“The Invitation” by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

IMG_0298rs“There are lovers content with longing.
I’m not one of them.”
-Rumi

I came across the above Rumi quote, for the first time, today. I love it and I think it could serve as an epigram for another poem I recently came across called “The Invitation” by a Canadian poet, I’d never heard of before, named Oriah Mountain Dreamer. Thankfully, I heard the poem first, then discovered the poet, not vice versa, as (at least, at first glance) I would normally have been disinclined to give a poet with a name like “Mountain Dreamer” a chance. (Yes. Unfortunately, I’m that kind of person.)

It’s always a joy to happen upon something that seems to articulate the jumble of emotions, thoughts and things you’ve been feeling and thinking and learning and attempting to live out. It’s like coming across a little embodiment of your soul and, simultaneously, discovering that you are not alone, that someone else (a much more articulated someone else 🙂 ) sees and shares the same truth as you. That’s pretty much how I feel about “The Invitation”.

IMG_0295

The Invitation
It doesn’t interest me
what you do for a living.
I want to know
what you ache for
and if you dare to dream
of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me
how old you are.
I want to know 
if you will risk 
looking like a fool
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me
what planets are 
squaring your moon…
I want to know
if you have touched
the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened
by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know
if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

I want to know
if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you 
to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations
of being human.

It doesn’t interest me
if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear
the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.

I want to know
if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,
“Yes.”

It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live
or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me
who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me
where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know 
what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

I want to know
if you can be alone 
with yourself
and if you truly like
the company you keep
in the empty moments.

By Oriah © Mountain Dreaming,
from the book The Invitation
published by HarperONE, San Francisco,
1999 All rights reserved

I think I can resonate with just about everything Ms. Oriah Mountain Dreamer says, aside, perhaps, from:

“It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true.”

If you are telling me a story about you, it is of great interest to me that it be true, unless it’s not meant to be a true story.

Another thing I don’t quite understand is how being faithless equals being trustworthy.

“I want to know…If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.”

There is a time for faith and a time for doubt. Perhaps she’s saying you have to be honest enough with yourself to admit you are faithless, when you lack the faith–i.e., you are trustworthy if you can be honest about being faithless. If that were the case, I’d definitely agree with her. (If you, dear reader, thinks she is perhaps saying something else and would like to enlighten me, I’d gladly welcome your opinion.)

On the whole, I think this poem embodies what it means to be brave and accept the invitation to life, wholeheartedly, embracing the joy, the sorrow, the success, the failure, the fragility, the hope, the beauty, the bruises, the betrayals, the dreams, the desires, the disappointment, the darkness, the light, the love, the pain, the magic, the madness, the mystery, the grace–embracing it all. It’s about accepting the invitation to be–to be authentic, vulnerable, honest and fully present in one’s own life. It’s a challenge to be courageous enough to love fully and face your fears, to move forward with eyes and heart open wide, to dare to become who you truly are.

I try constantly and I fail a lot. It’s not easy, but I keep trying. I’ve accepted the invitation and it’s who I’m determined to be or die trying. 🙂

Ps. Immediately after posting this, I just realised the answer to my own question regarding “faithless and therefore trustworthy.” (I could just erase that whole part, but I thought I’d leave it and add this on the chance that it may help someone who may be perplexed as I was.) The key is in the preceding lines:

I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear
the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

You lose the faith of someone else “to be true to yourself”. You become faithless, because you’ve lost the faith someone had in you and “bear the accusation of betrayal”, in order that you might “not betray your own soul”; therefore you are trustworthy. It. Is. Brilliant! 😀

Reading Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling #1 (and Other Thoughts)

IMG_0280

If you’ve hung around me long enough to hear me talk about my philosophy regarding book reading, you’ve probably, at some point, heard me talk about my belief in the importance of reading a book when the mood strikes as opposed to arbitrarily reading it.

Something I don’t really talk about much, but that I actually think is far better than reading when the mood strikes, is reading a book when you feel it’s an absolute necessity to read–i.e., when you’re in a sea of despair or confusion or in the darkness and something draws you to a particular book and seems to say that it just might contain a lifeline or a light to help you find the truth, or wisdom, or consolation, or comfort, or faith, or the answer that you need at that moment. Sometimes, one passage at the right time is enough to resuscitate. I guess the reason I don’t usually include “reading out of necessity” in my philosophy about reading is because, the times that I find myself reading out of necessity are, for the most part, times that I really wouldn’t wish on anyone. The finding a lifeline part is great, the feeling like you’re drowning part not so much.

