A Quiet Place in the Swirl


Today I share not my words, but those of Naomi Shihab Nye, the third verse of a poem about her Uncle Mohammed. These lines speak to me of the need to make my world smaller. They remind me that even as I engage with life and responsibilities and relationships, I can make choices. I can choose to push distractions aside and attend to what matters. I can find that ‘quiet place in the swirl’, pursue the inner quiet necessary to live an undiluted life.


Maybe you had other reasons.

Maybe you didn’t go up the mountain because you were angry.

This is what I am learning, the voice I hear when I wake at 3 a.m.

It says, Teach me how little I need to live

and I can’t tell if it is me talking, or you,

or the walls of the room. How little, how little,

and the world jokes and says, how much.

Money, events, ambitions, plans, oh Uncle,

I have made myself a quiet place in the swirl.

I think you would like it.

Yesterday I learned how many shavings of wood the knife discards

to leave one smoothly whittled spoon.

Today I read angles of light through the window,

first they touch the floor, then the bed,

til everything is luminous, curtains flung wide.

As for friends, they are fewer and dearer,

and the ones who remain seem also to be climbing mountains

in various ways, though we dream we will meet at the top.

Will you be there?

Gazing out over valleys and olive orchards

telling us to sit, sit,

you expected us all along.

Naomi Shihab Nye (from For Mohammed on the Mountain)



Pursuing Wholeness

When your eyes are tired

the world is tired also.


When your vision has gone,

no part of the world can find you.


Time 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 home



The night will give you a horizon

further than you can see.


David Whyte, from Sweet Darkness



It’s been a long and sometimes difficult year, and I’ve often wished I could go and live in a small house alone somewhere, away from the demands and expectations of my days. I have a beautiful life, one that is full of good things and good people. But I am tired.

Over the past weekend I attended a workshop in which we engaged with horses, and then reflected on our interactions as a way of learning more about ourselves. At one point I tried to lead a horse to a patch of shade. When asked why I had chosen that particular place and what it represented for me, I said that it looked nice, comfortable and peaceful. I said that it represented rest. The facilitator smiled and said to me, “You need rest.”

I find it very difficult to rest. Even when I do have the opportunity to be still, my mind races with thoughts of all I should be doing. It’s hard to give myself permission to just be. There is a heaviness in me, a weariness that I am wary of indulging. I fear that if I stop all the thinking and doing, I will sink into that heaviness and be lost.

So I keep moving, and doing and accomplishing. This is not an entirely bad thing; being productive is an antidote to despair and self-pity. Caring for my family brings me joy, and coming to the end of the day knowing that I have completed my tasks and engaged in meaningful work is a blessing.

But I am beginning to think that there is a season for moving into the darkness, for allowing myself to settle into the places in my heart that need to speak of sadness and confusion. It is in reaching into those places that I find some of the wisdom needed to make sense of myself and my world. As David Whyte says, that darkness can provide a vision of a further horizon, one that is not clear in the wide open light and stimulus of daily life. God is in the dark places of my life, as much as He is in the light.

I end with some beautiful words from Rainer Maria Rilke:

So don’t be frightened, dear friend, if a sadness confronts you larger than any you have ever known, casting its shadow over all you do. You must think that something is happening within you, and remember that life has not forgotten you; it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall. Why would you want to exclude from your life any uneasiness, any pain, any depression, since you don’t know what work they are accomplishing within you?

(You can find Sweet Darkness in its entirety on the poetry page.)


Mind Skiddle

skiddle – to throw flat stones so that they skim on the surface of water (Galloway)

Robert Macfarlane in Landmarks


Did you ever skip stones as a child? We did; my father was a consummate stone skipper. He could make a pebble skitter across water seven times. I think my best is about four (although my stones sink about as often as they skip). There’s an addictive quality to the game, picking up stone after stone, trying to make it skip just one more time than the one before.

Earlier in the week, I imagined a stone in my hand, imagined the weight of it, cold against my skin. I pictured myself stepping forward and flicking it out into the water, watching it bounce and sink. And in that imagining, I noticed something. There are thoughts that I pick up, over and over again. I hold them in awareness, feel their weight, their familiar texture and shape. I throw them out and watch them dance and sink again beneath the surface of that awareness. I watch the ripples of those thoughts widen and run into other thoughts. Then I pick them up, and repeat the process. It’s comfortable in some sense. I can let my thoughts slide easily over the tracks I’ve created for them, but those tracks don’t lead anywhere.

There is another image I associate with stones: a cairn, a neat stack of small rocks created by people walking a path, to help others on the same path in finding their way. I wonder if I can put my stone thoughts to such use. Can I stack them with care, make a beacon for myself to follow so that they point a way forward? This requires effort. I must break with established patterns and leave the thoughts behind so that I can explore new territory, go somewhere I’ve not been before.

(On the poetry page you will find a poem that I wrote in reflection on this.)