Friday, August 24, 2007

graph the good phite

"Scribe ergo quae vidisti..."

"Write therefore
the things which thou hast seen,
and the things which are,
and the things
which shall be
fulfilled hereafter."

~ Revelation 1:19

These moments of the changing season offer an occasion to consider the recorded word itself. As we address our days, we are exercising our words and investing our thoughts into the preservation of our unfolding times. And when the waters calm, there can be just enough respite to realize what the soul has explored. An enjoyable opportunity to appreciate the trail takes shape in one of my sister’s projects. The other day, she told me about some good advice she’d gotten that involved a workbook on the theme of personal development. Being interested, I asked about the process, and in response she sent me the book which is essentially a structured set of open-ended questionnaires. Deciding to follow along, so we can compare insights, I found many correspondences to this very forum of reflective writing. There are considerations of past, present, and future hopes. For the context of the sphere of writing, here is a question from Finding Your Own North Star: "Are there any activities in which you participate that cause you to lose track of time?" And there are. So I wrote them down. One of them was writing.

One of my friends likes to refer to my having a hypergraphic streak, and perhaps there’s something to such jovial jabs to tell me I have stumbled into a writer’s life. But assuredly not a real writer. The sort of writing I do at my profession must be factual and unambiguous. Journal writing is different, having no rules, no assigned audience, and without a set pace or context. It’s really quite liberating, and reflective writing can take on any theme- including the topic of reflective writing. Be that as it may, one may be as the biblical clanging cymbal of insubstantial verbiage, or the pilgrimage and its narrative may be such that we "lose track of time." Years back, during a spirit-breaking crisis, I took a few days' leave of my job and life to journey to a monastery for a retreat. One of my colleagues sent me off with a small blank book, which I gratefully received while confessing that I had nothing to write and did not imagine myself to be a diary-keeping type. "You’ll have plenty to write, when you get there," my friend said. But, truly, don’t we do what we do because we know we must? Much like the life of faith, there are explorations, then reinforcing nurture; there are observances and reflections- or, if we will, there is reading and there is writing. As thoughts and words manifested together, it became necessary to write; It became vital, especially in the immediately ensuing years, that I cultivate the silent witness to my life’s voyages by articulating my adventures and thoughts in writing.

Might it be disruptive to the rhythm and flow of living one’s days, to be "taking notes?" Rather like some photographers who "get the shots," unaware of the magnificence and eloquence of their subject matter. No, not if the writing (or the photographing) is actually within the movement. We do, after all, need to breathe. If there’s no time to record thoughts now, there will be later. Indeed, holding a thought in a few short words, while waiting at a red light or on line at the bank, should convince the uncertain of their hypergraphia. If, during the more generous pauses, I am reflecting back on the week, it’s a review, and then when the written words parallel simultaneous thoughts it’s in real time. Sometimes the impressions’ additive sum surfaces quickly; other times, it’s what I call "doing the long division" of writing thoughts out in order to make sense of things. All of this is not to mention re-reading the musings, reliving the transatlantic flights, the coffee-break room at all the different jobs, lonesome diners, cafés in tiny villages and in majestic surroundings, the Appalachian Trail, or the laundromat. The vistas do vary, but it’s always the same pilgrim soul.

The narrative is the archival record of a soul’s traversal, across the pages of the days it has been given. Finding that so much of my recorded thoughts hovered around the "what was," and the "what I wish for," I am training my thoughts and words to engage the challenge of speaking to the "what is now." Through the maze of articulative navigation, the more authentic my reflections are, the more rejuvenated my pilgrimage. New truths are found while writing, and that is itself a motivation to continue. Surely, all pursuits have purposed goals, and perhaps here the goal is in the very pursuit itself- thus blurring the distinction. Like prayer, we may find ourselves deep in contemplation during which we say we aspire to a spiritual life. Also similarly, the continuity of written discourse has been my antidote against complacency. Still further- like prayer, writing has not so much altered my circumstances as it has indeed changed me.

So, now to continue and to persevere. In Writing Down the Bones (another book my sister gave me), Natalie Goldberg offered that if your ideas seem too scattered, you might start a page with "I remember..." Becoming an amused observer of my own mind, I’ll frequently start with "I heard myself say..." (And you are all certainly welcome to trying this). As with photography, the written archival record is a way to accentuate the latent value in what is so easily disregarded. Noticing the overlooked is appealingly unspectacular, and attending heartily to humble matters is actually a subtle attuning to grandeur. Indeed, the wind blows wherever it pleases. We hear its sound, but we cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. As well, from holy writ, we find the concept of fighting the good fight of conscientious faith, and with this gratitude for the benefits of the ground already covered, I submit the hundredth entry of this journal.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

ad destinatum persequor

"It’s a long day,
a long way into your arms,
a long, long looking forward,
through a straining eye.