I’ve had a pretty rough month and a nightmare of a last week. It’s been difficult to find something I’m in the mood to read, because, really, I haven’t been in the mood to read anything. But read: I must. So I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what would be good for me to read right now.

I think I found my answer last night, when I suddenly felt it was incumbent on me to read Soren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling. It isn’t too surprising as, lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about sacrifice and faith. I’ve also been feeling a lot like Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac, trying not to look at the horror of the thing, but instead trying to hold on to the faith and belief that it’s the right thing to do and that somehow it will all work out for the best. I don’t know how Abraham did it. My sacrifice seems to make far more sense and, yet, half the time, having faith that “all manner of thing shall be well” still feels impossible. But all that to say, if ever there were a perfect time for me to read this book, that time would probably be now.

This actually isn’t the first time I’ve tried to read Fear and Trembling. In early 2014 I  started reading it, but I skipped the 30 page introduction and jumped right in. That was probably a mistake, as I didn’t really understand what Kierkegaard was doing and what he was trying to say and I ran out of motivation to continue reading after about twenty pages. It was also probably just a matter of it not being the right timing too. I was pretty comfortable with my life and not being asked to make any leaps of faith or momentous sacrifices at the time. I came at it from a place of intellectual curiosity, but definitely not out of necessity. Right now, though, it feels like a necessity.

I’ve gotten twenty pages into the introduction, today, and, so far, everything I’ve read has confirmed that this is the perfect paper path for me to tread at this moment. I’ve also found myself thinking that this might be a good book to blog about, so I’m gonna try that, but I make no promises. I’ve tried to do this in the past, alas, so far, without success. Hopefully, this time around, I’ll be more successful. I guess time will tell.

Disclaimer disclaimed, consider this the first installment. 🙂

I Said to My Soul, Be Still…

I was reading T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets today when this section from “East Coker” hit me right in the heart like a jolt from a defibrillator.

On it’s own, it’s an amazing and brilliant passage. But, in addition to that, it pretty much sums up everything I’m going through and everything I need to hear right now.

HEKL2470rs

“I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing facade are all being rolled away—
Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between stations
And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence
And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen
Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about;
Or when, under ether, the mind is conscious but conscious of nothing—
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth.

                                        You say I am repeating
Something I have said before. I shall say it again,
Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
  You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
  You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
  You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
  You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.”
—T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets: “East Coker”

I can remember thinking, when I read it the first time, that this was a brilliant and deep passage, but it didn’t quite jump out at me. I guess I didn’t need it as much then. This time, reading it was like being resuscitated. Everything about it is perfect for me, at this very moment. It’s as if it were written just for me.

PLXS2197rssq

I’ve been learning to be still and sit with the discomfort, but it isn’t easy and I still needed someone to “say it again.” Who better to have say it than the supreme T. S. Eliot? 🙂

And All Shall Be Well…

When one of your favourite authors (and a thinker you admire) quotes one of your favourite poets (who is another thinker you greatly admire) and says that this line–which embodies a form of hope–is something he has found to still be true, even in his darkest hour, you know that quote has got to be gold.

IMG_0057rs

“I will not, if I can help it, shin up either the feathery or the prickly tree. Two widely different convictions press more and more on my mind. One is that the Eternal Vet is even more inexorable and the possible operations even more painful than our severest imaginings can forbode. But the other, that ‘all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well’.”
C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

I’ve been oscillating a lot, this month, between grief and grace, peace and pain, determination and the depths of despair. I was feeling especially sad and miserable, last night, when this line suddenly popped into my head, along with a vague recollection of what it represents in both C. S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed and T. S. Eliot’s poem “Little Gidding” in Four Quartets.

“And all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well”

It’s become my mantra, these last 24 hours, and I’ve been meditating on it a lot. I’ve also reread “Little Gidding” and have started rereading A Grief Observed. They’ve, collectively, been doing their work on me and I’m slowly working my way out of the depths again.

Anyway, back to the quote…

This is the only place, I am aware of, that C. S. Lewis ever references T. S. Eliot. The quote, itself, struck me the first time I read A Grief Observed two years ago. But I was even more struck when I happened to read T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, for the first time, a week or two later, and realised that C. S. Lewis had been quoting T. S. Eliot. This line appears, not once, but three times in T. S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding”, twice in the third section and once in the fifth and final section, and is one of the closing lines of the Four Quartets.

