Sunday, June 23, 2013

Self-care and the Fullness of Summer ...

And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves ...
I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning 
over again with the summer.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Hi everyone - Happy Summer Solstice for yesterday!

Summer is finally here - the season of growth, ripening, fullness and veriditas when white blossoms turn into plump berries, trees become lush symphonies of green, and orchards hang heavy with a cornucopia of sun-warmed fruits. It can also be a time for growth and ripening in our own lives.

Traditionally, the summer months provide us with time to slow our pace, to rest and refresh, and to nurture our creative gifts. There is more time to listen in the silence, to reconnect with the rhythms of nature and to ponder whatever fresh springs are arising from deep within us.

As we make time to feed our empty-ish bodies and souls through living more simply and well - resting, reading, meditating, exercising, resting, connecting, eating well, resting - we may find that our hearts begin to fill with a sense of restoration and gratitude. And we may begin to experience a deep contentment. As author, Christine Paintner, says:
This (contentment) isn't a kind of resigned feeling of being happy with what you have, but a vibrant, even ecstatic joy at the abundance of life. To feel gratitude and awe that we have anything at all, much less a home, work, food, health, and friendship, knowing that any one of those is grace enough.
From this filling up and its vibrant contentment, can come a reawakening of our creative juices. Ideas for life changes, new projects and artistic expression can bubble into our consciousness, unbidden. Thoughts can flow with ease. We find that there is, once again, a feeling of aliveness, fullness and abundance within us.

It all begins with a choice to start over once again - to slow the pace and take small steps toward improving our self care. What about you? Are there places in your life that need a chance to fill up and grow into juicy ripeness this summer? What are your plans for this season of abundance? Is there any way at all that you can s-l-o-w things down and intentionally make some space for your own restoration? If you need some encouragement to make this choice, try reading Christine Paintner's recent and wonderful poem about feeling your body and spirit come back to life as the sap rises:

How to Feel the Sap Rising
(A poem for summer)

Walk as slowly as possible,
all the while imagining 
yourself moving through
pools of honey and dancing with
snails, turtles, and caterpillars.

Turn your body in a clockwise direction
to inspire your dreams to flow upward. 
Imagine the trees are your own
wise ancestors offering their emerald
leaves to you as a sacred text.

Lay yourself down across the earth
and stones. Feel the vibration of
dirt and moss, sparking a tiny
(or tremendous)
revolution in your heart
with their own great longing.

Close your eyes and forget this
border of skin. Imagine the
breeze blowing through your hair
is the breath of the forest and
your own breath joined, rising and
falling in ancient rhythms.

Open your eyes again and see it
is true, that there is no "me" and "tree"
but only One great pulsing of life,
one sap which nourishes and 
enlivens all, one great nectar
bestowing trust and wonder.

Open your eyes and see that there
are no more words like beautiful
and ugly, good and bad,
but only the shimmering presence of your
own attention to life.

Only one great miracle unfolding and
only one sacred word which is

Christine Valters Painter

Happy summer!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Summer 2013 Reading List ...

Never trust anyone
who has not brought a book with them.

Lemony Snicket

Hi everyone! I'm just back from a wonderful three and a half weeks in Ontario - one week's vacation at the cottage outside Gravenhurst (where it snowed the day before we arrived !!) followed by two weeks of concentrated writing with my dear friends in Kingston. I'm happy to say that the writing time was incredibly productive and that the preface, introduction and first seven chapters of the book on chronic sorrow are complete! I'm hoping to finish the first full draft by the end of September.

And while we're on the topic of books, I've been thinking about my reading for this summer and, for the first time, I've decided to apply my compassion fatigue workshop advice to the choosing of my summer titles. (It's never occurred to me to do this before but I've decided to try and put together a list that has a light trauma load. We talk about reducing our trauma input in all sorts of different areas, but what about in the realm of the books we choose to read in our leisure time? Are they full of blood and gore or, even worse, do they tell graphic stories of the same kind of trauma we meet every day in the workplace? It might be worth a look at your own summer reading list ...).

