Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Unpredictable

Well, it’s inevitable really: the new year arrives, and we look back remembering where we’ve been and then consider where we hope or dream of going on our inner and outer journeys in the next year. Sunday I went to a gathering where the speaker asked us to remember January 2010 and bring to mind all that we had thought lay ahead for us. As it had turned out, I’d had absolutely no idea how 2010 was going to unfold.

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that in April 2010 my marriage to Jeff ended. Twelve days earlier I’d discovered some unpleasant and unexpected truths about my marriage- truths that made staying impossible. What followed were the painful legal negotiations, emotional turmoil, physical dislocation and all around chaos and agony of separation.

So, when the speaker on Sunday asked us to consider what we’d hoped for and envisioned for 2010 next to what had happened, I felt a little dizzy just thinking about it. Realizing I was holding my breath, I inhaled deeply and felt something I feel increasingly as I get older: humility. Not humiliation. Humility.

Humility is the awareness of the vastness of what we do not know, the smallness of our own lives in the context of the cosmos and, never-the-less, our desire to tend the one small life we have been given, to continue to have hopes and dreams alongside the growing awareness of how much we don’t control. It’s the unpredictability of the losses that keeps us close to the reality of our own limitations. We all know that we and everyone we love will die someday. We know illness and natural disaster and financial crisis can and will happen. But we can’t anticipate when they will happen, and it’s probably just as well.

I think about that last weekend I spent with Jeff at home in the country, blissfully ignorant of how my world was about to crumble. It was lovely. We went to a small village nearby and wandered through the shops enjoying the warm spring afternoon. We ate at a local cafe. I bought a straw hat with a broad rim and Jeff took my picture when I wasn’t looking (always the best way to take my picture.)

Years ago, when I shared the story of how my dear friend Catherine had had a brain aneurism burst while she was at my home, I often said, “That’s what it’s like: One minute everything is fine and the next minute nothing will ever be as it once was. None of us knows if we are sixty seconds away from a brain aneurism.”

The older I get the closer I can sit with this reality, and the more easily I can be with the humility that comes when once again, I am caught off guard by an unexpected change that brings to an end some aspect of the story I am living. I’m actually delighted to discover my capacity to at least partially forget previous pain. (In places with accessible birth control, would there be any second children without this ability?) When the truth about my marriage came out, as unexpected as it was, it was not an entirely new truth. That’s what made it imperative to leave: it was not an isolated incident but a ten year pattern I could no longer hold or ignore, a situation I could no longer stretch to encompass without doing real harm to myself.

And, the truth is, I’m glad to discover I hadn’t anticipated it. I was there fully until I left. Despite past difficulties, I hadn’t been scouring the horizon for trouble, waiting for disaster. Did this mean I felt blind-sided when the end came? Absolutely. But that’s okay, because the alternative- living in a state of hyper-vigilance, anticipating and looking for what can go badly- can suck the joy out of the moments we do have.

If there’s one thing I do want to keep with me as I leave 2010 behind, it’s the awareness that the joy we are offered today is all the sweeter because we do not know what will happen next. So, I’ll make my plans and set my intentions and dream for myself and the planet- knowing that the future is not predictable and largely out of my control- which means of course that the excruciatingly difficult and the magnificently marvellous can and will happen. We just don’t know when.

(Like right now: as I write this a group of five year olds in the playground beside my balcony are, despite the snow, singing "Land of the silver birch, home of the beaver, where still the might moose wanders at will. . . " They are accompanied by a young man- their daycare worker- playing a penny whistle. I can hear every word despite my windows and doors being closed against the winter wind, and when I go to the window to have a look, there they are- bundled in snowsuits and scarves, their heads tipped back, singing at the top of their lungs. Now that's magnificently marvellous!)


