Deep Listening

I’ve had a lot of questions recently about how I write. I listen deeply, and then the floodgates open.

The landscape is different but always the same. The tide is high or low, lapping the shore or booming chased by the wind, but always the tide. The sand is a soft carpet, a million tiny pieces worn from parent rocks of distant times, sometimes wet, sometimes dry, but always under your feet.

I’ve heard the sand whistle.

A fish washes up, a keening gull drops a clam, it smashes on the low tide rocks, and a meal is served.

The crows are a Greek chorus, chortling from low trees.

Your feet splash and leave prints on the flats that are gone when you return.

These are the sounds of poetry.

Deep listening on the ocean

To write a poem, you must listen deeply and inhabit your subject.

Befriend a tree. Sit with it and listen. In time you’ll hear its story, and if you listen well, you might, for a time, become the tree.

It’s a form of shapeshifting.

The magic is in the listening and the becoming. Become your subject, and return to write about it.

I’ve had a lot of questions recently about how I write. I listen deeply, and then the floodgates open.

I’ve been driving through traffic and said to the child in the backseat, quick! find a piece of paper and a pen, write this down! Luckily the car always provides the needed materials.

I’ve jumped out of the bathtub with an entire new poem. Water seems to aid creation, and why not? We come from the sea, and we float in water for our first nine months.

I have fragments scribbled on napkins, envelopes, and pretty much anything to hand. It looks messy, but it isn’t.

This is what a first draft looks like

Walk the place you love most each day.

Listen. Watch. Inhabit.

I am not on the ocean right now, so I am listening deeply inland, along freshwater woods and fields. At first, it didn’t smell right, no salt, and I didn’t know the birds.

Freshwater deep listening

But I’m listening and slowly shifting, and new things are coming.

You can read Mary Petiet’s poems in Moon Tide and Owl Magic.

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All shall be well

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

It’s been a long week of political uncertainty with second lockdowns casting their shadow. We are perhaps finding that life does indeed happen while we make other plans.

We are not the first to experience this.

Over the past few days, I have been thinking a lot about an earlier pandemic and time of unrest, and the surprisingly relevant legacy of a fourteenth century anchorite who overcame dark times with faith in love and a kind of yoga she called Body Prayer.

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”  ~Julian of Norwich

I think we could all use a little bit of Julian of Norwich at the moment because her experience can stand us well today.

The following is an excerpt from my new book Owl Magic: Your Guide Through Challenging Times:

We find ourselves living in uncertain times

In Europe, the end of the fourteenth century was also a harrowing time. One-third of the population died of bubonic plague as the Hundred Years War raged and the church split between rival popes.

 
Like today, the structures people assumed were permanent began to vanish. And like today, a certain kind of wisdom helped people survive the uncertainty.

Think of it as Owl Wisdom.

Owls have a quiet about them, allowing them to observe and notice. They embody an independence that lets them forge ahead with the vision to see the way. They occupy the moment and work with what they have. They soar above the fray.

Here is the owl wisdom you can apply to your situation, the same wisdom women mystics of earlier times tapped into as their worlds convulsed.

In the late fourteenth century, one mystic found peace in the storm by finding a connection to a loving God through something she called Body Prayer. Her name was Julian of Norwich, and what she called Body Prayer looks a lot like modern yoga. 

It is also full of owl wisdom

As an anchorite at the church of St. Julian in Norwich, England, Julian of Norwich would have been at home with the idea of social isolation. An anchorite chooses a solitary life to cultivate internal focus.

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Julian of Norwich, Stained Glass Window from St. Julian’s Church, Norwich, photo by Evelyn Simak


Quarantine? No problem

Her real name is lost to the ages, but it is almost certain she lost her husband and children to the plague and nearly died of it herself. While ill, she experienced a series of visions about the nature of love, which redefined her connection to God and faith in goodness through awful times.

 She described her experience in the first known book in English written by a woman. It was called Revelations of Divine Love.

She was surprisingly modern. As her contemporaries worshiped a harsh patriarchal god, Julian of Norwich called in a radically feminine deity that added motherhood and love to the equation. Her god was both father and mother, and, as the transcendentalists would centuries later, she saw God in everything as she declared salvation universal.

Here is an expression of our next law straight out of an earlier time of pandemic and social upheaval:

The Universal Law of Love: The force that binds everything together.
It is not romantic love. It is the energy behind the Law of Connection. It is unconditional and all accepting. It is the opposite of fear.

Think of it like gravity.

It is the glue that can hold us together, individually and collectively, through tumultuous times.

Every situation presents a choice of action. Imagine what happened when Julian of Norwich’s life was derailed by bubonic plague. In no time at all, she lost her family and all the trappings of active, worldly life in medieval Norwich. She could easily have reverted to fear, the opposite of love, and simply ceased to be.

What sustained her in her Time Between?

Love.

Our lives have also changed rapidly. Within one week, most of us found ourselves in a state of lockdown due to the coronavirus. It was a scene repeated all over the planet. Maybe some of us have been sick or lost loved ones. Some of us are sheltering in place comfortably. Some of us are suffering, some of us are dying, and some of us are leaving quarantine and picking up the pieces in a changed world roiling with political instability. For all of us, the futures we planned are uncertain.

What can sustain us in our Time Between?

Love.

The Pose & The Meditation: Body Prayer

Stand firmly on your yoga mat. Body Prayer consists of a series of four standing poses. First, initiate your prana breath, breathe deeply, in and out. Then shift your focus.

• Await – the posture of receiving. Hold your hands open at waist level. You are welcoming the presence of God or your highest self. 

• Allow – this is the posture of opening. Reach up with your hands open to welcome the coming of God’s presence or the presence of your own highest self. 

• Accept – the posture of taking. Cup your hands at your heart and take in whatever comes.

• Attend – this is the posture of willingness to act on what has been given. Extend your hands with palms open.

Await, allow, accept, attend. Repeat the sequence while maintaining the breath.

Read more about Julian of Norwich in Owl Magic, your toolbox for challenging times.

  • Guided meditation
  • Yoga
  • Stories & Poems
  • Writing Prompts

Times of change are the times of greatest transformation.