Year of Self-Compassion #2

There must be at least fifty shades of bravery operating in each of us at any one time. We hear from our doctor health results we don’t want to hear, say no to a child knowing it will lead to being ostracised, offer assistance that may put yourself in danger, open up a can of worms that turns into snakes and slugs. David Whyte talks about being a shade braver, and while this is an everyday invitation, each day we find out about another shade of brave.

Embracing vulnerability is the pathway to finding out what each shade might actually look and more importantly, feel like.

What is a shade? A lighter or darker colour to the colour it references. A shade is comparative, it is in relationship to what it is referencing. The colour of brave is already one of mixed hues. I long to live with more of a light touch, a gentle coax here and there, rather than heavy pushing and pulling. The darkness is an opportunity for the candle to shine brightly and I will never tire of the flicker of a flame to light up a whole room. When my husband had to have oxygen every day we couldn’t have a naked flame near him and one of the things I missed the most was candles and he missed campfires, providing a lightscape for conversations, reflections, intimacy. We get closer to our thoughts and truths in the dark when a light shines and there is the potential to discover another shade of bravery.

Last night, in a new country, in a new car, at night, in the dark and in torrential rain, I drove across the town we are staying in and with the practical help of google maps, a calm navigator, patient drivers around me and lots of deep breaths we all got home safe and sound. Before we got in the car I was already anxious about something else, time for another shade of brave to appear! Everyone in the car, and on the road it seemed, had my back. There was 1% charge left on the phone and between other people’s phones and creativity a solution was banded together and all I really had to do was follow the instructions and keep calm.

This is everyday bravery in many shades. Brave of the passengers to get in the car with me, brave of us all to trust each other and our common shared vision to get home safely. I think this is true of all kinds of everyday bravery in all its shades. We find ways to lean on each other that just look ordinary and necessary and forget it is an act of bravery. We find ways to be vulnerable and pilot one another through dark and stormy times. We find ways to escort each other from threshold to threshold regardless of the conditions we all find ourselves in. We follow our plans to get to a destination and rely on others to give us the directions as we go into unchartered territory.

There is something optimistic about these shades of bravery, tiny glimpses of things get better, getting to your destination. And once you get there the satisfaction of success and safety is a big hug you can receive from yourself (maybe after a good night’s sleep, valium or gin and tonic).

Bravery feels like fear. Bravery feels like fearlessness. Bravery feels like fearlessness and fear at the same time. Bravery is embedded with hope, and that hope is the flicker of the candle growing stronger and drawing you towards the light. Hanging onto the optimism, even when you aren’t feeling confident might just be enough to pull you through. Don’t go alone though, have a navigator, some technology and a cheer squad.

Optimism and vulnerability are bound together in little acts of self-compassion for every shade of bravery.

Year of Self Compassion #1

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How does a Year of Self Compassion begin?

Making appointments for body and soul is where this pilgrim started, the past need not define the future for the heart to find a new beat and rhythm.

Do you remember that feeling of being on a swing getting higher and higher, more light headed and giddy with of the movement as if you were flying? Pure joy. Self-love swinging yourself into your own bliss. I used to love being on a swing and would sing softly and loudly,  compose melodies and lyrics filling the air with song going back and forth – an embodied metronome. I remember distinctly a couple of very joyful swings – one in the back of what was actually Ian Fleming’s home in the UK (author of James Bond and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – it was an education centre and my Dad ocassionally worked there) and the other at a country school location being turned into a camp site where my Mum and Dad were helping to get it ready for the next season.  I think I would have been about 8 in the first one and quite old, perhaps 11 in the second memory. These childhood memories of singing to my heart’s content in complete abandon from the world. I was truly in a self contained exhilarating world, slightly expanding with the energy pushing forward, and contracting to slow down to a steady, more gentler pace before hopping off and back into the world again. I think self-compassion might be a bit like that – playfully making music in space and time in the deep security of knowing you are safe and your sounds wafting into the air around you and all whose ears could hear you getting a glimpse of the uncontaminated bliss of abandonment.

My year is beginning in song, but one I don’t yet know the name of or the tune, and, I am just warming up to the swing. The musical style of swing may well have a few clues, with its emphasis on the off-beat. The off-beat is always the weaker pulse in the music, the weakness is the reason it works.

Self-compassion is an invitation to love the weakness, that off beat, to make the whole sound swing. We’ve all heard swing with a soloist heading over the top of all the sound with an improvised voice of the melody overlaid. Making it up as you go along in the security of the pattern holding it all together.  Just as I made up words and music as a child on those swings, and I am improvising now, having forms and knowing their functions to employ as they are thrown at me. The lesson of ‘yes and’ is a great teacher – there is no compromise – you must accept the offer and do something with it. You don’t have to like the offer, you just have to accept it.

