Sparks will fly #7 #wicks

 

When sparks fly

glimmering specks rise

ashes form below.

Paradox in alchemy.

Mediated by wicks

twisted threads woven

drive capillary action.

Squeezing out oxygen

Shedding matter

With every loss

Light appears

Wick disappears

Darkness is forecast.

(c) MWere 2019

 

I light candles regularly for love, for loss, for safe passage, for comfort, for remembrance and for fun. The glow brings a gentle warmth and peace.  There is no romance and sometimes it is in defiance to the dark. I have long been supported by the adages “it only takes a spark to keep the fire going” and ”it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness”.

It is inevitable that when light is shone, shadows appear, and I find myself sometimes preferring the dark so as not to find the consequence of shadows. A shadow is visible but an incomplete reflection, it has an emptiness and is a shapeshifter, turning and changing with the elements. Long shadows are cast when you are furthest from the light. A lot of candles might have to be lit to mimic the sun and bring a shadow to heel. The dark offers freedom from the shadow equally as the light at its height doesn’t cast much of one either.

I am facing a time where light and shadow, wick and spark are dancing around me. There are invitations to light candles, sit in darkness, box a shadow, hold space for light and dark to co-exist. I am drawn to the wick. Threads with space between them to enables energy to travel and transform bringing light as it goes and forecasting the dark in equal measure. The dance won’t work without the wick, it must be lit and extinguished, sometimes trimmed along the way.

The string, dipped in wax, and the strongest ones are soaked in salt and boric acid as well.  Boric acid is a wonderful pesticide especially for cockroaches and ants in our harsh Australian climate. And we all know the healing and preservative power of salt! Protection and preservation are embedded in the fuel.

I am noticing what lights me up and uses energy and in equal measure drains and descends me into darkness. The wick needs to be dipped into the salt and acid to be stronger. Pilgrimages are in the light and the dark, and to carry a candle ready to be lit and to know when to set it down is a series of discernments that come and go throughout the day and the night. The shadows are often long. The invitation seems to be for more light, not less and yet I can feel my resistance. I don’t want to see clearly all the time, to be brought into the light, sunshine that very best disinfectant. I don’t want to see all the truth, I want to turn away and towards the shadows sometimes. The hard part is to see things as they are.

I am going to spend some time being dipped in salt and acid getting ready for the steps ahead. To see clearly requires a lot of light. The wick is combustible, and inevitably sparks will fly.

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Photo by George Becker on Pexels.com

 

 

 

Sparks will fly #6 #ideas

Just a spark, a reminder that some time, a long time, ago there was a spark.  A time when the heart beat a little faster and the mouth got a little drier when that person came into view or perhaps even just the hint of them coming into view, there was a spark.  There is an imprint of that moment on my heart, unlikely to be ever put to the muscle memory test.

I notice lovers all around me, falling, fainting and swooning into each others arms, in an age of gender fluidity to further add to the complexity of emerging relationships. I grew up in a family where there were a range of relationships and complexity down through the generations, which grew in visibility as I got older and could interpret them for myself.  I am sure there were plenty of sparks flying.  I remember my father asking me if I understood the meaning of the song Afternoon Delight as I hummed along to it in the car one afternoon when I was about 16, I really had no idea, yet within a year I would have made a better guess. I think about songs like Tutti Frutti and how scandalous they would have been in their day, probably more so than the banned Skyhooks album I had bought that same year, the direct lyrics more understandable than the saccharine sweet rock of The Starland Vocal Band.  There is something about Australian music that leaves little the imagination – direct, deliberate. I like that Australian quality which is not just in the music.

I fall in love with ideas, words, pictures and sounds. I have been known to fall in love with tastes as well (Maggie Beer’s Burnt Fig, Honeycomb and Caramel ice cream springs to mind).  Little sparks of ideas come and go just like the early stages of a romance where you notice a glance, perhaps an adjustment of clothing, a deep breathe. You find yourself bathing in an idea or a perhaps even, drowning in delight of where that idea might take you, taking you off with fantasy to a land of future possibilities. Getting carried away is surely a sign of sparks flying. A sign. Something is beginning to burn, to fuse, to combust. The fuel and heat of the idea, just like hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, create a chain reaction and a new energy is released – made visible in a spark. Before you know it, more and more sparks are formed from one another dying to each other and growing more out of each of the little deaths. Ideas fall away and new ones rise up, fuelled and fed on the ones who have gone before.  Like the lovers around me, intoxicating and generous.

The lessons of constraint, fences to hold the ideas in, are gifts, in much the same way as the limits lovers might set for each other. The gift of a constraint builds curiosity, innovation, potential. Over the years in my working life I have held the view there are really only three constraints, time, money and imagination. I have often settled on the view that lack of imagination is actually the only real constraint and the other two are there to help you stretch your imagination. Too often, too many resources, produces ineffective and completely unoriginal thinking. In my experience, when you don’t have much to play with, you are more likely to be clever and creative, more likely to come up with great ideas.

