Category: Word of the Year

Light a fire, big or small, it’s winter solstice

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Gratitude.

It is the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice, and my hair smells like bonfire smoke. I sat outside on the frozen ground from 4:30 – 7:30AM and watched the sky turn from dark to dim to pale grey dawn. Through my head came visions of friends, and the gratitude and love I’ve felt pouring into me and out of me all through these many months of pandemic otherworldliness, a circle of holding and care that has kept me not just afloat but enriched and comforted and stronger.

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There are many ways to stay in touch, even from a distance. This year, I’ve quit Twitter and don’t seem to blog quite so often (perhaps you are surprised when a post drops into your email inbox). I rarely post to Facebook, more often check in on Instagram. Then, there are texts and emails. Occasionally a phone call (usually that’s my mom or dad). Even letters, cards, postcards (such a treat to receive!) And, of course, Zoom calls: sibs night, kundalini yoga, church.

There are walks with a friend, or a kid, or a dog, or the whole family.

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Dec. 16, Family walk with dog, spontaneous snow angels

We meet outside, to meet in person. We learn the weather, we greet the seasons, the changing light, we pay attention.

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Dec. 20, Family drinks in the back yard shack

All month, I’ve been drawing a daily portrait and writing a short caption, to capture a scene or moment from each day. I’ve noticed that my portraits most often depict me with others, not alone. Or, if I am alone, I’m thinking of someone else when I write the caption. This year of being apart has actually been a year of coming closer together, in some ways. In others ways, no — I no longer coach a team of lively teenaged girls, and I miss those casual and funny interactions. But I’ve grown closer with my own kids. There are friendships that have deepened.

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Dec. 12, kundalini class on Zoom, in my studio

I’m closer to the ground. And my spirit is closer to the sky.

Enjoy the darkness, friends. Light a candle, and send out an I love you to someone you’ve been meaning to say that to. The days are short, but won’t always be so.

xo, Carrie

Questions for an intolerable moment

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Be clear with yourself. It’s a practice worth practicing.

Be clear even when it’s uncomfortable. Be clear, even if you’re worried you’re letting someone else down.

This week has not been my best (see previous post …), but I’ve been noticing that it helps, in uncomfortable moments, to ask myself: What do you want to do? Are you doing it?

I almost always know the answer.

And just asking brings me into the present moment.

I can say, yes, this is actually what I want to be doing. Or hell no, it’s not.

If I am doing what I want to do, it becomes so much easier to keep doing it, but with a new perspective, a feeling of agency and freedom. Hey, this is what I’ve chosen to do! Maybe it’s harder than I expected, or maybe it’s not bringing up the feelings I’d anticipated, but I want to do it, I’ve chosen to do it, so I’m going to get on with doing it.

If it’s not, I can dig a bit, and find out whether the situation is changeable; often it is, even if it isn’t. By which I mean, often, the thing I’m doing that I don’t want to do is made less tolerable by what’s going on inside my head. An imaginary conversation. A pointless outrage. An excited or anxious or fraught connection to something that actually has no connection to my immediate well-being.

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So, I ask:

Are you okay?

What do you want to do?

(And I remind myself: Don’t worry about what you think everyone else might want you to do — let go of imaginary projections. What do you, Carrie Anne Snyder, want to do?)

Oh. Okay, well, I’m right here, running in the rain, and what I want is to take the long way home, and there’s time, and my body can handle it, and now that I know these things, I’m feeling the rain and the wind on my face, and the breath in my lungs, and I’m okay. I know I’m okay. This is what I want to do, and I’m doing it.

xo, Carrie

The kind of story we need right now

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The Sunflowers, by Mary Oliver

Come with me

into the field of sunflowers.

Their faces are burnished disks,

their dry spines

creak like ship masts,

their green leaves,

so heavy and many,

fill all day with the sticky

sugars of the sun.

Come with me

to visit the sunflowers,

they are shy

but want to be friends;

they have wonderful stories

of when they were young —

the important weather,

the wandering crows.

Don’t be afraid

to ask them questions!

Their bright faces,

which follow the sun,

will listen, and all

those rows of seeds —

each one a new life!

hope for a deeper acquaintance;

each of them, though it stands

in a crowd of many,

like a separate universe,

is lonely, the long work

of turning their lives

into a celebration

is not easy. Come

and let us talk with those modest faces,

the simple garments of leaves,

the coarse roots in the earth

so uprightly burning.

