I discovered a review I made of compassion years ago, and it speaks to me loudly in this time, so I share it here. An interesting exercise to try, asking yourself, when are you compassionate? When is it difficult to be compassionate?
I am typically compassionate when:
I find it difficult to be compassionate when:
Compassion is most needed for self whenever I block myself from extending compassion to others out of fear. Awareness of my wounds without picking at that woundedness like a scab, alongside awareness of how every human on the planet is wounded allows me to hold great compassion for both myself and others. Everyone wants to feel safe and comfortable in their own skin. People may have dysfunctional ways of going about getting that feeling of safety and comfort.
I have witnessed countless people practicing compassion in action, and I am grateful for their models. (Knitting in action). I am passionate about both distance walking and knitting as secular spiritual practices where I find personal peace and methods to show compassion for others. I have raised thousands of dollars for people through walking prayer.
In this moment of June 2020, everything I can say or do feels inadequate to rethink my place inside a racist structural system, the pain so vast. So I am now listening to strong voices of those expressing generational trauma and oppression. America has its own unique form of racism that began before the country found its identity. Wall Street is literally built on mass graves. Hitler even took his "bible" from America's breed of self-proclaimed superiority (Madison Grant). We then took on an anti-racist identity in fighting in WWII. And yet, we did not look in the mirror until enough is enough and the world slowed by pandemic allowed us a moment of clarity that feels different than any before.
One tiny bit of action I am taking shamefully so late, is to join in support of the NAACP and other social justice groups. Decades ago I completed my English degree thesis on African-American poetry, specifically Gwendolyn Brooks' writings signed off on by a teacher who was a close friend of Ralph Ellison. I lived among a diverse group of POC after college who accepted me warmly as their awkward, white friend. I know exactly where I was when Nelson Mandela was freed and South Africa's truth and reconciliation trials began. I became a literacy center tutor for five years following the poem I wrote below at age 20, a few years before Portland systematically drained black neighborhoods and became one of the whitest cities in the entire US. (I do not mean to suggest illiteracy is linked with race, historical access to education system is though).
What I ask myself in this moment is, where have I been since then? Yes, I've been single parenting, working 60+ hrs/week for years, but in my work and education I also had privilege to have access to information some others didn't outside my social bubble. And yet I did not feel empowered, no, take the time to act on that information. It feels like I've been hugely distracted and disassociated from the experience of others based on my choices and geographic buffers, i.e., white neighborhoods. In this moment, the light is shone brightly on the truth that I live in a different reality, yes, the same country, but a different reality than black folks, as no matter how high up the corporate ladder, when out on the street living lives, it's a different reality from me. And yet, our fates are deeply connected. This James Baldwin clip from 1968 is just stunning when heard in light of today, more than five decades later.
I do know what it's like to be low income all my adult life, but I don't know what it means to not have family able to support me when the going gets unbearable (privilege), don't know what it is to live judged as a POC/BIPOC, and even though I learned much historical context, I am ashamed it has taken me this long to see what is true and how much work I need to do.
Two Top Buttons Fell
Portland's public reading room is shelter from
Oregon's cold winter days;
downtown where you are
always trying to get up.
My high-back, hardwood chair
brings me to the edge of Medgar Evers' life story,
marching on Selma's streets with N double ACP.
Seeing people overcome the hound dogs' bark,
reading words of freedom-love, life-love, blood-love.
Your tired scarf and maroon wool hat
frame your pride-lined face.
Across the broad yellow table,
your brown Salvation coat gapes at me
where two top buttons fell.
Veins in your thumb strain as you move a page.
Your eyes look only down over Time magazine glare.
Glossy red runs there between dark skin
and South African dirt.
I want to teach you to see the words
on that shelf behind your back.
Bright lights in this room
remind us to belong out of the cold;
only closing time pushes you back
to the frosted bench to wait.
Every day you understand
how to sit near the words
and meditate on full color.
No story can explain
how you know that blood speaks.
One of these days, I'll get back to blog on a love of knitting, but in the last few months what sustains me is nature connection, so I am sharing yet more images of the natural world. I cannot explain why my knitting mojo has left for a few months, but a major lesson of this time is kindness to self and leaning into what is. I deeply appreciate you know who you are for checking back in with me on a weekend about the Maker Circles. I'm game anytime anyone would like to join me, and I will be inspired to knit a few rows. Find me on Insta or email@example.com if you want me to send out a reminder and a link/password.
Ferns are among the oldest surviving plants on Earth, and they have always called to me. When asked to seek a name that nature gives me in an eco-art course, my birth name fit right inside.
This week, I felt in heaven walking among this season's spirals of new life in the sun filtering through the woods. And as I leaned in close to look at the spirals unfurling, I felt I was staring into scrolls of ancient wisdom of the universe.
