Here you’ll find musings on the necessity of solitude, re-thinking perspectives, new paradigms for relationship and intimacy, living creatively, guidance for hard times, questions about what’s essential and some of my own poetry. May you pause long enough to listen and so recognize your own heart-wisdom and beauty in these reflections. Enjoy!
Image: Marc Chagall
Do what you must, but never put anyone out of your heart.
The first draft of this came to me during a workshop I facilitated, “Heartfelt Words: Lamps in the Dark.” I was outraged about yet another insane action by the president. I’d no thought to write a letter to him or little Donny. I was surprised by where this writing exercise went: it took me to deep empathy for a child. Here goes:
Dear Mr. Trump,
I’m writing letters to people who could use heartfelt words. Lamps in the dark, if you will. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I didn’t choose you when I sat down to write. I was gazing quietly at my notebook. Suddenly my pen scribbled your name on the virgin paper. Surprise! That happens when the mind can wander freely, when thoughts aren’t lined up like combat soldiers ready to fire off the next missive.
I don’t need to be a psychic to know you’re a troubled, hurting man, Mr. Trump, haunted by scars. I know, too, the commercial face you employ, like a death mask, won’t budge on this point. Denials aside, your blustery behavior betrays you. I’d wager a bet that contact with emotional pain is too much for you to bear. The result? Joylessness, hardness, a loss of feeling, such as empathy, which cannot take root in a hostile environment.
Please, stay with me here. Strange as it seems, I want to offer warm words to the boy you once were, exiled little Donny, whose bereft ghost wanders the chambers of your heart. Here is my letter to him:
What a fine boy you are! I know you’re hungry for a look from your daddy that says, “You are more precious to me than all the tea in China, son.” And you wish your mommy would read “Charlotte’s Web” to you at bedtime, whisper, “I love you, darling,” then kiss your head softly as you fall asleep. You adore your daddy. All you really want is the happy feeling of your small hand held in his.
I’m sorry you’re so alone. It’s scary how Big Donny huffs and puffs and blows up. He badly wants people to like him. Having money and even being president doesn’t make him happy. He marches around in that big house and never sees you, even though you’re within him at every moment.
But I see you, Donny. You want is to play hide-and-seek with pals, snuggle with your mommy, throw the ball with your daddy, eat popcorn and watch “Lassie.” What a smart boy you are! I see you, Donny, and I love you.
Your new friend, Krayna 🙂
It’s tragic Mr. Trump, dangerously so for the whole planet, that you’ll go to the grave never acknowledging vulnerable Donny. I’m sure this makes you squirmy, but before you run off, consider this: No amount of bravado, popularity or empire building replaces the compassionate warmth of a tribe who loves you, guides you, and teaches you to steady yourself in this spinning world. I so wish you knew the radiance of such love. Now that would be newsworthy!
To whom would you write a letter or poem with heartfelt words? You can write to humans, as well as members of other species, the earth, a part of yourself. Let your imagination guide you. Consider sharing what you wrote with someone else.
Offer the light of compassion and hospitality, wherever, however and to whomever you can. No matter how meager your offer may seem, do it anyway.
A man lies prone in a sleeping bag at the entrance to my office. Shit, I think, cuz it’s quite cold today. I call out, “Good morning! Hello!” Eyes fly open, a young man scrambles to rise, long dreads swinging. I ask his name. Crying, he says Joe. (I’ve changed his name for purposes of privacy.) I say, Joe, sorry to alarm you. I’ve got clients coming. He’s already packing up. After I open the office, I return. Do want to use the bathroom? He declines. Doesn’t want the trail mix, Kleenex or tea I hold out to him either. As this is unfolding, my client, who’s been watching from her car, slowly makes her way to the front door. I signal it’s ok, and in she goes.
I stand there quietly. Finally, he says he’s exhausted and haltingly relates a disturbing story. Someone slipped what he suspects was methamphetamine into his girlfriend’s drink the night before. She became violently agitated. He called an ambulance and thinks she’s at the hospital. Imagine the scene, the chaos, the fear. In the end, he takes the Kleenex, trail mix and mug of hot tea. Yes, he knows about the warming station around the corner.
