Sparks will fly #45 #satisfied

Happiness comes from the root word for lucky and satisfaction from the root word for being content.  Being satisfied in a deep and knowing way is not about luck, it is usually not random, it is planned, thought through, intentional. It comes from effort and often at some cost personally, professionally, physically. While happiness is more likely to be accidental, occasional and difficult to sustain. I have been in several conversations of late about these two feelings. There is an old Japanese saying I used to have on a mini-poster as a teen in my bedroom “Happiness is like a butterfly, the more you chase it, the more it eludes you, but if you sit quietly, it will come and rest on your shoulder.” Chasing happiness seems to be a past time for many. Coming to a deeper awareness about what is satisfying requires a different kind of effort. It is not haphazard. Fascinatingly it seems the earliest meaning around satisfaction was with a confessor hearing the contrition of  observing the fulfilment of the sinner’s penance.  The contrast being satisfying the other rather than yourself and I think this is quite close to the difference between the two states of satisfaction and happiness. Satisfaction seems to have deeper roots.

Getting to the bottom of things can be quite satisfying and sustaining a state of satisfaction begins with the seeds of knowing your purpose and passions and often distilling the difference between needs and wants. Some people talk about needs as work and wants as pleasures – this too might be a clue to the difference between happiness and satisfaction.  Meeting wants is probably the icing on the cake, while meeting needs holds the seeds for satisfaction.  Having a big enough worldview to capture your why above and beyond the quick rush of happy I think can put down satisfaction roots. This is how value is created in our life, the deeper the roots, the more sustenance from our source where-ever that well is we draw from. There is some kind of focus from those roots to follow the water course that offers life.  I often think of the expression “go with the flow” as really being carried along that river, when you are in it and authentically turning up, you experience being held over the rocks, and around the bends, through the cascades. Maybe after the journey you arrive to the mouth, where you are emptied into the ocean, maybe you are opened into the ocean and join with something bigger than yourself?

Rumi says: If I sit in my own place of patience, what I need flows to me, and without any pain”. I am not so sure about the lack of pain, but I am sure satisfying needs takes patience, flow or perhaps alignment. Wants though have more of an insatiable nature and require being fed. Only when there is some kind of emptiness, lacking even perhaps a vacuum can the need become fully visible. The homeless one knows what shelter means, the hungry know the taste of bread. I think Mick Jagger and Keith Richards might have been onto something where they moaned about lack of satisfaction because people are filling up with useless information and constant trying. Filling and chasing and constant trying, isn’t going to lead to satisfaction. It is both more gentle and more tenacious, there is plumbing to depths requiring integrity and gratitude for the stones and rocks along the way to reveal what might is needed to go deeper.

Little sparks of water dance in the light and fly in the face of the danger in the cascades, flamed by high winds in the mountains and gentle breezes on the coast.  There are times you can even see the light and water form a rainbow – that universal expression of hope. It is not always a happy journey, but there are signs of it being a satisfying one.

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Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

Sparks will fly #44 #phoenix

We all know the ancient Greek myth of the ancient bird that rises from the ashes, reborn, renewed. There are three movements – the long life (legend has it at about 500 years), the plunge into the fire (some stories have the bird dying then rising from ashes), the resplendent and shining like the sun gloriously colourful soaring high as a new creature. I have been listening to a song about South Africa this week, created on the cusp of the fall of apartheid echoing the country’s journey to that of the phoenix. I have felt inspired by the present tense that is in the lyric: from the ashes of the fire the phoenix will arise.  There is such confidence and direction of onwards and upwards. There is no energy given to the death or destruction, only the power that has been gathered from being consumed and new life is the inevitable consequence.

The black residue arrives after the hisses and crackles, snaps and pops of the logs and twigs as the cinders die out and the last gasps of oxygen leave the fire. We recognise the end of the fire’s life. The ashes start to arrive long before the fire is out though, and we often detect the end is nigh. Stoking the fire to keep it alive is often a temptation and we want to linger a little longer. I have found myself doing that from time to time, not being quite ready to let something new emerge and preferring to hang on before letting go. There is also the being consumed part, letting the fire take over to eat up what remains. Afterall fires create both heat and light, so perhaps, seeing a fire in another will attract some attention and company. That has been my experience. I have been generously accompanied by others who have noticed me in the fire and all the forces human and cosmic calling me to rise, rise, rise. 

There have been three wise men around the fire this week who have each gifted me with kindness and a challenge. Challenge number 1 was to risk myself and stay open to the possibility of male companionship and intimacy. Challenge number 2 was to embrace my skills in community development and head back to do it in the burbs. Challenge number 3 was to apologise for holding bad thoughts about a couple of people that I know now was completely misguided and misinformed.  I suspect addressing each of these challenges will be part of the rising from the ashes. I have made a little start already with the apologies which of themselves are huge and deeply embedded in my synaptic pathways, but new information has arrived and healing all round will occur, I hope.  The community development challenge isn’t difficult and can easily be re-framed and put into place where I find and put myself in my work. It is a lot harder to do in my personal life, when I am living as a pilgrim and not connected to a neighbourhood.  The first one though is the Mt Everest one for me. At this point in the ashes I have only aversion and no experience, knowledge or desire. I am relishing friendships and am not lonely, although often alone.  I love the liberation and freedom and never, ever want to be a carer again. I am in credit on that ledger. It might take a long time for those plumes to appear on this phoenix, if ever! What I am taking from that challenge though is an instruction to hold doors open and see what comes through, not to keep doors shut.