Today I wanted to write a thank you to my daughter for allowing me to be a mother. But the words felt scrambled in my brain, and instead I had the gift of a wonderful walk in the woods with her, six feet apart. We live in different households a few more months as we wait to learn if her college will resume in fall and I find housing for us both. We are mirror images of one another in many ways, in our independent spirits, and I could not ask to parent a more suited child to me. She is unique as a fingerprint, brilliant, and I always say my greatest teacher, because she contains a wisdom I do not.
Enjoy these images from my own mother's glorious porch garden today. Grateful for mothers everywhere of all kinds, as everyone can mother something or someone. And I celebrate the bounty and restoration of the mother of us all - planet Earth.
A day associated with flowers and protests in equal measure. I can do both. But really, my heart is not in the protest in this moment. It feels so small, when the needs are so huge and collective, and I'm not sure one group is more entitled than the next. If anything is a lesson of these times, it is that ALL humans are deserving and all have lost anywhere from something to everything in this pandemic.
(Although, I was on a group gathering with someone from Denmark who informed me her country has no more than normal death rates, and everyone has guaranteed health insurance and government support if they are not working ... For a moment, I wanted to throw a shoe at my computer screen, but instead, I chimed in dreamily how wonderful it is to know this exists in some universe, leadership and society based on public good).
I still have not received any of several pots of government assistance I'm "entitled" to, despite hours of trying to access, but honestly it feels a bit petty at this point. I understand systems are outdated and swamped, and folks are working around the clock to serve the 1 in 5 folks who've applied for unemployment in my state. And yet, to honor the survey I participated in, I am posting this little bit of advocacy. Many freelancers are actually in frontline jobs, whereas mine is about as back-line as you can get, so for that I am grateful, even if half of it has disappeared.
Acts of kindness feel extra poignant right now. I was able to shift my "victim" mentality of helplessness in the face of all around me, and along with it a bit of my days of depression, thanks to being offered work-trade for weekly vegetables at Organic Farm School. Just being around what I'm calling 'farmer mentality' snapped me out of it. "Oh, this crop loss, this bad patch of weather? It's a learning experience. Today, we retool and replant." It also helped me tremendously to communicate with a few live, off-Zoom people, even through masks at a distance, and be outdoors for a day of my week.
I also took advantage of a free 30-minute career counseling appointment with my former college and was shocked how much I could learn in a short time about how to reframe and honor my years of volunteer and life experience to create a narrative and collaboration springboard around what I want to do in my future, rather than a 25-year list of what I have done in the past in the pattern I'd like to change. Glad for the time now to work on refining this.
Next, I want to share a knitting-related essay that rocked my heart with how powerful the instinct is to want to comprehend something as powerful and incomprehensible as number of stars in the sky in a physical piece of knitting.
Grieving Our Collective Loss--One Stitch at a Time
And now, some May Day Flowers for you, in my weekly series of shelter in place moments relishing the steady stream of nature being its marvelous self. My 12-year-old goldfish makes an appearance, because every day I wake up and he/she is still here, I am amazed.
How is everyone? Having weekends and more than that not working for the first time in years, my entire being seems to be R&R'ing. I slept 15 hours after walking four miles. I'm hearing from other people too, that holding such extremes of just under the surface emotions is requiring extra care. Like seeing a neighborhood drive-by birthday for a child that is joy-filled but super strange and sad at the same moment, or any number of triggers to life being both beautiful and painful in the same moment - how it's always been, we're just super aware now.
In the past decade, I did a lot of mind-body integration work, but I find under our current stresses, I revert to strange physical clumsiness and plain feeling out of body most of the time. I missed a scheduled meeting completely, which is very rare for me. This morning I boiled water for my single-serving coffee French press, and where did I pour that boiling water? Over the coffee grounds in my coffee canister that held a pound of coffee. My choices were either throw out a pound of pasty coffee grounds or pour a ton of cold water over and stick in fridge to make a lifetime supply of cold brew. Being close to the money bone for food, I chose the latter, even though I am thinking I may have just made coffee cement rather than a delectable brew. We make do.
In the BC (before COVID) times, I had a bit of spending money that I used to purchase a sweater quantity of BFL wool from West Yorkshire Spinners. It was the most quality wool for the lowest price I'd ever seen, cost being one of the things that makes me hesitant to make sweaters. The last time I attempted a sweater for myself, I had lost weight and kept it off for a year, so I thought that trend would continue. Wrong. By the time I finished the sweater, I'd gone up two sizes. End result is, although I've knit for over four decades, I do not own a sweater/cardigan that would make people say, "Wow, did you make that?" Pure ego, obviously. But in the BC times, I envisioned myself beginning to lead knit workshops and wanted to make a statement.
Thus, when I saw the Chalkney Cardigan, and learned it was named after a specific woodland, I just had to make it. Anything named after a forest or woods, and I'm there.
Now, in the AC times (after COVID), I have been struggling with a depression that has thrown me to the point where I have not felt able to do one of my main joys - knitting. So I definitely was not going to be finishing this great cardigan structure made all in one piece except sleeves, because 300+ stitches per row was just not motivating.
