Rituals of Approach
Happy Birthday Tilly!


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From A Hidden Wholeness by Quaker writer Parker J. Palmer:

"Philosophers haggle about what to call this core of our humanity, but I'm no stickler for precision. Thomas Merton called it true self. Buddhists call it original nature or big self. Hasidic Jews call it the spark of the divine. Humanists call it identity and integrity. In popular parlance, people often call it soul...

"What we name it matters little to me, since the origins, nature, and destiny of call-it-what-you-will are forever hidden from us, and no one can credibly claim to know its true name. But that we name it matters a great deal. For 'it' is the objective, ontological reality of selfhood that keeps us from reducing ourselves, or each other, to biological mechanisms, psychological projections, sociological constructs, or raw material to be manufactured into whatever society needs -- diminishments of our humanity that constantly threaten the quality of our lives."

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Nobody knows what the soul is, says poet Mary Oliver,

" 'it comes and goes / like the wind over the water.' But just as we can name the function of the wind, so we can name some of the functions of the soul without presuming to penetrate its mystery:

The soul wants to keep us rooted in the ground of our own being, resisting the tendency of other faculties, like the intellect and ego, to uproot us from who we are.

The soul wants to keep us connected to the community in which we find life, for it understands that relationships are necessary if we are to thrive.

The soul wants to tell us the truth about ourselves, our world, and the relation between the two, whether that truth is easy or hard to hear.

The soul wants to give us life and wants us to pass that gift along, to become life-givers in a world that deals too much in death."

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Exchange the words "the soul" for "the Muse" and that's a perfect description of how I feel about art-making. I want to paint pictures and write fiction and essays grounded in my deepest self, in the land, and in community. I want to tell stories that are authentic and true, even when that truth is hard to speak, and even harder to hear. I want my work to be life-giving in a world that does, indeed, deal too much with death; and to help to restore the ancient, mythic, necessary balance between the dark and the light.

I suppose what I mean is I want to make art that has soul, or luminosity, or call-it-what-you-will.

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Jungian psychologist Jean Shinoda Bolen writes:

''You have the need and the right to spend part of your life caring for your soul. It is not easy. You have to resist the demands of the work-oriented, often defensive, element in your psyche that measures life only in terms of output -- how much you produce -- not in terms of the quality of your life experiences. To be a soulful person means to go against all the pervasive, prove-yourself values of our culture and instead treasure what is unique and internal and valuable in yourself and your own personal evolution.''

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The photographs here are of Nattadon Hill on an early morning in June, before I fell ill. I can now take short walks in the woods with Tilly, but don't yet have the strength for our ritual morning climb to the very top of the hill -- and every time I turn back from that path she looks puzzled, impatient to return to our usual routines. I am also often impatient these days, waiting for normal life to resume -- and then I must remind myself that this, too, is normal life: resting, healing, rebuilding my strength, like I've done so many times before. The ritual of our morning climb is echoed by the ritual of returning to health, over and over: the hard climb up; the joy of arrival; the heady momentum of coming back down, Tilly bounding through tall green tunnels of bracken. Normal life is the climb and the descent, productivity and quiet moments of stillness, the light of the sun and the dark of the moon. As Crow in my novel The Wood Wife would say, "It is all dammas." All part of the great Mystery.

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In The Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore reminds us:

''It's important to be heroic, ambitious, productive, efficient, creative, and progressive, but these qualities don't necessarily nurture soul. The soul has different concerns, of equal value: downtime for reflection, conversation, and reverie; beauty that is captivating and pleasuring; relatedness to the environs and to people; and any animal’s rhythm of rest and activity.''

The soul has different concerns, and so does the Muse. My job as an artist, gazing up at the hill that I can't yet climb, is to value it all.

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A more precise and perfect essay for this particular moment in time I ccould not construe. When trying to describe the essence of a thing, of this thing we call by many names that is the core of human existence, the name we call the rose, the center of our individual beings, that impulse, that wave of true feeling, is less important than the thing itself. Poets and Philosophers, Preachers and Pundits have wrestled it to the ground again and again, but like the eagle when it soars off a distant cliff, we fly and need not know why. The air lifts our wings and that is enough for me. I burst with gratitude and love.

This was so beautiful. I'm trying to find the words to describe how it touched my heart deeply and gently on this cold winter night, but words seem at once too much and not enough. I'd like to share about the climbing of the hill, and the way sometimes a woman can force herself up there even though she knows she shouldn't, and about how its so hard to honour one's need for healing ... but I'm just going to have to leave it at thank you.

This precisely the kind of writing I need to right now. Thank you so much.

"need to read right now"... or maybe just "need right now". :)

A beautiful post, and beautiful photographs of your soft-eyed, wise and happy companion.

