Sparks will fly #42 #ephemeral

Katoomba has been my home for the past week and with 54 others we shared our lives, played and made music together. Each precious moment, each breath lasting just as long as it needs to last. To live completely in the now, to understand and live, as if for just for one day, to squeeze the life out of each moment and infuse each moment with life, starts with the act of taking a deep breath. You turn up, body and spirit, you open your heart, your ears, your lungs in that order. There is no voice without feeling and listening.

To live on earth, as it is in heaven is surely to live with all the harmonies and each person finding their own note. We will have conductors and guides to help us sound better, take more risks with ourselves and those who will invite us to go to new horizons because they can see something in us we can’t yet. These are some of the many lessons singing in choir gives me – and singing as an Ephemeral Choir – and the lesson I seem to need learn over and over is being in the moment, living the now, is writ large.

This has not been an easy week waiting for the days and nights to tick over into the second anniversary of my love’s death. I spent the dreaded day surrounded by beauty, in song and in a space where love and compassion were the only currencies being traded. Giving grief an ephemeral nature allows it to come and go, to swell and subside, to flow over rocks and through caves. There are days where you find depths in the shallows, in little pools there can be rivers of pain and sadness. Equally, the quietest smile across a room from a friend can ooze just the right amount of love you need at that moment. More than once I recalled the line from Mary Oliver’s poem The Summer Day:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

To live with a plan and act as if there isn’t one, capturing the moment as a complete and never to be repeated experience, is also the practice of living life with all the lights on the stage not in rehearsal mode. The discipline of living in an ephemeral way is quite a challenge. Plumbing the inner silence for courage and unlimited access to the well of peace, is the call, time and time again. I need to get my breathing right in order to be up to the response. Singing reminds me how to breathe and helps me to accept the invitation of sounds and silence. The spaces between the notes are just as important.

I am heading back to Adelaide, borrowing other people’s roofs to put my head under for awhile. I am returning to communities in which I work and play. The pilgrim or perhaps it is a swaggies life I am walking, continues.

There is a litany of gratitude for all the visible and invisible help that has accompanied me and enabled me to be in these spaces. I am grateful to the generosity and abundance of this precious life I live. I know sparks fly in caves, in song and can be found in the pounding hearts of lovers of the ephemeral life.

Sun set over the Blue Mountains.

Sparks will fly #41 #buffers

Starting last week of the Big Holiday in Sydney and heading to Blue Mountains for singing and sights after I had built a little buffer in to recover from the jet lag and to re-enter my homeland.

Buffer zones have been a feature of past few weeks – that time and space you build in to your schedule to accommodate delayed flights, wrong turns and surprises.

The place of a buffer in your day has the potential for easier breathing. When you make space for a buffer you are giving your future self a gift of time to absorb or at least reduce the stress or shocks of the unexpected and unplanned. I have learnt buffers can come in the shape of people, places and empty spaces. You can make buffers for yourself or even be one for others.

Buffers have intentionality attached to them, while being completely agnostic about why they are needed. Only when they are required is their purpose validated. From time to time we are buffers for others, holding space, holding quiet, being in between, while the full extent of why we are there may not be immediately revealed. This kind of detachment to purpose and being defined by the arrival of a surprise, often unwelcome, defines us as much as any purpose we might define for ourselves.

Buffers come in and out of my life to protect and hold me to keep me safe is such a blessing. Like the spaces in the music critical for the sound to resonate and seep into the soul, so too do buffers enable thresholds to be noticed and traversed to enable the journey to continue.

Already this day buffers have delivered coffee, a friendly face, respite from negative thoughts, joyous sounds in four part harmony, lunch between friends and a walk in the sun.

Building in buffers as a self-care practice is providing the space for embers to be coaxed into life by bellows for sparks to fly.

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Sparks will fly #40 #maps

Mapping out where to go, working out where you have been or perhaps where you are going requires some orientation. First you need to know where you are. You need to be able to recognize a symbol, sign or perhaps a landmark. When you don’t know what to call what you can see, or are searching for the word from a time gone by it can add another layer of complexity to the challenge.

There have all kinds of maps around me lately from the yellow arrows of the camino, to the new AR of google maps, maps embedded in memories and others drawn on the soul. Maps to guide me away from locations that may no longer serve me and others to pull me towards destinations that are on a horizon not yet fully in view.

The humble map of a bus route on a guided tour in a city like Berlin, that reveals polarities and integration around every corner is the kind of map I find encouraging. Just enough information to support discovery and not too much so there is still room for error, to get lost and find your own path.

