I’ve been traveling too much lately, feeling unsettled.
As we in the northern hemisphere draw near to the vernal equinox, when day and night are in equal measure and we commonly acknowledge that spring begins, it feels that my year has thus far been largely about movement and change. I have recently joked to a couple of people, “I’m longing for the currents to settle a bit. Perhaps I should go by Pond rather than River…”
In January, I began looking for a new pad in California, deciding for several reasons that it was time to move on from the little poet’s cottage by the sea, despite the powerful allurement of its dramatic setting. While the actual process of finding and securing a suitable pied à terre was relatively easy, as the search unfolded I simultaneously started to draw up my tender roots from their patch of earth these last six months. As with so many other places along my journey, ‘Cypress Cottage’ (as I called it) suddenly shifted from being my cozy sanctuary and atelier—it became a place I was waiting to leave.
With a grateful heart and wide open senses, I savored my last few days and nights at the Pacific cove’s edge, listening to the endless low chant of the sea, watching the ever changing surf, and simply feeling the quiet songs of the windswept cypress trees and tangled blanket of wild succulents that thrive in that cove… along with detecting the subtle sense of magic that glimmered at the edge of my peripheral vision, winking in and out. A very special place, indeed.
The River flows on. The painted gypsy wagon rolls forward once more to a new campsite, where this greying-haired writer sits in dappled shade beneath the outstretched arms of a graceful tree, scrawling away with his trusty old fountain pen on pages of a notebook.
In February, I made the leap to my new place in town, a slightly funky mid-century cottage on a quiet street, the eaves sheltered beneath a towering, ancient Monterey cypress that I’ve dubbed ￼The Grandmother. Delighted that I would now have an office rather than just a dining room table, as well as a proper kitchen rather than a minuscule l’espace cuisine, I unpacked a few boxes and promptly departed for Europe to accompany my mate on a working trip to Berlin. Returning from Germany and England to the unfamiliar cottage, I spent a week getting used to being in town and settling in a bit, then headed home to Kailua where, shortly after my return, I found myself unexpectedly flying back to the mainland for family matters (as detailed in last week’s post, “A Hawaiian Quilt of Memory”).
Rolling into March, an heirloom quilt in tow, I touched back briefly in California for a few days, and then prepared to fly on to Hawaii once more.
At the outset of this week, needing a bit of soulful connection, I had dinner with my lovely friend, the poet Carolyn Brigit Flynn, whom I had not seen since Thanksgiving. Life has been busy for both of us with work and travel these past months, each of us holding a new book recently brought into the world, and we have attempted more than once to reconnect together in person. Tucked in at an old-fashioned, little Italian restaurant not far from the beach in Santa Cruz, we shared episodes of our respective journeys, glad to be face to face and heart to heart, rather than our usual email correspondence.
I welcomed the tales of her recent trip to Ireland for a soulful writing pilgrimage and also to be present in Kildare, traditional home of the Celtic goddess and Irish saint Brigit, patroness of poetry, healing, and smithcraft, for the celebration of Imbolc at the Holy Well.
In my own sharing over our leisurely meal, I remarked that I have been feeling unsettled of late with all the shuffling thus far this year, while simultaneously working to further promote The Bones and Breath. My friend listened empathetically with a soul sister’s heart, and offered some gentle guidance and encouragement on the book front. Bless her. How good it is to have a companion and fellow artist on their respective soul journey, endeavoring to offer something of beauty and value to the world, even when the odds seem against you.
May we each find the Holy Well—whatever that is for us—in our lives and drink deeply from its cool, clear waters. And celebrate.
Twenty-four hours later, after a day of various errands and preparing my cottage for guests whilst I’m away, I found myself back on a plane and hurtling across the blue Pacific on a turbulent flight.
This morning, some hours after my barefoot ritual of greeting the day, I sat on the sage-green couch in the living room with a cup of tea and a sleek, tan and white English Whippet curled up on either side of me. Gazing out at the lush green landscape, I listened to the wind rustling through the palm trees and tall bamboo with a sound like rain on the roof, a sweet floral scent perfuming the early breeze, while a twittering chorus of birdsong drifted through the open windows. The moment felt peaceful and expansive, and I mused a bit about what I would write this week for this post. Tuning into my body, what I was most of aware of was the general sense of ungroundedness… as if I were still in motion. Shallow breath. Shoulders slightly raised and tight. A certain restriction in my jaw, as if holding back words, thoughts or energy (all the same, really).