Pages of pain are real.

Explicit. Nothing left to imagination.

All the soil has been shoveled.

The first of the choir arrives

Tall and slender in the hot bitumen

Striding down, missing me, calling me to come back.

Laying hands on me at the bakery.

Forecasting: This is your year.

The second arrives

Offering a centurion service

A kind of protective custody

Armed with weapons of mass distraction

In fast succession

Guardians, escorts, witnesses, wise counsellors (after all it is Epiphany)

The choir is now bursting at the seams

In harmony, each knowing their part

Yes, and … I surrender to the sound

Gabriel’s trumpet heralds a mighty day.

The choir of self-compassion is in session.

A self compassion discernment question is forming: Is this an action loving me into my self?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Promises to tomorrow #52 #courage

The last post in my blog each year has been a thank you to the readers and sojourners and usually an introduction to the theme of the coming year.  I know the pilgrimage ahead is going to be rocky and in those rocky places transformation will unfold.

I do want to thank you faithful readers who have stayed the course with me this year of promises to tomorrow.

I am wondering and wandering around in my mind’s eye labyrinth, walking past stones I didn’t know were there the first time, passing back over paths with new information and insights I didn’t have last time round. These are hard, dark and difficult days. Opening up to the shadows, the discomfort, the disturbing, requires courage.  Intuitively, I reach not to the why, but into the feelings. The same blind, unconditional love I poured out on my husband and continue to shower on those closest to me, I now need to turn to myself.  A dear friend encouraged me to make 2018 the Year of Self Compassion.  I remember I have Stephanie Dowrick’s Forgiveness and other Acts of Love on my book shelf. I first read it in the late 90s and found it a real salve and intimate guide to living more wholeheartedly and more gratefully, but I haven’t picked it up for years. It is a book I have bought and recommended many times for others after loss, betrayal, a crisis or an accident.  I know there is something about courage to be found in the pages and in the summary of the first chapter she writes:

Courage is what it takes to be fully human. It’s what pushes us to survive the daily navigations between the known and not-known; to deal with the inevitable to create useful distinctions between what we can change and what we cannot. It is what will allow us to go into our own particular versions of hell. It is what will give us the grace and strength to re-emerge and still find life worth living.  – Stephanie Dowrick

I say to myself: Breathe deep, take courage, walk on pilgrim.  Look for the scallop shells on the way, pointing a path forward to the shore.

Sea Shell

 

 

Promises to tomorrow #51 #labryinth

The season is all around me – hidden in the trees, holiday makers unfolding maps and plans for rest and relaxation, gift wrapping and unsealing of envelopes arriving from far off lands, the longest day arrives, casts her shadow and falls into the ocean. Always a time for gathering in the kitchen, on the beach, around the holy table and a time for reflection on what has been and yet to come.

This time last year I was acutely aware it would be the last summer, the last Christmas, the last year beginning and because of that awareness a little more care was taken for the turkey trimmings to be just right to meet the mouths of those who loved turkey, a little more patience and an aching sadness behind the scenes, the unspoken hovered in the air around us all. Entering this season anew, I am putting down some new foundations for new synaptic paths to be forged so the old ones can hold the memories in their own right. No turkey to cook, few gifts to wrap and most of the envelopes have arrived with kind words of condolence entwined with the joy of the season.

I am missing things, not finishing, not quite hitting the mark – one consequence writ large is the intense sunburn on my back – evidence of the lack of a hat, sunscreen and long sleeves – something I haven’t done since a teenager. There are already tiny bubbles of blisters forming puffed pink by the residue of calamine lotion inaccurately plastered as I can’t reach all the places it needs to go. While the walk and the conversation were gold and deeply cherished, the scar tissue forming is a reminder of my inability to be fully able to look after myself at the moment, There just doesn’t seem to be enough of me to do that for myself. There is a vagueness, a lack of commitment and general lack of enthusiasm for much, with rote learning kicking in to keep up appearances. Coming fully to any moment seems to be elusive or saturated in tears.

My promise to tomorrow in these days is to not be in a hurry to travel through these days and nights, and continue to meander aimlessly without purpose or direction, to let each step hold whatever needs to be held. Each aimless step is still a step and even going around in circles you are not the same person you were the last time you did the circuit. The gift of the labyrinth has served me well in many locations, McLaren Vale, San Francisco, Cape Town, Alice Springs and most recently on the beach at Port Noarlunga for the summer solstice. Each season has it’s labyrinth and each labyrinth it’s season.

