42 There is a word

 

There is a word
Which bears a sword
Can pierce an armed man –
It hurls it’s barbed syllables
And is mute again –
But where it fell
The saved will tell
On patriotic day,
Some epauletted Brother
Gave his breath away.

Wherever runs ts the breathless sun –
Wherever roams the day,
There is it’s noiseless onset –
There is it’s victory!
Behold the keenest marksman!
The most accomplished shot!
Time’s sublimest target
Is a soul “forgot”!

[Emily Dickinson]

Written late 1858, bound into Fascicle 2.

Damn. She winds this up so well and packs that punch at the end. At first you think it could be joyful, maybe it’s not bad – the terms victory and all those exclamation marks had me starting to smile as I read it. But then, then she pulls it all out from under you. To be forgotten. Is this really the worst possible thing? Whether you agree with her or not, this begs the question: forgotten by whom? Loved ones? Future generations? God? Hmm.

Peace and Love and Namaste –

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33 Whether my bark went down at sea

Written Autumn 1858, bound into Fascicle 3. Ah, the daily adventures of the mind and soul –

 

Whether my bark went down at sea –
Whether she met with gales –
Whether to isles enchanted
She bent her docile sails –

By what mystic mooring
She is held today –
This is the errand of the eye
Out opon the Bay.

[Emily Dickinson]

And, with practice, the eye becomes sharper, quicker. And the bark becomes increasingly resilient.

Sail bravely –

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30 To lose if one can find again

Written late summer 1858 on the last sheet of Fascicle I – just one more little poem in this group and we sojourn onward! But today’s is a gem, and I am relishing this journey. Savor this one with me –

 

To lose – if One can find again –
To miss – if One shall meet –
The Burglar cannot rob – then –
The Broker cannot cheat.
So build the hillocks gaily –
Thou little spade of mine
Leaving nooks for Daisy
And for Columbine –
You and I the secret
Of the Crocus know –
Let us chant it softly –
There is no more snow”!

[Emily Dickinson]

Let me encourage you to spend a bit of time with these poems – often it takes several readings for me to absorb the full weight of her words, and even then I’m sure there’s more. That’s what I love about her poetry: it provides a challenge. Let yourself see everything as a metaphor, every word as an image – wander, play, experiment. Create your own adventure.

Love –

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My Emily Dickinson

Last year I had the privilege of spending an entire semester studying Emily Dickinson. I was skeptical at first, knowing little about her apart from her apparent reclusiveness and rumored love affair with a woman. I’d read a poem or two in high school and remembered that she wrote about death, and I know, for most people, the knowledge stops there.

emily dickinson

I spent months reading, studying, and discussing her poems and various letters she’d sent throughout her life, and I left the class feeling that I had made an intimate friend.

Sure, she rarely left the house, but with a soul like hers, why would she? She cared deeply for her family and ran their household in Amherst, playing the piano, tending her garden, and baking the bread. She was also a contemporary of Emerson, but she refused to attend a gathering he attended because she heard his book “was disgraceful.” As an avid reader of Emerson’s essays, I’ve forgiven her for this, but the point is that she was human: a woman with a keen intellect, a playful ability to enjoy and commune with nature, a heart that loved deeply and truly, and a soul that transcended transcendentalism. And this is nowhere more evident than in her poetry. But sometimes it’s easier to read articles about who she was as a person or watch a movie about her life instead of simply listening to her and judging for yourself.

I get it – Emily Dickinson has long been inaccessible.

Emily Dickinson poetry

With nearly 2000 poems, it’s hard to know where to begin, and many find them confusing and abstruse. In studying her work, I often wished to hear her read them – to see how she would express various lines and dashes and emphases and rhythms. She isn’t alive to do this, but I am, so, starting today, I’ll be reading her poems aloud and posting recordings of my readings. One every day. Almost every day – I’m human, too, after all. With 1,789 poems, this will take me about 5 years, but I could not be more excited. I’ll post them here, on my website, with the date she wrote them and a transcription of the text. I might add a bit of interpretation on some of the more arcane ones, but I hope that you feel your own feelings and have your own ideas. My goal in this is merely to be a vessel for her art. I can only hope that the world will come to know and love her the way I do.

