Anyone or anything that does not bring you alive….

David Whyte is a modern poet whose voice is as clear and cloudless as the sky above Crater Lake. He is of English/Irish heritage, has a background in marine zoology, and uses poetry to assist people in affecting change in their personal and work lives. He calls all of us out of our routine slumber and directs our gaze to places we may fear or wish to avoid. David asks us to risk being authentic in an increasing virtual world. “Sweet Darkness” is a poem that asks the reader to enter the particular place of darkness that is calling to you now.

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.

You see the world through your own particular set of eyes and your own particualr set of experiences. No one else in creation sees the world exactly as you do. Your vision is unique. But when something unexpected bumps up against us in life, then our vision is temporarily lost. We feel alone and engulfed by the surging energy of life. We cannot be found, just as we can no longer see.
Turn to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.The dark will be your womb
tonight.The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.
Don’t fight the darkness, the poet seems to be whispering. Just as our eyes grow accustomed to a dark place, so the dark place will make a home for us, will see our shadow self. No matter what our particular set of circumstances and our particular reasons for being dropped into darkness, we are recognized and loved. Think of the poet’s metaphor used to describe this kind of night: your womb. A womb is a place of complete safety, a place where an innocent life can grow and be nurtured. A place to wait until you are ready to emerge, whole at last. A place of incubation, peace and rest.
You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.Give up all other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Here the poet tells us there is only one thing to know right now: you are meant to be free, to take your own particular place in the grand scheme of life. Have you been going through some life-changing event? Large or small, scale does not matter here. All that matters is that you realize your place in the grand design and take that place. Maybe you are called on to leave a job that is choking you. Maybe a relationship needs to shift or even to end. Maybe there is a geographical change to make or a dream that you feel has always had your name on it. Whatever that world is, it is time to take your place. Know that others have done it before, the poet seems to be saying. You can do this. Just embrace the one world that is yours for the taking, no matter how small or how grand. The time is now and everthing is telling you that.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learnanything or anyone
that does not bring you alive is too small for you.

The darkness that has enveloped you has provided a place of safety and shelter to incubate your emerging self, to nourish new growth, or to give sustenance to your will. What is it in your life that has been too small for you? That has not allowed you to grow? The other question concerns a person. Who is it in your life that has stifled you? Who has placed you in a box that you have outgrown?

Life is constantly calling us forward to take our place and to be fully alive. What is that one thing in your life that is now too small for you? Who is that person you have outgrown? Maybe it is a role you have played that no longer suits you. Maybe you need to stand alone. Maybe it’s time to become one with a partner. You hold the answer, the poet tells us. Just go into the darkness until you can hear the small voice inside and then follow its becokoning, loving hand.
Poem “Sweet Darkness from The House of Belonging, Many Rivers Press, 1998.

What Can You Do With a Metaphor?

That was my guiding question when I decided to create a workshop for the recent
Florida Creativity Weekend in Sarasota, Florida. How could I use metaphor to help me manage my bulging calendar and seemingly endless to-do list? My workshop, “ReIMAGINING TIME: Change your Metaphor, Change Your Story,” was born out of my own needs. Like so many, I tend to teach what I most need to learn. And let’s face it—checklists only get me so far. So when I really want to create some kind of effective change in my life, I turn to the arts.

One source of inspiration for my workshop came from reading a wonderful book called Creating Time: Using Creativity to Reinvent the Clock and Reclaim Your Life by Marney Makridakis. I love her playful approach and her inventive use of art to help people tame the time demon and turn it into a purring pet. As I began to think about what I most needed to help me, I began to doodle with a new set of watercolor pencils. I thought about a meditation I had done a few days before where the image of a small boat on a calm lake had captured my need to contain my task and try to do fewer things.

In that moment, I knew how I would begin my workshop. Here’s the opening question I posed to them: What areas of my life are calling out to me?  

Next, I invited everyone to introduce themselves with a six word memoir,  followed by a guided meditation. The last portion of the workshop, everyone used watercolor pencils to create an image of their new metaphor for time and to write a brief journal entry describing how the metaphor could guide them.

The folks in my workshop worte some funny and poignant six word memoirs. Here’s one of mine to get you thinking:

Rocks in pockets. Hard to soar.