Where others can see you going and go calling out to you to go this way or that, and for another to pull you back from a kerb when you don’t see a truck coming, and another to hold the map for you and take you with them are the kind of sojourners with map reading skills I need around me. Recognising these people as part of the landscape, signs and supports in my map of life also requires some knowledge of knowing where I am.

I begin this week as the last of the first in my sixth decade, knowing there are less days ahead of me than behind, more settled and unsettled in real and metaphorical ways than I have been for this past year. I have inner maps so well worn and frayed at the edges it is hard to read in places where there are tears and repairs, faded print, where new lines are being drawn and some of the signs are yet to be properly interpreted or named. I have new maps which are waiting to be unfolded and perhaps some that never will.

The sparks of light flitting off the device to guide me sometimes takes a while to catch up with me or tells me where to go a different path to my intuition or what I can see in front of me – it knows about things I can’t see, like road blocks and traffic jams. This would be quite a helpful feature for my inner map!

The poet Hafiz says ‘the place you are right now, God has circled on a map for you‘. The birds know when to sing, the clouds know when to hide the moon, the tiniest of ants follow the sugary path to gather what they need for their nest, the stars have provided maps since the dawn of time, and remind me they are the original sparks that fly. Soon, I will be piloted from this hemisphere to the next where familiar signs will give an edge to my navigation. No guarantee however that I won’t get lost.

I will be aiming to keep open to reading maps made just for me and ones that others will introduce to me, keeping the pilgrim’s way ready to accept visible and invisible help and to be guided in equal measure by curiosity and clear directions.

Over the Alps en route to Berlin.

Sparks will fly #39 #walking

With two more days of walking to go this pilgrim’s progress is consistent and steady. There are ups and there are downs – the road’s most reliable lesson. The topography tells us the last day is all up before we arrive into the square, even though the Cathedral will rise in the distance ahead of us. There is a longing to get to the end and an unwillingness to go on – another reliable and already learnt lesson from the road.

There are new lessons for pilgrims and many firsts for some of my travelling companions. But for all of us each day, indeed each moment is a first. The dawn arrives and the day before remains undigested and I long for more space on the page, more breaths between notes, more time to rest and recover, more time to drink in the beauty. I have so much and yet I want more! Mostly I want more time. Like a student who yearns for an extension to submit an essay that will never be granted, I make up ways I can bargain with the day to see if I can eek out more from my body and the time needed to arrive at the day’s destination. Whether I can squeeze out more or not is irrelevant – my date with that destiny remains. A destination is a place where you are sent. Like all pilgrims, I am being propelled forward and I am holding on tightly to an invisible cord pulling me forward. It feels like heavy ropes of a boat being pulled into port by strapping MUA workers, singing a song of liberation from enslavement. They are all needed to drag me into the dock as there is so little left in the tank, I can’t do it alone.

This morning I am recalling David Whyte’s poem What to Remember when Waking.

In that first hardly noticed moment in which you wake,
coming back to this life from the other
more secret, moveable and frighteningly honest world
where everything began,
there is a small opening into the new day
which closes the moment you begin your plans.

What you can plan is too small for you to live.
What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough
for the vitality hidden in your sleep.

To be human is to become visible
while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.
To remember the other world in this world
is to live in your true inheritance.

You are not a troubled guest on this earth,
you are not an accident amidst other accidents
you were invited from another and greater night
than the one from which you have just emerged.

Now, looking through the slanting light of the morning window
toward the mountain presence of everything that can be
what urgency calls you to your one love?
What shape waits in the seed of you
to grow and spread its branches
against a future sky?

Is it waiting in the fertile sea?
In the trees beyond the house?
In the life you can imagine for yourself?
In the open and lovely white page on the writing desk?

— David Whyte
The shape I make is bent over and moving slowly. My plan is full of ambition with still nearly 50kms to go. My inheritance is in this landscape with the celts turning up around every corner, in the clouds and on the tables, under the lintels and fixed onto buildings in stone, wood and textiles. Living wholeheartedly is the enough and the invitation to live with an open heart continues to be laid out in front of me and the new dawn is expansive. While my body is worried about these days ahead trudging through more rain, more ups than downs; the very idea that uphill is an ascent, an invitation to rise and keep rising is an aspiration to resurrection to hold in my heart as I take these last days to walk into Santiago. The cost of resurrection is the body being spent. Sparks will fly when the stone is rolled away.

Sparks will fly #38 #abundance

All along the way, summer fruits are either waiting to be harvested or have reached their potential and fallen to the ground fermenting in the creases of paths and edges of the road. The corn is the call for me to draw on a tune from Oklahoma! The corn is as high as an elephant’s eye and it is a beatiful morning! The fallen chestnuts are making it easy for various creatures to gather food and crushed by passing vehicles are offering up their inside flesh to be mashed up – I wonder if roasted chestnuts are a thing in Portugal.