IMG_0059rs

“And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
—T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets: “Little Gidding”

I don’t have time to get into all the whys and wherefores, at the moment (perhaps I will in another post), but I do think that C. S. Lewis is definitely referencing more of “Little Gidding” than just this one little line. This line in itself is gold, but it’s also as if it’s a microcosm of or a hyperlink to, (possibly the entire, but) at least, the last three sections of the “Little Gidding” poem. (I also believe there are more connections, on the whole, linking A Grief Observed to Four Quartets, but, again, that’s a subject for another post)

It’s as if, with this line, C. S. Lewis is saying something unique and for himself, yet, at the same time, referencing T. S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding” and and hyperlinking to all the weight and significance that this line carries in that poem. But, it doesn’t stop there, it gets more interesting. 🙂

It turns out, (though not surprisingly, considering the way T. S. Eliot writes his poetry) with this line, T. S. Eliot, himself, is also referencing someone else’s writing.

I had totally forgotten, until I started writing this post, today, that in my recent exploration of the Four Quartets, through Thomas Howard’s Dove Descending: a Journey into T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets (which I am still only about 30 pages into), I had come across this quote (in April) which I found especially interesting:

IMG_0062rs“Eliot’s concluding cache in ‘Little Gidding’ from Dame Julian’s ‘Shewings’ made me go back to her original lines, as she is ventriloquist for the Almighty God of Grace: ‘I may make all things well, and I can make all things well, and I shall make all things well, and I will make all things well, and thou shalt see thyself that all manner of things shall be well.’ Dame Julian wrote that on her sickbed in the Black Death; Eliot wrote that in 1942 during the world’s blackest war. These tenses–may . . . can . . . shall . . . will–thawing the frozen ‘only now’ tense of the moderns, parallel the four metaphysical realities: what may be done invokes the possibilities of time; what can be done opens the mind to eternity; what shall be done points to undeniable mortality; and what will be done is the benign calculus of faith. The promise ‘thou shalt’ is the final fifth: the act of the will, which makes man a moral actor in the drama of providence.”
–George William Rutler
Dove Descending a Journey into T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets: “Foreword”

Rereading this above quote, again, today, added another level to my understanding of it’s depth and my meditation on it.

(As a side note–if you get it, you get it–I just shook my head and laughed out loud when I realised that the name of the mystic who wrote the original line, was Julian, and that I had only realised it, this afternoon, as I was writing this post. I even didn’t know Julian could be a woman’s name. Sometimes I feel like Providence is having fun at my expense.
Actually, I just looked it up, this is what Wikipedia says: “Very little is known about Julian’s life. Even her name is uncertain; the name ‘Julian’ is generally thought to have been derived from the Church of St Julian in Norwich, to which her anchorite’s cell was joined. ‘Julian’ was, however, a common name among women in the Middle Ages and could possibly have belonged to the anchoress as well as to the church.” So I guess people called their daughters Julian once upon a time. Interesting.)

It’s like this quote is like a little microcosm, hyperlinked down through the ages, that brings with it whole mountains of meaning and worlds of faith, hope and grace. Again, it’s one of those things of which I feel like I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of, when it comes to it’s depth and significance.

But, for today, this quote has given me hope, that no matter what happens,

“thou shalt see thyself that all manner of things shall be well.”

And, for now, that’s good enough. 🙂

7 Ways to Maximize Your Misery

I’d heard about this video a few times in the last few days, but I finally watched it today, when a friend shared a direct link. Apparently, it’s based off a book by a psychologist named Randy J. Paterson called How to Be Miserable: 40 Strategies You Already Use. I don’t know if I’ll read the book, but the video is great and so true. It made me laugh a lot. 😀


Ps. The last minute is just an ad for Audible.com. I found it a bit annoying. If you want save yourself a bit of time, the maximizing misery part ends at about the 6:15 mark.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Spent a rainy day reading Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

I don’t know exactly what I expected going into it, perhaps a whole lot more doom and gloom. I think I expected something more along the lines of the Nazi death camps. Everything I’d read about prison camps, up until this book, had been about the Nazi camps, which were, pretty much, set up for the sole purpose of extermination. Russian camps, on the other hand, were more along the line of slave labor camps, and while the reasons for incarceration and conditions and treatment of prisoners were still inhumane and terrible, when compared to a Nazi extermination camp, it’s terrible and weird to say, they seem relatively humane.

