As every blogger knows, starting can be a bit daunting. I still recall my beginning post for my first Urban Contemplative site in 2010. The Olympics had just started here in Vancouver, and my topic was hospitality. Though I had been opposed to having the Olympics in Vancouver, I had to admit I was blown away by the spirit of good will that was palpable nearly everywhere you went. I had never experienced anything like it, to that extent at least. In any case, I am writing the draft of my first post for this blog while the Olympics are happening in South Korea. It feels like some kind of full circle.
Much has changed in the world and for me personally during that orbit and though I would have predicted then that in eight years I would have a deeper contemplative life, I really can't say that I do. Since that time, I have acquired a dog (a relatively barky one) and a husband, and my amount of quiet, alone time is considerably less. I also purchased a piano a few years ago and started lessons again. Like many, since the advent of smart phones and Instagram, I have taken up photography on a new level, and I have also become something of a foodie. Of course, all of these can translate into contemplative activities. It's just that I am now a lot busier. I had time in my early blogging days to post nearly every day. Now, once a week feels ambitious.
Other changes include no longer renting, as we have a condo - a big plus, but I can no longer fancy myself as a Bohemian writer as my lifestyle is, in many ways, typically middle class. Do I still qualify as a contemplative? And we have a part-time home in the Comox Valley. Am I even authentically urban?
My husband and I have spiritual practices. We do our best to live simply and try to purchase as little as possible. We strive to shorten our 'to do' list, and still, nearly every evening we ask each other where the day has gone.
A few years ago I was in a weekend retreat led by the contemplative writer, James Finley. I practically cornered him. "I know it's your break," I said, "but I have to ask. How is it possible to be a contemplative in the city?" I have mostly forgotten his words - I think they had to do with quality of presence - but there was no doubt in his mind it is possible, and that was what I was really desperate to know.
Certainly if one is in a relationship, it helps to have a partner who shares similar values and intentions. I also have the good fortune to be married to a biologist and landscape ecologist, who can identify most birds and trees, and I pay more attention now to both. He also can read the history of landscapes and on our dog walks, he considers how land features initially influenced development (though today it's usually the reverse.) He points out where creeks once were and where they are still running beneath pavement, out toward the ocean. Now I experience landscapes a little differently.
It also makes contemplative life easier that we are both generally quieter people and even on our walks together and at mealtime, we are often silent. Though we spend a great deal of time together, often we are working on separate projects at home.
We are both grateful for our quality of life, but neither of us feel we are living up to our contemplative ideal. And maybe we never will. Maybe it is the nature of the times. And, as my spiritual director says, maybe it is how it needs to be right now.
And that's what I am here to write about. Not how to be a perfect contemplative, but how to stay as true and connected as we can be, even when our lives are busy, messy, noisy, distracting, and chaotic. Maybe that's exactly how they need to be.
As in that 2010 first post, I am including a poem. Last time it was one by Rumi. This one is by Rainer Maria Rilke.
I live my life in widening circles
that reach out over this wondrous world.
I may not complete the last one
but I give myself to it.
I circle around God, around the ancient tower.
I have been circling for thousands of years
and I still do not know if I am a falcon,
a storm, or a great song.