Each tree seems to be weighed down by it’s fecundity. The word that appears for me on this day, is abundance. For as far as the eye can see there is food for every living creature and for eons cultivated land feeding generations of families, farm animals and pilgrims in this hierarchy of the food chain.

My eye is constantly drawn to what is familiar – pears, figs, apples, grapes, olives and limes. The briars of currents, blueberries and wild rose hip take a while to recognise and all the familiarity of European influence from the adventurous explorers that sits in my DNA wakes up and finds its way through my senses. There are plenty of gum trees too – and the baby blue gums bring their gun metal grey blend into the landscape and remind me of home more than once. With the familiar and the known there is always the opportunity to dig a bit deeper and see what might not be immediately seen. I stretch my sights to look for other species, find a squirrel, some ants and then a butterfly, feeling reassured there is more than fruit.

It took a while to find the right path, such a fitting way to start the Camino in Barcelos. Having arrived in Porto, the day before, more than 12 hours late at 330am and having not enough sleep, I was willing to follow any yellow arrow. But like all instructions in any landscape, a local is best to give guidance and eventually succumbing to local knowledge we found our path out of the town. It had been a circuitous entry into the camino and I loved the poetry of that, even though by the end of the day the extra kilometres were unwelcome by most parts of my body. Keep on walking is the only instruction and locals remind us all with love and kindness, exclaiming ‘Buon camino’ as they pass us on their daily village chores and like their ancestors continue to recognise us as pilgrims even when we don’t know that about ourselves. We get an instruction to slow down more than once – first in Porto from a guide and on the road to Ponte de Lima, from a villager with an umbrella who knows what is ahead for us and wants us to savour what his landscape has to offer us.

At the end of the second day of walking there has been an abundance of rain and after walking all day in it, there is not one part of my body dry. All I am going to say is North Face has a lot to answer for and the rain jacket was the subject of false advertising. The evening stop brings invisible and visible support and I find I go to rest, with a new heavy duty poncho for the days ahead that will be raining too, paper towels to dry shoes, shower caps are promising to improvise to protect and hold, and a laundry bag that will be turned into a backpack cover. I did read the instructions to bring good wet weather gear and thought I had …. but my wet weather experience from the driest state on the driest contintent is not the knowledge I needed to draw on.

It is always what is known that takes us to new places and from that place we are stretched. There are learning opportunities, there is the call to discover how to integrate, recognise and decode what is known and unknown, the challenge to respond to a mounting body of evidence that you are not prepared for what is here and what lies ahead – this is abundance.

Drenched from the rain, the skies have opened to place one more drop on another, and then another and so it goes until I am so soaked there is no where else for the rain to go and the water meets the road and perhaps …. just perhaps … combines with the fermented fruit and water turns into wine.

The harvest is yet to be made, even though all the trees and vines are so pregnant that look like they may soon collapse under the weight of their fruit. Just like any soon-to-be mother they have dropped and they will deliver soon. More than once, I instinctively default to the most ancient of prayers in my canon – Hail Mary full of grace. To be full of grace first before the child is delivered, resonates with me, in this pregnant food bowl of northern Portugal. And what would it look like for me to be full and about to burst? is this the lesson of the rain? What sparks might fly?

Quinta da Cancela, Balugaes

Sparks will fly #37 #onemore

Remember when you were little and you counted the sleeps towards something and there was just one more sleep to go? The idea of one more has been haunting me in my sprint to holidays, putting my belongings into storage, handing over work, finalising papers and board and business responsibilities. One more email, one more call, one more meeting, one more conversation, one more bag … and now it is one more sleep. It is quite a heady mix of letting go, relinquishing on the one hand and taking up on the other. My quest is to remain open, open the road and to the questions that might emerge along the way. The question I am trying to hold onto is: What will the road reveal?

Despite all the trials, tribulations, betrayals and horrid things I have endured that have worked their way through me in various guises these past years, I am arriving once again to a new threshold – as we all do each new day. Every moment is uniquely gifted for us to receive with as much open heartedness as we can muster. I am thankful I have arrived with one more sleep to go. One more night, the last one in what will soon have the title of the old bed. I won’t be returning to that bed ever again. My grandfather made it for my parents and I have written about it before. We are parting company and it is the last vessel other than my own body that held a marriage. We are breaking up, the bed and I, and are freeing each other from our shared history.