Terri, I understand so well the impatience with healing - especially as we grow older. "But it didn't use to take me this long," is the quiet wail within as the healing proceeds. But this is the way of the body, and I must listen, especially after six decades in this world.

Your phrase "I want my work to be life-giving" strikes such a chord in me, for I want the same thing too, and try to accomplish it in my teaching practice. Simple words, but so true, and able to be treasured and to inspire.

Take good care and continue to heal.

Tapping the Root

If you call the soul a taproot,
you can visualize it, reaching into your soil,
thick, tapered, growing down
reaching for the bottom
where you have hidden yourself.

Some of us are carrots,
seeing in the dark.
Others have beet souls, red and bloody.
I am a dandelion, sending out seeds
blown on the changing winds

You do not have to name your root--
burdock, parsley, radish, turnip—
nor say its name aloud. Just know
that taproots redistribute water,
they hold it in their arms.

What grows above comes from below.

©2015 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

Living on a farm in rural Wiltshire, this poem speaks to my vegatable soul & I love it SO much. Thank you, thank you, Jane.

This post really touched me in a way that I needed today and will need again and again. Thank you.

You have the true meaning of it all. It's about "and" - not "or". The climb and the descent. The light and the dark. Be well soon.

(((Terri))) this post and all the deep heart responses are such good soul food

These last two posts are very meaningful to me. Some days it's difficult for me to apply myself to my painting. I get so restless and impatient with myself when the paint just won't create the effect I want it to. I even get touchy with my loved ones around me. This does indeed seem to occur when I fail to circle the water before I begin the project.
I must confess though, in regards to nurturing our soul there are paintings I do for what makes my heart sing, but as of late I've had to paint only ones from subject matter demanded from buyers here in the Memphis scene due to that's what is selling and paying the bills.
Happy to hear that you are being gentle with yourself as of late.
All will come in due time. Your posts are always amazing and so"Right on the money" so to speak. That is a beautiful shot of Tilly!
Loving waves of healing sent to you precious one.....

That Jean Shinoda Boden quote cuts right to the heart of my endless wrangle with myself. How easy it is to let the quiet voice of the deep self get overwhelmed by worry, work, and distraction.


I am a spud,
Blind white eyes

In 1st grade
We put on a
Vegetable play.
I thought teacher
Called me
Fatty potato.
I wept.

Oh no, it's
Patty Potato
And I looked
In a mirror and
I was not chubby
Any more.

I am spud
Who sprouts out
Who is of earth and
Western meat and
Potatoes. I climb
Out of what is like
A dark cave

I am useful,
My poetry curls
From long white eyes.
Common, a listener

Years later,Patty?
Irish? Also Polish
Slavic spirit
Sturdy. Dramatic
In history.
I am spud

"I suppose what I mean is I want to make art that has soul, or luminosity, or call-it-what-you-will." - You do, sweet Terri. You do. I promise. =)

Jean Shinoda Boden

Jean Shinoda Boden
Has a soft voice
A smile, when we
See her, we are in
Her flock. Taking
in what she gives
Like shadows of
High clouds, trees,
The real and false
Made clear.

It was a light
She sent us who
Licked up failure
Like sour cream
In a bowl of censure.

We have the same
Lift of the winged,
Our soul stands out
Beside us, with that
Knowing look.
Your failure has
Saved you. We are
Given the impossible
For our next un-chosen
Un-named entrance.

Late night the same day, and I've returned to share a Ruth Stone poem I just re-read. It made me think of you dear one, of the struggle we all share, the longing and love calling us despite griefs and despair, the way we climb up and up until a resolution comes through:


When I am sad
I sing, remembering
the redwing blackbird's clack.
Then I want no thing
except to turn time back
to what I had
before love made me sad.

When I forget to weep,
I hear the peeping tree toads
creeping up the bark.
Love lies sleeping
and dreams that everything
is in it's golden net;
and i am caught there too,
when I forget

(from In The Next Galaxy)

Sorry to learn that you have been ill.

Wishing you well, on your trip to full recovery.

And another beautiful post...


A fabulous call and response. Thank you Phyllis, and thank you again Jane.

Oh my. This is one of my favorites of yours, Jane. This is simply gorgeous.

So lovely. I've only heard her speak once, and she was just as you've described.

That's truly beautiful. Thank you, Michelle. I haven't read Ruth Stone's poetry and I'll seek it out now.

Oh my, thank you everyone for such lovely, encouraging comments. I feel so blessed by the warmth of this community as I move through the bright and dark days of the healing process. Thank you.

Thank you. Being Patty not Fatty Potato was a strong memory, along with all the other things about 'spuds,' in our life.

Such a beautiful post. Thank you so much. Bookmarking :) So sorry to hear that you've been unwell.

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