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“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known …suffering…. and have found their way out of the depths.  (They) have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern.”   ~ Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

Today I am sharing a poem from a wonderful book I have recently come across that has brought me hope and comfort. It is by Jan Richardson titled, “The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief.”

Though the author wrote this book of blessings during her husband’s illness and subsequent passing, grief can come to us in many forms. Grief over lost dreams, over parts of ourselves that are not loved, the loss of so much of the natural world, the loss of our or a loved one’s physical abilities. Aging. Loss of memory. Loss of a pet.

But if we can stay with our grief until we come through to the other side, what blessings may await?

Blessing for the Brokenhearted

What if I told you that by avoiding going deep and walking through the darkness of heartbreak, you only take yourself further and further away from who you truly are.

Many of us, if not most of us, do not believe we can carry that kind of pain for very long. We avoid feeling it and skim along the surface of the heartbreak, never taking a deep dive.

We keep afloat with distractions, self-medication, overwork, anything else but feeling.

These dark times, when we sink into grief and let it hold us like a heavy blanket, are the times that give birth to a new way of being in the world. That is that fertile soil from which we emerge with a tender yet strong heart, a heart that, despite the painful memories, wants to give and receive even more. A heart that knows how to carry grief and love together.

The only way out is through. And without that deep dive, we never know who we could become on the other side.

As Henry David Thoreau stated, “There is no remedy for love but to love more.”

Below is a Blessing for the Brokenhearted. I hope it gives you comfort.

A poem by Jan Richardson @ www.paintedprayerbook.com

BLESSING FOR THE BROKENHEARTED

Let us agree
for now
that we will not say
the breaking
makes us stronger
or that it is better
to have this pain
than to have done
without this love.

Let us promise
we will not
tell ourselves
time will heal
the wound,
when every day
our waking
opens it anew.

Perhaps for now
it can be enough
to simply marvel
at the mystery
of how a heart
so broken
can go on beating,
as if it were made
for precisely this—

as if it knows
the only cure for love
is more of it,

as if it sees
the heart’s sole remedy
for breaking
is to love still,

as if it trusts
that its own
persistent pulse
is the rhythm
of a blessing
we cannot
begin to fathom
but will save us
nonetheless.

—Jan Richardson

Construction Site

When we begin to emerge back into the world after grief has struck, we become aware that we cannot emerge alone. A lifeline comes to us from a friend, family member, mother nature, poetry, community.

The time will come when we will tether ourselves to this lifeline and throw the other end out to someone else. So perhaps it is more than a lifeline. It is a web. One we share with all life and offer back to another someday. Weaving together ourselves with all that we love.

This is my reading of the poem, “Construction Site” from a poet found on Twitter @the_librarian1.

Construction Site by CL @the_librarian1 on Twitter

Please have a listen to the poet’s reading. It is absolutely beautiful.

Stardust

Stardust comes to Earth

in our bones and blood

breath and being.

In loss and love and

mercy and cruelty scarring so deep,

they carve a new trajectory in humanity’s path

with each life,

as silk

rubbing over stone.

In time

we

will

go

back

home.

Earth’s Desire

If your heart is heavy, if you feel exhausted from it all, plant your fingers in the soil of our Mother Earth, breathe in her breath that gently touches your skin as it passes, and walk barefoot on her body.

Let our Mother heal you. And let us care for her in return. This exchange of nurturing is what she needs now, as do we.

I share this poem written by a late, great elder of our time, Thomas Berry.

Video of Earth’s Desire by Thomas Berry

Earth’s Desire

By Thomas Berry

To be seen
in her loveliness

to be tasted
in her delicious
fruits

to be listened to
in her teaching

to be endured
in the severity
of her discipline

to be experienced
as the maternal
source
whence we come

the destiny
to which we
return.

Blessing for Coming Home to an Empty House

I realized that I had not posted much lately. I am in the homerun stretch of graduating from the apprenticeship program at The Guild for Spiritual Guidance, which has carried me through the last two years in community and love. After this Sunday, I will be a graduate and will dive deep into my writing and sharing with you here in this space. I very much look forward to posting more.

