Robin Wall Kimmerer’s remarkable books of essays, Braiding Sweetgrass has been a balm and buoyancy aid over this last year. Her words, rooted in her deep knowledge of plantsand grounded in her own wisdom tradition of her people-she is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation- are meditations on reciprocity, gifting, stewardship of the earth, and true love. Her words carry both weight and wonder. Her message is clear: it is time we offer our gifts, in our fullness and in our gratitude, in service to Mother Earth.
The last lines of her epilogue in the collection have been my constant companion. I read them when doubt and fear start to erode my courage, or when I am beginning to question why I do what I do. They are words I share at the end of each writing workshop I host, and they are words which come with an invitation: to create, with the power of this potent time with us, in return for the privilege of breath: These are those words. My wish is that they may become your companion too.
‘The moral covenant of reciprocity calls us to honour our responsibility for all we have been given, for all that we have taken. It’s our turn, now long overdue. Let us hold a giveaway for Mother Earth, spread our blankets our for her and pile them high with gifts of our own making. Imagine the books, the paintings, the poems, the clever machines, the compassionate acts, the transcendent ideas, the perfect tools. The fierce defence of all that has been given. Gifts of mind, hands, heart, voice and vision all offered up on behalf of the earth. Whatever our gift, we are called to give it and to dance for the renewal of the world.
To protect the wild outside we must also protect the wild inside.
It is… the urge to run against the grain; dance until our blood flows to faster; splash paint on open canvasses; swim naked in cold seas; write all night with only the moon as a guide; sit around camp fires letting tales and tears flow; wander the back roads getting lost over and over again; digging our hands deep into fertile soil; stargaze ourselves into nothing but awe; let the poems flow through us, the music and song too; and love with abandon every atom of that oak tree, and every sprig of greening too.
It is all that, to protect the wild. Plus…. it is a refusal to be tamed by forces which will profit from the repression of our expression, creativity, sexuality, diversity, identities and the essence of our humanness; our capacity to imagine and create from there.
And so it is that when we can let the wildness out we can let the wildness in too, until we realise we are all made of the same matter, after all, and we are bound together in this intricate and intimate choreography of wild-life.
It’s not all steady and gentile, the rhythm of our creative tides. We can cross continents before the burst of energy overtakes us. But, as sure as the waves of our inhale and exhale, the waves of creative energy are ever-present. We tend to them by showing up to our craft; we nurture them with our attention; and we tune into them with a willingness to let them transform us too.
For as we create our art by offering our gifts to the world, our art and our gifts also create us. This is the wave of generous reciprocity in cyclical, flowing, action.
How can you nurture trust in your own creative flow today? .
Nature teaches us that smallness and delicacy are intricate to the very fabric of creation. Through the filagree threads of veins and chlorophyll filled cells, life flows. Every healthy eco-system relies on the rightful place of those who take up their position. From the giants of the forest canopy to the microscopic mycelium, every element has a role to play. Wholeness is constituted in parts.
Yet, like so many things out of balance, our social, political, and economic systems have been predicated on the idea of scale, infinite growth and power ‘over’ rather than power ‘with’. One glance at the headlines will tell you how we are going with this. In short: not well.
I think it is time to reclaim the power of small.
Small means using less, buying local. It means looking for solutions in the margins. Small can squeeze into gaps, plug holes, turn quickly, change direction, pivot fast. Small is the handcrafted, the bespoke, the individually tailored, the limited edition. It’s tending to a close network of intimate friends. It’s deep connection. It’s seeing the beauty in the detail. It’s realising that the resources to keep producing in the way that we have been are not infinite. Small is acting on a knowing that we are stronger, together, then focusing our time and attention on where we can best make a difference.
So, if you are feeling ‘small’ today, how might that be a good thing? How can you use it to your advantage? And what might you notice and catalyse from here?
Remember: a small pebble can have a big ripple effect and the beginnings of a garden are in the seeds.
