Wednesday, April 2, 2014

April Is No Fool

A lesson in clinging: the winter that is so reluctant to let go. Every now and then we get a teaser, a day when it actually feels like spring. It lasts a day or two, then - well, today, for example. Back in the 30s and a winter weather advisory for the overnight.

A lesson in clinging. If you want something new, you gotta let go - mostly of expectations. Winter and spring are in this intense dance this year, more intense than in many years, and it is exhilarating to be in it, to watch the wrestling match, knowing that the cycle does ultimately tell us which one will finally relent.

The lake is slowly set free of winter's grip

It's even more thrilling to experience it along our cold, recently thawed Lake Michigan where the slightest shift in wind off the lake can send temperatures plummeting. That will be true this year well into May.

Spring in the Upper Midwest is a wild ride. How can a writer or an artist not be inspired? Or a Buddhist who knows that impermanence and unpredictability is the heart of everything?

I don't know if I'm Buddhist, but I practice Mindfulness and find the work of people like Joanna Macy and Thich Nhat Hanh in deep resonance with our rapidly changing planet. Mostly the work of deep listening, of slowing down so we can sense the rhythm of things, of deep investigation and deep questioning, of developing resilience and compassion because those two qualities must wed within us if we are to get through the times that are unfolding for us now.

I work on ecology and spirituality, trying to connect these two realities in the inner and outer lives of the groups I work with or have the opportunity to offer presentations and workshops. My writing is becoming deeply integrated with this work, part of the life stories I tell, the essays that emerge, the poetry that often comes out of the Earth itself as if longing for a voice through which to communicate - not just crisis but the wonder that is being lost.

Old mine shaft in Calumet MI, where my grandfather's dream began
This big work I'm completing now, the book I've been working on for 3 years, offers that story through the lens of my own family history - the roots of the American Dream, where it came from, what motivated it and therefore makes it so hard to let go. That Dream was forged by a frontier mentality that plowed through North America using every available resource to prove we could conquer even Nature itself. In the wake of that Dream, we are leaving behind us now wrecked and lost soil and fertility; contaminated, ruined and depleted rivers and streams, aquifers and wetlands; clear-cut forests; poisoned air and food that we take into our bodies; high cancer rates; traffic and technologies that further our alienation from what gave birth to us and the habitat we need in order to live at all.

We are losing a deep experience of connection with the natural world of which we are a part and with that goes the loss of much of what has inspired art and poetry, storytelling and great myths, thousands of expressions of spiritualities and even religions that began in those connections - until Plato and Aristotle and the wedding of Christianity to Greek belief systems and Roman hierarchy and the rise of rationalism and mechanistic science in the West tore asunder those connections.

One of the most significant movements of our times, one happening all over the place, is the resurgence of nature-based spiritualities as the multiple ecological crises awaken us to the profound damage that separation has done.

As Linda Hogan wrote in her marvelous poem, "Gentling the Human,"
And the human is clouds,
lung, mist, and heart,
a pulse at the wrist,
and the spirit
which belongs to the mountains...

It's said, too,  that we come from the wind,
born from it, yet we are given flesh
and bone...

A human is breath,
current and tide...
I love this poem. I bring it out often when I speak of these things, these deep connections. Go find the whole thing. It's in her volume, Rounding the Human Corners.

I did a presentation in Amityville NY on March 22 for a day-long program entitled, "Petroleum, Poetry, and Peace." Three members of The Peace Poets came up from the Bronx to spit their poems for us. They were just terrific and after my talk on the tar sands and their poetry, we had lunch together. I would take them everywhere I go, if I could. This is how poetry will help get us through these times - by telling the truth, raw as it is at times, and building bridges of trust and collaboration across false boundaries of our diverse cultural experiences.
Me and the Peace Poets. Photo: Beth Fiteni

We must become as diverse in our communities as is Nature in hers. If there is one thing our mechanistic thinking has shown us clearly, when we separate things out from one another, we don't increase our understanding of how things work - because things only work in an abundant diversity of all things interconnected.

I feel more dedicated than ever to the written and spoken word - the storytelling that is how we get to know one another, the poetry that reveals insights, a new lens, a way of seeing, that we did not have before. 

The sun is shining and it is cold. Tonight they say we will have rain, ice, sleet, and some snow. Bulbs are out of the ground and the first crocuses are in bloom. Robins are singing the sun up in the morning. It is time to immerse ourselves into the reality of this precious Earth and see if we can do some serious renewing, some profound letting go.

April is no fool. It reveals. We just need to pay attention so we can hear what it's trying to say to us.

Margaret Swedish

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