Monday, April 14, 2014


This writing is by a student named C. V. Clark. She is relatively new to the practice, but empowered instantly, as is often the case. Call it "beginner's mind," but her direct hit on wilderness (the prompt from a few weeks ago) was insightful, vivid and real. Her insights reflect many of those that arose all week - questions about whether humans are wild or nature is, about solitary/solitude/loneliness and nature, and about the edges of danger meeting beauty.

In particular, the closing line really struck at the paradox of the prompt:
"The wilderness of humanity is not always so welcoming and reaffirming."

Please read for yourself...


Wild. Wilder. Wilderness.

Instantaneous pictures: Painted Desert. Great Plains. Badlands. Congaree Swamp. Ice caves

and frozen-over Great Lakes.

Awesome and inviting in their sheer lonely, empty, overwhelming beauty. Nothing distracts

me. That is what I first recall.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014


I struggle, as so many do, with prioritizing self-care. I also struggle with scheduling/not scheduling, especially on a day off after many days in a row of working.

Yesterday, this struggle looked like this:
Energized by the strong winds and 60 degree weather, I ran bunches of errands until, part way through, my inner child voice said, "Um, can we go home now?" I responded, "Is it ok if we just run two more? Then we can be done." The completist voice, which always wins because it is so logical. Inner child shrugged, looked away. Aha. I see, the question I was actually asking was an order: "We will do these last two, I'd like it if you were ok with that." Even seeing that, I persisted, and by the time I got home, I felt all befuddled. I had time to do both these things: go out into nature, and also snuggle with cats, but I was frozen. Acute anxiety/depression kicked in, and I got locked down.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Smiling Like My Mom

Last night I dreamt my mother, now dead for seventeen years, was alive and happy.
This is an unusual dream - meaning, I can't recall it happening before, though I am sure it has.
Usually we are in conflict, fighting, or she is distant in some way.

In the dream, there was no plot. Simply the image of my mother smiling, happy, facing me, sun on her face. It was glorious.

In fact, she looked quite a bit like me in the photo above, from almost a year ago. Our faces are very similar, with notable differences, but especially our noses with the line in the middle...and because the camera was above me, you see my glasses below my eyes. She often did this in order to read. And our smile - a bit mysterious, no teeth, turned up at the edges.

For years, when I took my glasses off to eat, when I caught a double chin in the mirror, I'd do a double-take. I did not. Want. To. Be. My. Mom. What woman wants to be her mom? I know a few, but they are rare. Most of us want to be our own person. When my mom died with me so young, nineteen years old, it became panicking-ly difficult to remember: who was she? Who am I not being?

As I grow older, instead now I want to know: who was she? Who am I becoming?

Slowly, bit by bit, I play out the same irony so many people do as we age: increasing interest in our families, who are already gone or fading. It would be convenient if as teenagers we wanted to know all that geneology our parents might be researching. But that's not how it works most of the time.

So, instead, I look to my dreams. And there I see that when I am happy, I look a lot like her.
And that is good.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

The Power of Trees

Tree Prayer, Deer Park, 2012
A few weeks ago, I gave a prompt about trees in my contemplative writing class. Out of the deep cold of winter, many students pulled memories and palpable experiences. Just the week before I'd asked them for what brought them joy. When they couldn't find it asked directly, a lot of them found it in trees.

There was an article recently in the New Yorker where the writer debated whether or not plants have intelligence. In the article, one scientist was quoted as saying, paraphrased: They can turn light into food. Isn't that intelligent enough? The student poetically captures this thought in this line:
All words grasping at form, imagery that belittles the magic of life essence, the simplicity of warm transmuting into life.

This piece resonated along those lines: really appreciating the ordinary magic of trees. It has a lot of specificity - the writer has become the tree! And yet, it is so spacious and open. Enjoy.

I am an outlier. I am the tip of the tip – round, full, bulging. An ever so slight pulsing puts me in close association with my world; the world beyond my borders, my edges. I feel clear and warm – a bubble of a cell. Green. Clear. Light beams into me, through me. The sun is warm. 

I lie on the edge, the boundary of something and nothing. The boundary of shape and shapeless. My shape shifts slightly with the pulse of the warm sunlight as I form sugars and sweets that pass, that get passed – sucked – shloop, shloop and shloop – steady, unremitting giving up my sweetness that comes from the sun and moved along. Shloop. Shloop. Shloop. Moved along the channels, the pathways that connect me on the outer edge of this internal world. The sweetness sets out on its own journey from the edge of shape and form; pulses along the channels. The sweetness gathers and is joined and formed and becomes more intense. 

The outer reaches are where birth happens but it is at the centre in the main trunk of movement, the solid form, the upright channels of life that support the edge, the boundary of form and no form. The heat on the edge is sun-warm, today anyway. 

But further along, deeper in, is the life warm, the essence warm.  Factory? Engine rooms? Control central? All words grasping at form, imagery that belittles the magic of life essence, the simplicity of warm transmuting into life that is anchored deep in the earth to the outliers of where form and no form rests in the cool damp earth. I am warm. The tip of the edge where the sun touches, caresses and makes magic. 

Far below is the edge which opens to receive the moisture of the earth; the shapeless pulsing edge of life. Our edges never touch. We do not know about each other. We stay on the edge. This edge is for now. Tomorrow there will be another edge; the separation between form and formless and we will continue to be where we are.

By Miriam’s novice student, February 2014 (this was how the student asked to be credited)

Monday, February 10, 2014


signs of life, january 2014
This is a student piece, written in response to a Rumi quote prompt from a couple of weeks ago. I was impressed with her deeply physical descriptions of being cold, and the description of a civilized city like Toronto being a wilderness. As well, her on-the-spot spontaneous analysis of "side effects" really hit me.

This is my favorite line:
And so this quiver that I quiver is a reminder that I am alive and fragile and only a moment in all of time, waiting for a bus that will be late and trying not to make all of this a bigger deal than it really is.
-----On to the piece--------------

Stay here, quivering with each moment
like a drop of mercury

By Jan Derbyshire

I quiver here like I don't remember quivering before. It is minus 31 with the wind chill factor. I don't understand this wind chill factor. The temperature, I'm told is minus 19 degrees celsius*,but with the wind chill factor it feels like minus 31*. If it feels like minus 31, isn't it minus 31? This is all too much like drugs and side effects. To me an effect is an effect. When they say side effect it makes it sound like something that will happen beside you. If a drug has a side effect of making you gain weight, the fat will just pile up next to you. You can even leave it there when you go out, just call the fat sitter. My point is this-they talk about the wind chill factor like a side effect of the weather. It's true, they say, it feels like minus 31 but don't feel too bad, it's really only minus 19. And who can say what one person's experience of minus 31 is to another person's experience of minus 31.