Monday, September 23, 2019

Holding The Darkness and The Light

It's the Equinox- equal moments of light and darkness today. Harvest time in the northern hemisphere- planting time in the south. I trust the light that does not deny the darkness, and I can rest deeply in the sheltering darkness when I kowing the promise of the returning light.

A short while ago I connected with a woman who knew my mother's family years ago She is kind and committed to focusing on the positive- a light for many in the darkness. Then she shared with me that she'd lost a son years ago, and suddenly- for me- her light held depth and strength as well as brightness.

So let's hold them both today- the dark and the light, the being lost and being found, the pain and the joy. Let's allow the darkness to give depth to the light and feel our way together through the dreaming that guides us when we are no longer afraid of the dark. Blessed Equinox dear friend. ~Oriah

Spectacular photo is by my dear friend Peter Marmorek

Sunday, September 8, 2019

On The Eve of My Birthday

I was born at 9 am on the 9th day of the 9th month. Some numerologists have told me that this means I will be incredibly wealthy in my lifetime- and I am, in a thousand different ways.

I am loved- by two wonderful sons who are magnificent men. Honestly, I feel I can take no credit for this- I have always been in awe of what open-hearted, smart, generous, funny, kind people they have both always been. They taught me how to love just by being.

I am loved by friends- some of whom I have known for more than four decades. We have given each other support through births and deaths (literal and metaphorical,) not always agreeing, but always loving, holding and making each other laugh. It is good to be seen and loved by people who knew me before my hair was white and my recall of most nouns floundered!

I live in a country where being raised in a working class family was not a liability- where the education system is good and healthcare, a right for all. I am grateful that I have been able to contribute to and receive from the collective pot that provides so much for us all.

I have had a chronic inflammatory neurological disease for 36 years, and I think it would be fair to say that it is not improving with ordinary aging. Honestly, I wish I could have said, “Pass” on this experience. And I have received things from it. I have learned to live with the reality of how little we control or know, and that has made me more generous with others as I realize I know very little of what challenges they face daily. It has taught me that kindness is often the only thing that matters. And it has given me great respect for physical reality. To be human is to be, amongst many things, a physical organism, is to be small, brief and highly biodegradable. And this knowledge helps me enjoy the way the sun slowly lights up the sky at 5 am, sitting on my tiny apartment balcony in July; the taste of fresh buttered corn in August; the feel of clean crisp sheets as I crawl into bed.

I live in a time and a place under circumstances where I have enough good food to eat and a comfortable home that is not at risk of being bombed in the foreseeable future. And this home has hot running water, central heat, and electricity. These are not things I take for granted. These are things many do not have.

And I have books! I live in a city with a library that is the most publicly used book lending system in the entire world! Right now I have three of these books in my home, and I am on the wait list for nine others (which will be duly delivered to the library two blocks away when they become available.) And this embarrassment of riches that gives me access to the stories that lift my spirit, educate my mind and bring me sheer delight are all provided by sharing collective resources so that there is no fee-for-service. It would be fair to say that as a child, books saved my life- and all of those books came from the local public library. Great wealth indeed.

I could go on. And I will, in my journaling and my prayers. The numerologists are right- I have been given an abundance of that which supports life lived fully. And I am deeply grateful. Oriah

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

How To Stop "Going At" Life

I was taught to “go at” things. Studying, working, writing, organizing, yard work, house cleaning, sewing, reading, praying, fasting, . . . .You name it, in my childhood anything worth doing was worth doing fast and going at it hard.

The shaman with whom I trained decades ago had been a US Marine. Yeah, that was part of the appeal: twenty-two days of ceremonial fasting and praying alone in the wilderness; combat training in the daytime and nights of ceremony on the Mohave desert; martial arts testing to see if we could stay centred and focused no matter what. One of the student's leg broke during a test. We all heard the bone snap. She went to the hospital and we just kept at it.

I used to apply the “go at it” motto to everything including my spirituality.

Old habits die hard.

The last seven months have been the most sedentary of my life. (ME/CFS/FM flare plus a broken foot bone that took a very long time to heal) I recently decided to exercise to see if I can regain some strength. The problem is, if I “go at” exercise I risk crashing the next day and ending up in bed for a week or two. . . or ten.

But I have no sense of where the line is. How much is too much? I can feel fine in the moment and be unable to get out of bed the next day.

So, I consider something on the lightest side of reasonable (like four sets of twelve reps on the weight machine at the local community centre) and cut that in half. This is harder than it sounds. I can hear my brother telling me I’m a wimp, can feel my mother shaking her head in disgust. And I think- what’s the point? How can it have any impact to work this slowly and effortlessly?

