“Courage is the measure of our heartfelt participation with life, with another,
with a community, a work; a future.”
~ David Whyte, poet
I walked in a cloud of birdsong the other morning. I didn’t notice the birds like this last spring. Nor did I notice how the birch looks as if eyes cover its trunk, and that it sprouts little furry raccoon tails before new leaves come in. I didn’t see the tight fists of leaves that look like knobs of tiny turbans on the limbs of other trees last year, either. It’s exhilarating, seeing all this now.
I also had my heart blown open by music this week. The Santa Fe Community Orchestra, a symphony orchestra so good it’s hard to believe they’re volunteer, had a guest violinist. She has an impressive resume – Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, & other famous venues. But I was not prepared for the exquisite perfection of the notes from her violin. There was a point I thought, ‘these are the strings that evoke the heart, are what makes one spontaneous weep.’ And I confess I felt myself disappear, smack into the midst of that music. Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47 (Sibelius) meant nothing to me before those minutes. And I will never be the same.
Why does this matter? I’m once again alive in my skin. And aware of the road I’ve been on.
In the aftermath of 5 years of isolation and stress, coming off a brutal 6 week push of packing my home, moving across country, editing and launching a book, followed by severe seasonal allergies, sleep deprived & unable to breathe fully for months, I completely missed the unfurling of spring last year. I noticed the abundant flowering trees in Santa Fe, how roses cover the town and flowers cover untended lots, and it wasn’t enough. Millions of small wonders went unnoticed and under-appreciated. Presence in the moments, the stuff life’s made of, was lost.
I ignored what I know feeds me, too. Such as the Soul Food of live symphony performances. Even when people are moved by my energy in the experience, and wonder if I know something they don’t. Strangers beside me who ask if I’m a professional musician. No, I say, I just feel the music deeply. Words said, and not heard by me!
One could say this heightened awareness is a result of my recent near death event with a semi 4 weeks ago. It’s truly a miracle I’m here. What I realize is near death is ongoing. A wrong step off a curb. What I know is observing with awareness is a conscious decision. It has layers. When we’re present, we know we’re connected. It’s a choice. And it’s not always easy.
I recently watched a show about butterflies. How the oldest traced species, the painted lady, travels 9,000 miles round trip on annual migrations. Naturalists were baffled because the butterflies disappeared for a period during the trek. They discovered the fragile creatures fly 1500-2000 feet up into the atmosphere to join millions of other insects riding wind currents. Imagine! And that the journey is made by 3 or more generations of the things. The butterflies stop along the way, lay eggs, die, let the offspring continue the journey. At hearing this, I couldn’t help but think ‘We don’t know a thing about the full wonders of nature and other species, what marvels we’re missing, f**king with the planet like we are.’ Right after I read puffins have fluorescent beaks. I am so curious WHY! So in awe of life on Earth.
Two things socked me deep in my core, brought me home:
“You almost always hear a train before you see it. The whistle pierces the air to warn anyone nearby that a thousand tons of cargo are hustling through. You might see the train soon after hearing it, exhaust billowing from the engines as it chugs down the track. But even if you could not see or hear a nearby train, you know when it passes because you feel it. The ground rumbles for several blocks in every direction. Thousands of tons of steel reverberate bass tones up through the foundations of buildings and down toward the bedrock of a place. Things shake and rattle while the train rolls. Stuff falls off shelves. Vibrations slide up through your feet. The sound gets in your body…” ~ Greg Jarrell, on the train, and John Coltrane (the porch magazine)
And this by poet Rachel Ballentine:
“my art teacher said ” YOU CAN’T START WITH THE EYELASHES!” so I am thinking about art and love, if art is not about love then it is not about anything. love of color or the curve of an eyelid or a tree or the bend of a wrist or a mountain. love of the movements of drawing or painting. in front of me is a blue bottle with a purple iris and a plum blossom branch, it is so beautiful,. . .we are so helpless in the face of the overwhelming love that really is everywhere, maybe all we can do is surrender to it. no I can’t explain evil or violence, maybe it is separation from the love. so you have to put in the big gestures first and then at the end, you can paint the eyelashes. you can love in the general or the specific. big loves or tiny loves.”
The emphasis above is mine. I know these things by intuition and heart. We find them by observing with awareness what’s inside & outside us. Like the rock climber who’s present to each micro-second. His focus on every crevice and niche in the rock face, the placement of his fingers, the twitch of his muscle. It’s what a good writer does, too.
As a writer, my writing ignites and flows when I observe with awareness, am present to the moments. Am out of my own way. And when I let go of expectations for how it should look or be, my writing unfolds. And so it is with life. The Muse is always here. You have no idea how huge this is for me to experience right now.
Presence. Breath. Love. And something I knew and forgot, Courage:
“To be courageous is not necessarily to go anywhere or do anything except to make conscious those things we already feel deeply and then to live through the unending vulnerabilities of those consequences. . .On the inside we come to know who and what and how we love and what we can do to deepen that love; only from the outside and only by looking back, does it look like courage.” ~ David Whyte
Looking back, I remember how I sought birdsong on my early morning walks when I hurt most. How I stood under a mockingbird, let it’s strong, clear song piece my heart. The marvel I felt at how such a big sound could come from such a small bird. The beauty of so many melodies flowing from one soul, like stories. I didn’t understand why, then. I just knew I needed that birdsong. I understand now. Like the train, the knowing came first, and the sound got in my body: Love life. Seems so obvious.
My mother told me I cried in the womb.
They said: It will have luck.
Someone spoke every day of my life
in my ear, slowly, softly.
It said: live, live, live!
It was Death. ~ Jaime Sabines
Another small journey. Getting to Wise.
A Writer’s Life.
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