Do you want me to call the hospital, Joe? He has no phone. No, that’s ok. Then, although words seem insufficient at such moments, I say I’m so sorry for what you’re going through. He thanks me, walks off with his bundles, still crying. I watch him leave, feeling sad and helpless over his situation. Breathing, I know how little I know.
I think of Joe every single morning when I wake and every night before I go to sleep. Along with Jane, George, Mack, Chris and other homeless women and men I’ve met. And all their dogs. In the quiet hours, I bless them with love.
Was the bit of hospitality I offered enough? Not if I want to be sure he’s warm, fed and comforted. I gave what I could in the moment. There’s no way to square this. We can respond to distressed people in messy situations with tremendous compassion and love. And yet……
I don’t know what compassion counts for in Joe’s world. I’ve reckoned with this fact and don’t argue with it anymore. Feeling helpless is not a crime or a failure. Withholding hospitality, now that’s another story.
How do I deal with this? I turn to what fosters the capacity to move with rather than against experience. I turn to the creative life, to poetry, contemplation and solitude. I find this gives rise to vision, humor and authenticity. Good medicine to counteract the fear that doesn’t make contact with the other.
Imagine being an Aikido-Spirit, taking what life presents not as a personal affront or judgement, but rather as a dance in which feeling and action happen on behalf of the whole. Thus everything becomes useable energy. The infinite range of outcomes isn’t in our hands.
All I know is that a heart of compassion and hospitality counts, no matter how meager the offer looks. Beyond that, I don’t know. Which reminds me of an old fable:
A farmer had only one horse. One day his horse ran away. His neighbors said, “I’m so sorry. This is such bad news. You must be so upset.” The man just said, “I don’t know. We’ll see.”
A few days later, his horse came back with twenty wild horses following. The man and his son corralled all 21 horses. His neighbors said, “Congratulations! This is such good news. You must be so happy!” The man just said, “I don’t know. We’ll see.”
One of the wild horses kicked the man’s only son, breaking both his legs. His neighbors said, “I’m so sorry. This is such bad news. You must be so upset.” The man just said, “I don’t know. We’ll see.”
The country went to war, and every able-bodied young man was drafted to fight. The war was terrible and many young men died, but the farmer’s son was spared, since his broken legs prevented him from being drafted. His neighbors said, “Congratulations! This is such good news. You must be so happy!” The man just said, “I don’t know. We’ll see.”
I love the liberating truth of this story. I-don’t-know-we’ll-see allows a singular focus on outcome to be supplanted by the freedom to creatively respond to what’s called for here-and-now. It counts that we keep our divine appointment with love and humor alive, day by day, moment by moment. May it be so.
Love, blessings and kindness without end, Krayna
Talk back to darkness with song and dance and praise. No matter that such acts may
seem incomprehensible, for “Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.” (Rabbi A. Heschel)
(The following is the text of my welcoming remarks at TEDxBend Women on Saturday, December 1, 2018. What an honor and a privilege!)
Do you identify as an artist or creative sort? Yes, no, maybe? If not, then within the next 20 minutes, I want you to be able to say hell yeah. If so, I want you to feel fully affirmed in that big YES. Because when you harness the creative impulse, you can talk back to the darkness that’s disabling, that enforces silence, that makes you wonder if what you do matters.
There’s another sort of darkness we can keep faith with, one full of promise and fertility. Consider that embryos, carrots, tree roots and dreams are nourished in darkness. I’m talking about the pregnant void of all possibilities , from which the creative impulse emerges and returns for refreshment. Artists draw from this source, responding to and also influencing their inner and outer worlds.
I want you to exile self-criticism and self-diminishment so your artistry has a fighting chance to be born, ripen and evolve. I want you to take seriously the creative impulse throbbing within you. I want you to grok that creativity isn’t something you do, it is what you are. The way you express the creative impulse, that’s your artistry.
There’s nothing extraordinary about our inherent capacity to create; it’s as natural as breathing, yet it’s an incomparable treasure. Creativity, artistry and art are given their due when we stop reifying these ideas. But there’s a caveat: you have to name, claim, honor, explore, use and hone your creative impulse.
I’d love to know what you’re an artist of, what mark your creative thumbprint leaves. This matters, but only if you want to talk back to joy-robbing fear and despair. Or, if you want to transform the blistering fire of personal rage into a fire of steady, passionate resolve and illumination. You with me?
