Saturday, December 10, 2005

Emily & St. Francis

"To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else." --Emily Dickinson

Via The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor (American Public Media), I read an interesting short bio of Emily Dickinson. Something that struck me was that there should be some reason that Emily "withdrew" from the world, not that she didn't continue to interact with the world in ways that she chose.

There are so many "shoulds" in our world. I think it is wonderful that Emily, within the constraints she had to accept, (for example, living in her parents' home, financially dependent on them, keeping house for them) still conducted her life as she chose fit, as much as she was able.

This is the most amazing thing, actually. If a man, for example, chooses to withdraw from the world, well, he's a recluse, a hermit, a monk, someone who has chosen the contemplative life for positive, proactive reasons. He's a Thoreau. But when a woman does it, who by definition is supposed to live her life intertwined with and through or around her family and community, well!! She's Emily Dickinson, who must have had an affair, been jilted by a lover...some tragedy. She must have, we just haven't found out exactly what...God forbid she should live a life outside her family and community! If that is what she somehow manages to do, then she must have done it for negative & reactive reasons. Surely, she wouldn't choose such a life! It goes against nature! (sarcasm intended!!)

OK. Now that I've gotten that off my chest....!

I often scold myself with "shoulds". A wise therapist once asked me, "Do you really want to entertain more, be with people more? Who in your head is actually saying you should entertain more?" I had been complaining that I was not entertaining as much as I thought I should. I somehow thought I should have people over or something at least once a week. Never mind that I was seeing people all week long in my paying job--lots and lots of people, and that maybe, my time off I would enjoy more alone! I realized that it was my busy, busy ego, worrying about everything again, making sure I stayed on the straight and narrow--whatever that is. What I, deep down, really wanted to do had nothing to do with entertaining people. At that point, it was more like curl up with a big feather quilt and a good book by a comforting fire.

Even now, I sometimes have to take a deep breath, take another moment to listen to myself, try to hear my deep self, not just my ego, to figure out what I really want. Sometimes, what I really need to do is to lie in bed, daydream, snooze, and daydream some more. At other times, it is most satisfying to do some vigorous physical tasks, work in the garden, for example, or clearing up my studio/work room. And sometimes, it is being with the people I love, talking, laughing. It is when I do what feels really right for my deep self in that moment, that I feel most exhilarated--no matter what it is.

A clear night sky and a little instruction allows anyone to soar
in mind and
imagination to the farthest reaches of an enormous universe in
which we are but
a speck. And there is nothing more exhilarating and
humbling than that
.-- B
rian Greene

I have been a fan of Thomas Moore for many years. Here at Resurgence, read his article on Silence.

A bit of relifef from the "shoulds" of Christmas shopping comes in the form of the Reverend Billy
of the Church of Stop Shopping. Just stop and think:
"Not-buying is a brave thing to do. At first it may induce vertigo, identity
weirdness, and a desire for an unwanted pregnancy. But most often a new believer
will have an abnormal kitsch-acquisition fit. The first response to the break in
buying may be a huge sucking sound in your hands - you want to buy something,
When you lift your hand from the product and back away from it, a
bright, unclaimed space opens up. Consumers think it is a vacuum. It is really
only the unknown.
In the Church of Stop Shopping we believe that buying is
not nearly as interesting as not-buying. When you back away from the purchase,
the product may look up at you with wanton eyes, but it will slump quickly back
onto the shelf and sit there trying to get a life. The product needs you more
than you need it - remember that."--
Bill Palen, aka Reverend Billy
Read more about buying nothing in this article at Resurgence.

The simple paintings featured in this article on St. Francis, startled me with their naive beauty. Perhaps, if I was a Catholic, I would pray to St. Francis. Odd, that over and over again, my thoughts have returned to St. Francis--ever since Sunday's CBC program on Tuscany. So I visited the site of the Franciscan Friars here. Take some time to linger here. I guarantee you, even though your background might be adamantly Protestant, like mine, and even though you call the divine by other names, as I, a born-again-pagan do, you will be moved by the beautiful prayers and meditations offered on the Franciscans site.
Image hosted by
St. Francis and the turtle doves, from Francis of Assisi: Paintings for Our Time, by Greg Tricker
Image hosted by
St. Francis and Brother Fish, from Francis of Assisi: Paintings for Our Time, by Greg Tricker
Francis of Assisi is published by Green Books at £25 (hardback), with over sixty colour plates. For further information, tel: +44 (0)1803 863260.


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