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Following an Ancient Call
What if we could listen
like the great salmon
who goes about its ordinary life
when suddenly something shifts.
It does not come as a thunderous
revelation, but a quiet knowing
you have been preparing all
your life to trust.
The path lived until now no longer
satisfies but the path ahead
seems thousands of miles
long, and your womb is heavy.
There is no refusing this ancient call,
and to know ourselves as not alone,
but part of generations before us who,
like the salmon, share in this inheritance.
You now hear only the rush of energy
that comes with starting the long
return home and the pull in the
blood which cannot be ignored.
I like to imagine the salmon
swimming across the ocean
(as if that weren’t daunting enough)
and after that endless voyage
it must face the mouth of the mighty river.
Does she hesitate, even for a moment?
Does he want to turn back to less turbulent waters?
But there is something ripening in their bellies.
Perhaps your list of pressing tasks is still long.
Leave it there fluttering in the breeze,
uncrossed, undone, unfinished,
to do the only thing you can do
which is to swim,
to be carried by the waves and tide
and to know when to let the current carry you
and when to fight it with all your strength,
and to know even this yes will
demand more than you were willing
to give: your life for the new birth,
what you think you know for
the ancient call home.
—Christine Valters Paintner
Dearest monks and artists,
The photo above is of Lough Corrib, where you can take a boat ride out to Inchagoill, a small island with remains of a monastery connected to Saint Patrick (one of our sites for the Monk in the World pilgrimage). The lake is connected to the Atlantic Ocean by the River Corrib which runs through Galway. Salmon return here to spawn, traveling from as far away as Canada. I remember hearing that and imagining what would call them so many miles across the sea to come home. And then I remembered I had followed this very same call just the year before.
I had a powerful dream a couple of weeks ago:
I am in Galway and I meet with someone who can help me find my spirit animal. He asks me what I think it is, and without hesitation in the dream I say “bear and salmon.” He asks why and I respond, “because the bear hibernates to regain its power and the salmon follows the ancient call back home.” He tells me that his work is done, he doesn’t tell folks their animals, but elicits it from their hearts.
Dream wisdom is an important part of my spiritual practice and I have shared some of my significant dreams in the past. There are, of course, many layers here. Perhaps the one shimmering most in my heart right now is the relationship between bear and salmon. In the Northwest, especially northern Canada and Alaska, during spawning season you see the bears standing in the rivers catching those jumping salmon into their mouths. There is an intimate relationship there between them. Here in Europe, the bear is considered to be one of the oldest totem animals, and a reminder of the power of following nature’s cycles, drawing nourishment from within. In Ireland, the salmon is revered as a great figure of wisdom, this journey it takes back home to give birth and release its own life.
These animal energies remind me of two archetypes that are very active within me: the monk and the pilgrim.
The monk in me feels the call of moving inward. My inner monk knows the deep wisdom to be found in rest, in slowness and spaciousness, in not letting the productivity of the world keep me running ever faster, that the only person who can say “no” and stop and open up to the eternity of this moment, is me. Like the bear, I know the power to be gained from following my natural rhythms, rather than those the world around me demands. I know how much more sustainable my work is and how much more joy I discover in it when i come from a place of replenishment rather than depletion. And I know how powerful of a witness it is to the world to live this way.
The pilgrim in me feels the call of moving outward. My inner pilgrim feels a longing to travel, to walk across new landscapes, to find myself the stranger so that everything I think I know can be gently released in favor of the deeper truth only revealed in the wandering. Like the salmon, I know the power of the inner voice that says you must leave behind everything you know and travel far across the ocean to a place called home. I know the miles and miles of ease and flow and the mighty rivers which test my strength and resolve, and I know that to refuse this endless longing is to refuse the life and radiance that are mine. And I know that death, the release of things I once held dear, is an essential part of the new birth.
This summer has been very much about nourishing my inner monk and hermit. Having time and space to linger over life has been full of so much grace. To have the freedom to ponder how I want to shape my life’s rhythms and what is truly sustainable has been sheer gift.
As I begin readying myself for fall, the pilgrim is calling me to pack my bags. In the months ahead I will be traveling to Germany to accompany a group into the wisdom and heart of Hildegard of Bingen. I will travel back to my beloved Northwest United States to teach and reconnect with close friends, while also visiting Louisiana and Chicago to gather with fellow monks there. Later in the fall will bring me for the first time to visit Norway to lead a retreat, and then onto Austria, with some extended time spent in my beloved Vienna. And in all of these places I will listen for how the landscape shapes me, how the journey deepens me, and listen for the call of home right there and then in its midst. I will invite the monk to be with me all the way along, as a reminder of the deep well that sustains me.
Much of my work this summer, as I have taken a sabbatical from teaching, has been about bringing new visions slowly to birth and articulating the work of the Abbey in more precise ways so that when people arrive to this virtual space they will know themselves as kindred spirits.
Two newsletters ago I shared with you my updated bio page and last week I introduced you to the Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks (and I just loved how many of you wrote back to you to tell me “I am a dancing monk!”). This week I am thrilled to share with you a new program: Earth Monastery Project where we are supporting you in nourishing an earth-cherishing consciousness in your local communities. You can read more about by visiting the link. We hope this is another way of inspiring creativity, contemplation, and compassion in the hearts of this monk community. Please consider sharing this with friends near and far and making a small donation to support the creative unfolding.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE www.AbbeyoftheArts.com
*Photo: Lough Corrib in Co Galway, Ireland
PS – there is one space open in the Sacred Rhythms Writing Retreat this October 9-13, 2013 at the Grunewald Guild in the Northwest. See the web page for more details and let me know if you want to join your fellow dancing monks!