Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Pattern Unfolding

I taught my first workshop in the summer of 1972. I was seventeen. With all the confidence of the young who do not know what they do not know (yet) I volunteered to lead a workshop training staff at the United Church camp where I was going to work for the summer. The workshop was on introducing city kids who had often never been outside the urban environment, to a natural setting.

Nature programmes in 1972 were generally about identifying and naming the various species of birds, trees, flowers etc. This did not appeal to me, and I was guessing it would not bring the children who were coming to the camp any closer to feeling connected to the earth. The camp was in southern Ontario (outside the city of Hamilton) and I was from the bush of northern Ontario. I knew that the kind of feeling I had for being at home in the wilderness was difficult to cultivate in an urban environment.

It’s not surprising, given that I was a semi-permanent fixture at the town library, that I went to books to help me figure out what I would do for the training. By some miracle, I found a book, which I remember vividly to this day- Acclimatization by Steve Van Matre. The book suggested introducing children who lived in cities to nature by having them bring all of their senses to specific experiences and relating these experiences to their home environments. So, I had first the staff and then the children, stake out one foot square areas of ground and, lying on their stomachs, watch all the life happening in that area at nose level for fifteen minutes. Then I asked them to describe it in terms of their familiar territory. They told stories of miniature parks, of worker ants that were like the commuters in the city, of a whole “city” of activity going on. We did other exercises that brought each of the five senses to experiencing the environment.

I think back on this today and I can’t help but be astonished at how so much of what I eventually trained for, did for a living and love to do (group facilitation, taking people to the wilderness, teaching mindfulness practices, helping people align with their deepest selves and the earth . . .) was there in that initial experience. It drew me like a magnet, and some part of me (that was a long way from conscious) recognized this and ran toward it.

This comes to mind now, as I start a new chapter in my life. One of the great things about being in my mid-fifties is that I have a kind of freedom I haven't had since I was a young woman. Oh, I still need to make a living, but I am not responsible for anyone else. My children are grown and I am living alone. I find myself thinking about the young woman I was at the beginning of my working life, about the dreams and passions I had then and what aspects of that younger self I may have left behind and now want to retrieve. I got married the first time when I was just twenty (what were we thinking?) so I wonder what dreams may have gotten short circuited, what aspects of self did not fit my (woefully limited) ideas of being A Wife.

I don’t have a lot of answers to these questions yet, but I am enjoying the process of exploration. There are threads that are ever-present and ones that got dropped: the desire to write novels and pursuing more academic learning and teaching come to mind as the later, and I will weave these into my life now. But the thing that is truly wonderful to see is how much of what has happened- despite the detours, distractions and unconsciousness- has held a kind of implicate order, a coherent if sometimes chaotic tapestry shot through with the brilliant colours of a few of consistent threads. I could not have seen nor orchestrated such a pattern. I was just following my nose. Even the name of the summer camp- Restall- foreshadowed my own struggle with and need for rest, my own knowing that rest is found not only in being still but in going toward what we can do and be whole-heartedly.

When you look back on your life, can you see the pattern of what has always been loved, what has always drawn you? What intuitive wisdom did your seventeen year old self have whether or not he or she could have articulated it? What have you consistently given yourself to whole-heartedly?


  1. I love your topic today Oriah (as always). All those questions, so essential to our unfolding. And ones that we do and can return to as we find our life outside of motherhood and wifehood. And what a gift it is to see the threads all weave together to paint the picture of our authentic selves as we find answers to those beautiful questions. Digging deeper into the wisdom within. Such a journey...

  2. Thank you for this, Oriah. Like you, I am a woman in her fifties, now living alone. When I divorced 13 years ago, I had the distinct experience of somehow going back and collecting my younger self from where she'd been interrupted all those years ago when I married and began a family. There is a pattern of true self that has emerged over recent years, but it's also amazing just how much has been stripped away in order for authenticity to show up.

  3. I wrote my first short story when I was eight. Beginning, middle, end. Fantasy genre for young adults. Titled Yellowine. My father freaked out, although he was the one who had introduced me to art, writing, books, dreaming. I would rather not divulge the painful memory he doesn't recall but will say that he told me not to make a habit of writing because I would never make it. He was afraid. He was afraid of what he couldn't provide. He was afraid of what he couldn't achieve. He was afraid for me. Yet he didn't understand that if he continued to nurture what was most authentic in me: writing, story-telling, teaching, connecting with people, dreaming, bravely exploring uncharted lands, that I would end up to do what I was supposed to. Anyway, the tug of war continues with him even now.

    I have been praying to receive an answer from the Universe for one year now (in July it will be a year)--since I took my hiatus from my life as I had known it in my beloved NYC--to please tell me how to align teaching, writing, and goddamned field of law (with no desire to practice it). I have been knocking at all sorts of wrong doors. The answer has been in my writing. I can teach through my writing and I can do more "social justice" through my writing. I can learn by my writing.

    Still connecting the dots as to how to pay the bills...but we do come full circle to what we were always supposed to do...some are lucky to have never gone on the detour, others are luckier for having had to go on a detour. Either way, if you listen and backtrack, it all connects.

    I heart you and have immense gratitude for this.


  4. Hi Oriah, during last summer I started again drawing pictures - as I did last when I was a youth (I'm 46 now). Like with the morning pages Julia Cameron recommends, every morning I sit down, before breakfast and still in my pyjamas, for 30 minutes and draw what comes into my mind. It may be good, it may be bad - never mind. Tomorrow will come another picture. And I am happy while drawing, forgetting everything around me, just following the pencil where it wants to go. I had lost it for many years, left it to others, watching them and knowing: I can draw like them. But it took me all the years to DO it again. Now I will follow this path again, wherever it may lead.

