Imagination

“We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and no imagination left for being. As a result, men are valued not for what they are but for what they do or what they have – for their usefulness.”

-Thomas Merton

I originally had planned on writing one long post to shed light on the origins of the name of this blog this week. However, recent news and events have weighed so heavily that I can’t seem to get all my thoughts out in one coherent post. So please give me a little grace, and consider this the first part of a disjointed, two part post.

These are interesting times (I know when I say that I sounds trite, but in an effort to be kind and fair, that’s all I will say). When I read the above quote from New Seeds of Contemplation, it struck me as incredibly relevant. In my fairly conventional upbringing, my sense of imagination was nurtured. I just played a lot more than did anything else when I was young. When I grew older, it seemed like imagination was treated as a leisurely activity and something altogether necessary. As I sit here and shift through all of my almost-adult problems and questions, I know that my life demands imagination everyday.

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In this political climate, there are many choices being made that rub people the wrong way. There are people groups being targeted, women being harassed, and whole organizations being silenced. I am not trying to say that I feel personally under attack, but I am an empath so my neighbor’s pain is my pain. That said, one of the decisions that caught me closer to home is that the funding of the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for Humanities is under fire. I wrote a lengthy research paper on the NEA my freshman year of college, so I feel like they are my neighbor. I know that funding for the NEA and NEH has been low, so the money isn’t the issue for me. I think what offends me most is that arts of all kinds are seen as leisure. I am definitely not here to rant about politics, but what I am wanting to say is that nothing can stop imagination from being important. I think it gets difficult sometimes to not be “obsessed with doing.” We all live tense lives. Imagination-visual arts, literature, music- is the pulse of fresh blood running through all of us. Imagination is one of the beautiful things that makes us human.

So what do we do now? We hold on to our imagination and we keep creating. We look right in the face of this challenge to the worth of art, we smile and say “we will help each other live better lives through our leisurely activities.” Because it’s true.

Weekday Reading

This week has been heavy and long for more reasons than one. I am working on a fair amount of projects that distracted me from writing much. Don’t worry, I have a two part post planned for next week and I think the extra time will prove helpful. Anyway, I let’s get into this week’s choice!

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Week #3) What Do We Know by Mary Oliver

Wow, what a treat this book was. I felt like I rushed through this collection of poems and prose poems, so I will probably go back and read through it again this week. Oliver has long been a favorite poet of mine. Her poems are rooted in nature and have such a kind tone to them. One huge lesson I learned from her this time around is the power of a single-word title. Some of her most powerful poems in this book have the simplest of titles: “Gratitude”, “The Return”, “Mockingbird”. “The Return” is my favorite moment in the collection. The word choices and the structure of the poem are masterful. I would like to share the final section of the poem:

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The country of the mockingbird is where I now want to be,                                                     thank you, yes.

The days when the snow-white swans might  pass over the dunes                                            are the days I want to eat now, slowly and carefully                                                                       and with gratitude. Thank you.

The hours fresh and tidal are the hours I want to hold                                                                      in the palm of my hand, thank you, yes.

Such grace, thank you!

The gate I want to open now is the one that leads into                                                                   the flower-bed of my mind, thank you, yes.

Every day the slow, fresh wind, thank you, yes.

The wing, in the dark, that touches me.

Thank you.

Yes.

Oliver’s subtlety has encouraged me to look deeper into what I see, feel, taste, etc. in each moment. She has pointed my eyes to the ordinary-the dunes, the wind, the act of gratitude-and shown me that is where the true treasure of life lies. I would encourage you to look closer this week. Observe your own breath, the way your standing, the patterns of your thoughts. Connect those with the things and people around you. I am challenging myself to do the same, this week. Let’s meet here next week and share what treasures we’ve found.

Warmly,
Mary Emily

Other titles read this week: Attempting Normal by Marc Maron, Botanical Color at Your Fingertips by Rebecca Desnos

Weekday Reading

I have been sort of halfway sick this week, so I got to finish reading more than my goal! As exciting as that is, this week’s main title deserves all the attention. So let’s get into it.