But here’s the thing: yesterday I noticed that I did not even break a sweat doing the twenty minute brisk walk I’d been doing for ten days. I thought I must have the wrong song on my headset, but nope. I had actually improved so much that the speed I was going felt effortless! How is this possible?

And I realized that not only was I taught that I needed to “go at” whatever I was doing in order to earn the right to be here and belong, I was also taught to believe that real gains were made (earned) only when we push ourselves.

And apparently that isn’t true!

I will increase my cardio. A little bit. Just enough to get my heart pumping a little. And I will stay at that new rate until my heart rate no longer increases at all.

What if we don’t have to try so hard?

What if pushing ourselves, pushes us right past the sweet spot of being fully here and present?

What if tenderness is more potent than toughness?

What if it’s not even that slow and steady wins the race, but that there simply is no race unless we create one? What if it’s not a marathon or a sprint. . . . but just a life lived as one small, brief and highly biodegradable human being?

What if what we have to offer is how we do whatever we are doing in this moment? And that is enough. ~Oriah

As always photos like this one from Karen Davis at Open Door Dreaming remind me of how the world creates beauty every day, effortlessly.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019


Robert Frost wrote: "A poem begins with a lump in the throat.” 

How can I write about all of the things that make it hard to swallow, that make the centre of my chest ache, that fill me with both protest and longing?

I hear about how more and more adults under forty are deciding not to have children because of the anticipated severity of climate change in their lifetime.

A radio report on the bombings in Sri Lanka tells me one woman lost three children. Three children. I pray she has more children who are still alive- not because I think it will take away the agony of loss, but because they might keep her breathing.

A friend tells me she has cancer. The fact of this sinks in. She is refusing chemo, as is her right. This fact sinks in. The thing that people don’t tell you about getting older is that this time of life is filled with losses. Do we ever get “good” at this- whatever “good at” might mean?

I sit still and let it all wash over me. And I notice the tree nearby has buds not yet unfurled but swelling with possibility.

I watch the small children running and squealing in the park next door, One falls and another stops the game to help him up, giving him a quick but enthusiastic hug with short arms, brushing debris off his jacket (although I’m pretty sure the dirt was more rubbed in than brushed off.) It makes me smile.

I listen to the sounds of construction on the building where I live. I watch the men- including those who hold a jackhammer for the better part of a day- wondering what that does to their bodies, knowing they are working to provide for themselves and those they love.

Everywhere, even in the aching places of loss and trepidation, I hear the world around me whisper, "Live!" ~Oriah

Thank you to Karen Davis at Open Door Dreaming for this small visual anthem to spring and beauty and life. 

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Letting Sorrow Open Us

There are moments when a world-weariness, a deep grief for what we human beings do to each other and the earth, threatens to swallow me whole. Sometimes distraction is the only way to keep breathing. But sooner or later I have to come back to the aching heart that both holds me and lives within me.

So, I've started this little practice when I am particularly discouraged: I decide that I will let the tragic event guide me to make ten small acts of kindness. I let someone into rush hour traffic in Toronto!  I pay for someone else's coffee or meal; I help a neighbour carry his groceries from his car to his home; I tell someone how wonderful they look today; I remember to look at the cashier, the librarian, the wait staff and really thank them for their work.

I do not expect this to change the world, and it doesn't replace collective political action where that is needed. But it keeps me going when something in me is tempted to give up on human beings. And, as I dedicate each action to the memory of those killed and the struggle of those wounded and terrorized yesteday in New Zealand, it helps me be with the enormity of the sadness.

What if every bit of heart-breaking news inspired us to be deliberately generous and kind with each other? ~Oriah

This wonderful photo from Karen Davis at Open Door Dreaming reminds me that whatever we do, however we are with ourselves and each other, it ripples outward to the world.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Challenging Ourselves To Receive Pleasure

What role does pleasure have in your life, your well-being, your healing? This was the question that challenged me most listening to some of the speakers on the Explore More Summit over the last week. I realized how completely I've been socialized into seeing that which is nourishing as a means to an end- a way to create sustainable energy so I can contribute to the world, and earn what I need (including connection and belonging.)

This isn't news (about moi :-) ) but I let myself consider- What happens if we think of that which gives us pleasure as an end in itself, a way to just en-joy being alive?

So, tell me what gives you pleasure.Tell me what senses it delights. I find pleasure in a hot bath (particularly during 20 below temperatures outside) - the way the heat sinks into my skin, my muscles, my bones.