Let’s try on other words for art, artistry or creativity: flair, innovation, skill, proficiency, virtuosity, finesse, style, gift, giftedness, talent, genius, brilliance, aptitude, imagination, inventiveness, ingenuity. These words apply to you, unless you insist that they don’t. Please, don’t do that to yourself.
My mama, for instance, is an Artist of Wonderment, a Genius at seeing beauty in all creatures. My siblings and I were gracefully taught that horseshoe crabs aren’t ugly, spiders are fascinating, mice are precious. You get the picture. “Worms think they’re beautiful, ” she said as we watched one wriggle in the grass decades ago.
Know this: your unique artistry enriches. We are awakened, enlivened, consoled and fed by the creative impulse given expression. Artistry is a revelation of something deep within that is often ignored or downright dismissed by people who nevertheless hunger, without even realizing it, for what the artist offers.
Everyday I read this inscription found on a headstone in Green River Cemetery where Jackson Pollock, Elaine de Kooning and other artists are buried: Artists and poets are the raw nerve ends of humanity. By themselves they can do little to save humanity. Without them there would be little worth saving. This affirmation knocks out any stupor, self-doubt or complacency I might be mired in.
Recently in a Creativity Playshop I offered on the subject of Talking Back to Darkness, a group of us reflected on art, artistry and creativity. We investigated what it means to be intimate with the creative impulse and the power it endows to talk back to the bleakness of fear and doubt. Here’s a sampling of what came from our deep dialogue:
Creativity is the outward expression of an inner impulse that is universal and intrinsic to creation, including but not limited to the human species.
Creativity is surprise, the hand moving in a way it hadn’t before, before the mind defines and limits the movement.
Creativity is the life-force expressed by the artist until final exhaustion, while the life-force itself, continues on.
And what is the artist? Usher, ambassador, explorer, parent, breast-feeder, storyteller, baker, painter, dancer, gardener, bee-keeper, yogi, poet, writer, daydreamer, sculptor, traveler, organizer, administrator, listener, lover, cook, assembler, dismantler, designer, mind-bender, architect, ritual-maker, music-maker, singer, blogger, somatic healer, giver of warmth and hospitality, friend-of-silence. A short list, I grant you, but we made a great start.
So what makes you an artist? George Saunders, author of Lincoln in the Bardo, brilliantly writes: “The indispensable interior voice of ‘I’m doing it because I want to’ makes you an artist.” Say it loud, say it proud: I’m doing it because I want to. Let this be a motto.
Then there’s the imperatives of the artist. These vital directives were framed by Kathleen Dean Moore, author and explorer extraordinaire. The imperatives are to Love and Celebrate the World, to Warn and Witness, and to Re-imagine the World.
Allow me to share an example. This prayer-poem came to me just before Thanksgiving. I felt compelled to talk back to darkness in service of these imperatives. You may feel free to share this if you like:
To Be Woven Of Beauty
I am up to my elbows in dish water and gratitude, even as I lament
that gangsters and thieves stand at the helm of our troubled nation.
In closing – a story: a couple months ago I was in line at the grocery store. The woman in front of me said, I know you. You’re the poetry lady. True enough, though I couldn’t place her. I asked how we met. You gave me a poem once. I did a memory scan and said: Ah! Poem In Your Pocket Day, two years ago during National Poetry Month. I stood on a corner handing out poems! Bingo! Right, she said, you gave me a poem that day. I was surprised by the impact it had on me. I still have it and I still read it. What you’re doing…don’t stop. Duly noted.
It’s not your job to know the outcome. The job, should you take it, is for irreplaceable you to be faithful to your artistry, in whatever forms it takes. Love and harvest your deepest yearnings, give them birth. Let them shine as lamps in the dark. Bless you and thank you.
Invitation: Give yourself permission to claim your artistry and how you give expression to the creative impulse. Hint: tune into what you love deeply, what gives you joy, the gifts are you are called to offer.
Now complete these sentence stems. Do it again tomorrow. And repeat.
My artistry is expressed by or through _______________________.
I am an artist of _________________________________________.
Find people to share this with, and for goodness sakes, take the next step. Hone your artistry, offer your gifts. If you can’t think of anyone to share with, reach out to me. I promise I’ll respond.
Avec amour, always, Krayna