Tag: awareness

The joy of Monday

Written 7 December 2015

Today, i worked at Harbor Artisans in Belfast.  In the peaceful quiet of a Monday, on the heels of a rather busy weekend for the store, i was able to spend most of my time writing.  First, i finished catching up on typing and editing my poems for the year, which included categorizing them into three different collections – two by theme and one for all the rest.  i ask again

However, the magic happened after that.  My hands were not very good for typing today, so i did not want to spend time frustrating myself working on a client’s project when that could happily be done at home where the muttering would bother no one.

Perhaps, i should also admit to a certain amount of awareness – for once, i had a singular sense of purpose.  i knew that this was the direction my spirit should go, into the stories that have been haunting my mind and dreams. Obeying that impulse, i took out the 3 x 5 cards i had bought in order to give my current novel a coherent structure.  For almost a year, this book had been creeping forward in several tablets of paper and in a ridiculous amount of digital files – all haphazard and spontaneous, creeping out during moments stolen from other work. The arc of the larger story has always been there, but the order of the chapters and the fine details about character and location had been unstable. This is a massive amount of information i am parsing in a memory compromised by healing and pain: this book crosses over multiple dimensions, includes at least two beings with the power to eat gods, several dragons and an abundance of characters whom i find outrageously fun to write.

Today, those 3×5 cards began to grow: one for every universe, one color to track protagonist, one for antagonist, then a stack for characters, finally one for all the major scenes, with a delightful number of them already in draft form by hand or on the computer. The book is much closer to complete than i thought. By the time the stack was collated and rubber banded together, i was humming with joy.  My sore body started dancing and moving with energy i have not felt in a long time. haiku Every bit of energy in my body was aligned and blissful.  Supreme confidence and a deep and abiding delight to be living this life filled me up like love.

About two hours after i stopped writing – having cleaned the store, closed the register, picked up the dog and driven home – i began to come down from the elation.  My spirit began to quiet.  A good friend waited for me at the house, we had a wonderful chat, i ate my dinner, all the while feeling my body lower in energy and embrace a peaceful calm.

Only, after she left, stillness started to turn on me.  The space opened to thoughts outside of flow, running against bliss’ current, doubting the certainty of action that had been such a blessing when i chose to work on the book.  It started with my phone impudently flashing bank account’s meager balance to my unexpecting eyes.  There is someone i wish i could help financially, but i cannot get blood from a stone. Every time i look at my washing machine, i feel a huge stabbing of guilt because i am so far behind on that bill, which in turn stoked a panic about all the bills i haven’t been able to pay while i had been unable to throw or move or function and the medical tests i’m having tomorrow and on and on.  Like an avalanche the stress can pick up to terrifying speed and mass as it moves.

i have worked so hard to recognize what is going on within my mind and heart so i do not feed such things, so panic and self-loathing flow through me as quickly as possible, but in that moment i was falling into belief in the worst about myself, ready to ignore the blessings of the day. i could have ruined one of the most sublime miracles of joy i have experienced in months.

i am burningBut, even then, the book saved me.  As i let the complaints about my competency wander through my mind, a character from the nexus wandered in. She manages to do amazing things despite what is a completely broken down situation.  As i wrote one afternoon, probably in early spring, she arose out of nothingness, a bit of the book that i did not expect but that has since been recognized as a pivotal point.

At any rate, by the time she entered the story, she had survived bankruptcy, lost nearly everything, but steadfastly kept working at her passions and helping those she could.  In what is probably the best testimony to my potential madness, i take great hope in the fact that she poured through my hands effortlessly and unbidden.  More often than most would believe, my writing has saved me – even if it is simply by giving a good role model for transcending financial chaos and social devolution.  Almost immediately upon the thought of her, i moved from anxiety back into the exhausted stillness.

Now, here i am, writing again.  The flush of flow has started to rev in my veins and i wonder if i will be up all night writing.  It seems likely if i don’t walk away from the computer after this blog.  It doesn’t matter, i have tomorrow morning for clients, and i will make good on my word to them.  For now, though, i am very tempted to lose myself in the story and the dream and the miracle of language.

poem: the hammer

The hammer slides in my grip –
its heaviness too punishing
for my wounded wing –
yet, i do not relent.

Down flies the weight,
breaking and smashing,
words shattered until nothingness
is all that remains.