Start here.

Namaste –

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[Legally I think this is okay since all the poems can be found for free online anyway. If it isn’t, let’s have a chat before you go suing me.]

 

Soul Care

As humans, we are inherently triune beings – mind, body, and soul. Growing up in charismatic Christian circles, I saw people moved by what they called the holy spirit. Now I see that these people use[d] religion as a means to give their souls life. They spoke in tongues and danced around rooms, “moved with the spirit.” But I feel the same spirit when I listen to jazz or absorb great paintings; I pulse with that life when I dance in a club or write a story. I may not ascribe to any religion, but my soul is as alive as ever.

We are raised to go to school, to seek education – to read books and solve math problems in care of our minds. We’re taught to eat healthy foods and exercise to care for our bodies. But what about our souls? The spirituality of religion can get stuck in legalism and dogma, leaving the greater part of the population lost and, in many ways, dead.

“A little wisp of soul carrying a corpse.” – Epictetus.

 

Our souls are what bring us to life – they’re the animating factors that shine light behind our eyes and make our skin glow. Think of humans as double layer cakes – mind and body are the layers of cake, but without frosting, who wants to eat it? Dry and crumbly, maybe it tastes good for a few bites, but something’s missing. The glue, the moisture, the decadence – the icing on the cake – the soul.

All animals have bodies and minds. But what make us human, what have the potential to make us great and transcendent beings, are our souls. Our healthy souls can unite us, make us free, give us power, and lead us in paths of love and light. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs sets physiological and safety as the lowest two – the only needs that are purely physical or mental. The top three are love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization – the needs of the soul. So, if you don’t believe me, believe an esteemed psychologist – 3/5 of our most basic human needs are those of the soul.

But in a society, a culture, a world that neglects the soul – how do we care for it? How can we bring it to life? This takes work, consciousness, dedicated practice; Rome was not built in a day. Maybe you follow religious teachings, maybe you let music and art spark your internal fire, maybe you practice meditation and yoga. Start by clearing out the cobwebs, dusting the corners, and opening the windows – the beginning is the hardest part. Just as muscles atrophy in the absence of strain and brain cells wither away with disuse, our neglected souls wilt like thirsty flowers in the shade. We need sunlight, we need water, and we need these things regularly. People use drugs to feel alive in this way – to skip the daily practice and enjoy the light of the soul for an evening. But this feeling of ecstasy is possible on a daily basis. With practice, with care, the soul becomes stronger and brighter, and your power becomes increasingly accessible.

pen and ink drawing let the light in

So, as Voltaire wrote, let us cultivate our gardens. Let us seek out beauty and love, surrounding ourselves with objects and images and sounds and foods that bring us joy, with people who radiate light – let us make our souls happy. When we do this, all other desires are met – a body and mind connected to a healthy soul with be beautiful and intelligent and strong. So yes, have your workout and your salad, and read your books and work your sudokus, but begin with the soul. Stoke your internal fire and all parts of you will burn as brightly. 

Let the light in.

 

Love, calm, & care –

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Caring for Your Self

Establishing self-care practices can be difficult. Maybe you’ve moved and have to change your habits, or maybe you’re taking the beginning of a new year as a chance to start being kind to yourself – whatever your reason, you’re onto something great. Caring for yourself is always a good idea, so congrats on making such a wise choice. Now – where to begin?

In a society that shuffles us around from one thing to the next, always telling us – women especially – how to care for other people instead of for ourselves, it can be hard to know what self-care would even be. Think of times in your life that you’ve felt most calm. What were you doing? Where were you? Chances are your cell phone was nowhere near you, maybe you were at a spa or on a beach, maybe you were curled up with a good book or going for a drive. Flip through your rolodex of good memories, and grab onto as many as you can. Now, how can you recreate those as a part of your regular life?

