Life is a Mystery

“The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery.” 

― Anaïs Nin 

A mystery is defined as something difficult or impossible to understand or explain. Synonyms include puzzle, enigma, conundrum, riddle, or secret.

Writing your life is like writing a good mystery. You can dig deeper and deeper and still you may not find answers to the question, “Who am I?”

All the elements of a good detective yarn are involved: All the characters that live in you – all those roles and masks including the good guys and bad guys, the cliffhanger experiences, decisions, motivations and choices; turning points; values and intentions. And finally, in the end, you reach a conclusion, where it all ends, the final chapter. The most important part in my mind is the telling of the story in the voice of your narrator, the one who speaks from your unique point of view. These two things represent the most important elements. The Narrator is the inner you who really understands the overall story and has lived it. This is your Soul, Your Author. Your Inspiration. The Author animates your story, Your Essence illuminates the story. This is the true inside story.

If you’d like to meet other authors, find writing prompts or select a suitable genre for authoring a story, check out www.mandyevebarnett.com for delightful, positive blogs.

A marriage is like…

Last week my husband and I celebrated 36 years of marriage. I could write that these years were sweet wedded bliss but I’d be lying. We’ve struggled through some tough times. Despite our differences, we’re still here, still together and moving forward. You could say I’m a stubborn cuss or say I’m a persistent person. Either way, the same words fit for my spouse.

Because I love metaphors, I Googled “metaphor for marriage.” A metaphor, as you probably know, is a figure of speech that refers, for rhetorical effect, to one thing by mentioning another thing. The search engine results for marriage included metaphors like these…trees…swords forged in fire…a horse and carriage…a duet…a road…seeds…gardens…and a host of other associations. I read every idea and marvelled at the way the contributors elaborated on their meaning. Not one fit my experience.

The truth is a marriage is created by two unique individuals, and if nothing else, we are that. My husband and I have such distinct personalities it’s a miracle we’ve gone on this long. After completing my research, I concluded that I had to find my own parallels.

I sat for a long time waiting for a metaphor to come into my mind. During my reflection time, I remembered a family holiday that included white water rafting on the Kananaskis River in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. A group of multi-aged tourists showed up for the trip, donned raggedy wetsuits, helmets and lifejackets, and then armed with paddles and enthusiasm, we waited impatiently to set off. We felt brave and up to the risk; possibly a little apprehensive. After an instructivel lecture on rafting techniques and a safety demonstration, we piled into the raft. After our guide showed us basic paddling skills, we maneuvered our craft through an easy section of fast moving water. When our crew put their backs into the oars, we became a team. We felt brave gliding smoothly around rocks large enough to create eddies. We even survived a few nose-dives that sprayed up and soaked us to the skin.

Towards the end of the adventure, we tied up on the shoreline and scrambled along the edge where we were instructed to throw ourselves into the water. Some of us were doubtful. The rafting coaches pressed us. Plummeting into a frigid mountain river took my breath away. The river took hold of each one of us and carried us 50 feet downstream where our guides waited, laughing, to pluck us from the stream.

I’ll never forget the exhilaration and shock of leaping into that water. This was the link to my metaphor!

Like a new river rafter, you first experience marriage as if you are leaping into a cold mountain river that looks beautiful from afar but turns out to be risky for the innocent participant. Initially the novelty of romance and delight takes your breath away. You feel like you can handle anything. After awhile, the excitement wears thin, and you struggle to keep your enthusiasm going. Eventually you realize there is work to it so you put more effort into it. Emotional turmoil tumbles around you, pushes you off-balance and threatens to wash you onto the shore or send you scrambling over the rocks. Slippery stepping stones in your life upset your footing. Your well-anchored opinions are washed away like gravel, swept along in rapids, and tossed over thundering waterfalls. At the sharpest curve, you learn to respect the river. Sometimes you are submerged like waterlogged debris in the current; sometimes you float like a fallen autumn leaf. Eventually, you surrender: to the flow, to life, to the love that brought you to each other in the first place. After the rapids, you realize the current is slowing.