So it is inevitable, this is a season of creativity supported by constraint and ideas are being courted.

Before love there are sparks, so I am enjoying this dalliance with new ideas and there is muscle memory to draw on and synaptic pathways already made for ideas to travel.  This is a practice for a pilgrim to walk a path trod by others and to make it your own, as it is after all your path too. And only you can walk your own path.

Sparks.will.fly and maybe even be able to carry you home to that place where ideas can flirt with you to fall in love with them and make them visible, direct and deliberate, and not sugar-coated.

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Photo by Samuel-Elias on Unsplash

Sparks will fly #5 #breathing

Just had some news, the kind of news that could have come anytime and at any hour, the kind of news that moves the axis of the earth a little bit, not a big bit, in my world, but in someone else’s the earth’s tilt won’t ever be the same again. For them their day started in an ordinary way, and ended richer and emptier. For thirty odd years we acknowledged each other every now and again with a greeting ritual: Me – hello how are you? And he said – Well I’m still breathing. We then had a giggle and proceeded into conversation. It was as familiar as doing a nod to start some kind of colonial two-step dance. These everyday moments are like an ember in a fire being carried in sticks from place to pace and when the spark is ignited with the breath of the greeting, off we can go to build the fire, a safe place to chat with the space between us held once suspended, re-constituted for conversation. We all have people in our lives where we can pick up where we left off, with ease and little ceremony. He was one such person. He lived on his own terms and under his own conditions and I will miss our every now and again conversations.

A spark is quite fragile really, sometimes needing a little coaxing to come into its fullest self to reveal both fire and air. The elemental energies glow and invite promise. The candle starts with the spark of a match and begins to burn joining it’s fragility to another carrier. Leaving one host and moving onto another, passing on and then extinguished in a puff. February is a month of birthdays in our family and I am reflecting on the spark of life begun in the womb, passed on and transpiring into candles and as they are blown out the years gone are extinguished, relegated to history, to behind and there in a clean sweep is the year ahead. Another trip around the sun waiting to be explored. Passing on and through the flames of the year just gone. The adage of what is past is past, rings so true at birthdays. We can’t go back and the impermanence of life, becomes real with the blowing out of the candles, the reminder and truth, that every breath in and out is a living and dying and to value each breath for that reminder to ignite and extinguish. To celebrate all that has happenned in a year and to also give thanks for the one who passed on the spark, to receive affirmation and acclamation from your family and friends, to be celebrated and then to steady yourself to take a breath, to blow out candles and in-spire – breath in – again – ready to bring your spark to the next year.

The divine spark of a person never goes out while there is breath in the body, and maybe for some of us in this species it doesn’t even leave the rest of us, somehow making a leap into the unknown, or becomes attached to another or fused into memories. I am not sure how this all works! I do know that in these moments when I hear news of a death, a memory is sparked off and I have a connection to the past, built on the foundations of everyday encounters. There is an unfolding of memories that are not chronological, they just float up, arriving as fuel to the spark.

Celebrating birthdays is a way of making memories to draw on for the future, to float up when the time comes and to join with other memories to notice the passing of the flame. None of us are getting any younger and here’s to more breathing in and out and fully appreciating the practice of still breathing, being lit up with joy at being alive and being celebrated for the unique, one-of-a-kind person you are in the world.

PS: Happy Birthday to all the February babies in my family.

For Your Birthday – by John O’Donohue

The blueprint of your life
Would begin to glow on earth,
Illuminating all the faces and voices
That would arrive to invite
Your soul to growth

Praised be your father and mother
Who loved you before you were;
And trusted to call you here
With no idea who you would be.

Blessed be those who have loved you
Into becoming who you were meant to be,
Blessed be those who have crossed your life
With dark gifts of hurt and loss
That have helped to school your mind
In the art of disappointment.

When desolation surrounded you,
Blessed be those who looked for you
And found you, their kind hands
Urgent to open a blue window
In the grey wall formed around you.

Blessed be the gifts you never notice,
Your health, eyes to behold the world,
Thoughts to countenance the unknown,
Memory to harvest vanished days,
Your heart to feel the world’s waves,
Your breath to breathe the nourishment
Of distance made intimate by earth.

On this echoing-day of your birth,
May you open the gift of solitude
In order to receive your soul;
Enter the generousity of silence
To hear your hidden heart,
Know the serenity of stillness
To be enfolded anew
By the miracle of your being.

from To Bless the Space Between Us

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Photo by Aileni Tee on Unsplash

Sparks will fly #4 #wings

It has been hot, hot, hot this week, plenty of sparks flying when the temperature reaches 46C.  The afterglow of the heat in the sunsets has been spectacular and a reminder of the eternal dance between heaven and earth. We are in a season where bushfires are a sniff on the north wind long before they arrive and so far they have not taken their February Dragon form, as Colin Thiele once wrote.