You don’t have to go on vacay or be miles away from your real life to feel relaxed. It can happen in the comfort of your own home, on a yoga mat, in a bath tub – anywhere. It’s an internal thing. Here’s a list of my go-tos:

  1. Take a bath – any time I get to lay down, I feel relaxed. And there’s something about getting clean, really taking the time to lay out and scrub your body, appreciating every little finger and freckle. When I had a bathtub I would always use bath tea – a blend of herbs that you steep yourself in. It’s great for your muscles and the aroma is oh-so-relaxing. Try chamomile, peppermint, marshmallow leaf, rose hip, lavender – really any blend you fancy. I don’t have a bathtub anymore here in China, so I’m scrambling for alternatives – I’m looking for a good masseuse.
  2. Draw/paint a picture. I love to put on some music, take a paintbrush or a pen, and just go for it. It’s a blissful state of flow when you’re not even thinking about what you’re doing but, at the same time, it’s all consuming. It doesn’t matter if you consider yourself an artist or not, just making shapes and seeing what comes out is freeing and therapeutic – what it looks like doesn’t matter, what matters is that you’re doing it.abstract lyric drawing
  3. Drink a cup of tea. The ritual of boiling water, spooning out your tea leaves, letting them steep, and then holding a warm cup is so cozy and comforting. It forces you to slow down and move in tea time, and the health benefits of tea are myriad. As my former employer, tea from Ku Cha is my favorite – their Ginger Puerh is great for detoxing the body, Vanilla Rooibos is like a warm, creamy hug, and all the herbal blends are A1.
  4. My mind is sometimes too active, and writing helps me untangle all my thoughts, sorting through feelings and realizations so I can make sense of it all. Journaling is the first step and then, who knows, once you’ve sorted through the first level you might try other forms.marble writer's notebook and pen
  5. Buy yourself some flowers. Yesterday on my way home from work I passed a beautiful flower shop and could not stop myself from going in. I was thrilled to leave with two gorgeous flowers for the equivalent of a single American dollar. I know flowers aren’t this cheap everywhere, but, if you can get your hands on even one, it’s like bringing a ray of sunshine into your home. And every time you look at it, you smile, remembering that you bought it for yourself – it’s like a little love note, a little celebration of who you are.vase of flowers
  6. Take a deep breath. One is never enough for me, so I like to meditate or do yoga. These things keep me calm, intentional, and in touch – with my body, my life, the world, with everything.
  7. Read a book. A nice little escape from reality.
  8. Take a walk. Getting the body moving is always a good way to go, and if you let yourself take your time, just wander around, you never know what you’ll stumble on.
  9. Smile. Instant gratification.
  10. Look in the mirror and say, “I love you. You’re beautiful.” It might feel silly at first, but, I swear, it works wonders.
  11. Take yourself out to dinner. Notice it’s not the eating that is the self-care here, it’s the act of taking yourself out. Maybe you go see a play or a concert – whatever. It’s fun to get dressed up, leave the house, and enjoy something nice.
  12. Play a musical instrument. I go for the piano, and every time I sit down I feel so calmly empty after I play. Like I just left all my emotions in the music. It’s a beautiful thing. Here I don’t have a piano, but there’s a street of music stores behind my apartment, and I stop in and play their pianos when I have a craving.
  13. Cook or bake. Maybe it’s from working in a kitchen or baking a lot growing up, but I find these so relaxing. Something about chopping vegetables or stirring up some batter calms me down.

I could go on for days, but these are some of my favorites. They’re all pretty easy, don’t require much equipment, and are a great treat for your soul. Because you deserve it. Really. And you can’t give much to others if you’re running on empty yourself. These are all also great alternatives to any addictive behaviors you might be trying to cut out, from smoking a cigarette to eating too much pizza.

What are some of your self-care rituals? Please comment down below; I’d love some new ideas!

Love, calm, & care –

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