Where you once saw your husband as a heavy rock holding you down, you begin to appreciate him as an anchor. You realize the two of you handle the current in different ways; you learn to stand and let the wild water flow around you. He understands your need to float in still pools. You both learn to listen to the silence and stillness of the forest unconscious. His sharp edges smooth out, and his dark sediments slowly settle into fertile growth. The drama of the wild water fades. On the flood plain you learn to go with the flow.

Metaphor is a big picture tool that provides clarity. It shows me the similarities between a wild river ride and a marriage. It helps me step back and see the complete, overarching story of two souls who have learned to travel with the flow of life. From this vantage point, I can consider the future, and instead of focusing on the small details of past turbulence, make decisions that take the whole of the river’s course into account, from spring source to the wide sea.

So tell me in the comments…what is a metaphor for your relationship with your partner?

Compassion for the Shame-Baby

Yesterday, at a child’s 4th birthday party with red, blue and yellow balloons floating on the ceiling, big slices of chocolate cake on plates, piles of presents and 14 rambunctious children chasing each other around the kitchen, the mother of the birthday boy asked me to hold her 8-month old baby girl. We played pat-a-cake and peekaboo, and I revelled in the innocence of this small gopher-cheeked human being.

In the midst of the noise and chaos, she struggled to stay awake. I rocked back and forth, hummed a tuneless melody in the comforting way that I used when my own children were small. She eventually succumbed to sleep as a puppy does, simply closing her heavy eyelids and drifting off into dreamland.

While I felt grateful for this opportunity to revisit the world of little kids, I couldn’t help but compare it to the self-compassion work I’m engaged in myself at the mature age of 66 years. Just a few days ago, I talked with a supportive friend, and I told her about one of my Shadow Selves, “Critical Carla” who yammers at me when I make mistakes. “You don’t measure up!” “You’re a failure!” When Carla speaks to me like that, I become anxious and stressed and I see only my flaws.

Intellectually, I understand the purpose of Carla’s tirades. She’s trying to motivate me by correcting me so I’m safe from the rejection and disconnection that I fear will come with disappointing others and myself. I don’t necessarily feel her protection. Instead, I feel hurt and defensive instead of determined to be my best self. Worst of all, I feel alone.

When I make big mistakes, Critical Carla’s reactions can wreck havoc in my life. When she compares me to others whose lives seem idyllic and perfect, when she castigates me for my disorganized housekeeping skills, my frustration with my husband, my inability to balance my cheque book, or any other behaviour in which I feel “not good enough,” I feel powerless to stop her until I listen carefully and acknowledge her reason for protecting me.

Until I become mindful, the innocent child inside me continues to feel ashamed. She is, as self-compassion researcher Kirsten Neff says, a “shame-baby.” This baby needs my compassion and comfort whether it is warmth and reassurance, rocking, or whispers that say, “You’re okay just the way you are.” She needs to feel safe with me, that she is not alone, and that all human beings have moments when they feel flawed and imperfect. I can put my hand over her heart or cup her face so she feels rest easy in my arms.

Unearthing Essence

Since I began this blog, I’ve been paying more attention to the words I use, to their energy in the world, and to the things they convey. I’ve noticed that the subject matter I choose is often about the pain of the past. Many beautiful poetry, prose works and other artistic expressions arise from the rubble and hurt of people’s lives (think Edgar Allan Poe, Sylvia Plath and Ernest Hemmingway). I get judgmental about my writing when I continue to pull the darkness back over myself; like putting my head under the covers when it’s a beautiful day outside. Maybe that’s why, when I was a teen, my Dad woke me up by flicking the light off and on and announcing loudly, “You’re missing the best part of the day.” I didn’t like it at the time but now I see that he appreciated mornings and was grateful for the renewal that a new day brings. 

In my recent writing, I’ve tried to ease up on rehashing the past and spend more time becoming aware of the lessons that are right in front of me. I am aware that by telling stories over and over again, I am peeling off layers in a search for the essence buried under the mundane events of my life. Many days are not very interesting, exciting, or dramatic, the very things I use to create stories and poems. Perhaps that’s why I write, to relieve the tedious and repetitious nature of things. So I asked myself this morning, “What could I be writing that would be neither pained or boring but true to life?”