In the meantime, I came across this poem by Jan Richardson. I hope it brings you comfort.

Blessing for Coming Home to an Empty House

I know
how every time you return,
you call out
in greeting
to the one
who is not there;
how you lift your voice
not in habit
but in honor
of the absence
so fierce
it has become
its own force.

I know
how the hollow
of the house
echoes in your chest,
how the emptiness
you enter
matches the ache
you carry with you
always.

I know
there are days
when the only thing
more brave than leaving
this house
is coming back to it.

So on those days,
may there be a door
in the emptiness
through which a welcome
waits for you.

On those days,
may you be surprised
by the grace
that gathers itself
within this space.

On those days,
may the delight
that made a home here
find its way to you again,
not merely in memory
but in hope,

so that every word
ever spoken in kindness
circles back to meet you;

so that you may hear
what still sings to you
within these walls;

so that you may know
the love
that dreams with you here
when finally
you give yourself
to rest—

the love
that rises with you,
stubborn like the dawn
that never fails
to come.

—Jan Richardson

Power of Beauty

Beauty has the power to heal us. 

The divine beauty of nature can heal us.

Beauty of a flower,

of moonlight over the ocean,

of the colors of autumn. 

As I walk through this broken world,

I carry the shattered pieces of my heart

and they become like a constellation within,

lighting my path forward

to see beauty everywhere.

In every face,

Every flower,

Every tree,

Every rock.

Every step on this Earth is taken in a sacred place.

The Thing Is

When the darkness of despair

finally gives way

to that small sliver of light,

I pull my eyes upward

toward the source of the light

And inward

to my heart,

knowing the two are connected.

I grab the edge of the light

and I hold tight

And let it bring me back to this indelible world.


Click for the Video of The Thing Is by Ellen Bass

Video of the poem The Thing Is

The Thing Is

BY ELLEN BASS

to love life, to love it even

when you have no stomach for it

and everything you’ve held dear

crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,

your throat filled with the silt of it.

When grief sits with you, its tropical heat

thickening the air, heavy as water

more fit for gills than lungs;

when grief weights you down like your own flesh

only more of it, an obesity of grief,

you think, How can a body withstand this?

Then you hold life like a face

between your palms, a plain face,

no charming smile, no violet eyes,

and you say, yes, I will take you

I will love you, again.

Haiku Poetry of Grief and Gratitude

I have rediscovered Haiku poetry, a Japanese form of short poetry.  In the English language, Haiku is written according to the number of syllables: Three lines with 17 syllables.  5-7-5.  Japanese does not have syllables.  So, Haiku is written in what are durational sound units, sounds of equal duration.  In English, syllables can be of differing duration.  

I think I love Haiku so much for a couple of reasons.  First, because of my analytical side.  The counting of syllables and the effort it takes to fit a moment of life into 17 syllables is very satisfying to this woman whose favorite class in school (way back when) was math.  Many poets of Haiku in English think of this 17-syllable rule as a suggestion, and my older self is just fine with coloring outside the lines.

Second, Haiku helps me to reel in my errant thoughts and focus them like a light beam onto one moment, one object, a simple thing.  This is a type of meditation for me.  It has helped me, especially during these uncertain times. 

Noticing the smallest of things and being grateful for them, however fleeting, is what I attempt to hold in my hands as I walk through life now.

Here are a few Haiku poems focusing on grief and gratitude. I hope you find comfort in them.


Grief

A Japanese Poem Translated by Takashi Kodaira and Alfred H. Marks

At the deepest point

of grief, somebody nearby

breaks a withered branch


by Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828)

In a world

Of grief and pain,

Flowers bloom –

      Even then.


By Rev. Deb Vaughn

Just a single leaf…

One of many in autumn

A tree remembers


By Emily Thiroux Threatt

Remembering joy

Gazing into his brown eyes

We laughed together


by Hannah Spencer

“Not Fair”

How cruel my heart

is!… To persist in beating

although you’re gone…


by Dina Televitskaya

“Smile”

It has flown to me.

And it has given me grief.