I think I was also expecting more of an exposé of the ideology behind the Communist/Stalinist regime, something more along the lines of what I imagine (since I haven’t read it yet) Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago is. I guess I hadn’t really taken into consideration the fact that One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was personally given the stamp of approval for publication by Nikita Khrushchev. I should have realised, for that reason alone, it wouldn’t be a blatant and searing indictment against Communism and the ideologies that led to the prison camps (though I can definitely see it being the beginning of a crack in the armour).

Instead, what I found was, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is exactly what it’s title professes it to be: one ordinary day in the life of Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, a prisoner, in a freezing Soviet labor camp. From the moment reveille sounds to the moment he goes to sleep, we follow him and get a close-up look at his life and thoughts and interactions with his fellow human beings. It’s a story of humanity and hope; a tribute to the dignity, strength and survival of the human spirit in the bleakest of circumstances.

There is a lingering theme through the book, put both at the beginning and end, first as a question and then as a statement:

AGNH6214rs“How can you expect a man who’s warm to understand one who’s cold?”

A man who is warm can’t understand a man who’s freezing.”

Yet, despite the impossibility, in this little novella, without any chapters, Solzhenitsyn, somehow, makes us feel and understand. He also opens our eyes to the gift of life and the treasures and wonders we have all around us, from moment to moment, and in the tiniest of things.

I have a lot more to say about this book, but, alas, time fails me. So, for now, I’ll just say, I highly recommend it. This is also one of those books that you really have to read until the last paragraph, to fully appreciate, but it’s a quick read (my book is 142 pages) and could easily be read from start to finish in a day.

I haven’t done much research into translations, but from the little I have done, I’d recommend the Ralph Parker translation (which is the one I have) over the Max Hayward/Ronald Hingley, translation which seems to be rather poorly translated with some blatant errors.

If you decide to read this book or if you already have, I’d love to hear any thoughts you have about it. 🙂

Adventures at the Fountain Valley Friends of the Library Bookstore

DSC_0667-1rs

At the end of last month/beginning of this month, I visited my brother and his family in California. During one of my last days there, my sister-in-law took me to her favorite place to to look for books: the Fountain Valley Friends of the Library Bookstore; a tiny, little, room of a, gem of a bookstore run by book-loving, friendly, volunteer staff. 🙂

For some reason, I’d always imagined library bookstores to be full of old, worn library books, that no one was reading any more, with ugly library card pockets glued to the front of the book and stamped all over with an ugly “WITHDRAWN” stamp–overall, a pretty drab and aesthetically unappealing collection. I figured if I were to ever visit a library bookstore it would be for the sole purpose of a book’s contents (e.g. to look for some scholarly, obscure book that I couldn’t afford to buy at the regular, new or used price), never for aesthetics. I’d never been to a library bookstore, so I had my doubts when I walked in, but about five minutes later, I was sure that if I lived even remotely near there, I’d likely be a very strong contender for the label of “most frequent customer”. 🙂 It turned out that all the books there, as far as I could tell, were donated by readers. I found a few ex-libris books, but I didn’t find a single ex-library book.

It was such a pleasant surprise to discover a vast and quality selection of books, in excellent condition, in such a tiny place. Best of all, their prices. were. incredible. Most books were 1 dollar; the most expensive books were 2-4 dollars; and romance novels…well, they were on sale! 🙂

DMPD2401rs

Unfortunately, romance novels aren’t my thing, but I imagined for a moment how lucky I’d be if they were: 100 romance novels for 10 dollars! (Oh, the joy! 😀 )

We only had about thirty minutes there, because closing time was at 5:00 pm, but it was a small enough of a store that I felt I was able survey all the essentials, and yet it still left me with more to explore. As it was, I had a hard enough time cutting down the stack of books that I’d collected, in about 20 minutes, to a size and weight I was sure would be manageable in my luggage on my flight home.

In the end, I settled on the nine awesome and beautiful books you see at the top of this post, for the incredible price of $11! They are all in excellent condition and the Kafka and Isben books look as if they’ve never been read before! I walked away feeling like a treasure hunter who’d stumbled on to some local secret. 🙂

It’s funny because, prior to my trip, I thought I’d have a lot of extra time and imagined that I’d use it to visit plenty of bookstores. Things turned out differently and I ended up without much time to spare, but that was okay, because thirty minutes at the Friends of the Library Bookstore was really all I needed. 🙂

If you’re someone who loves to own a physical copy of the books you read and you’re lucky enough to have a Friends of the Library or any library bookstore in your vicinity, I can’t recommend them enough. They are lovely and fantastic places to explore; the gems you can discover and prices you can purchase them for are a book lover’s best-kept secret.