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Week #2: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

This book was an incredible treat to read. I would recommend it to anyone. The  writing style is conversational and fairly easy to follow. I felt like reading this letter was a privileged look into a culture and history that I am not apart of. Coates’s commentary on race and what it means to have a “black body” is relevant and full of impact.

I cannot say much more than read this book. I was fortunate enough to be given a copy. I will give you my copy if not having it in your hands is what is stopping you. There are lots of moments that I are important in this book, but this quote is my favorite:

“The forgetting is habit, is yet another necessary component of the Dream. They have forgotten the scale of theft that enriched them in slavery; the terror that allowed them, for a century, to pilfer the vote; the segregationist policy that gave them their suburbs. They have forgotten, because to remember would tumble them out of the beautiful Dream and force them to live down here with us, down here in the world. I am convinced that the Dreamers, at least the Dreamers of today, would rather live white than live free. In the Dream they are Buck Rogers, Prince Aragorn, an entire race of Skywalkers. To awaken them is to reveal that they are an empire of humans and, like all empire of humans, are built on the destruction of the body. It is to stain their nobility, to make them vulnerable, fallible, breakable humans.”

Coates has not only made me feel uncomfortable, but responsible. I am terrified and excited to find out what it means to live free.

Warmly,
Mary Emily

Other titles finished this week: The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket, The Feather Room by Anis Mojgani

 

One Thing

“Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.”

-Ron Swanson

Why have I hesitated to call myself an artist or a poet, in spite of a decent amount of formal training? In fact, there is a long list of things I have been too uncomfortable with labeling myself as: dancer, yogi, musician, writer. This thought has come up more vehemently in my mind recently because someone asked me if I was a runner. I shuffled a little and awkwardly answered: “Yes?”

Honestly, I have never been one to label myself as something outright. This decision was never based on some esoteric notion of existing as a multi-dimensional being who is ever changing and transforming. No, I just never wanted to seem prideful enough to presume I was worthy of a title. That sentiment is laughable to me now, because false humility is ridiculous. In college, I was plagued with the “Fear of Missing Out” (FOMO for the hip folks out there). So much so, that I double majored! I didn’t want to jump wholeheartedly into Art or English, so I split my focus between the two. The result was being continuously grateful for my two fields of study while being perpetually confused at my decision to have two fields of study. Looking back on it, all my work suffered because of this.

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When I timidly called myself a runner a few weeks ago, I was allowing myself to be all in for something and that made me tremendously nervous. The days that followed, I acted like I was a runner. Not someone who likes to run, but a real runner. My FOMO kicked in the first day and I had thoughts like “What if training hard makes me unable to work on my poetry collection? Should I just give that up?” and “I’m never going to have time to re-learn how to work with gouache if I’m having to stretch and foam roll on my evenings off.” I shook the anxiety off and kept running. The next day, I doubted myself and thought: I haven’t won races or gone impossible distances, it’s silly to even dream that I am a runner. I exhaled that sentiment and kept running. I kept running through beautiful tears on the beach New Year’s Day and I kept running through the snow last week. The result of my labeling experiment has delightfully surprised me.

By completely diving into my identity as a runner, all my other identities have not faded away. Instead, they have been brought into sharper focus than before. I have not had to deny my creative pursuits! I have been more motivated than ever to write and paint. Not only have I thought about these things, but I have done them. I didn’t look long enough to find scientific back up on this theory. But in the words of Ron Swanson, “whole-ass one thing.” Run towards it with your whole being. You will wonder at the clarity of your peripheral vision. By choosing one thing to become, all the other you’s will fall into line.

Weekday Reading

This year, my goal is to read 50 books! The joy of completing a goal like this is gaining fifty more titles to recommend to friends, family, and you. Every weekend (I’m a little late this weekend), I want to share a few brief thoughts on my weekday reading.

