Friday, 26 April 2013

My Place in the Family of Things

In the past five years or so I’ve done several MBCT (Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy) courses, and this poem by Mary Oliver always seems to come up in them. I fell in love with it immediately; even the first line is a revelation. For me it says something about how our conditioning complicates our life with unnecessary struggle and suffering. It feels like a window into another life I previously never knew existed – full of light and air and movement, and of course freedom.

Having a chronic pain condition and spending much of my life these days indoors (no longer able to run, let alone fly!) gives it an extra poignancy for me. And right now, if I'm not quite family-less, I'm still feeling scared and uprooted as I have for the past six months. But the world still ‘offers itself up’. The cry of the wild geese may be ‘harsh’ at times, but it’s still life – and all of us, whether we feel we belong to it or not, we really do!

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself up to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Loving Life No Matter What

Moraine Lake, Alberta, Canada (photographer unknown)

I have this picture of Moraine Lake, Canada, by my bed (tilted sideways so I can look at it while lying down). It reminds me of the last year I was well: 2003, and a beautiful memory of travelling through the wilderness with Angie. We rowed out into the middle of this lake, nestled deep in the Rocky Mountains, in a little canoe. Although the weather, though fine, was quite different that day, this picture is still a vivid reminder of a place which feels like a sanctuary. It's so tranquil and still, and I can almost meditate just feeling a part of it. It's comforting. I so need comfort right now. I so need a true refuge inside myself.

I’m feeling that even more now, because today has been SHIT, SHIT, SHIT!!! I mean twenty-four hours of absolute fuck! My heart has been breaking, but at the same time, worryingly, I can feel myself begin to numb to it, dissociating from my feelings. “Ah yes, Michael, but then it’s always about your feelings, isn’t it…”

I want to look at life and feel it the way Tara Brach does, but I can’t seem to. In her new book ‘True Refuge’, she writes of ‘loving life no matter what’, of being ‘happy for no reason’. She’s an experienced meditator, of course, and it’s only recently, as chronic pain has crept into her life, that she’s been able to do this. All the same, she’s an inspiration to me. And I know I don’t practice mindful awareness on a regular basis, so I haven’t really begun to put that inspiration into effect. Perhaps I will now, because living the rest of my life like this is not really what I want. I want to deeply, feelingly love life – the whole damn catastrophe of it all, pain or no pain! But all I seem able to do is love little bits of it. 

Photo by Angie Roche,
Moraine Lake,
September 2003
I want to be happy for no reason.

Perhaps this passage, adapted from the deeply moving final chapter of ‘True Refuge’, will give you some idea of what I mean. If it resonates with a similar longing in your own life, my heartfelt wish is that you, both of us, all of us, will be able to find a way to love life no matter what.