  1. Thank you so very much for sharing your pain, as well, as the joy of the children singing.
    Sadness and pain are the touchstone of growth. This might be true but it still sucks :)
    Hang in there, this too will pass.
    Always, Bumby

  2. What a wonderful post to bring in the new Year, Oriah! I wish you EVERYTHING of the best for 2011.

  3. Bumby, hmmmmm. . .. not sure what you are telling me will pass (although everything of course, will)- do you want to reassure me that my comfort with unpredictablity will pass? lol If so, well, you are probably right. :-)

  4. Your posting was wonderful, as always for me. On another note, I have been updating my blog and so perhaps I spent more time here on yours than usual and discovered that your Profile could use an update too:) Blessings to you for a wonder filled 2011!

  5. Thank you Larurelhh I would not have noticed that! I have updated it. :-)

  6. Hello Oriah...i discovered your book accidentally at Borders in El Segundo, CA...i read your poem, "the invitation". I was amazed, it is my fav of all time. I love your name. I found your blog via your website and read part of it at dinner w my bf...i left off at the part where u say everything can change in five min ..i was eating happily w my bf until I found out he was cheating on me...i read the rest of your blog just now after hours of fighting, tears, and are so right that things can change so quickly and we hav no control over it. It helps me to know someome out there shares the same ideas. You really are amazing...i will name my first daughter Oriah, after my fav poet to always be reminded of the truest messagd in life, from the invitation. Thank you so much.

  7. Thank you for sharing with authenticity and a fair amount of humility. :-) I often think of the phrase... 'the well laid plans of mice and men' not to mention that after we are born there are only two other things we can be sure of. Change and death.
    To kick off this year I was inspired to share your prose 'The Invitation' in my blog. It inspires me more than I can express in words.

  8. Siren, oh, I am so sorry to hear about your boyfriend's betrayal- that hurts deeply. Glad you found the writing helpful and may your heart heal quickly. Prayers for ease and healing, Oriah

  9. Oriah,
    As always, what you have to say and the honesty with which you say it, causes my inner self to say "yes." Everything you've written (and I have all of your books) has gone straight to my's like you're in my skin and you're talking to me. Thank you for continuing to share your truth in such an honest and simple way. Goddess bless.

  10. how true. life is unpredictable yet many (myself included)look to find answers to what lies ahead. Perhaps we should just enjoy the moments life gives us and learn from the negatives that are dealt. also I have to agree,children are a blessing. I have been taught so much at the hands of little people.

  11. Wishing you deep magnificently marvelous breaths for 2011 !! I really like you!! ;o)

  12. I honor your conscious choice of humility rather than humiliation. I'm reminded of David Whyte - who I first discovered through your writing and speaking - and the insights he shares in Clear Mind, Wild Heart about the root of humus and the value of returning to the ground of our being.

    I read in your most recent post that you are a friend of Joan Borysenko's, which hardly surprises me, given how compellingly you both promote attentiveness to the body as a path to mindfulness and healing.

    I don't know if you also know Brene Brown, but I recently watched - and blogged about - an inspiring video from her TEDxHouston talk about wholeheartedness as connection through courage, vulnerability and authenticity ... which reminded me of many of the themes you so eloquently explore.

    The reason I mention all this in the context of this post (and the issue of predictability you discuss here) is that like Joan Borysenko, Brene Brown is also a scientist, and talks about the conflict she felt in her research on shame and resilience: "the goal of research is to control & predict" and after 6 years she was shocked and [initially] dismayed to discover "the outcome of the research is that the way to live is with vulnerability".

    The other reason I wanted to mention this here is that in weaving together another blog post today, on fitting in (conforming) vs. belonging, incorporating inspiration from Brown and others, I was reminded of that exquisitely provocative passage in The Invitation about "disappointing another to be true to yourself" - which is how I ended off the post.

    In reviewing that post now, I am also reminded of The Dance (especially the Prelude), but have already written [more than] enough - on that post and here. I just wanted to mention all this because I suspect you and Brene Brown are - or would be - kindred spirits, and would likely find mutual inspiration in the same way I suspect you and Joan Borysenko relate to each other.

  13. Joe, I do not know Brene Brown but I have watched and passed along her wonderful TED talk.

    Love the idea of contrasting conforming to fit in vs. belonging- lovely!