The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet within our reach, is joy.
~Fra Giovanni Giocondo
The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet within our reach, is joy.
~Fra Giovanni Giocondo
This has been a heck of a year. I’ve been through a lot, come close to giving up more than once, and, in the end, managed to pick myself back up and keep going. I can’t say that it was fun to go through a lot of what I’ve gone through, but I can say that there were surprising gifts and blessings and joys that often accompanied the crappy, stressful stuff. Something would fall apart…but then something even better would come along. I would be sure something wasn’t going to work out, and then it did. Having to sit with my engine on idle for a few months led to insights about what I want and need in my life that surprised me and have changed the way I look at things. I’m not the same person I was this time last year, and I think that’s a good thing.
I’m still discombobulated (don’t you love that word?) by the unlikeliness of all that’s happened and where it’s landed me. I’m still trying to get a foothold, still trying to figure out who I am going forward. But somehow, in spite all of the craziness of the past year, I’ve managed to keep this blog going. Or maybe I have that backwards. This blog and its readers have been a constant for me in the midst of a wildly unpredictable year. Your “likes” and comments have encouraged me, and knowing you were out there reading—expecting at the very least a quote du jour—kept me posting even when the last thing I felt like doing was write a post or come up with another inspiring, thought-provoking quote. (My thoughts were provoked quite enough, thank you!)
Along the way, more of you kept following pathwriter, in increasing numbers, even during the times when I felt I was neglecting you. One day I looked at my stats to find that I’d somehow passed the 500-follower mark. When (and how) did that happen?
It doesn’t really matter, of course. The only thing that matters, the only thing I really wanted to say when I sat down to write this is thank you. Thank you for following, for reading, for liking, for commenting, for reblogging or sharing my posts on Twitter and Facebook…for any tiny thing you might have done to keep me posting—and thereby, putting one virtual foot in front of the other. Thank you for being part of the reason I didn’t go off the deep end this year. I am truly and deeply grateful.
Ah, not to be cut off
not through the slightest partition
shut out from the law of the stars
The inner—what is it?
if not intensified sky
hurled through with birds and deep
with the winds of homecoming.
~Rainer Maria Rilke
And I felt like my heart had been so thoroughly and irreparably broken that there could be no real joy again, that at best there might eventually be a little contentment. Everyone wanted me to get help and rejoin life, pick up the pieces and move on, and I tried to, I wanted to, but I just had to lie in the mud with my arms wrapped around myself, eyes closed, grieving, until I didn’t have to anymore.
~Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year
I’ve been in this place before, and I know exactly what Anne Lamott means when she says “I just had to lie in the mud…grieving, until I didn’t have to anymore.” There were people who wanted me to “get help”—which was code for drugs to dull the pain—and I stood and listened while people tried to tell me that I shouldn’t still be feeling what I was feeling. But I believed then, and I believe now, something that I once heard Oprah express beautifully on one of her shows, “When someone says something to you about how long you’re taking to get over a loss, just remember, it’s different for everybody—tell them it takes as long as it takes.”
I don’t discount the benefits of antidepressants in certain situations, and yes, there are people who wallow in their grief to the point that it takes over their lives and becomes who they are. However, I think we as a society have become increasingly uncomfortable with uncomfortable feelings. We want to “fix” them and make them go away, in spite of the fact that those feelings are often the very means by which we grow and deepen as human beings and by which we become more truly ourselves.
Blessed be the longing that brought you here
And quickens your soul with wonder.
May you have the courage to listen to the voice of desire
That disturbs you when you have settled for something safe.
May you have the wisdom to enter generously into your own unease
To discover the new direction your longing wants you to take.
May the forms of your belonging–in love, creativity, and friendship–
Be equal to the grandeur and the call of your soul.
May the one you long for long for you.
May your dreams gradually reveal the destination of your desire.
May a secret Providence guide your thought and nurture your feeling.
May your mind inhabit your life with the sureness with which your body inhabits the world.
May your heart never be haunted by ghost structures of old damage.
May you come to accept your longing as divine urgency.
May you know the urgency with which God longs for you.
~John O’Donohue, from To Bless the Space Between Us. All rights reserved.
The search for contentment is, therefore, not merely a self-preserving and self-benefiting act, but also a generous gift to the world. Clearing out all your misery gets you out of the way. You cease being an obstacle, not only to yourself, but to anyone else. Only then are you free to serve and enjoy other people.
~Elizabeth Gilbert; Eat, Pray, Love
Above all, do not lose your desire to walk: every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it…Thus if one keeps on walking, everything will be alright.
Walking is also an ambulation of mind.
Every walker is a guard on patrol to protect the ineffable.
~Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking
The quotes above describe pretty well the way I’ve come to feel about walking lately. I’ve done a lot of walking in the last month, more than usual, primarily because I’ve found a beautiful place to walk that allows me to surround myself with nature, minus the cars and sidewalks of my neighborhood. The trails at the North Carolina Museum of Art (a 10-minute drive from my house) are well-designed and offer both paved and gravel paths that wind through gently rolling hills and woodland glens. They’re varied enough that I can choose a route based on my mood and energy level, as well as how much time I have.
The move back to North Carolina has been a good one, but it has also come with some challenges, and walking the museum trails has become a meditative, centering activity for me. Continue reading
Gratitude begins in our hearts and then dovetails into behavior. It almost always makes you willing to be of service, which is where the joy resides. It means you are willing to stop being such a jerk. When you are aware of all that has been given to you, in your lifetime and in the past few days, it is hard not to be humbled, and pleased to give back.
~Anne Lamott – Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers
I had lunch with an old friend today. Our life paths diverged around the time I got married, and it’s probably been at least fifteen years since we’ve actually seen each other, maybe even closer to twenty, though we’ve emailed and Facebooked in recent years.
But Liz is one of those friends you can go years without seeing and pick up right where you left off. We hugged each other hard and expressed our amazement that it had been so long since we’d laid eyes on each other. The love and respect we’d always had for each other was right where we’d left it—no awkwardness, no small talk. There were catch-up questions, of course—inquiring after our respective mothers, etc.—but there was also “What are you doing to feed your creative spirit?”
How had I managed for so long without her?
Being with Liz today, seeing myself in her eyes, I touched back into a part of myself that I’d left behind on my journey these last couple of decades. It was balm for my soul, a homecoming of the heart. What a gift.
It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.
It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dreams, for the adventure of being alive.
It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the center of your sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals, or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain! I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine and your own, without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it. I want to know if you can be with JOY, mine or your own: if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, or to remember the limitations of being human. Continue reading
Your body and spirit, subconscious and conscious—every portion of you recognizes home. That is why on the moment of arrival, your entire being relaxes into a contented puddle of joy.
~Richelle E. Goodrich
I’m going home tomorrow. The physical me will arrive in the physical place that used to be my hometown, and I’ll feel the relief and peace and joy that comes of returning to a place that is familiar down to my bones. My spirit has been hungry for this homecoming since long before I left the state of North Carolina, for I left my inner home, lost my inner compass, years before. I’ve been on a journey back to myself for what seems a very long time.
Oddly, the years that I was physically away brought me closer to that internal homecoming. I know that I’ll be sorting out those experiences and weaving them into my soul for some time, but I’ll be doing this at home…a place that feels safe and comforting, a place where perhaps, at last, I can finally come home to myself.
I don’t think my travels are over somehow, and the next leg of my journey remains to be seen. But for now, I’m happy to be going home—in both senses of the word—and I’m more than ready to put my feet up and stay awhile.
Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.
~Thich Nhat Hanh