I could write that it was my daughter’s birthday today and that she loved all the Facebook messages she received and she is looking forward to her birthday supper with friends. I could write that her puppy, Jax, is the cutest grand dog ever, and I love that he communicates so much with his quizzical facial expressions. I could write that I finally got a good night’s sleep after a couple of long awake nights and I’m feeling more perky today. I could write that my husband makes the best oatmeal porridge, which is much better than mine probably because he uses the large flake oats and cooks it a long time.

Anyone can write about ordinary everyday stuff like this but some writers like to unearth the essence of things. They try to link today’s birthday with previous significant birthdays like turning 18 or 30 or 65 or describe the animated messages on Facebook. They try to write the thoughts a dog might have. They try to portray a peaceful night’s sleep or one with horrid nightmares and by doing so, understand themselves. They try to take the reader step by step through the precise measurements and cooking style of an oatmeal specialist. They try to write with appreciation, gratitude and renewed amazement at the darnest things.

What fascinates me is digging deeper than the surface fluff in search of treasures that exist at a spiritual level. Spiritual for me means writing in awareness of and integrating ordinary physical, emotional and intellectual experiences to find the extraordinary and connect that to All That Is. That’s one of the reasons I love metaphor. It’s a tool to connect concrete things to a spiritual abstract. I’ve been known to include a bit of twisted humour in my poems, a paradox or two, and find weird relationships between unrelated subjects. Riddles and puzzles stimulate questions about the Mystery and create synchronicity too.

Let’s consider a dog’s perspective, for example. Dogs are very intuitive, sensual creatures, present and focused on whatever they do, totally in touch with their natural instincts. A dog teaches me to stop and listen. I follow this inclination whenever I can because it feels like meditation when I pick out individual sounds and follow them until they are gone. One caveat I hold to as a general rule is… Steer clear of dog kibble and milk bones. 🙂

Here is a poem I wrote in 2001 that captures a dog’s imagined perspective on spring.

spring cycles

my dog teaches freedom
tugs at the leash
rushes headlong into the walk
she knows where she is going

i follow in her wake
believe her instinct
go where she goes
she has untamed advantage:
singular focus on scented breeze

here I stand
distracted by a plural mind
caught up in the colour of new lilacs
squeals of children at play on bicycles, water gurgling in gutters

but my dog knows better, raises her nose
obeys the call of the wild wind
with the smell of God in it

05/15/01

I believe spiritual essence lives underneath everything including the mundane. I’m always looking for it, asking questions, and listening for messages about the mystery of life.

If you like the idea of poetry as a spiritual quest, check out my poetry books on my Bookstore page.

 

 

 

 

A Way to Me

I don’t create poetry, I create myself, for me my poems are a way to me.

~Edith Södergran

 

I love this quote. It speaks volumes about why I write poetry. A way into myself. A pathway. Like Hansel and Gretel in the fairy tale following a trail of breadcrumb words as the path through the forest unconscious.

A fellow poet once told me that getting words down on paper for creative purposes is like taking dictation, and that one can simply write what one hears. In order to listen intensely, one must be silent. Close your eyes for a moment and you will realize sounds are clearer, easier to follow for a longer time. I am a very visual person so closing my eyes sharpens my other senses. The wind whispers in the spruce tree. Traffic on the highway is distant, and fades into the background. Snow melts and water gurgles down the drainpipe.

It is a real gift to focus solely on sound. Poems present themselves through the hearing sense as a short burst of insight or an interruption in energy and this highlights the correlation with an abstract, like a thought, a feeling, or an intuitive urge.

I tend to write in short phrases, part sentences, short spurts and couplets. In fact, I prefer that in prose too. Call them what you will, writing comes to me that way. Another reason to love poetry. To take dictation, one must listen to the voices within –  voices of the ego, voices of reason, but especially words of the heart and the voice of Soul.