And all the clouds are weary whales
swimming by to find you.
And I’m sorry, sorry how,
slow my steps are
slow as hours.

To be there,
To be there where you are."

~ The Innocence Mission, There

When contemplating an aspiring quest, about a forward excursion, we might imagine the passage of time as well as physical geographic motion. To express, "moving in a direction," we are as close to the imagery of our hopes as we are to tangible, demonstrative movement. It is easily the both, and to be truly conscious of how my transitions are directed, it is necessary to sense my life’s movement as it manifests. Places between places. At times, we dwell among the passageways, when destinations seem so far away and impossible, when roads are barely visible, when provisional motion is all that can be known.

Though it may appear that we are standing still, we are in motion, indeed. Might it be detectable by contrast to our general context of change- even in varied paces- or can we notice our movement simply as we can be carried by the tides of time? Of late, I am experiencing the varied and unpredictable steps of progress. It is enough to embrace an ethos of forward motion and constructive change, but indeed I can only do so much to dictate the pace. Trying to learn, trying to build, trying to forge ties; such human processes are passageways to new abilities to share forth, new places of communion, new relationships. But the passages, the avenues, the means, are dynamic spaces themselves with lives of their own. And with that in mind, my understanding of acceptance is to embrace those around me, and to comprehend the pace of each situation- especially when I can only adjust the tempo to a seemingly limited extent. Perhaps, then, sensing the movement of my life is to simply surrender the grasp on its control. Being watchful is really not about being in charge. Today I sat outside my workplace, during a coffee break- the gift of a rejuvenating moment- and drawing in some of the sea-spiced air my attention turned to how the latter-summer light trimmed all that could be seen. Starting to write something down, a passerby asked me if I was journaling, and then proceeded to marvel at this weather. The conversation replaced the writing. Sensing our places is a simple observance.

Absorbing the journey to the full has come to comprise a savouring of the times of transition. Through the consoling presence of friends, I have learned how trials and what appear to be dead-ends can become open paths. It seems as if I have had to experience such ends enough times to learn not to wish away time. Recognizing the dynamism in what is temporal, it becomes possible to enjoy what we know as fleeting and to welcome the changes for which I have hoped to see. My turn in this road offers the chance to be consciously aware of what I can do that I have wished to do. Conversely, there is also that which I do not wish to do (again). Still another worthy purpose in learning to be watchful is to value what is, balancing out my old habit of squinting at horizons. Being fully awake to who and what is present before me, is the paradoxical pursuit of destiny.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

transitory moments

"Ce sont des mots prononcés par hasard qui, peu à peu, m’ont tout révélé."

("It was the things said quite at random that, bit by bit, explained everything.")

~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

I am one of those photographers who loves what we call "decisive moments;" thin slices of time that exemplify the sense of an environment. Surely the encapsulation (now tapping into my archivist’s language) of a situation or place carries perfectly into the realm of writing. During my years of teaching photo, I’d read Dylan Thomas’ poetry to class groups, to demonstrate how a few words could so clearly expose and develop an image in our imaginations. Then it would be for all of us to attach our own words to the images we observe. With a visual orientation, we can easily interchange imagery and words; both can be woven into the fine archive in our hearts, but perhaps none so much as a vivid image of a brilliant moment.

A fleeting moment is what ironically (as is my tendency) brought the very vitality of transitory moments to mind. Lately finding that I struggled for some recollective time in the midst of constantly darting between responsibilities, valuable as they are, I unwittingly sought to make the most out of little intermissions amidst tasks and en route. Sitting outdoors on coffee breaks with notebook and pencil, indeed far enough away from the sidewalk smokers. Then the other day I found myself leaving unusually early for an personal errand to allow for some reflective time to write (or as I always say, perch); that would be my reward for such diligent industriousness. The photo, below, taken at Big Sky Bakery accompanied a gratefully received moment. The spectrum comprised the aroma of the roasted beverage and cinnamon, the sounds of conversing workers and patrons, the sharp early light of August coming through the exterior trafficked street, and me within this scene: stillness amidst perpetual motion, and solace that I could luxuriate without worrying about exactly what time it was. It was even possible to draw in some gratifying breaths.

And there’s a thought- to consider how many artistic and spiritual practices are commenced with the intentional and mindful act of breathing. As if this was something for which we need to buy a ticket to do! When a camera shutter snaps, there is a pause before the next frame. When I have to sharpen a pencil, or re-ink a pen, that is part of the syntax of reflective writing. Those pauses are integral. Imagine a commercial break without commercials. In typography we referred to the spaces between type and graphic elements as counterforms, all of which define what is in their context. With a moment, there is a chance to ponder what has brought us to this very stroke of time and to consider why it means enough to cause us to stop action.