It was your sad smile.


by P.S. AWTRY

“Not As Strong As She Seems”

formidable dam

     a breach in the night

          dread torrent of tears


by Paula Goldsmith

“Squirrel Time”

My cute furry friend

Eating nuts until the end

Chasing all your friends


Unknown

Morning fog rolls in

Not as dark as yesterday

         Or the day before


Gratitude

By Diane Yoza

My white coffee cup

So full of aroma

Sips to warm my heart


by David Byrne

“Beauty”

Ah, beauty must die

Impermanent flower

Showing gratitude


by Romeo Naces

“Grateful Sigh”

    …soil, sky and sea sigh

       gratitude from low and high

       we, us, you and I…


by Line Gauthier

“Summer Whispers”

summer whispers

in the garden of my life

  ~ chants of gratitude


by Dietra Reid

Appreciation of Colors”

shades enlightened light

gratitude to primary

secondary thanks


by Suzy @ suzysomedaysomewhere.blogspot.com

Changing seasons drift

A twisting kaleidoscope;

   Life, a Thankful gift

The Thread

What do I know of how to forge a path forward as the world is once again swept away in the wave of war?  What do I know of the significance of my life, a life, anyone’s life during these times?

One man’s dark dream can unleash such suffering onto the world that his name will live in infamy.

Another man’s courage can inspire millions and change the course of history.  Both names are written forever in the scarred and sacred journey of humanity.

It is easy to see the influence of lives such as these on our planet. 

But what of the rest of us?

Those of us who live quietly?  Who will never be globally influential or famous?

What can we do in times such as these? 

What is there for us to do?

What do I know of such things? 

I know of the beauty of the butterfly on the wind.

I know its life is short and quiet.  I know its life is essential to our world. 

I know the spiritual teachers of the past and present speak of the imperativeness of our connection to Spirit.

Our own spirit and the Great Spirit, God, Allah, Gaia, whatever name one chooses. 

As the past week has sent me into the depths of despair for the suffering that has been unleashed onto the Ukrainians, people I have never met, I sit in the embers of my hopelessness and try to hold tight to that which connects me to Spirit.  I pray for mercy and beauty and humanity.  I pray that those lost in the darkness of their own soul will find the string that connects them to love and the Divine.  I pray that they hold tight to that string.  And one by one, we can weave together a new path for humanity and all life on Earth.  Then perhaps there will be no more war. 

I leave you with this poem by Parker Palmer.  Hold tight to your string.

Bare

This feeling of grief after a loss, I feel is a sacred time. I have vowed to let myself feel the depths of this pain. To sink down into the wisdom of this darkness. It is an ebb and flow of dark and light. And what we bring back into the world can be a healing balm, a calm acceptance, a way of walking gently on the Earth and loving this transitory life.


“No, it’s not emptiness that is felt now that you are gone from this world. What is felt is the fullness of your absence. A space laid bare, pregnant with the light of your humor,

The light of your love,

The light of your soft breath,

Your light,

You,

Light.”

Photo by Olya Kobruseva on Pexels.com

What I Wish I Could Say

I wrote the following journal entry in January of 2020 a few days after my dog Lola died, and a couple of months before the pandemic hit. I was struggling under the heaviness of new grief, trying to find a way to get through the days without crying. I would find myself numb, distracted, staring at nothing while at work. Nights were worse.

I never wanted to numb my grief. I wanted to sink into it. And I still do, when it emerges. Slowly the sharp pain I felt in my heart eased and came less often.

Perhaps that was the gift of Lola’s life: To tear my heart so wide open that the compassion and love that poured out carved a new trajectory for my life.

I have lost more loved ones, human and animal since then. My other dog, Dickens, among them. I try to meet these losses with a strength of Spirit that I did not feel before.

Sometimes I read this letter I wrote to Lola and it gives me comfort. I hope she can hear it where she is.


Lola

I cannot yet clean the patches of dirt off of the walls where you used to sleep or put your food bowl out into the garage. Your collar lies next to your ashes on the credenza. I wish I had known how much you meant to me when you were here. If only I could go back to that day when I saw you, an abandoned puppy awaiting adoption at the pet supply store. I would spend every day for the next 11 years making sure you knew how much I loved you, instead of being distracted by my ego-centric pursuits, all so trivial, now I know.