Instead, in attempt to motivate myself during these AC times, I am going to use my mass quantity of wool to make Carol Feller's Transom Cardigan and if I feel up to it, join in the MDK knit-along starting May to further encourage me. Not sure. Another online group doesn't seem to be doing it for me these days. I'll likely snap myself out of it and just start with adjustments to the gauge since I'm using Aran weight for a pattern that calls for sport weight wool.
I wish everyone out there no coffee disasters and plenty of self-care. Peace out to these amazing sky feelings I was lucky to witness morphing above the tide flats where I saw osprey, sandpipers, blue herons, seagulls, and ducks dredging for morsels.
Thank you Gaia. May we continue to see the connections between ourselves and every being including Earth.
The sunlight filtered
through smooth and graceful trees.
Behold! There was life!
A crystal clear stream
frothing and fretting its way
Leaves! Drifting downward
carried and caressed by wind,
sliding to soft earth.
The billowy clouds
floated above the blue sky
changing shape with care.
A New Day
The sun spreads its light
and dries the wet dewy grass
A new day begun.
Buildings and buildings,
tearing and scarring meadows.
Will Man ever stop?
The Apple Tree
The apple tree stood
ornamented and serene
reaching for the sky.
The earth gave and gave,
until it could give no more.
And who was to blame?
It is faster than joy, love,
It is slower than death.
~ Erin Waterman, 1978
Mindful walks lift my spirits. Sharing what I learned from 9 hours of meditation in three days.
When I find myself sitting on the ground beside a tree, I know belonging.
"There are so many ways to reconnect with the sacred within creation, to listen within and include the Earth in our spiritual practice and daily life." ~ Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth
It is my hope with Waterwoman Knits that I can provide a link between my two hands' creations to nature and funnel anything earned back toward healing Earth, toward planting trees. I have been reassured by TreeSisters that their planting projects continue even in this pandemic, because thankfully no one has become ill. I do not know how my vision will come to fruition, as thus far I have raised $2.10 from sale of my 3 hat patterns towards this effort.
While working toward my next pattern, I will continue to broadcast little videos from precious Earth as solace in these challenging times. I wish I could feed all those people in food lines. I wish I could house all the homeless. But instead, I find myself applying for unemployment as soon as April 18 arrives for freelancers in my state and searching remote work lists. I found this message of hope from Jane Goodall to be balm for the soul, and am sharing here in case you find it so as well.
Last week I was feeling 100% peace by applying my own resilience in coming through past trauma to today's circumstances. This week, I am feeling mostly foggy confusion, vague indirection, scattered.
In this moment with my biggest shift being unpredictable work and loss of income, I am turning to the inner work of becoming comfortable with "being seen." It's thrown me for a bit of a loop. My paid work is completely behind the scenes and invisible, and with the exception of volunteer work and two years (the past trauma years) in my adult life, I have not had an in-person interview for a job or worked with people in a team directly. Through two years of college and a year of grad school, I took service jobs where I would be invisible, delivering mail to an entire campus and doing interlibrary loan couriering, walking to 25 different libraries and physically making photocopies before library content was on Google. I loved getting information to people and being invisible. I think at one point before my 30s, I actually started to believe in the fantasy I was invisible.
Not new information that folks who want to reach people with creative work need to be comfortable with being seen. I am forcing myself to record little bits of me talking in my halting way on camera, to overcome and get past the, "Oh my gosh this is horrible," feeling where my brain freezes up. For now I'm forcing myself to do no retakes. I hope my voice will become more fluid and stronger in future clips. It is my intention to have greater theme focus, but for now, I'm just doing what I can when I can, around a completely unpredictable workflow.
Wonderful resource on growing our resilience.
And in case any of you love poetry as much as I do, you may enjoy these Pandemic Poems from Kim Stafford, Oregon's Poet Laureate and teacher from my former college. Against the backdrop of the confusion storm, it has been amazing and encouraging to witness the incredible spontaneous creativity bursting out of the seams from many places in society, in countless forms.
Slideshow of soaking in people-free nature during 3rd week of "shelter in place."
Will try horizontal filming next time and sharing one exercise each week on our interconnection with nature.
More Senses to Consider
Interesting to consider how much more capacity humans may have than our education may tell us. I found a sheet I drew up from coursework in ecopsychology describing more than 5 senses, as identified by Aristotle. Food for thought how complex our sensory connections really are. This is only some of several pages of them grouped by Project Nature Connect into four categories:
Color and Design
Here is an exercise to try to tap into your personal color sense. Make a list of colors out of a crayon/pencil box and make two columns. Felt sense (what the color makes you feel in connection to the natural world) and rational sense (what you've been told these colors represent) and see where if any differences exist.
Staying close to the wealth of nature and making with my hands bring me greatest joy and comfort. You can find me on Instagram as @waterwomanknits, and on Ravelry as Waterwoman-Knits.