And my metaphor? Get in the boat! Here’s my painting.    IMG_0042

I’d love to hear your metaphors or a six word memoir that describes how time feels for you. What’s your new metaphor for time? Leave a comment and let me know.

Want to Come Out and Play?

Do you ever listen to TEDTalks? Many weekends, I seek out one or two TEDTalks to inspire me in my life and to refresh my perspective on what is possible in this complex and troubled world. This past week, I posted twice about the importance of play—both for adults and children. And I often think about the value of play in relation to education, especially as we become more and more tied to high-stakes testing in grades K-12. Having worked most of my professional life as a teacher, I feel very strongly about the importance of play and creativity in education—for everyone.

I always wanted to wear a Viking hat!

I found Stuart Brown’s talk on the importance of play especially informative and inspiring. Brown, a noted psychiatrist and play researcher, has looked at play in animals and humans, especially the effects of play deprivation. This quote form his talk really struck a nerve for me, “…if you think about life without play — no humor, no flirtation, no movies, no games, no fantasy and, and, and. Try and imagine a culture or a life, adult or otherwise without play. And the thing that’s so unique about our species is that we’re really designed to play through our whole lifetime.”

In his TEDTalk, Brown quoted Brian Sutton-Smith, a noted play researcher, who had this to say: “The opposite of play is not work, it’s depression.”

I’ve been pondering that thought all week as I read about teachers and students who are often deprived of joy and creativity due to the over-emphasis on standardized testing. Last week, I had a chance to put my beliefs into action in my own classroom at the University of Maryland. When I couldn’t show a video because the computer was down, my students immediately said, “Let’s have class outside.” I’m not one to fight an overwhelming wave of energy, especially when it sounds appealing to me as well as to the students.

We all trooped outside into the April sunshine and found seats at tables, benches, and on the ground. One student climbed a tree—he was so full of joy and excitement that I couldn’t ask him to lower himself, though one of the groundskeepers eventually spied him and chased him down. My students worked in small groups on a writing activity I had planned and there were smiles on everyone’s faces. We did eventually watch the video on several of the laptops students had available.

Having class outside and seeing my students be so happy and relaxed made me even more committed to keeping some element of fun in my classroom. And I began to think about the ways I want to play and what I can do for myself to make that happen. My watercolor pencils are sitting patiently for me to start. A bag of colorful fabric waits in the closet.

How do you incorporate play into your life? Please comment below and share your play story!

Sometimes The Muse Offers a Gift

Most of the time when I begin to write a poem, I jot down ideas and a few tentative lines. Sometimes, if I am really struggling, I’ll set my timer for twenty minutes and force myself to write until I fill a couple of pages. Sometimes when I go to the well, I’m afraid to even lower the bucket for fear that the water is gone. Now I know that every writer feels that way, even Liz Gilbert and David Balducci, as I learned when I heard them on the radio.

But every once in awhile, I get wIMG_0198hat I call a gift poem —an effortless, poem that flows from my pen and is interesting without any changes.

But then the doubts creep in. I tell myself the work can’t be that good because it hasn’t been revised, nor shaped . I haven’t played with word choice and metaphor, nor drafted several versions. I find it’s hard to accept a gift poem, especially because I am  committed to craft. Ninety-nine per cent of my poems need revision and numerous drafts before I imagine submitting them.

But like those times when friends or a partner or my children decide to surprise me with an unexpected gift, so, too does my personal Muse. I’ve learned that when the gift poem appears, I simply say “thank you” and see it as an affirmation to keep writing.

Here’s a “gift poem” that made its way into my memoir in verse, “The Altar of Innocence.” The poem got nominated for a Pushcart Prize. I hope you enjoy it!

Mrs. S

No one ever tells the story
of Mrs. Sisyphus
perhaps because she
endures at the bottom
of the hill
with all the little boulders
tumbling from above.
In between the spinning of cloth
and the baking of bread,
she rolls the children out the door
to play and rolls the food
home from the market.
Day after day
she jostles the water jugs
from well to home
and back .
She nudges and cajoles the
bigger boulders of animals
from pasture to barn
and finally to slaughter.
Preparing feasts
for all the Baby Sisiphi
who gather around the table
whining When is Daddy coming home?