The blank page. One of the most inviting, most intriguing and scariest places I know. Here is where I face myself- the layers of self, the multiplicities, and write myself forward.
It is the place I go to find a pocket of communion with the inner world- the access point to the creative stream, the clarity before intentional action, the place from which the future can grow. It is a re-wiring and re-writing of the story I’m living out. The place of re-invention, of renewal.
When I don’t know where to begin, I ask the page, ‘Who am I today’, and the page responds with the unfolding.
It’s a question I offer to you too. If you are stuck, if you want to begin a journalling practice, or if the blank page is beckoning, you can ask, ‘Who am I today’? And see where the words take you. Then tomorrow, ask again. And the next day, and the next…
So often we measure our success based on our productivity, output or some external indicator which society places on us. This usually arrives as a ‘should’- ‘I should have more money by now, or more opportunities, or more X. I should be here in my career. I should be doing more’.
But ‘more’ is not an indicator of depth, value or lasting impact.
Instead, what if the measure of a life well lived was the quality of questions we lived into:
Am I learning?
Am I contributing to something which feels larger than myself?
Am I experiencing wonder?
Am I finding myself drawn into conversations which help me see things differently?
Does curiosity tap me on the shoulder and lead me down new paths?
Am I growing?
Does my heart break a little bit every day to crack me open to the real and raw?
Can my being here be a balm to another, and a friend to all beings, now and for the generations to come?
It is this strange thing really: letters falling onto blank pages, making words, to make meaning, to communicate this human experience.
Do we find ourselves in the sentences? Or in the pause between sentences?
Do we discover each other there too, not just the outsides of each other, but the inner workings and the tickings of another mind?
This for one: the stories we choose to shape, and the stories we choose to share. I think they have a potential beyond the sum of their parts. More than words alone, more than mere sentences, what we can find there is the connective tissue of our humanity; the things that bind us and the things which make our hearts yield to the possibilities in each other. When you share yours, it gives me permission to share mine.
Then there are the daily evocations of our moving through the world. Story is where my ordinary —the making of the coffee, the folding of the sheets, the mending of a torn friendship, the sowing of some seeds — meets your ordinary, but also our extraordinary— that glimmer in an eye, that constellation of experience which makes you who you are. It is where our common humanity rubs shoulders; where I can find out what it is like for you to laugh, or cry, or have your heart broken. But then it is also a way to realise that in your broken is also my open, in your speaking of forgiving is my way to understand forgiveness, and in the telling of your grief, I can take some steps on my own path of healing. Of course, you might also tell a story of a love so great it nearly blows us both apart, then plants us back in hope. I think, ultimately that is the power of stories: when we really let them into the marrow of us, they are redemptive and alchemical, changing the very mould of our beings. We are like rubber bands that way, once expanded there is no going back to our original shape.
So, yes, I write to make sense of things, but I read and listen so as to step outside my own world for a while, and expand my boundaries of understanding. It helps me realise there is always another way of seeing things, and that each story is a pathway deeper into the well of our being here together on this little blue dot called earth, and then a bridge to another life, or another land. Perhaps story is just our fastest way of travelling from here to there.
Well, there is always the beyond. I write as a way of staying in connection to a creative capacity which seems to live just outside the known of me. It is a way to keep that river of undiscovered self in flow and force. Sometimes it feels magical. Sometimes it feels alive. Those sometimes keep me going too.
We all write for our own reasons. The writing itself reveals them to us. That is the beauty of the creative process. It is not the end result which is the gold, it is the engagement in the process itself. It is generative, it is affirmative and it is one of the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves: the gift of honouring our own intrinsic creativity which in turn gives life to who we are to become.
What if the world was fuelled by blank pages, words and the curiosity to see where our story wants to takes us next? And what if we realised our creativity was that very fuel.
I think we’d sense it is time to stoke some fires, gather around, write some tales, then listen.
I’m in. Are you?
Write to Your Truth Coming to Lisbon- 18/ 19th May 2019.
