Archive for January 30th, 2012

john o’donohue

good morning, friends. this is my hallowed sort of morning; the kind where i sit in a coffeeshop for a little less than an hour, and prepare a space for healing to take root in therapy immediately thereafter. i cannot overstate how much i cling to this hour. it is water. and when i realized i’d forgotten my wallet this morning, i panicked for half a minute, until the coffeeshop owner reminded me of why i come here: don’t’ worry about it, he said. i know you’re almost trustworthy. you’ll pick it up next time. and then he poured me a very tall cup of fresh, piping hot brew.

and so the ritual moves forward. i hope it is ok if i share it with you today.

[note: please let me know if these kinds of posts are uncomfortable for you as a reader, or if they don’t resonate with the reason you come here at all. i know this is confessional, non-momblog stuff, though it does translate into how and why i parent. at any rate, i’m exploring the possibility of creating a separate space altogether for the subject matter below. your input is welcome.]

i’ve been two degrees removed from the late poet, john o’donohue, for years now. my friend, gareth, was a good friend of his, and his poems have danced on the periphery of my consciousness like the psalms: i could nearly quote them. however, i have never put the effort into knowing the poet–or the man himself–until now. until my dear friend angela posted the following poem at the moment it rang truest for me:

a blessing for one who is exhausted

When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,
Time takes on the strain until it breaks;
Then all the unattended stress falls in
On the mind like an endless, increasing weight,

The light in the mind becomes dim.
Things you could take in your stride before
Now become laborsome events of will.

Weariness invades your spirit.
Gravity begins falling inside you,
Dragging down every bone.

The tide you never valued has gone out.
And you are marooned on unsure ground.
Something within you has closed down;
And you cannot push yourself back to life.

You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken for the race of days.

At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.

You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.

Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.

Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.

Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.

Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.

Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.

Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.

the following week, OnBeing aired the unedited interview between john o’donohue and krista tippett, recorded months before o’donohue’s death, and i’ve been listening to it with an achy, eager soul. you should listen to it too, here.

i listen to this conversational interview during my daily commute, in 25 minute chunks. and i find my soul waking up in similar increments. it is no secret to anyone who knows me irl, or who reads this blog, that i have a tentative, guarded relationship with spiritual belief, practice, and conversation–especially in the language of christianity, my native tongue. this tentativeness has been essential for rebuilding myself after being broken down by the theological constructs of my youth. but i am a woman now, a mother, and one with a great capacity for a rich spiritual life.

what i mean by “theological constructs” is the gnarled self identity i carried with me from the moment of self-awareness as a little girl until i was in my early twenties: i was a child of god, saved through the grace of jesus christ, i was an abomination, i was whole, i was broken, i was redeemed, i was a perversion of the image of god, i was damned, i was part of a holy family, i was alone. the existential insecurity and bipolarity was unsustainable; it eventually broke me down to the bare bones of soul, but i survived, and have spent the past several years rebuilding.

maybe a soul-as-leg metaphor will explain where i am in my journey a bit better: that faith of my youth–and oh my god it was strong and unwavering–was a broken leg kind of faith. my leg was broken as a little girl, and it formed itself into something withered and gnarled. i learned how to walk with this leg, and it was functional, but, as i said, unsustainable. actual healing could only come by re-breaking it, setting it properly, and going through excruciating physical therapy to strengthen it and learn to walk properly.

so here i am this morning, at this coffeeshop, and am at the place of resetting and gingerly putting a bit of weight on this leg of mine. i return to john o’donohue for this.

in his OnBeing interview, he offered forth a philosophy that i am deeply connecting with. allow me to paraphrase and then directly quote:

o’donohue posits that there are seven fundamental thoughts that structure and ground one’s foundation of meaning, and that the “mystery of thought” is where “otherness, strangeness, dislocation, intimacy and belonging come home”. he offers the challenge to sit down with a blank sheet of paper and find out what your seven thoughts are: “what are the seven thoughts that i really think and implicitly come back to?” leave that sheet of paper alone for a few months before revisiting what you’ve written, and then consider how faithfully married you’ve been to your seven thoughts, so much so that there are thoughts you’ve never flirted with, never had an affair with. what are those thoughts?

and then he goes on to say this:

And it’s amazing, you know, here am I sitting in front of you now, looking at your face, you’re looking at mine and yet neither of us have ever seen our own faces. And that in some way, thought is the face that we put on the meaning that we feel and that we struggle with and that the world is always larger and more intense and stranger than our best thought will ever reach.

[emphasis mine.]

i will end this post with the tension between thought and meaning: resetting my leg means identifying the thoughts that broke it in the first place, and learning again to walk means truly exploring–without mortal dread–the previously unthinkable thoughts.

here i go.


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