An invitation to slow down and connect
I’ve been thinking a lot about transitions, spaces, endings and silence lately. The pauses between one breath and the next. The spaces between people. The attention I give to an ending, knowing that the attention with which I end one chapter is going to influence the colour, mood and texture of the next chapter. We often focus a lot on events, activities, solutions, achievements and results. The end product. The fit body. The success story. The job well done. The notes of the song. We don’t focus as much on the in-betweens. They are usually a means to an end.
A friend recently shared this reflection with me, in contemplating the fruit of silence:
“…My work with music and choral directing has taught me the deepest respect for the emptiness between the notes. Of course there is no music without the silence. It is silence that actually gives life to sound. Sometimes I think of the choral work as ‘the voice, the circle, and silence.'”
~~Quoted passage of Jane Lowey to Anne D. LeClaire, from the book, LISTENING BELOW THE NOISE: A Meditation on the Practice of Silence
Having grown up with a composer for a father, silence reigned supreme in our home. There was, of course, plenty of incredible live music. But my father needed silence to be able to compose it, and it became very obvious to me in watching and listening to him weave the notes of all instruments of the orchestra together into an incredible, unified song, that the silences invited the melody deeper into my body when they finally arrived.
A number of years ago, when I was going through a very emotional divorce on the heels of my father’s death, a yoga teacher shared the idea about paying attention to the transitions from one pose to the next–the idea that the intention set in transitions will influence how we experience the following pose. The lesson reverberated through all the lessons I was moving through at the time, and it is one that returned over and over as I grow out of one chapter and into the next.
Over the last seven months there have been many opportunities to reflect on transitions, pauses, silence, spaces and endings. The transition between my mother being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and passing away. The space I put between myself and my flower garden as I flew west to be with my mother. The transition between feeling my mother’s heartbeat in her chest, and having it stop beating. The finality of that ending. The transition of walking out of the hospital holding nothing but a paper bag containing the few personal possessions my mother had brought to the hospital with her, realizing that at age 41 I had no immediate family left. The weeks of packing up my mother’s house — sorting through years of her life, my father’s life, my grandparents’ life, and making decisions about what to hold on to and what to release. The seemingly endless transition that is the grief of letting go of having people who look like me and with whom I unquestionably belong, and the often very ungraceful adjustment to the new reality of building a new life alone. And, over the last few weeks, there have been even more spaces and silences as I adjust to the new reality of living through a global pandemic. The six feet I now consciously leave between my body and the bodies of those I pass when I go for a walk. The silence in the street downtown during the work week. The adjustment to spending every day alone without the welcome breaks for tea or meals with friends. The grief as I let go of face-to-face human connection and interaction, and the adjustment to this new, solitary lifestyle, for however long it lasts. And, most recently, moving into a new grace and acceptance of the fact that, at least for the time-being, our new reality is an invitation to live WITHIN the transitions and silences that we normally pass through unconsciously.
The last couple of weeks have been hard. I survived, more than moved through gracefully, my mom’s birthday on March 31st–the first one we did not celebrate together in person. I beat myself up endlessly when Facebook sent me a “one year ago today” post last week reminding me that exactly one year ago I made what now feels like the worst mistake of my life by boarding a plane and flying back to PEI to attempt to get through a season of flower farming while my mother continued her battle of cancer alone. This year, rather ironically, I had decided not to farm. I booked an extended trip to spend time with friends in my childhood home in the Mediterranean, as well as a pilgrimage to the Baha’i Holy Land in Israel. On the dark winter days when the transition felt more like a permanently heavy, dark place in which I had taken up residence, the one thing that kept me going was planning my trip. I was due to leave April 25th. I am an eternal optimist–perhaps unhealthily so. I still have not cancelled my ticket, but it is not looking likely that I am going to be going anywhere this month. Suddenly the decision to not purchase seeds; to give up the land I had been farming; to turn down commitments close to home–seems like a mistake. I find myself looking out into the summer wondering what I am going to fill all the time I thought I would be away with, and with no reassuring answers.
Then this week I woke up and something, inexplicably, had shifted. An internal adjustment had happened. I felt lighter–better able to accept and make peace with our collective current reality of separation and uncertainty, and to carve out a space within this seemingly endless transition from one global reality to another. I realized how many times I had wished, in the last seven months, that the world would just stop for a while so I had time to grieve, heal and find my footing again. And now here we are. I think this time of silence and separation is as close as we’re going to get to having the world stop and take a breath.
Like so many others, over the last two weeks I have been slowly establishing new patterns and connections. I joined an online fitness class and a support group, started reconnecting with friends living far away on Facetime and Zoom. I set up a regular online tea date with a friend who I used to meet once a week in person, took a handstand workshop, started joining online dance parties, and started responding to the many cards and letters I received after my mom passed that, until now, I have not had the heart to answer. One of the gifts of transitions of unknown duration is that we are given the chance to adapt and get better at transitioning. With what is happening in the world right now, it would appear that strengthening our individual and collective ability to adapt to change gracefully is essential to our survival.
Today is Tuesday. Today the sky is blue with big white fluffy clouds drifting aimlessly across the canvas outside. I think with everything else going on we are all very ready for spring. But on Thursday they are calling for more snow. Transitions are as gradual in nature as they are in our bodies, minds and hearts. Today is a good day for me. Tomorrow may not be as easy. Or maybe it will. Who knows. As we get further into the pandemic my chest of tools for dealing with the hard days gets fuller and I get better at noticing when I need to open it. On the tough days I listen to this talk by Elizabeth Gilbert when I need to calm my fears. I take a walk along the boardwalk for some fresh air. I curl up under a blanket with a cup of tea and a good book for a little time out. And you, friends? How do you find your footing again when it feels like things are spinning out of control?
Wherever you are in the world; whatever season is playing across the landscape outside; whether you are in a house filled with family and noise, or an apartment all alone; whether you are just waking to birdcall or lying tangled in your sheets late at night, I invite you to fully embrace this transition time and the lessons and wisdom it has held within its folds. It may not always be fun or easy, but I think if we get better at moving through these pauses before the next inhale wholeheartedly, we will also be more fully embracing–individually and collectively–what it means to be human.