Countless stories told,
none of which
describe who i am,
for everything transforms
with this destruction.
Change is the hammer,
which prevents the past
from taking root again.

i have to be reimagined,
even if every syllable
has to shift and sway.

The act of recreation
has become as holy
as it is necessary.

i swing the hammer
to see who i might become.

23 october 2015

poem: like a fragile flower

Like a fragile flower
i am vulnerable to extremes.

Too hot,
too cold,
too hard,
too soft,
any deficit or surplus
can destroy the leaves,
the stem,
the petals.

My roots
do not travel down
far enough
to make much difference –
the wind can still
carry me off.

This is a path covered
with sharp,
unforgiving rocks
and i have no shoes.

Thus, i walk carefully,
with gentle slowness,
ever deepening my awareness
of where i am

What do i need in this moment?

To remember
that for all my delicate fibers
i am stronger than i think.

What do i need in this instant?

To listen –
i bend to the whispers
of body and soul.

17 november 2015

doing too much, doing too little

In retrospect, i entered this whole “getting surgery on my shoulder” with a lot of hubris. Most of it was fueled by desperation, my arm was in so much pain it had been rendered useless. A few days before the actual event i had written in my journal that without doubt i would be back to work within a weeks – at the very least writing and drawing and getting my online store up to date. i would be back quickly because of how deeply i grieved over the time lost to the injury over the summer.  i needed to redeem my life, prove myself useful. “Yeah,” i wrote, “No doubt. i will be back before a month is out.”

Predictably, i was thwarted – or rather, i proved to be insane in my expectations.  What i wound up doing, by in large, was crawling into a hole and waiting for friends to gently toss provisions down at me. In-between injuries and spells of terrible health, i forget: pain keeps the brain from working well, healing takes energy that would normally go toward other things.  Fighting the need to rest brings on even greater despair than the pain already stokes.  Sometimes a hole is exactly where one needs to be, to have quiet and stillness and time to sleep and get better.

It has been six weeks since surgery. Because i am wildly motivated to have two working hands, i already have nearly full range of motion in my arm, but i am terribly weak.  The muscles have no endurance.  An hour in the studio yesterday and another today has left my arm sore and completely exhausted. Inside the joint there is a deep, empty ache and the muscles all grumble angrily. Add to that another round of bronchitis-like symptoms that began a week ago, eerily similar to the affliction that leveled me this time last year (those same friends were begging me for a trip to the hospital during their visits this weekend), and i have had even more days added to this long pause when living feels like it is on hiatus.

i recognize that right now i am a fragile flower. Anything unexpected or extreme will make me wilt and lose my petals. i can do some work – clients’ projects slowly come back up to date, i wrote about a dozen poems today, i am rebuilding the world of my novel in my mind – but physical activity remains limited.  Each time i do a little too much, i fall back down on my generous behind.  i am seeking balance in a body whose needs are shifting wildly from second to second. This can be a dance, trying to maximize what i do and not destroy myself in the process.  i cannot claim success, but i am truly understanding how much of my self esteem still hinges on my ability to make art. Down to my soul, i have learned that the reflexive hatred i feel for myself when i am unable to work is not just useless, but corrosive. This is the habit i cannot let take hold.

For now, i have to be aware of where i am inside myself.  i have to be kind and gentle, dismantling the nagging demand that i justify my existence through ceaseless motion and effort. That way, i can treasure the things i manage to get done – like verse, and drawing, and just making it through another day.

the dog practices zen

They say it’s Dog appreciation day…. so, an old poem about my old dog, when he was still a young pup.


the dog practices zendarwin the dog

he sleeps upside down
in the rounded belly
of the papasan,
legs askew
hanging in the air.
soft sighs
and twitching toes
testify to his dreams.
even rolling over
is accomplished
with a slumbering vitality
few humans will ever achieve.
suddenly waking,
he attacks his left leg,
chewing it with the same
intense wholeness…
and, surely, stretching
should only be attempted
with complete attention
and unhesitating abandon.