I can’t wait to be heading to Lisbon to host a weekend ‘Write to Your Truth’ salon. We’ve found an elegant venue right in the heart of the city, there will be glorious food, I hear the weather in May is generally delightful, plus you’ll get to dive into our stories, learn some creative skills, develop your writing practice, and experience the wonder of words.
There is a place I walk out to. A special place, which has a mix of solace and solidarity, out at the edge where wind meets the wild. I have been there many times. I go to write, to think, to sit, to be in conversation. It is a place beyond my definitions of beauty.
But this gets me: each time I walk out, the path is different. It is never clear. It is full of thorns and brambles, and a thick, unforgiving sludge which is a mixture of mud and cow shit. I fell three times yesterday. I stabbed my hand on some barded wire. Milly turned the colour of sodden earth. My feet were so wet I could have rung them out. This is the path less trodden. Sometimes it is full of shit. Sometimes it is full of savour. Mostly it is both.
As in life, so in life.
I want to tell you this: there are times I think I should give up on this freelance life, this working way part-lived online, this walking on paths which are not paths at all. There are days which are shadowy, and days which are slippery. There are days in which I feel all the sludge. Somedays I feel lonely. Somedays I feel like I want to hurl expletives at the next person who claims to have a definitive solution to the complexity of life, or who offers a ten step guide to having your life sorted, as if life is this thing that can be boxed and bound.
Then I remember the castle. Then I remember the path. Then I remember the choices. Then I remember the stories. Then I remember to sit in the mud and enjoy the silky coverings of sea-spray. Then I remember to phone a friend.
We read poetry to each other. Rilke’s words:
‘This is what the things can teach us:
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.
We sit in silence for awhile afterwards. It feels close to truth. So close. By listening to each other we reaffirm the power of flight. The listening is a way of saying: ‘I believe in you. Keep going’. The listening is an act of stirring up resilience, in us both.
I think this is so much of the real work; the work of accompaniment, this act of dedicated attention to cultivate hope in the spirit of endurance and the creativity of tenacity. For each other, over and over, it is needed when we stop seeing the truth of ourselves. It is so we have each other to mirror back our strength, to help us find the next turn of the path, to remind us of our castles.
I don’t want to give up friends. I don’t want you to give up either. But sometimes we have to realise that we can’t do it all alone. That we need to phone a friend who can help us to trust in the weight of our convictions and remind us of the longer arc of patience needed to take us there. Maybe sometimes that is all we have: our vision, and each other.
Later, I take a shower, washing the mud from my fingernails and unknotting my hair. I give Milly a wash too, returning her to white. As the full moon rises, I read more Rilke. One line shimmers.
‘Through the empty branches the sky remains’
Then I throw some more fuel on the fire and feel the heat rise. As the flames light up the room, an email arrives from another friend. It says: ‘let’s do this’. I respond, simply ‘Yes, let’s’.
So this is a note to all of you today who may be thinking of giving up. But instead of giving up maybe it is time to phone a friend, or walk out to the equivalence of your castle, or take a different route for a while. Sometimes it is not the vision that’s the problem, but how we are approaching it. Sometimes we just need to take a detour for a while, or a pause, and notice how the moon always rises across the arc of open skies.
Sending you love, for wherever you find yourself today,
An Online Writing Circle
Write to Your Truth, the online version starts soon. On March 2nd. It’s eight weeks. It is a way for your to build your writing skill and craft some stories. It needs about two hours commitment per week. There are six beautiful live circles/ sessions in which we will write together. Find out more and register online today
Want to coming to Lisbon?
How about a weekend of writing and connection, learning and exploring in Lisbon.
Write to Your Truth is heading to Lisbon in May. Come join Emily Avila and I as we team up to create this nourishing, supportive creative salon. Find out more and book online here.
Have a creative project you want to grow? Need some support to clarify your vision, values, next steps and communications? My mentoring process is a blend of design thinking, intuition and inner work, and strategic planning- tailored to your needs. Find out more.