May the longest of days

Bring your labours to the labyrinth

May the shortest of nights

Begin new dreams and visions

May the harvest of summer fruits

Yield sweetness and stickiness

May the cool sea waters

Soothe the sears of sun soaked skin

May the quickening of grain and grape ripening

Confirm the successful completion of a season.

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Promises to tomorrow #50 #birth-day

When you arrive at a new threshold of the next year of your life unfolding, one of the traditions is to blow out the candles, to be lit up by what’s past and then to make a wish in that moment of darkness. The birth day is just that – a promise in darkness – coming into light – recurring each year. It is heralded by a long wait, labour pains of another while you arrive through an opening often helped by others supporting your mother. We give this moment a special place in our year, it defines us as a tribe on the zodiac, a season, a destiny. Everyone is a great shout of joy waiting to be born according to David Whyte.

On the eve of birth, an experience I have had more than once, the physicality or being prised open to allow new life to come forth, is pain with breath and blood eventually settling into a rhythm and a quickening that ends whether we welcome the arrival or not. And so on this eve, as my love would have been 60 in the morn, I think of his mother labouring and his arrival being met with a little disappointment that their fourth child was another boy – she had longed for a girl for more than the nine months, in fact years and years. He. Arrived. Already not meeting expectations, wiped away quickly, but the story remained in the family narrative. How many stories do we have hanging on us, even before we have started to make our own, even before our birth-day?

Unfolding into a new year, the old one is not left behind, it oozes in and has already left a fingerprint, forecasts and predictions are enabling decisions, the future is already in the diary. Not all birthdays are welcomed. There are the times with the new year arriving is heralding a beginning or an ending of a time that is not yet over or not yet ready to commence.

On this eve of his birthday, one he can no longer celebrate, one that for others arriving at this junction would be one to celebrate a harvest, welcome in wisdom, drive home the possibility of eldership, he is not. He is not here for his appointment with candles and cake. We will gather and remember his lasting impact that will go long and deep, we will be grateful he was born and gifted us with his essential self. We will hold the space for cake and candles and my promise to tomorrow is to mark birth-days with respect from how they came to be where heaven and earth joined in a woman’s body and appeared in the shape of a child.

He was born in the perfect season for the life he lived, ordained by an Advent birth. Living long enough to embrace the next generation.

To be more child-like is one of the great invitations and birth-days are an annual reminder to enter the new year of our life with the same bewilderment and optimism of those first breaths.

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Embracing Tim and Archie on Sunday 15 October  (Tim 17.12.57 – 19.10.17)

Promises to tomorrow #48 #unplanned

What to Remember when Waking – David Whyte

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?

I have often taken the line What you can plan is too small for you to live from this poem to open into the sheer wild landscape life offers. What is really waiting for you when you wipe the sleepy dust from your eyes? Waking from a deep sleep seems a luxury in real time, but in liminal time, the awakening continues of epic proportions.

Multiple times a day I am reminded of my new status, from sincere condolence motions made on the street through to a public statement in the parliament, from correspondence marked to estate executor and invitations to sell the house, purchase a gravestone, donate to a charity … the societal wrap around laying down the foundations to a role unrequited and unrequested. There are no messages of congratulations on a job well done or of welcome to a new plane, or a bon voyage of beginning travel to a new land. The grief and loss of others, is in the mantel being forced on my shoulders, which I flick off as quickly as it arrives. This is a time of waiting too and of expectation, just as real as any other advent has been, there is a coming not just a leaving.

The shape of what is to arrive is forming in the dark womb of yesterday, today and tomorrow. It can’t be planned for, and will take all the time it needs to be unveiled. It is not for me to induce a premature arrival and anticipating the coming is all part of a process unplanned. It is not black and blue though, even though this is the real time measure and expectation. It is all the colours in the spectrum and some colours I have never felt before.

There is an urgency to complete a process of allowing others to find their voice and show themselves in grief, and I am often the catalyst for the completion. I want the offerings of sympathies and empathies to be done and dusted. So I am turning up in spaces and on planes where people can express their sadness and offer their support – but it is not for me – it is for them. I want it to end and if I can midwife their need to say something by turning up then that will help me get past it as well. I don’t want to move quickly and there are times when I want to wallow that is for sure, but as well as the grief, there is wallowing in satisfaction, relief and release. There are new stories to be laid down and wholehearted living to be done, creating new pathways in my synapses, and being open will take care of how the world on this new shore I have inherited and am yet to be imagined into.