A writing instructor once commented that one must give a nod to writing conventions in poetry. I rebelled at the thought. In poetry, twisting the language, disregarding proper capitalization, or messing with punctuation is all part of the fun. In the flow of a river, there is an eloquent movement forward, and so it is with poetry regardless of the wandering nature of the words.

Following is a poem from Shadow Girls in the Spotlight one of my poetry books. I’ve inserted it here to illustrate this “way to me” concept. In the book, it is accompanied by a Reflection, a Soul Message and a Question for Reflection, just the way it appears here..

 

orphan annie

snowflakes cling to her eyebrows
leaf skeletons to her ragged shoes

the inner orphan annie
cries outside the frosty window

she wanders in the winter twilight
peeks in at lighted kitchens

abandoned waif with tattered heart
she has no hearth fire of her own

she bickers with her disowned selves
trying on faces in the glass

unsettled ragamuffin, survivor of unmet needs
she digs for scraps of self-acceptance
in the rubble heap of loneliness

she’s begging for a bellyful
of warmth and kindness
and loving home for all.

Annie’s Role: The Lost One

Reflection: When I was a child outside at night, I felt curious about other people’s lives when I looked into their lighted windows. Like a voyeur peeking into their lives, I was fascinated by the comfort and warmth they seemed to have. In the years after I left home, these lighted windows reminded of the childhood home from which I was separated.

I used to feel lost, as if others had security, love, and safety and I did not. After writing this poem, I began to see Annie as my Inner Orphan, a Shadow Self who needed a safe place inside me. She wanted a home for all the personality parts I had left out in the cold.

Heart Wisdom: You have a loving home in your heart for all your lost parts. All are welcome in your home.

Your Turn:  Is your heart home safe? If not, what can you do to make it so?

Poetry is indeed “a way to me” and an exploration into my Shadow, and the masks that my Ego created to protect my Heart.

 

This blog is a reprint of an article published on my website on March 25, 2015 and has been edited from the earlier version.

The Word Lover’s Tale

 

Once upon a time an aging Word Lover presented a workshop at a Seniors’ Conference. She had never attempted a Personalize Your Greeting Cards talk but she thought seniors would enjoy creating messages for handwritten cards. So she gathered together a wealth of card writing advice, reviewed and edited, reduced and tightened pages of material.

After a Welcome address from dignitaries, the Keynote Speaker encouraged the assembled audience to smile and laugh, and skillfully related amusing stories from her life. The Word Lover chuckled at the presenter’s clever jokes, word plays and tales of embarrassing moments to poke fun at herself.

At the breakout session following the fun, eight elderly ladies gathered around a conference table looking toward the Word Lover expectantly. She had set out two blank notecards at each place, all with stunning nature photographs on the front and plenty of room inside for writing from the heart. She also provided a one-page list of Personal Values, and a second list with names and descriptions of positive emotions. She had carefully prepared a handout with wording for use in greeting cards for all occasions, including: Thank You and Gratitude cards; Birthday, Anniversary and Wedding celebrations; expressions of Sympathy; and Encouragement to brighten someone’s day.

The Word Lover began with an introduction explaining the purpose of the workshop, and asked the participants to bring to mind a person to whom they could send a card. No one responded. Too early for contributions the Word Lover thought, feeling unsettled and unsure how move to forward.

She said to herself, “I should have been prepared for this.” And she looked around the table at their blank faces and smiled to encourage them. The quiet in the room seemed very loud.

“Onward,” she said to herself, “don’t panic. Next, she shared her “communication recipe.” When I…(see, touch, hear, taste, smell), I feel (happy, proud, sad) because…(values important to the writer).”

The Word Lover noticed a nod or two, and became aware of rustling papers and shifting in chairs. “I haven’t engaged with them.” She admonished herself. “I’ve given them too much information. Haven’t given them a chance to speak. Too much talk. Arrgh!”

Just then, she remembered the greeting cards and decided to use them as a prompt. “What images touch you in the cards you have been given?”

It was as if someone had yelled, “Bingo!”

She began to listen to the chatting between the participants. “I don’t like tumultuous waves because I can’t swim. I would rather see calm reflections in the water. This image is too dark. Oh, what’s that in the background? Pussy willows? I love the pink in the flowers. Oh, look a buffalo!