The experience of a dry mouth from anxiety, fear, stress, followed by the insatiable desire to quench the thirst by drinking copious amounts of water, seems like the body reaching out to be a well seeking to be filled. This instruction is one for the road too. Fill up often, leverage off the fear to dip into the well. Shaking off the dust and emptying shoes of sand and pebbles so you can walk on more freely … all the feels of one more sleep.

There were days and so, so many nights, when I didn’t think I could get to this day and now it has arrived with the ease of a gentle reassuring kiss, and a blessing to go forth. As well as some basic clothes, my walking sticks and notebook, I will be taking my own version of the Examen with me – it always seems to help move me forward.

1. Resting into the presence of creative energy of love and the UniVerse – the one Word some call God.
2. Reviewing the day with gratitude.
3. Paying attention to my emotions – how did they show up during the day.
4. Choosing one feature of the day and reflecting on it with love and curiousity
5. Looking toward tomorrow.

There is always one more of something to do, to anticipate, to welcome, to farewell. There is always one more David Whyte poem to journey with, and it has been The Well today (posted below). There are always more sparks to fly and as I fly with my little spark inside of me I wonder what will the road reveal?

The Well

David Whyte

Be thankful now for having arrived,
for the sense of
having drunk
from a well,
for remembering the long drought that preceded your arrival
and the years walking in a desert landscape of surfaces looking for a spring hidden from you for so long that even wanting to find it now had gone from your mind
until you only
remembered the hard pilgrimage that brought you here,
the thirst that caught in your throat; the taste of a world just-missed
and the dry throat that came from a love you remembered but had never fully wanted for yourself, until finally, after years making the long trek to get here it was as if your whole achievement had become nothing but thirst itself.

But the miracle had come simply from allowing yourself to know that you had found it,
that this time
someone walking out into the clear air from far inside you
had decided not to walk past it anymore;
the miracle had come at the roadside in the kneeling to drink
and the prayer you said,
and the tears you shed
and the memory
you held
and the realization
that in this silence
you no longer had to keep your eyes and ears averted from the
place that
could save you,
that you had been given
the strength to let go
of the thirsty dust laden
that brought you here,
walking with her
bent back, her bowed head and her careful explanations.

No, the miracle had already happened
when you stood up,
shook off the dust
and walked along the road from the well,
out of the desert toward the mountain,
as if already home again, as if you
deserved what you loved all along,
as if just remembering the taste of that clear cool spring could lift up your face
and set you free.


Photo by Bram. on Unsplash

Sparks will fly #36 #Reclining

Couch surfing has begun and I have found myself on my old red couch in another city, where it now lives in the Spare Room of one of the offspring. I bought new couches in the last six months of my love’s life to make sure we had plenty of spaces for family to lie, rest, sleep, recover in the dying days that the house was hosting. Now I get to sleep on one of them again as pilgrim life unfolds. The red couches are plump, inviting and know how to be steady to receive. I am grateful to my past self for buying them and seeing them in their new surrounds and making good use of them.

There is a lot to be said for reclining. The famous reclining Buddha statues around the world are a sign of compassion, acceptance of death being nigh and the body is no longer needed. In the moments of deep tiredness I have felt this week, taking a reclining position at the end of the week on the red couch has its own poetry. I am tired and there is one last sprint to come this week to finalise preparations to go away, move what’s left of my possessions into storage, pack my bag and go walking and holidays.

To recline is to lean back, and in this day and age, where leaning in is a mantra, I am enjoying playing with this idea of leaning back! The dictionary tells me the word comes from the Old French recliner or Latin reclinare ‘bend back, recline’, from re- ‘back’ + clinare ‘to bend’. This is not a going backwards kind of bend, but a bend that you do again and again to focus, to reflect and to let inanimate items take the weight of the body from the earth, to hold it in some kind of suspension, while restoration takes place, or even perhaps transformation. Like every night’s rest where we recline, we bend back into our beds, and return to the dark, and while our eyes are shut all kinds of renewal take place. Clarity often arrives after leaning back.

Time of the red couch awake, and asleep, enables sparks to rise up from old embers and memories I don’t want to hold come with them. The sleep I long for doesn’t always come, but the reclining remains and continues to be an invitation to rest. I am looking to the serene face of one who knows how to recline and lean back into mortality allowing sparks to come and sparks to go. Lying back, sinking into the red couch which is both cause and effect of some of my broken heart. Rumi says you have to keep breaking your heart until it is open and I wonder how much more breaking is even possible and what corners of my heart are still aching to be open? Reclining, is hinting to me, that there maybe more to be done by leaning back than leaning in.

Canva - Lying Buddha Statue.jpg

Photo by Joe Robertson