When sparks fly sometimes, they are joined in the fire by ashes flying like confetti. We all know how choking and debilitating an ash cloud can be, but around a campfire the wisps of ashes offer themselves up as a forecast, floating until they can be seen no more joining with the night sky.  The phoenix doesn’t form until the old bird is fully consumed and only then does she arrive majestic in her new form. I can feel some of my early ashes turning up in the atmosphere and the embers are starting to fade with the potential of a phoenix rising. It is a relief to come to this point after so much combustion, although there are still sticks poking the fire, I think more ashes are creating a nest for something new to turn up. The three wise men of the week all love me and recognise in me the fire, the ashes and the emerging phoenix, they are calling her out. Perhaps the lesson from the week and from the phoenix is: love is the fuel of the fire.

A heart filled with love is like a phoenix that no cage can imprison.  – Rumi

 

 

Sparks will fly #43 #openness

The quest to stay open to all possibilities is closely related to detachment.  There is an old poem of David Whyte’s The Opening of Eyes that comes to mind that life is the opening of eyes long closed.

I think it is about seeing what there is in front of you. Without all your own luggage, assumptions, expectations, by seeing this as they are – raw, beautiful, exotic, simple, clean, complex – whatever they are. This takes practice.  I am re-entering worlds I have been absent from while on holidays and am noticing things I hadn’t before. I was listening to the recording of a meeting and heard things I hadn’t heard before, like the tone of a person who was fearful although clearly being assertive, the literal meaning as a place to hide for safety, the spaces and time it took for someone else to find the right about of compassion to move a conversation to its next level of maturity. This is one of the things I love about improv, it is immediate, call and response and takes only what is on offer,  nothing more and nothing less. You let go of anything you thought you might be able to use and go with the offering. It is a way of accepting and facing the facts. It is the act of being open to invitations and recognising them as such, then saying yes.

In the opening of my eyes, that has happened to me in the past couple of years, I am knocked off my feet, astonished at all the signs I missed along the way, because I held on so tightly to my worldview. There were facts and evidence everywhere for decades, that I explained away based on my assumptions, beliefs and attachments.  There was even medical evidence that I thought must have been a clinical error. I am speechless when I see I was like a sealed impenetrable  vault. It is like the person who keep looking for a cure despite all the evidence before them. I have deep wounds from my inability to not see that facts as they unfolded over decades.

Living in the now is the only way to really live and to remain open to possibilities also requires you to go to the desert like Moses, notice the burning bush alive with all the sparks of instruction for leadership, cleansing without destroying, appearing in something familiar like a bush. Moses wasn’t daunted by the sight, he was curious, he stepped closer to get the message, to understand better and to hear what was being asked of him. He was open. Instead of holding onto what we all know bushes that burn will be razed to the ground, bushes don’t speak, God doesn’t appear to give us a bespoke message – he ignored all that he would have known – and received what was right before his eyes. Maybe it was the afternoon light glowing through the bush that made it look like it was burning?  Whatever it was it must have taken an incredible capacity to be open to the scene, to the message and to the invitation.

I can’t help reflecting on those who might be on the autism spectrum and just see things as they are and state them obviously, I feel I am learning that from Greta Thunberg who has told us she has Asperger’s and sees it as her superpower. Her capacity to tell us all without fear or favour of the climate emergency we are in and we are at the beginning of a time of mass extinction. So many of us are holding on to our assumptions, our arrogance even, maybe even our love for the life we have that we can’t see the facts. I usually see this as the complete opposite of openness, yet being able to have a reality check seems a reasonable foundation for curiosity and creativity.

On Friday night, I hung out with a couple of friends, one a decade younger and another a decade again younger, they took me on as an accidental apprentice for a few hours, coaxing and cajoling me to take more steps towards an open door. I have a lot of learning and this kind of life coaching ahead of me. I can see the door, and I know it is there. I have more steps to take to open it. Their love and generosity were overwhelming. What was simple and easy and very well integrated into their lives was a long way from mine. A complete novice. I need more guides and more practice. Detaching is never easy.

The preparation for this evening began in my sub-conscious over the past couple of weeks, with a series of dreams all about letting go, and calling out to a void to find nothing coming back to me. The void must exist first and then in the relief of this blackness, light arrives to you can tell the difference between the black and the white.

The two-tone prints on the wall of the room I am sleeping in while house-sitting is a constant reminder of this phenomena. You can tell what there by what is not. One such print is of a vase of waratah’s and in the way the bush is burning and in the spirit of the Celts who are in my deep DNA, Felicity Urquhart sang a dreamtime story about how the waratah became red. Wonga the pigeon lost her mate and gave up calling for him and fell with a broken heart onto the white waratah and her blood made it red for immemorial. I am not taking this course, I am however taking from the story of transformation, first the act of giving up because you can’t find what you are looking for, it isn’t there anymore, then perhaps the lesson of lying down to rest and letting the heart open as fully and completely draining away the life force that held it together, and then the transformation for others to enjoy, celebrate and see in their landscape an opening of beauty.

From these serendipitous threads being woven around me this past week or so, I am trying to take a facts and invitations, not as the remaining pages of a book waiting to be read, or of memories passing, but more as steps towards throwing more shoes away. Small steps of being astonished and curious and knowing that when I fall to the ground, it is solid beneath me and shoes aren’t needed to tread lightly on this earth. Sparks will fly, and like the burning bush, I will not be consumed by the fire.

 

The Opening of Eyes

That day I saw beneath dark clouds
the passing light over the water
and I heard the voice of the world speak out,
I knew then, as I had before
life is no passing memory of what has been
nor the remaining pages in a great book
waiting to be read.

It is the opening of eyes long closed.
seen for the silence they hold.
It is the heart after years
of secret conversing
speaking out loud in the clear air.
It is the vision of far off things

It is Moses in the desert
fallen to his knees before the lit bush.
It is the man throwing away his shoes
as if to enter heaven
and finding himself astonished,
opened at last,
fallen in love with solid ground.

— David Whyte

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Photo by Ethan on Unsplash

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.