4 may 2006

Take Life by the hand…

take life by the hand - lead it in a dance of Love - open-hearted joy
take life by the hand – lead it in a dance of Love – open-hearted joy

So much has happened this past year, that i can barely process it all.  A lot of things i took for granted were stripped away.  Those last shreds of stability (or the delusion of same) disappeared.  Going through my poetry and blogs from the last twelve months, what i see is a clarifying fire – a lot of what i thought was important and what i assumed would be my path’s easy choices became either irrelevant or unreachable.  i have been humbled by my own failures and limitations.  i had to adapt – i am still in the process of adapting, in fact – and this has been neither smooth nor free of whining.  (And here is my first gratitude: for friends that held my hand and let me break down in anger, frustration and fear.  You rock!)

join us in this dance - wild joy of word and line - melody of dreams
join us in this dance – wild joy of word and line – melody of dreams

What shocks me the most, though, is how much my art changed while i was going through this intense time.  If i am honest, this transformation began a long time ago. Even during my divorce there were pieces of strength and determination amid some of the most sorrowful paintings and grief-drenched poems i have ever created.  For years, i languished right on the edge of the pit, never very far from falling in even when i danced with happiness.  And when i fell, oh, how i fell. i could stay down there for ridiculous amounts of time, thrashing about powerlessly.

Very slowly, over months and years, meditation and the retraining of my brain started to work.  In a way, i don’t think this will ever be fully finished, although i hope i am wrong. So far, though, each time i get over one hurdle or come to terms with one weakness, i find another.  Somehow, i developed a seemingly endless series of habits and assumptions that need to be questioned, shaken up or eradicated.  Still, i began to be more content for longer and longer periods – even when the same difficulties kept flooding my life.  Loneliness did not disappear, the financial instability did not resolve itself, the troubles with anxiety did not simply dissolve, vanquished by sudden bravery.  However, this year, i found a way to enjoy the moment even when the big picture crumbled to pieces.  When i read my words or look at my drawings – particularly these pen and inks – i do not see the sorrow or suffering.  i see the hope, the bliss, the determination that might be madness.

i do not exist - except in these words and lines - where i come to life
i do not exist – except in these words and lines – where i come to life

Maybe i overdosed on stress this past summer.  Perhaps i finally surrendered my last illusions of control. Maybe after 1,000 hours of meditation even the dimmest bulb can get some light. Either way, i have found myself more peaceful and more shockingly joyous in the middle of crises than i used to be when things were going well.  First, my art became joy, even when i felt nothing like that at the time.  Then i started checking in with myself and discovered the joy and peace were really just there, hiding underneath the wild fear and habits of doom.

For this, i am more grateful than i can say.  i know i am not  anywhere near done.  i keep practicing kindness, practicing gratitude.  When i forget, or get too busy, i feel myself sliding back into places i want to go.  This practice has become what poetry and prose have always been – a foundation on which my sanity rests.

On this New Year’s Eve, i could give you a hundred things i wish would change, ten stormandsunthousand that i want to do, i could wax on and on about how i don’t know what to do about my business or where the future will lead me.  My imagination can conjure the most desperate, terrible futures as well as ways everything could change, if i want to invest in fantasies.  i could do all those things – but i don’t want to.

What i want to do is make more joy through pen and ink, through clay, through oils and acrylics.  i want to throw myself into the sanctuary of words not because i have to hide myself there lest i crumble into despair, but because it is wonderful, exciting, hard work.  i want to find that speck of unexpected kindness in the middle of uncertainty.  i want to laugh with friends and hug my dog and pester my cats with love.  i want to enjoy this improbable happiness when so much has gone wrong.  i want to keep growing as i have this year.

And for those desires, i also give thanks.

Have a lovely New Year – and if troubles find you, if they find me, may we all find the sparks of loveliness inside them.

motes of dust

Today was the first day in God knows how long that I had no appointments, nothing that had to be done two days ago, no one tapping their foot, waiting for my time.  This was a blessing of the highest order.  Don’t get me wrong, as I wrote in yesterday’s blog, I have a thousand things to do.  Chaos and mess surround me.  Stress and anxiety could kill me if I let them. But no one stands over me with a whip, demanding every second of my afternoon.  For once, all of the pressure and plans were self-inflicted.  Once I realized this, I gave myself a gift: I went upstairs with a book, and alternated between reading and meditating.

Stillness is awesome when I can achieve it.  Calm and quiet can nurture as much as food buddhaandspiritand water. For long stretches there was nothing but the words of the book, then for more spells I sat quietly inside this beloved space I will soon be turning over to the embrace of winter, listening to everything going on around me, opening my eyes to see tiny motes of dust dancing through the air – a ballet of sorts, just for me, feeling the dog’s heavy breathing as much as hearing it while he slept nearby.  As much as I want to sell my art, I was grateful for the lack of customers.  The stillness could gently recenter me without distraction.