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Say you were invited to hold a sunflower, and examine it, while reading and thinking about these words in Mary Oliver’s poem. Say you were invited to respond by asking questions of the sunflower, or listening to the sunflower ask you questions. What would come into your mind, and onto the page? On Friday evening, outside around a fire pit, my friend Jen led a small group of us in this meditation. It was already, newly dark, and we used cellphones to illuminate the page and look at our sunflowers. which another friend had cut down and brought from her yard. Several of us found bees nestled into the flowers.

This is what I wrote.

“… the long work / of turning their lives / into a celebration / is not easy. / Come //”

Some solutions seem so simple

I will paint my office door the bright yellow

of this sunflower’s petals

I will spend the whole day reading a book

I will stretch and breathe

But when restlessness turns inside me

what should I do then, Sunflower, tell me?

When I am afraid

that my service is too meagre

and I can’t think what to do to be a

better person — what should I do, Sunflower?

The restlessness, the sense of longing

of energy unused or squandered

The list of all the harms I’ve caused

shuffling round and round inside me —

Tell me, what should I do

to fix these feelings, Sunflower?

It is true I hear you humming

Too tall, cut down, a living

bee nested in your blossom that has not

bloomed, tucked beneath the brighter face of you

You are humming not an answer

but a blessing with a sting:

Get on with living

You are not between two points

like a traveller on a train stalled between

destinations, you are in the only place

in which you are as you are — alive

and very you

Do you remember when you saw a whole

field of us, sunflowers, calling you

and you drove on, you said, It’s not

my field, I would be a trespasser?

You were right enough

But we’ve found you anyway, again

as you are. Come

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Tomorrow, I would like to write a post about the new colour of my office door, and the books I’ve been reading, and the ways I’m seeking to connect, and to learn and listen, and find antidotes to fear and despair, but for today, I invite you to find your own sunflower and ask it some questions. Whimsical, fanciful? Yup. Uncomfortable, weird? Maybe. Silly, frivolous? Try it and see for yourself.

xo, Carrie

All kinds of magic

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Meditation, using a circle. What’s inside, what’s outside. Where am I?

I stand inside a circle made of pieces of cloth, knotted together. A wide circle. Five knots. I step to the knot that seems to be at the “top” and wait. Hands at sides. Feet planted. Close my eyes.

Ah. I see a big decision before me. A change that means letting go of responsibilities, letting go of relationships. Letting go. I’m invaded by hard emotions, painful; I don’t resist feeling these things. Sadness, vulnerability, loss of power and influence. I name some unflattering parts of myself, humble human motivations: How I want to be liked, admired, respected! Feel this. Emotions flood me, wash through. Easier to bear, when felt.

Isn’t that a strange truth?

I step clockwise. Knot two. My hands cupped at my heart. I’m laughing. I see conflict between loved ones, I’m at the edge of the argument, it’s not my argument, I want to fix it, but it’s not fixable, not by me; if at all. Is conflict only ever a bad thing? Or am I being asked to love the conflict, too, to let the people I love be who they are, even if it means conflict.

Next knot, third stop. I crouch low to examine a little gathering of stones in the shape of a smaller circle, outside of mine. I see someone I want to help and support. Our languages of love are different. To show her love, I need to speak her language; and not impose on her my own. Isn’t that the truth?

Fourth knot, and I stand and find my hands at my heart again, cupped, and I think — my writing! — and as soon as I’ve thought it, my hands fling themselves away from my body and throw the writing out of the circle. Oh no! But it’s mine! I’m wracked with fear and regret, even horror. I try to pretend it didn’t happen, I try pulling my hands back in, but I can’t undo what’s been done. And then I laugh. Of course, that is its purpose — my writing! stories, books, even this post — to be sparked into being, then released, sent away. The thoughtless motion of my hands — cupped close, then opened out, then close again — is the whole process. Make, finish making. Hold, let go.

Fifth stop, last knot. Eyes open, standing, calm, wondering. Sky is a marvellous clear colour, nearing night. I see: Dead tree, bare branches, oh, and the sharp profile of a funny, fat, little bird perched at the very top, as if waiting to be seen. It does not fly away. I watch for a long time. The bird is the world, I think. There it is, outside my circle. How I love the world, need it, need to bring it into my circle, invite the images to flow through me, through mind and body, and back out again.

xo, Carrie

(With thanks to my friend Jen for leading us through this meditation.)

Love in action

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The bugs whirring in the trees. The sound of wind through branches. Cars and trucks grinding by on the nearby streets. I am gliding through these days. Maybe I want to keep this time, but maybe I also want to let it be. Let it roll like weather, let myself rest in the grass and look at the sky, so different every time, completely clear this morning with sunlight at the tips of the trees, the leaves lit from behind, green etched on pale blue.