The Word Lover’s mood perked up. Great! They’re participating. She then asked, “What do the images mean to you?” And chattering began. Tales from the farm. A holiday to the west coast. A story about the mountains on horseback. She acknowledged descriptive events: tamed wild creatures and their return to nature; losing a friend when she moved; maintaining independence; illness; grieving.

The Word Lover brought the conversation back to the cards. “What would you say to some who is ill if you compared their experience to the scene on the cards? To a friend who is misunderstood? To a grieving family member for encouragement? How are they like mountains, rivers, calm lakes?”

Then she mentioned memory gifts from the body: the smell new babies; the softness of fur, the taste of raspberries. The urgency of story engenders more and more conversation until it becomes difficult to interrupt. She has noticed this tendency of hers to hesitate, to allow the participants to talk even when time is running short.

The end of the session catches the Word Lover by surprise. Time has disappeared. The ladies gather up their papers and cards, and trickle out of the room. One woman has already completed an encouragement message inside a card with a photo of a winding road on the front. When she insists the Word Lover read the tiny cramped script, the Word Lover pats her arm and tells her the sentiment is beautiful. This woman understands the symbolism of the road as a life journey. The image stimulates sentiment and provides the word connection to another.

The last lady leaving the room pauses at the door for a moment and says, “I really enjoyed this session. It gives me something to think about.” The Word Lover smiles with her lips and in her heart.

Talk to the Animals

Photo by Leah Sutherland Used with Permission

“Dogs don’t rationalize. They don’t hold anything against a person. They don’t see the outside of a human but the inside of a human.”
Cesar Millan (dog trainer)

 

I would love to know what goes on in the mind of pets. I’m convinced humans and pets are not so different. When we talk to our animals, they hear our tone as much or more than our words. As a human being, I can relate.

My daughter’s dog, Jax is a great communicator. He responds to her voice with full attention, and the giveaway is his “head tilt.” His warm brown eyes express such love and devotion. Sure, he communicates with me and my husband, but with her, he listens with his whole body. He loves cuddles and thinks he’s a lap dog even though he weighs 100 pounds.

Jax’s vocabulary is extensive, and although he has a 30 second delay responding to a command, he’s a quick learner; a doggy obedience trainer might say he needs a more firm hand and I won’t disagree. I’m not a dog trainer by any means and discipline has never been one of my strong traits. However, the way he reacts to words like cheese, walk, outside, do you wanna go…, car, vet, cookie, treat, dog park, ball, all done, rope, toy, and harness is endearing. When he plays, phrases like gonna git you, gimme that ball and find it make his tail twirl like a helicopter.  He will even converse with whines and yips. The more we reinforce with routine action, the better it gets. To me, that is amazing.

Because I’m a natural chatterbox, I often talk to Jax in full sentences especially when he’s hanging around the kitchen being a mooch. I love his company. He will station himself on the rug at the kitchen door and stay there until I invite him in. Those doggy trainers might say this is a bad habit, but  isn’t sharing food and conversation something we all enjoy!?

When my daughter goes off to school or work, he pines for her. With his head resting on the back of the armchair, he stares longingly out the window waiting for her return. I talk to him then, convinced that how I reflect his sadness back to him and reassure him, has a soothing effect. Maybe I’m imagining that, but who knows, a little reassurance never hurts.

Dogs and cats respond to our love and respect in the same way as other members of the family. Choosing gentle words when we speak to them creates a calm atmosphere.

The other day at the dog park I listened to others talking to their pets. I feel sad for pups when their owners yell or use sharp voices. Dogs may not understand the shaming language they use but I’m sure they do get the message through tone and facial expression. Pets aren’t able to talk back or question their owners but their body language says so much: tail tucked between legs, cowering or running away. These animals don’t deserve this disrespect. I’d bet that the inner talk these people use to speak to themselves is a mirror to their language with their pets.

We can learn a lot about ourselves by turning inward with the mirror of our doggie talk. What are you saying to your dog?