We had so much fun hiking in the mountains, or driving to the park, or swimming in the lake on the weekends, didn’t we? Do you remember that time you startled an elk? Or that time when you realized our home was going to be Dickens’ forever home, too? Or that first time I had to pick you up and put you into the back of the car because you could no longer jump? Do you remember? Can you still remember?

Or are you running in mountain meadows now, chasing elk and squirrels and butterflies? A green meadow with clean air and blue skies, where your labored last breaths are forgotten? But you still remember our walks and weekend treks and playing catch and how Dickens would always get the ball out of your snout, don’t you? You will remember us, won’t you? You will remember to greet Dickens when her time comes? And when I finally come? Won’t you, Lola?

It is said that with the loss of someone you love, there comes a feeling of emptiness. What I feel is not emptiness. What I feel is a presence, a fullness of your absence at home. I feel the fullness of the presence of your absence. It is heavy and it clings to me.

I know with time this fullness will diminish, and I will smile when I think of our days together, Lola. And on my last day, I will wait. As I hope you will be waiting somewhere, wherever it is that we go when our last, labored breaths are forgotten.

Perennial

Perhaps the greatest gift
is to die a little each day.

To love what death can touch.

The losses innumerable
on this world

where grief is

perennial.

And gratitude,

for the fleeting beauty
of life is its twin,

born from the same mother
called love.


I have been thinking of the 12th Century poem a lot and the transitory nature of life. I wrote the short poem above in the early morning hours which was inspired by these thoughts.

Mary Oliver and Me

Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?

What will you do with your one wild and precious life?

  1. As I care for my aging father, and witness his diminishing abilities, both physical and mental. I see my own future. I see my frustration and grief in not being able to do things that used to come so easily. I see my melancholy face as I stare out the window of the kitchen, thinking of – who knows? My past? Things I have done and not done? Joys and regrets?
  2. At times it sends me into a panic wondering what I have done, or what I may still do in the time I have left of this life. What will I do with my one wild and precious life? At other times, I release these fears and escape my ego’s hold, a great reprieve if even just for a little while.
  3. I believe the answer to Mary Oliver’s questions above may be within the poem in which she asks that devastating question, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
  4. Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.
  5. Be in awe of the grasshoppers, and trees, and blue skies. Be in awe of the beauty in this weary world. A world that we have been gifted.
  6. The rest of life will unfold as it will and should.
  7. Mary Oliver’s poetry has saved me in ways it is hard for me to explain. Through the darkness of my mind, her words pulled me back to the world. I wiped my eyes and remembered to be in awe of the beauty around me, especially in the smallest of things. A flower, an insect, a cloud, fleeting as they all may be. Her poem “The Summer Day” was the first one of hers that I read, and it pulled me back from the abyss.

THE SUMMER DAY

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver

The Wise Woman and the Stone

I do not know where I first read this or who wrote it. But it has always stuck with me, so I share it with you now.

Blessings.

Click the picture for the video or read below.

The Wise Woman and The Stone

A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone
in a stream. The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and
the wise woman opened her bag to share her food.

The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman if she
could give it to him. She did so without hesitatin. The traveler left,
rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give
him security for a lifetime. But a few days later he came back to return the
stone to the wise woman.

“I’ve been thinking,” he said, “I know how valuable the stone is, but I give it
back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious.
Please give me what you had within you that enabled you to give me the
stone.”

A Life in a Lake

We stand on the shore of a large lake. Each of us dives into the lake and, for a brief moment, submerge ourselves in the waters of mother Earth. We reemerge back onto the shore and turn to see the ripples we have created that will remain long after we have left.

Someone once asked Gandhi what his life message was. He answered that his life was his message.

No matter who we are, we all have an impact on the world around us that will remain long after we are gone, sometimes for generations.

Some words and actions can wound for generations. Some can be so searing that they carve a new trajectory into a family’s destiny. Others can heal. The message of our lives is how we live in our mundane days.

