house to examine our old kitty, and praise my sweet old cat. I could go on and on. Couldn’t you?
Would you be willing to set a timer for 5 minutes and write your own praise list? I’d love to hear it if you’re inspired to share. Just reply and send it along…
Sending big love, copious amounts of beauty, and unabashed praise.
p.s. Here’s an article I love to reread this time of year. Jeannette Winterson in praise of darkness.