  5. Nora- so glad you are drawing again- who knows where it will lead- but I hear your joy in the present practice.

    a- what an incredibly sad story about your father and you. I want to shout across the miles (wherever you are): WRITE!

  6. My stable but unhappy marriage ended a little over a month ago. I had fallen in love with a married man on the internet. Neither one of us intended that to happen. But we both were lonely and unhappy. We made plans to join our lives and I made the necessary changes to accomplish that. He began to make changes as well. However ultimately, as so often happens, he could not bring himself to leave his wife due to her mental state.

    I discovered your blog shortly after those happenings and as you were announcing your own loss of marriage.

    I no longer have the albeit unsatisfying comfort and familiarity of my longtime relationship and I feel betrayed and let down by what I considered to be the love of my life.

    My love of books has always been the constant in my life. I've applied for part time work in a book store where I can be around books and bookish people. I'm waiting to hear if I have the job. I've volunteered for 15 years to record books for the blind and physically handicapped.

    It's a gift to come here on Wednesday and discover how you are coping with the changes in your life and to read what others say about their own lives.

    Life can be messy.

  7. hi oriah...

    wanted to share with you and others this amazing article just came across via a gentle writer soul in my twitterverse.

    Do it anyway

    the above was timely because in the most craziest week, last week, just mad stuff, I still produced this when it was "due".

    Viseral Waves

  8. Thank you- lovely and such truth. O

  9. a.q.s.-- loved 'do it anyway' -- needed to hear that today. my personally famous slacker quote is, 'where do i begin?'. got to begin somewhere, write? pun intended:)

    oriah -- i had a wave of epiphanies last night, while talking with a dear friend, about the challenges i've been handed this year, and the strides i'm making through it -- and its ironic -- i was saying to her i felt i had gotten back to being in the 'will of steel' mindset i had at seventeen, awe to innocence. now 32, i wonder where the last 15 years went, and little did i realize, i've been blossoming this entire time, despite thinking i had forgotten to water the seed deep inside my soil....aka soul.

    love you all -- and good juju abounds,

    nattie from portland

  10. I do wonder at times if the dreams and wisdom of that 17 year old (or younger) become purposefully buried because the timing or conditions aren't right. Are we somehow holding ourselves back or laying dormant for a time yet to come.

    I remember growing up I dreamt of being a doctor until the eleventh grade when I realized someone's life could be in my hands. I gave up the "dream" and became very lost.

    Over 20 years later I did a class exercise one day and realized I was really a healer. Healer's didn't exist in my world when I was growing up so doctor was the closest word I had to use. I'm glad I gave up the doctor dream because I would have spent all those years trying to be a healer and wondering why it was so frustrating being a doctor.

    I too see the common threads looking back across the years but the lost 17 year old back then would not be able step forward in the way I feel myself and many, many others are being called to do. I also feel the world was not ready back then for this work happening now. The ones who blazed the trails before us were fewer in number and had a much harder time than we do now.

    Thanks for the refection time.

  11. Lorraine, lovely reflection and yes, I think you are right. I think that some of what we may have (temporarily) left behind are aspects that did not have a place to unfold or we did not have the knowledge to do the unfolding. One of the problems with being young is that we are often quite literal- if I dreamt of being a "teacher" I would have thought it meant teaching school and doubt I would have imagined teaching meditation or wilderness skills. How lovely that we can see these seeds with eyes that have a much deeper and broader understanding. Thank you for the insight.

  12. Oriah, thank you for sharing and opening up to all of us as you journey through this time in your life. Your writings have meant so much to me and I find at the ripe old age of 65 that opening to loss and living with some pretty devastating losses in the past few years is refining my soul in a way I never imagined. I take a deep breath and thank spirit for the strength I have been given to support my daughter and my grandchildren. I am alive and it is good!

  13. a.q.s.
    I, like you had a very similar experience with my father. I used to write and illustrate my stories as a little girl but my father, like yours, mock the idea of becoming a writer. English is not my first language. Yet, I've written a few poems and short stories here and there. I am still afraid to follow my passion: writing, painting.

    Thank you Oriah for all your wisdom!

  14. a.q.s.- hmmmm. . . not sure how I gave that impression but I should say that my father did not mock my desire to write. In fact, I doubt if it was ever discussed. The assumption growing up was that we would each need to get a "real job"- actually even that is not accurate- the assumption was that I would marry and be supported by a husband financially (never happened!) but would need "a skill to fall back on" (in the event that imagined husband got hit by a truck.) For both of my parents they probably would not have imagined that skill being anything except nursing, school teacher or secretary (all fine occupations and to this day I am glad my mother made me learn how to type with the right fingers on the right keys so I could build speed.) It just was not within the realm of the imagined possibilities for them to think of one of their off spring making a living writing (or doing any form of art)- and they did want us to be okay in a financially surving way.

  15. Hi Oriah,
    I am a high school junior in a very suburban town in the United States. So, I am currently trying to find a college where I can spend the next 4 years of my life.
    I love what you wrote this week about the camp and getting the children to connect with nature and reflect upon it. I am searching for a place where I will really be able to grow as an individual in these next 4 years. I don't know if you can answer this, but I was curious if you had any advice, or maybe a school that came to mind, for an aspiring, high achieving sixteen year old in the midst of this overwhelming college search process.
    Thank you, Oriah.

  16. Leanne, well I think the only advice I have is to follow both your nose (sniffing out which places seem potentially good) and your gut. When I was looking for daycare for my sons (not that this is like daycare, only that it was also an important decision in a maze of choices) my rule was that if my gut said, "not so sure" I didn't look further. If my gut said,"hmmm. . . interesting" then I investigated the details. You may have a set of criteria but your gut may be attracted to a place for reasons you can't fathom. Go with the gut! O