I am not making plans and I am hurtling into planning and I am working with the dynamic tension this both/and time is creating. I appreciate the compassion coming my way in the warmth of words and actions and my promise to tomorrow is to receive these as the simple acts of kindness with which they are intended, while not letting them layer into my being as they don’t belong to me.

For so long, I have planned every moment, double checked and consulted every decision, with at least one other, and often with many more. From the trivial to the monumental, I have been inclusive in my planning to bring to the shore from the horizon, what would best meet the moment forecasted by the trajectory of a disease, and the desires of the body and soul co-habitating with that disease. But now, I accept the invitation to unplan.

The future sky is forming and the horizon will come into view as my little boat sails with open anticipation to find out what is waiting for me, unplanned.

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Promises to tomorrow #47 #trust and #surrender

Trust and surrender was the theme of a networking event I went to this week. Having these two words put together instantly dropped a plumb line into the conversation circles that were part of the afternoon. I didn’t intend to share my recent history with a bunch of strangers, however told a story of how I was invited to trust and surrender when Tim was first diagnosed. For long time readers of my blog you may know this story.

When Tim was first diagnosed with IPF, he was told he had 18months to 2 years to live, he actually lived 9 more years.   At the time we were in shock for a few months. I was wondering what it all meant as I headed into my 50th birthday and for years had longed for my 50s as at decade between children and (hopefully) grandchildren, between not having to invest too much in a career as already had achieved a lot (eg been a Chief of Staff, CEO, completed post graduate studies). Instead I felt I was given a life sentence too. So I took the idea of a LIFE sentence and thought about how we could live, not die. We took the concept of living with a disability and not to adopt a dead-man-walking approach to it all. I also adopted the title of pilgrim for myself and to see everything as part of an intentional journey to be walking on this earth and whatever path I was on there was meaning and message. It served me well. But I didn’t come to it easily. I had the help of a set of dreams and that is what I shared on Friday.

Between Christmas and New Year 9 years ago, I had four dreams. Each dream had me in a devastating catastrophe. One a tsunami, another a bushfire, another a flood, and another an earthquake – in each one I was still alive and ended up on a shore. In each one I also traversed some hair-raising landscapes and sometimes I was alone, sometimes with strangers and sometimes with family or friends. The dreams were all vivid and often loud, but when I got the shore each time the dream ended and I awoke, I was exhausted, grateful and calm. After the fourth dream, I thought what is going on? What is my sub-conscious trying to tell me. I realised that they were all natural disasters, nothing I could do about them, they happened whether I liked it or not, and I was able to survive them all. They gave me the frame to be in what was ahead. I was able to trust and surrender, because in each dream, I went with the flow of the disaster, I was carried along with it, but I didn’t succumb to it and I had all I needed with me to get to the end in one piece. And this is how I have now arrived indeed on a new shore and a new horizon, still intact, but not the same because of the journey to get here.

Trust and surrender is a mixture of confidence in yourself and the universe, in a willingness to be open and vulnerable, to be carried, assured, confident. Trust comes from the word strong, and surrender is more about succumbing, letting go, deliverance. I was delivered safely to the shore by being in the disaster, repelling any temptation to fight or flee, as the force of nature was bigger than anything I could resist.

My promise to tomorrow is to remember being in the whatever it is – in itself is an act of trust and surrender – whether you know you will arrive safely to being able to rise in the morning to see the dawn or a new horizon is unknown. Trusting yourself to have all you need to surrender is a promise for all the tomorrows.

I took the photo of the Cliffs of Moher as I hung over the ledge as instructed by John O’Donohue in his poem, For Freedom, to let all that is holding you fall into the ocean from the craggiest of rocks, is to accept the invitation to trust and receive the gift of surrender.

For Freedom

As a bird soars high
In the free holding of the wind,
Clear of the certainty of the ground,
Opening the imagination of wind.
Into the grace of emptiness,
May your life awaken
To the call of its freedom.

As the ocean absolves itself
Of the expectations of land,
Approaching only
In the form of waves
That fill and please and fall
With such gradual elegance
As to make of the limit
A sonorous threshold
Whose music echoes back along
The give and strain of memory,
Thus may your heart know the patience,
That can draw infinity from limitation.

As the embrace of the earth
Welcomes all who call death,
Taking deep into itself
The tight solitude of a seed,
Allowing it time
To shed the grip of former form
And give way to a deeper generosity
That will one day send it forth,
A tree into springtime,
May all that holds you
Fall from its hungry ledge
Into the fecund surge of your heart. – John O’Donohue

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Cliffs of Moher