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Week #1: Finding Ultra by Rich Roll

For me, I have found that the best way to inspire action is through a good book. To kickstart my new year of running, I picked up this number at the library. The book was well written and compelling. Roll details stories of his career as a swimmer, defeating alcoholism, and completing five Ironmans (the Epic 5) in less than a week. Roll is now an ultra-triathlete, cookbook author and the host of one of my favorite podcasts-The Rich Roll Podcast. I will say that the book slowed down for me a little at the end. Roll follows a strict plant-based diet and detailed what he eats and doesn’t eat. I do love food advice, but it seemed unrelated at some points. Also, there is a secondary character who I found way more inspiring than Roll. Shout out to Jason Lester who completed the “Epic 5” with Rich Roll with only the use of one arm!

In the end, I would say this is a solid read if you want to understand a little bit more about ultra athletes. I want to close with my favorite quote from the book:

“There’s a new path waiting for you, too. All you have to do is look for it–then take that first step. If you show up and stay present, that step will eventually become a gigantic leap forward. And then you’ll show us who you really are.” 

Alright folks, let’s go show the world who we really are. Check back with me next weekend to see what I spent the week reading!

Warmly,

Mary Emily

 

Running towards Contemplation

“Contemplation” according to Thomas Merton in New Seeds of Contemplation, “is the highest expression of man’s intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active fully aware that it is alive. It is the spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is gratitude for life, for awareness and for being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent and infinitely abundant Source.” 

I moved to Portland, Oregon almost a year ago and it shook all of the pieces of my life up until lovely remnants swirled around me like glitter in a snowglobe. The expected trajectory of this story would be that now that I am here, married, independent and hungry for big things; I am a completely different person. One could also assume that I have started fresh and am never looking back. Instead, I am gathering up those glittering things and diving into who I am now, who I will become tomorrow, and who I have always been through an important shift.

Trail running entered my life officially when I ran a (slow) half-marathon at Fall Creek Falls in early 2015.  A lot of unknowns showed up during that year and the trails became a familiar comfort. In the fall of 2015, I ran the same trails almost everyday. The routine of driving up to the forest and pounding out a few miles became the only thing I could count on. When I decided to move, I got increasingly more and more stressed and I stopped running. Within the first eight months of living here, I went running less than ten times. My body began to feel less capable and the guilt grew into an ugly pile that kept me from even trying. Last fall, I kept talking about how I missed the trails, being active and a more even mindset. My husband David listened patiently and then said, “Let’s go on a run.” So we ran. Beginning is always a struggle, but the difficulty was embellished by my negative feelings towards myself. I felt heavy on my feet, self conscious when I passed other runners, and continually grateful that David was there to distract me. After a couple months, I picked a race to run and set a goal time. This meant I had to run by myself.

 

 

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As someone who has always had a guilty conscience, the notion of positive self talk naturally feels indulgent. I can always rationalize why I shouldn’t tell myself I am beautiful or powerful. But when I set out alone for my long run a few weeks ago, I knew the only way I could get through it would be by giving myself grace and love. I purposely ran without music so that I could speak directly to my negative thoughts. When my breathing became labored,  I audibly told myself that I was completely capable of the task at hand. When I caught sight of my shadow, I told myself I was loved. I even let out an excited “yes!” when I reached the top of one of the tougher hills on the trail. The final thirty minutes of the run, I felt incredibly alive and aware. The whole thing sounds a little silly, but the experience flipped a switch inside of me: I really fell in love with running. My spirit was rarely involved in the action before. I saw moving through nature at a reasonable pace as means to an elevated heart rate, a mood booster, and a weight loss mechanism. But while running alone in Forest Park, I felt like I was breathing in wonder and exhaling life. Truth be told, I was in a state of contemplation.

Let me set the record straight, I am still very young, I have lived a fairly conventional life, and am not an incredible athlete. However, I felt compelled to start this blog to explore spirituality and a new way of living. I only have stories of my limited experiences to offer you and I offer them with my whole heart.