Heros’ Journeys

I was reading Carrie Mac’s Droughtlandersthe other day, and I came to a moment where the main character finds out who he is, learns the truth about himself, begins to realize his purpose, and I started to cry.

And all of a sudden, I got it.

In that moment I understood better than I ever have before why I am so deeply moved by all those moments in all those fantasies where the hero realizes her or his true destiny and by all the journeys leading up to those moments, all those heroes’ journeys: Bilbo’s, Frodo’s, Taran’s, Lucy’s and Susan’s and Edmund’s and Peter’s, Harry’s, Katniss’s, and now, in Mac’s story, Eli’s. I’m not a hero, and no one is going to give me a dagger that shines in the presence of Orcs or a wand with a phoenix-feather core. I have never been asked to save the world from the forces of evil or to offer up my life to save another’s … But I do long to live more deeply, to align my life better with my “true purpose.” I cling to the belief that I have a true purpose, or if not a true purpose, better and worse ways of living. I gobble up self-help books like so many jujubes (and sometimes I gobble up jujubes too). And I long for the clarity of purpose that I find in classic fantasy. Yes, the characters struggle, yes, they resist, but in the end, the truth is so clear, so unequivocal.

I knew that I liked the feeling of destiny–of fate–that I found in those stories, even though I don’t believe in destiny. I don’t believe that our futures are laid out for us. I rarely read horoscopes, and have no interest in astrology, or in any form of religion that claims an all-knowing God, but fantasy stories? I’m all in. I feel nourished by the feeling of order, the “meant-to-be-ness” of it all. And I now realize that it is that meant-to-be-ness that draws me back to Middle Earth and Hogwarts and Prydain and Narnia and all the other worlds.

I’m into a new one now: I’m reading Seraphina by Vancouver writer Rachel Hartman, who is going to be speaking in my UBC class in a few weeks. I’m not far in, but this one has a hold on me too. I’ll write more when I’m done.IMG_0705

No Resistance

While MeditatingI was meditating this morning in the tattered wingback chair in my office, candle burning, inspiring words gathered within view: a list I call My Loving Circle (those in my life who have died, with a picture of my aunt Minke (she was a nun in Switzerland and she died last October) attached; Emily Dickinson’s poem from which the title of this blog is drawn (and now as I work on strengthening my back through physio and the Alexander Technique, I can feel my nascent wings there, straining); some lines on remembering, on love; and a few recent lines from Martha Beck. You can see them in the photo, but I’ll type them here as well.

Resisting what we can’t control removes us from reality, rendering our emotions, circumstances and loved ones inaccessible. The result is a terrible emptiness, which we usually blame on our failure to get what we want.
           Actually, it comes from refusing to accept what we have.
                                                                                                                Martha Beck

Martha posted those lines recently on her website as the day’s inspiration, and I liked them so much that I typed them up and printed them out. This morning I found the page in the printer, reread it, and decided to place it where I could see it as I meditated.

A few minutes into my meditation, I read the lines again and was flooded with their meaning. My body and its limitations; my home in its scruffy imperfection; all the people I love, with their quirks, their gifts and their troubles; my work, never done as well as I would like; the world and all the people in it. All of it flowed into me, gloriously rich, just as it is.

I miss so much in each moment, as I strain against the sore knees, the mess, the imperfect lecture. I miss so much when a person I love is right here with me or talking to me on the phone, and I’m worrying about their future or flinching at an open cupboard door or a conversation that drags on a bit. I could be seeing and hearing them, receiving them, exactly as they are. I miss so much when I think back on a class I taught and recoil at a flub or a missed opportunity instead of making a note for the future and remembering all that went exactly right, the dozens of interested students, their ideas and insights and my own.

I’m pretty sure this is a lesson to be learned over and over a thousand times and then a thousand times more, but I took it in deep this morning, and it felt like a gift, and I thought I’d share.

Let’s Take Our Time

Two or three years ago a friend of mine told me that each year she chooses one word as a focus, a word to contemplate, to guide her. (Thank you, Jane!) I was fascinated by this idea and immediately chose a word of my own. It might have been perseverance, since I often struggle with procrastination. I think I chose another word later on, or perhaps I chose another word first and perseverance later. I don’t know. And that in itself shows that while I was intrigued, I was not intrigued enough to allow these words to inform my life.

This year, though, I am coming out of a month of severe back pain, which I intensified with lashings of hopelessness and self-doubt bordering on self-loathing. My first word for 2014 is compassion, and by that I mean compassion for my very own self. So, I am doing my best to approach myself with kindness, and in that kindness toward myself, I find space, wide open and ready to be filled with kindness toward others. The tricky part is when I notice I’m being hard on myself, and I react with anger and a sense of defeat. Turns out it’s particularly difficult for me to be kind to myself about my unkindness to myself. (Oh, the layers!)

I have chosen two more words for this year, a pair. No rush. They are themselves filled with kindness and compassion, those words. They calm me. They allow me to read my book, prepare my class, write a few words, spend time with my husband or my friend, walk by the river, and in each instance be where I am. Faith is built into that small pair of words. And peace.

It’s only mid-January as I write this. I’ll report back later on to let you know how I am managing with my slower pace and my greater kindness to myself. So far, it feels good. So far, the words, which spoke themselves into my mind without my invitation, are gentle guides.