That is my gratitude right now: for a chance to be still, quiet and empty myself of thoughts and worry.  I think I might steal another half hour… and then maybe I’ll give myself another gift, the chance to throw.

poem: the thief

10614261_289799811205071_4508236065730935590_ni laugh loudly.

i have been told
my laugh bears
the dulcet tones
of a braying donkey.
It explodes out of me –
i become so full
with sudden joy
at whatever tickled me,
that i forget
all the struggle.

This is a salvation.

i can lose myself
in the delight
of a beautiful day,
or the clay flowing
through my fingers,
or the majestic dance
of ink across a page,
or the unexpected delight
of a quietly spoken joke.

Subtlety is not my strong suit.
i cannot keep things hidden well.
Compartmentalization can be done,
but at a high cost
in energy and spirit.

Alas, this means that darkness,
when it grabs hold of me,
also enjoys my full attention.
It dominates and crushes
until i can divert my attention,
until i find some blessed distraction.

So i steal what joy i can
particularly on days
drenched in the blues.
I seek out sunshine,
and smiles.

Like a shameless thief,
i rob from pain,
cramming laughter, flow and celebration
into my experience.

26 august 2014

poem: your cars

Your cars pass by
like waves of sound
breaking on ancient glass,
as i lie here in a puddle of regret,poem
my heels held by the delusion
i should be doing something else.

My imagination toys with me:
you might have been customers,
or vital contacts,
or people who would have
made me smile
on a terrible day
and fed my dog cookies.

Only i am too weak to move.
My lungs fill with lava
every single inhale.
Pain sears through my limbs.
Worst of all,
a veil of hopelessness
has enshrouded my vision.

All i have,
as you fly past
the only home
i have ever known,
are these words.
They can lead me
to the ecstasy of my dreams;
they give me some reality –
a meager purpose
on days like this,
but enough to force the air
in and out again.

They are my only anchor,
tethering my spirit
to this world.

How it wants to go free –
soar through the clouds,
away from the agonizing,
to find a realm
where my prayers are answered
in ways that makes sense.

The temptation of escape
feels nearly irresistible.

Yesterday, i was defiant.

The day before that,
i fell apart utterly.

Today, i wish
i had something within me,
some inner strength
that could fill me,
let me rise from bed
fearless and powerful,
removing all obstacles
like a fair-haired Ganesh.

Instead, i listen to traffic,
making myself drink
this cocktail
of solitude, pain and failure
until i stop gagging
and acquire a taste
for this moment.

-asha fenn
1 August 2014

The floor won

photo 4Two conversations derailed what I intended to write tonight.  I had gotten as far as typing the title and setting up categories when the evening escaped from my clutches.

I was supposed to describe cleaning the studio – how even though the floor is much cleaner, I still feel like it conquered me more than I conquered it.  For two days I have been bent with pain; even though I wanted to crumble – and did disintegrate a few times – I came back together and returned to work on the job.  My psyche needed the studio to be cleaner, more hospitable to humans.

After waxing on for awhile about the painful tedium of cleaning floors and how fluently cursive can flow from my lips when I’m on all fours scraping newly reconstituted mud up off the floor, and how being present in some moments doesn’t make them less unpleasant, I would have been telling you about how it is all worth it because I get to make the floors filthy again throwing and glazing tomorrow.

Only after two unexpected conversations, my mind is in a totally different place.  My attention has been brought to the person I used to be, to the greatest pains I have suffered and to the woman I am in this moment. This path has taken me through some terrible places and miraculous moments.  My current situation isn’t completely devoid of stress.  I continue to be lonely and feel acutely vulnerable. Oh, Lord, I still have a long way to go on the path of compassion and kindness.  Still, in the middle of all the whining I have done lately, I have found great peace and happiness.

In both conversations, I surprised myself.  In the first, I realized with gentle shock that I was at peace with something that had hurt me terribly five and a half years ago.  Talking about it, I finally could see past the pain of my reaction to what might have been going on in the heart of the other person.  Great forgiveness and compassion filled me. Indeed, for the first time, I could see the whole experience through his eyes, and from that view his actions seemed comprehensible.  A deeper peace settled within me.