That said, here are a few of the books I hope to try out as the days get sunnier and warmer:

1.  Narrow Road to the Interior by Matsuo Basho
This is a travelogue of the master haiku poet's journey through northern Japan during the 17th century. Everywhere he went, he composed a poem and connected it to his cultural heritage, his spiritual life or to nature. I love Basho's exquisite haiku and can't wait to start this beautiful book.
2.  Changing My Mind by Margaret Trudeau
This autobiography by the former prime minister's first wife has been on the shelves for a while and has received excellent reviews. The inspirational book covers the early days of Margaret's life and marriage to Pierre Trudeau and her struggles with bipolar disorder and the loss of her son, Michel.
3.  The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
I'm already reading this lovely book and I can hardly wait to go to bed at night to read a few more of its beautifully written pages. It is the story of newly retired Harold, who spontaneously walks the length of England in response to a letter from an old friend who is dying in Berwick-upon-Tweed. The New York Times says of this novel, "It is very much a story of present day courage. She writes about how easily a mousy, domesticated man can get lost and how joyously he can be refound."
4.  Narrative Medicine: Honouring the Stories of Illness by Rita Charon
Rita Charon is Professor of Clinical Medicine and Director of the Program in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University. Her book describes the need for making genuine contact with patients through storytelling at a time of increasing bureaucracy and discontinuous care. It offers a comprehensive overview of the principles underlying narrative medicine and a practical guide for using narrative methods in health care. 
5.  Red Bird by Mary Oliver
Mary Oliver's poems about the natural world and her gratitude for it evoke such pleasure that I read and re-read her 20 plus collections. Red Bird, winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for poetry, is one of my favourites.
 6.  White Water Cooks With Friends by Shelley Adams
This is the third in Shelley's series of White Water cookbooks from Nelson, BC. In my humble opinion these are the best, most beautiful cookbooks to come out of Canada in a long, long time. And the food! The vegie burgers in White Water Cooks are to die for. (I made a big batch tonight, one to eat and 11 for freezing but I may just have to keep one more out for tomorrow night. They're sooooo good!) The recipes in these books are simple, healthy, delicious and beautiful so I'm really looking forward to seeing what the third volume has to offer.
7.  The Gifted by Gail Bowen
This is the fourteenth book in the Joanne Kilbourn mystery series by Canadian author, Gail Bowen, and it won't be published until August 9th but I've pre-ordered my copy already. This series is well written, not too graphic, set in Saskatchewan, and has an intelligent, thoroughly human protagonist. What more could one ask for in a good beach read??
 8.  Living Beautifully: With Uncertainty and Change by Pema Chodron
Once again, Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron, writes about living with equanimity in turbulent times and doing so by being "completely, fearlessly present, even in the hardest times". She invites us to consider letting go of our protective patterns to risk just showing up for life. 
9.  Eyes of the Heart: Photography as Christian Contemplative Practice by Christine Paintner
While written in the Christian contemplative tradition by a Benedictine monk-in-the-world, I think this beautiful little book could be used by seekers of any faith tradition - or none at all. It is full of practices and reflective questions and Christine guides us to a new way of seeing, using the lens of a camera. She introduces the interesting practice of "receiving" through the lens rather than "taking" the picture, a practice I would like to experiment with this summer.
10.  Trust the Process: The Artist's Guide to Letting Go by Shaun McNiff
I've been wanting to read this book for a number of years and came across a copy in a discount book store last week. It has tremendous reviews and seems different from other books I've read on creativity which have been a little too formulaic. I'll use it for motivation as I continue to write this summer!
11.  Stories of the Courage to Teach: Honoring the Teacher's Heart by Sam Intrator
Though they don't name the issue, compassion fatigue, this book honours teachers on the verge of exhaustion who struggle to rekindle their passion for teaching. I'm looking forward to reading their stories to discover what has been life-changing for them.
12.  Principles of the Enneagram, 2nd Edition by Karen Webb
This is, without a doubt, the clearest primer on the Enneagram in the Narrative Tradition that I've ever read. I'm looking forward to going back to the basics with Karen just to savour her wonderful teaching style. 
So, this is my list for 2013. If any of you have any to add, I'd be glad to hear about them! Happy reading!