I am waiting to discover something—what?—new?—about myself? about my purpose? about what I might become? I wonder why I always feel so sure that I am becoming—it seems so optimistic; because of course I am so sure that what I am becoming will be an improvement on this present iteration of self.

I’ve noticed that my flaws are magnified by this time of intense closeness with my little family unit. There are fewer of the everyday, outside, fleeting social interactions that help me to see myself differently; at home, my relationships tend to be more raw, less inhibited by boundaries and graces. In the outside world, I perform civility. Home is where I let my hair down (or wind it into a messy bun, more often!), seen only by those closest to me, who are also most bound to me and therefore most forgiving. Within these close relationships, I see reflected my limitations, my tendencies, my patterns, my behavioural tics and triggers. In truth, it is more often than not painful, humbling.

The question presents itself almost non-stop: Do I want to change? And if the answer is yes, what would I like to become, if not this?

Also, acceptance: this is what I’ve got to build upon.

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This weekend, I listened to this On Being interview from 2013 with John Lewis. I’ve been thinking a lot about non-violent resistance, and what it means; and its relationship to my faith and faith tradition in the Mennonite church. I am planted in this soil. Here are my roots. How do I flower and grow and express “love in action”? The idea of resistance infers that against which you must resist—there is an implied relationship, a force that is pushing back. What John Lewis seemed to know is that in order for “good trouble” to bear fruit, you must present yourself at the edge, where you can meet resistance. You must be morally unassailable, dignified, restrained, patient, but also forgiving (of yourself and others). Non-violent resistance is hard, it requires self-discipline, rehearsal, practice (you learn to protect your head with your arms, you learn to curl into a ball on the ground, in practical terms). To win the moral battle, which may or may not move you closer toward your goal, you must be spiritually prepared to suffer. But to meet resistance effectively, you also need clarity of mission. The thing against which you are resisting must be clearly in view.

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I’ve been thinking, too, that I lack clarity of mission. I don’t know my own goals. And this is why it feels like I’m waiting. (I’ve also been reading Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts and thinking about the many ways in which human beings cause each other pain and are hurt, despite our best intentions, despite trying to protect ourselves; and how powerless that can make us feel, to act, to respond, to seek out relationship with others.)

re resistance, re mission, re goals, just found this in my notes: I still need to write that blog post about the flaws in the system. Which flaws? Which system?

Too many flaws, too many systems.

On this subject, more to come. But I shall spare you and stop here for now.

xo, Carrie

Can I live with discomfort? (Yes)

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When I think about the word balance, a word I’ve considered maybe somewhat irrelevant or inapplicable to my life, what I’m beginning to sense or feel, as much as understand, is that I am always in transition. I almost never arrive anywhere, and certainly don’t stay. I exist in flux even while viewing myself as being a creature reaching toward, aiming toward, permanence.

Yet I am human, mortal, entirely impermanent.

Rituals exist to pin down significant moments; because the moments in my life run together like water. But what I’m glimpsing in the word balance is a peace in accepting this state. I’m seeing the fluidity in my being in all of existence, in the way time moves, and that I move in time. I’m seeing that I am of my time, immovable from the history that surrounds me even if this history will not remember or know me, especially.

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During the lockdown, my work was not deemed essential. Because it isn’t. I am not planting vegetables or stocking shelves or administering tests or researching cures or triaging patients or caring for those who need special care. My work has been on the page, and in the home.

I’ve had time. And I’ve noticed that, given the time, I can write and imagine in a bigger way than I had before. I’ve noticed, too, that I continue to feel anxious, to experience existential dread, to float in the brine of my own small shames, to wish often to be better than I am. That has always been with me, will always be with me. Feelings come and go and come again. I’ll always have feelings, mixed up and catching me off-guard and demanding my attention. It’s my response to the feelings that is changing.

Can I live with discomfort? The answer is yes.

Disappoint myself or disappoint others? Sometimes the choice is pretty stark. Sometimes you can’t square the circle. Sometimes — often, really — you cannot please everyone, and by trying to do so, you please no one, least of all yourself. What is your inner voice whispering? Does it hurt to hear it?

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I’m trying out an experiment. I’ve come to believe that I don’t have time to do most things, let alone all things. Just write. Cook. Read, research a bit. Yoga, run. That’s it. A little bit of housework. Parent, pay attention to my kids. Be a good friend. That’s it.

Whether it brings me anything, doesn’t matter. It’s the ego wants things brought to it. This is my river. Is it service enough to just write? I don’t know. But I’d like to find out. Or try.

Time to unfold, unfurl, spread out. What’s the rush?

What am I hurrying to discover? It all comes to light in time.

xo, Carrie

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