In the second discussion, I actually lost my temper a bit about not being heard – because I had learned a great lesson that could not be muddied by misunderstanding. We were on the same page about how living in the moment – not projecting into the future or dwelling in the past – is the key to lasting happiness. I agreed with him that there are times when terrible things happen and you can do nothing to stop them – being present in the moment, even if it’s awful and painful and traumatic – can seem like an impossible thing but is necessary. Running away just makes the healing take longer; it encourages denial and prolongs suffering. Likewise, I concurred, refraining from revenge and hate even when you’ve been badly wounded by another can be necessary for the health of the soul.  Love is always the best way to respond to anything – however, where I vigorously disagreed was in how that love manifests as we walk through the world.  You do not have to keep dipping into the well of abuse voluntarily.  You can forgive and love but simultaneously strive to avoid situations with people who have treated you terribly in the past.  Masochism is not the same as enlightenment.  Ideally, any form of violence and cruelty should be responded to with love – but I argued that practically, in the moment of injury, the most basic act of love can be getting yourself through intact.

There are spiritual levels to love on on hand and the very practical needs of social interaction in the other. We can be compassionate and keep ourselves safe. If we do not stay safe, we can forgive those that transgressed upon us, but not allow them to wound us again. I have not demanded such forgiveness of myself when I was still actively suffering at someone’s hands, as he suggested is the ideal. In my experience, that was too much to ask in that moment. Those nows centered around survival. Peace and forgiveness came later, after the physical danger had passed. Likewise for smaller frustrations and cruelties: as they are occurring, practicality demands that choices be made to accept someone else’s judgment, or defend oneself, or avoid a greater confrontation. Perhaps perfection demands that we never lose our tempers or get irritated (although Jesus did, come to think of it) but reality often means that anger is sparked and we pray for grace in whether or not we stoke the fires and in how the flames escape us.

We can honor God within every single human being, even the ones who leave a swath of destruction through the world, without having to submit to their malevolent behavior.  There are moments that we have to love ourselves enough to be firm and protective.  There has to be a way to face the world in a compassionate, loving way, but do not allow ourselves to be hurt or diminished.  On a very basic level, we must love ourselves and treat ourselves with kindness.  We can get into a great philosophical debate about the non-existence of self and how we are all manifestations of the divine, but as we move through the world in these skin-covered constructions, there remain ways to hurt us.

More than I ever did before, I have been irritated and pushing back to behavior I don’t think is appropriate during the past year. My vision has cleared. It has been incredibly hard for me to finally wake up enough to realize that I cannot fix another’s problem by arguing with them or by indulging their whims to the point of self-injury, or by altering myself to suit their mood, or by letting them hurt me.  Love has to include myself – I am part of creation too.  I love living this life; I enjoy this particular skin-covered construction.  Rather belatedly, I have realized it is alright to make my safety and happiness a higher priority without sacrificing love or being less loving.

Perhaps this is too simplistic.  Almost certainly this is not the most fully enlightened model of behavior.  However, it has helped me quite a lot over the past few months.  Every time I do tonglen meditation, I realize that I can breathe in pain and suffering and sorrow and release kindness and joy and love. There are endless depths to love. The energy of a room can change just by breathing in negatives and breathing out positives. An eternal spring of compassion flows up within our souls into which this meditation taps. This practice helps deepen my understanding of the reality and omnipresence of love.  But that doesn’t mean that I would willingly allow someone to hurt me.

I don’t want to cause harm to other people either, but I have finally found out that I have no patience for those who would cause me pain. I find myself avoiding those who would insult me, or ignore me, or actively hurt me. Even when they are not acting out of malice, I consistently find myself walking away from cruel or judgmental or crushingly negative behaviors. My vexation has been leaking out my lips too often, but I still marvel at its existence. I know that I deserve to be treated better, just because I am a child of God – just like they deserve to be treated well for the same reason. Tonight, I found out that I could say with complete conviction that love for others, a global kind of love, universal love, does not conflict with being kind to the one looking out from behind these eyes.

Ah, I have written too much.  It might be hazy and indistinct because it is already tomorrow and my back is still singing with pain.  After I awake, when the sun has long since risen again, I will deliver pottery to a gallery and then come back to the studio to glaze. Surely the floor will be messy again before the next sunset.  But it will all be well, because I will be back to making art.