The other day, I recounted what became an indelible moment, because of what I saw and what I perceived yet did not see. On a day during an unusually snowy winter, wanting to be a considerate gentleman, I offered to shovel out a formidable sidewalk and driveway for two women who lived nearby. There was a lot of snow, piled very high, and I got through it all and cleared the way for pedestrians and vehicles. It took time, and was rather exhausting. Trudging up all the stairs to announce the job all done, left for me on their sunlit dining table I saw the very picture of profound gratitude. Brilliant light accentuated by abundant snow outside, the wide bright table supported a small teacup filled with coffee, accompanied by a measuring spoon filled with milk. Such extravagance in such humble form came from people who owned neither coffee nor milk in their household, and while I was furiously outside shoveling and hefting snow they were hunting down these ingredients from their neighbors in order to present something they thought I would enjoy. It was the perfect gesture, as if the glitter of the glowing table and the steaming beverage had been gold and incense from the Magi.

Slivers of time and experience, true to their description, are just that: humble enough to be overlooked, but worthy to be savoured and drawn from. We could say that both melancholia and consolation are encountered in barely discernable moments. At once transient and abiding. Yet I am finding that transformation occurs in the twinkling of an eye, and in these liminal breathing-spaces between the forms of the day, I am hoping to perceive what is unseen, and choose a perspective that finds light in the darkness.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

via sacra

"Dyma ni yn awr
ar daith ein gobaith."

("Here we are now
on the journey of our hope.")

~ Morgan John Rhys (Welsh pastor), 1795.

If we recognize in our lives the imagery of pilgrimage, of an evolving progress at unpredictable paces, how can we know an advancement that eludes being quantified? Further, should I try to apply the limits of assessment, that would divert and complicate the very facility that allows me to comprehend. Making steps into new realms, hopefulness takes on a commonplace tangibility with the many symbols of journeying, of crossing, of passing-over. As today becomes where my steps have brought me to stand, looking back can be a reckoning- instead of a luring sea of regret- and it is possible to reach forth with hope. And this perception causes me to find the subtle, even quiet signs that can remind us of our forward paces. It seems the less spectacular the reminder is, the more deeply-rooted the renewal and reinforcement. Transition becomes apparent when imposed perfectionism and self-condemnation are transfigured by an abiding wonderment of the moment’s potential.

Can one be assured their life is the pilgrimage of trust they aspire to pursue? My convincement of the permanence of this ongoing course has not manifested in events so much as the spaces between vistas and trials alike. It suffices for me to know I have covered rugged distances and continue on, all for good purpose, because I am on a voyage I want to take. The embarkation itself is an excited anticipation: not a forbidding precipice, but a gratefully traversed threshold. My wonderment at the presence of grace at so many unexpected turns, is accompanied by a fervor for fulfillment. But indeed such aspiration is tried in the grit of real life which is replete with real tragedy. Yes, the journey has signs and landmarks, and the essence of setting forth comes with such acceptance of things like contradictory rungs and how all things spiritual are unconstrained by time. Along with my evolving journey of hope is a perception of my own history. How do we attest to our past in daily life? In this life of paradoxes and dualities, I find that I can know deep joy through having known profound sorrow. The more intensely I have known desolation, the more invigorating has been my consolation.

It is one thing to reflect about the journey and appreciate its offerings, but the cutting edge is to take right to that road. Thomas Merton pointed out the necessity of "getting to work, through the new things you’ve gotten hold of," and "don’t revert to daydreaming," as a substitute for deepening our experience of truth, with an openness to unexpected possibilities. We cannot armchair-travel a spiritual life; that would imply an evasion from really challenging what can cause us to stagnate, especially outdated ways to thinking. For me, it’s been abandoning outgrown inner attitudes. Clinging to problems that are long since lived through has been a roadblock thrown over the broadening paths of newness. After so many formative years of not only having to prove my worth with achievements, but also to catalogue them into some sort of monolithic stack of quantifying self-importance. That very aspect of my life’s development has become the starting point for a hopeful beginning of emptying illusions out of my self. In so doing, my wish is to give more space to receive others, and to grow in boldness and compassion, contentment and wisdom, and ultimately in authentic love. A well-invested endeavour, but surely as with any distance traveling- I’m not as exhaustively prepared as I’d like. But that’s the idea. That needn’t stop any of us from heading out the door and down the street. There is no doubt that I am on my way to continued new things, consciously not repeating avoidable detours. Finally, good prospects are balancing out the challenges, and all the gear-grinding of recent years has given way to smoother movement. The new stretch of road is meant to be taken, and I must be careful not to objectify the path; it is best not to mistake the means for the end. New ways are revealed for the purpose of navigation- and by intentionally taking to this path I know I will see the full spectrum ahead.