Travel, especially when repeated or frequent, is hard on the bodysoul. Even apart from the chaos of airports and winging at high speed in a metal box through the atmosphere, being away from home disrupts our daily rhythms and practices, displaces us from our usual sanctuary, and often interrupts our patterns of healthy eating, exercise, and self care. Away from home or my studio, I always find it more difficult to eat in the fresh way that I normally do that sustains my body and spirit—like my daily green smoothie that I whirl up in the Vitamix blender—and this ends up taking a toll on my overall wellbeing. Similarly, while I am grateful to stay with friends, family and people who are generous and hospitable, usually they have a very different approach to food, health and soul.
When our lives are uprooted, either from travel or simply from shifting currents—any passage when our life feels exceedingly busy and full—it becomes simultaneously more challenging and ever more essential to nourish ourselves and practice self-care. I realize, of course, that some people live perpetually in motion, and that our society even encourages such a way of being—obsessed with continual activity, work, competitiveness, notions of ‘progress’, and a fixation on near-constant connectedness via email, text, Internet and phone. Such a life doesn’t feed the soul, it bankrupts it.
The soul lives unplugged. And it needs nourishment.
A couple of weeks ago when in Europe, amid the buzz of London and Berlin, what I most wanted was to engage in my normal ‘standing ritual’ of being barefoot on the earth (especially after a long haul flight), but the freezing weather and being in a hotel made that impractical. Instead I employed some of the other Soul Skills outlined in The Bones and Breath, but still I was glad to return home and settle once more into a routine that deeply nourishes my bodysoul.
More than once in this column I’ve written about ‘soul practices’ (most recently being January’s post, “The Morning Pages”). For me, such practices usually include a bit of quiet time in the early hour near dawn, the handwritten Morning Pages, some inspirational reading, embodied movement/dance and/or breath work, walks in nature, a barefoot connection with earth, and some conscious time in the kitchen to create a lovely, fresh meal. Whatever our chosen practice(s), still we have to make time for it and choose to make it a priority; travel—or moving house, a huge work project, family arriving, or anything else—easily tosses a wrench (a ‘spanner’, as my UK friends call it) into the works.
When we miss our yoga class, our evening of Argentine tango, our music practice time or creative art session, the daily walk on the beach, or whatever it is that nourishes us on some deep level, something is amiss and we feel off-kilter. We begin to close down, dim our senses, and shutter our hearts rather than remaining expansive, wide open, and well-rooted in sustaining the soul.
What are the things, people, places, actions and practices that sing us home to ourselves? Few of us get to spend our entire day in the garden, or walking somewhere wild and beautiful, making art, or puttering in the kitchen. Life is a current that tends to sweep us along, sometimes sending us into the whitewater rapids or the depths of a churning whirlpool, while at other times letting us drift leisurely in calm eddies and quiet stretches of tranquility.
Even when at home, my own life is certainly more complicated than sitting around drinking tea, strolling barefoot outdoors, writing about the soul, the body, and the ‘more-than-human’ world, and then creating a nice meal for my beloved. As I step into the world in a more visible way, these days my life is mobile, more so than at any previous stretch of my existence… and it’s likely to continue for a while. It’s an adjustment, certainly.
This evening found me in the kitchen (no surprise) on a cool island night, preparing the French country classic, coq au vin—the free-range chicken having marinated in a ￼suitable red Burgundy overnight along with garlic and fresh rosemary. I set the enameled pot to simmer until the meat falls from the bone, the scents of wine, chicken, bacon, and aromatic herbs wafting through the house. The tactile ritual of the kitchen—another soul practice to stitch the soul home to itself—one that opens all the senses in the process, helps me settle just a bit further into a grounded sense of self. And how good it will be to be fed with a meal that comforts, consoles, and nourishes in a heart-full, flavorful way, in a savory celebration of life.
As I have said before, in the shifting currents of our daily existence, a rudder helps to steer us gently towards alignment in bodysoul. Soul Artists know that we need a sanctuary, as well as practices that sing us back to ourselves. Who are you? What do you bring? Any practice that opens our senses, hearts, and minds is a beneficial one, and those that somehow weave us consciously into the Larger Story, reminding us of the everyday sacred, are the most valuable of all.
To what will we give the gift of our attention, energy, and time? In a busy life, or uprooted and blown about, what will we make our priority? What will we take the time to savor?
Gentle reader, here’s hoping that in the ongoing stream of life—the demands of work, family, projects, travel—that you still detect a measure of grace in all that unfolds, with an eye (and heart) open to finding the curious gifts of the journey, even when the currents steer us in directions other than what we might originally wish or think is optimal for our intended destination. And as you seek the elusive balance between flow and stillness, between engagement and retreat, may you repeatedly choose the practices (people, places, and things) that stitch you closer to your own soul.