What do you do simply for the pleasure it gives? Where do you receive pleasure without reservation? ~Oriah

Visually, one of my daily pleasures is enjoying the photos like this one from Karen Davis at Open Door Dreaming

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Your One Thread

Twice in the last week readers have sent me messages, thanking me for writing that, "explores the inner landscape," and "focuses on our inner lives." I was surprised to find myself reacting defensively. I wanted to respond with, "But I pay attention to the external world too!" and "Wait a minute, I encourage people to participate in shaping our world!" I am infinitely curious about almost everything. Truly. If you know all about spiders, or you're an expert on house plants, or mitochondria, or Celtic magic, or the artificial intellilgence. . . I have questions, lots of questions. But my unending exploration is mostly about who and what we are and why we believe and behave as we do, individually and collectively. And that's okay, unless I've secretly (as in unconsciously, and without telling myself) bought into the idea that I "should" do it all, write about everything, be informed on all topics, and participate everywhere. Yeah, I know- you can almost see how I may have been primed for a chronic disease sometimes described as, "Brain on fire." (M.E.- Myalgic Encephalomyelitis.) The truth is, whatever we do, we are each one thread in the larger tapestry we are weaving together. And my thread is about this experience of being human, more exploration than explanation about why we are sometimes so insightful and clear and, at other times unconscious and baffled. As I sit with this, I realize it is enough, and I can stop pretending to myself that I must and will get to everything else someday. So, what is the thread you are weaving into this dream we share? What are the questions you return to again and again? What do you want to do no matter how tired you are? What sustains and enlivens you? ~ Oriah I am grateful that one of the ways Karen Davis offers us her thread is through photography. Deep thanks for this photo of a water weaving like a thread through the ice in her photo from Open Door Dreaming.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Being Inbetween

I am in an inbetween place, feeling my way into what is created when I can hold the tension between two old strategies, waiting for something new to arise.

I have a natural affinity for liminal times- dusk and dawn, spring and autumn- the moments where we are not what we were and not yet what we will become. I let go of what was to cross the threshold with empty hands, not knowing what I will receive.

It has always been like this with me- years ago I wrote this at the beginning of a poem about love-making:

I want to touch
the sharp taste
of the moment inbetween
the second just before
the place where
the breath catches
in anticipation.

My love of the inbetween makes me slow down. I want to stay awake, to feel the tension of not-knowing before I let go into what is as yet unseen. When I am able to do this I taste the sweetness of the journey itself. ~Oriah

The sun rising on the dark morning- feels like one of those inbetween times to me. Deep gratitude for this photo from Karen Davis at Open Door Dreaming

Sunday, January 6, 2019

My Epiphany

Last night was the first new moon of the new year. I’d cleared out my inbox, my apartment. and my calendar in preparation for focusing on writing the book I've been working on. . . . forever. I felt nervous but determined. Despite a body-crushing fever and head-splitting migraine this was the day! (Yes, this "do-or-die" attitude has both helped me focus and taken me off track before.) This morning, in the tradition in which I was steeped as a child, is Epiphany- the story of the three kings bearing gifts journeying to honour the Christ-child, guided by a star. It is a story of following an unexpected light that appears in the dark landscape of not-knowing. This morning the Grandmothers of my dreams came and spoke to me. They told me what my body has been telling me for a decade: I cannot write this book in the way I have been trying to write it (as a memoir) without doing myself harm. Bodies and dreams never lie, but their languages of symptoms and symbols can be easily (and sometimes deliberately) misunderstood. The Grandmothers left me no room wiggle room for misunderstanding. "Write it as a novel. Let the truth shine through in a story that is bigger and deeper than your memory of the facts." I have faith in stories. They're what change us. They're how we live our nature as meaning-making animals. They open the imagination to new ways of seeing our own experience and our shared world. And I am terrified. I know how to write stories, but I write non-fiction, guided by facts that feel more solid than fiction. Opening the door to something that feels larger. . . . to a story I do not already know. . . feels risky. What if I can't do it? What if I write a crappy novel? And telling you about it here feels insane, because I have no idea where it will lead! (Really, it could eventually lead back to memoir, or into a spy novel, or pages filled with nonsense that will never be shared!) So there we have it: the shining star of my own longing to tell a story appearing in the dark night of not-knowing how. So, I gather my provisions (silence, solitude, and the quiet company of fellow travellers) and step into the journey, not knowing where it will take me. That's the thing about creative work of any kind- it's a lot like life: unpredictable, sometimes scary, and filled with dark nights and shining stars. ~Oriah Gratitude for this photo from Karen Davis at Open Door Dreaming- may we find the light of our own deepest longing reappearing on the horizon each day to guide us.