Perhaps one has stripped the cultural blinders off and lived against the grain. Maybe teaching that the Creator, God, Gaia, whatever name one calls the breath of life, is not found in some distant, off-planet place of the gods. It is found everywhere on Earth. It is heard in birdsongs, felt in the roots of the trees communicating under our feet, seen in the fearful eyes of animals whom we have excluded from our circle of compassion.

These people have the challenging task of carving out a new future, and many are doing this now in ways both large and small. And how might a deep dive into the collective human shadow and reemergence into the light change one’s destiny? And change the fate of this planet?

We can pray to our ancestors for wisdom and thank them for their lessons, but we must remember that we who are alive today will soon be the ancestors. And when those not yet born stand in the ripples of our lives, what will they say to us?

It is not an easy or trivial thing to be the caregivers of the Earth.

The Gift

To live in this world of mundane chores; to live when the wash still needs washing, the plant still needs watering, the cat still needs to be fed. To live still, and my friend is gone away to whatever awaits us all.

You, who will live in our future, will never know her. Nor will you know anyone whom I know or even that we had existed. Not as individuals at least.

There is impermanence everywhere in this reality, whether a flower or a family member. It is omnipresent. It is life itself. There is something that the death of my friend, my favorite dog, my mother, and my neighbor’s oak tree has taught me. It is that to truly appreciate life on this Earth, we must also hold within ourselves its coming death.

We should love this Earth and everything on it with the passion and urgency of one who sees the end.

If we live in the embrace of knowing that someday at a time in which we have no clue or control, this tree, this friend, this fractal of divine light will extinguish, perhaps we would better understand the depth of the gift. I do not mean to intellectually understand that death is coming. Of course, in those moments when we allow our minds to stumble upon the thought, we comprehend that death is a real thing. But usually, the thought is banished from our minds, and we live as if the gifts on this Earth will never be depleted. However, something even deeper is missing in this mental void of ours. We are missing the miracle in the mundane.

Perhaps had we understood all of this, as the indigenous and our ancient ancestors had understood it, things would have turned out different for the natural world and for you, who must learn to live in the wake of our lives.

Kindness

When I first heard this poem by Naomi Shihab Nye, I viscerally felt the truth of it in my body. The truth I felt is that great suffering is the door through which kindness enters and becomes the only thing that makes sense in this world. Kindness to each other, the earth, animals, every living thing.

The one line that stopped my eyes on the page, and that I kept going back to over and over again is the line about the Indian in a white poncho being dead on the side of the road. I thought, why this line in such a beautiful poem? What does this mean?

Even though we walk through life thinking we have time, things like this won’t happen to me, I must admit to myself, that really, it can all be over in an instant. This man on the side of the road could be any of us on any given day. So what matters most in this transitory world? Where life ebbs and flows, in and out of existence? I wonder if Naomi Shihab Nye might have found the answer.

Click the picture for the video or read the poem below.

Kindness

by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is

you must lose things,

feel the future dissolve in a moment

like salt in a weakened broth.

What you held in your hand,

what you counted and carefully saved,

all this must go so you know

how desolate the landscape can be

between the regions of kindness.

How you ride and ride

thinking the bus will never stop,

the passengers eating maize and chicken

will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness

you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho

lies dead by the side of the road.

You must see how this could be you,

how he too was someone

who journeyed through the night with plans

and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,

you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.

You must wake up with sorrow.

You must speak to it till your voice

catches the thread of all sorrows

and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,

only kindness that ties your shoes

and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,

only kindness that raises its head

from the crowd of the world to say

It is I you have been looking for,

and then goes with you everywhere

like a shadow or a friend.

The Witchery of Living

A poem by Mary Oliver. This is an excerpt from that poem. I plan on uploading a video of the whole poem in the near future, but I find this section particularly meaningful at this time in my life.

Click the picture for the video or read below.

To Begin With, The Sweet Grass

Mary Oliver

The witchery of living
is my whole conversation
with you, my darlings.
All I can tell you is what I know.

Look, and look again.
This world is not just a little thrill for the eyes.

It’s more than bones.
It’s more than the delicate wrist with its personal pulse.
It’s more than the beating of the single heart.
It’s praising.
It’s giving until the giving feels like receiving.
You have a life—just imagine that!
You have this day, and maybe another, and maybe
   still another.