This has been one of those ordinary weeks full of extraordinary moments. Leigh Sales latest book An Ordinary Day takes a practical examination with her usual curiosity of how your life can change in an instant. You get up in the morning, stretch, do your ablutions, get dressed, have some breakfast … it is an ordinary day … and by the next time you head to sleep you are not the same as you were woke up.  We have all had those days – grief, joy, new job, lost a job, become a wife, become a parent, become a widow. Maybe you have become a hostage, been in a car accident, won the lottery … ordinary people changed forever. This is the human condition as the Buddhists remind us – suffering, death, impermanence. Everything will pass. All the more reason to savour those moments full of spark and energy and build as fuel for the times when there might be little in the tank, and for resilience when a withdrawal is needed.

So far this year I have woken up more times in other people’s houses than I have in my own, the equation will balance out in no time at all. Waking up in new places is a metaphor all of its own, and when those moments come to shake us all about and rip us from moorings or rise us to new heights, we do get woken up again and again.  I am noticing there is a theme emerging about paying attention. Thanks Mary Oliver once again, and to miksang practice and Thich Nhat Hanh and Br David Stendl-Rast and Pema Chodron … and all the others over the years who have reminded me to pay attention.  I can see times when I have not been awake, have turned away, not wanted to look, not wanted to pay attention, moved too quickly to the next moment.  Being in the moment is one of those universal truths to co-operate with the foundations of impermanence and embrace the invitation to pay attention. Each little spark has the potential to be something bigger like a bushfire – and with it to be destructive, cleansing impurities, turning sand to glass, healing the earth, bringing ancient seeds to life.

I went to sleep last night after one of those days. A day of joy and filling up. A day of harvest and recognition. A day putting fuel into the reserve resilience tank to draw on into the future. A day where simplicity and complexity and mixed emotions combined. A day where the evidence of collaboration, secret squirrels and bureaucracy, contrived a gift. I received an Australian Honour. It is an AM – Australia Medal and for those who don’t know about these things – it is prestigious.  I discovered the nomination had been put in nearly two years ago and with the efforts of a band of friends, colleagues, peers and family providing all the details and evidence required by the process hosted by the Governor-General’s office.  Many of the contributions have been invisible and to have them out in the open with this shorthand of two letters to tell that story is very touching and I do feel honoured.

I could give a litany of actions public, private and some in-between – just as we all could – that are in the service of others. That is really the point – we spark off each other. Someone else’s need is another’s gift and more often than not, the gift of time, talent and/ or energy transmitted is helping the giver as much, if not more, than the receiver.  That has been true for me anyhow. I have learnt new things, discovered new opportunities, found ways to work around problems, created and amplified, had fun and generally been well and truly rewarded by seeing something come to fruition or a person blossom and bloom.

This relationship between service and paying attention is so brilliantly reflected in the arts. How often do we get to see with new eyes through a creative paying attention? So it was very fitting that I ended up at the close of play yesterday with the sun setting behind me while I sat on a butterfly chair, created by a local woman (Anna Small) who could see wings.  One of the conversations I had during the week, one of those moments to carry me through a lifetime, was an invitation to see this time as encased in a cocoon, liquified and not yet fully formed into a new creature. At this moment encased in a silk, protein, hard purse hosting the changes hidden inside, first spun by the old being before the new one forms. This spark of insight to see the old form having first spun the protective coating to enable the new to form is so obvious once I pay attention. I am exploring what branch my chrysalis is hanging from and how delicate the wings will be when they unfurl wet and perhaps still a little bit gooey. What was hidden on the inside, is woven around and then voila – something new that was already there!

After the winter, there is spring, after the chrysalis, there are wings. Now in this moment, and coming soon, are dangerous and noble things, calling for lightness, improbability, boldness and bravery.  Sparks. Will. Fly.

 

…..Extract from Starlings in Winter by Mary Oliver

I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard, I want

to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.

Mary Oliver, from Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays, 2003

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Sparks will fly #3 #taking

Riffing off a conversation during the week about the difference between giving and receiving and giving and taking has set some sparks flying.  I am pretty good at giving and I am getting better at receiving but the idea of taking that is foreign territory. What does it mean to take?  Literally to grab something with both hands, yank it into your life, pull it towards you feels a little violent and perhaps even greedy or entitled … but what if it was about showing up, leaving nothing to chance, proactively and decisively making a claim? I think I am out of practice at taking a trick. We played a lot of cards and board games when I was growing up but no so much in recent times.  I steered away from competitive activities and have somehow aligned taking with competition – if I have something then someone else doesn’t.  This is not true.  That is a scarcity mentality and that doesn’t line up with my usual approach to life around abundance.

Taking and giving are not mutually exclusive. I can take a photograph and enhance the beauty of what is there and see something new and give that to others. I can take a position and advocate to be more inclusive which opens up, not closes down possibilities. I can take what I imagine is potentially mine and that need not be taking from another or from someone else’s future. There is intentionality in taking that feels quite different to the humility of receiving.  This is sparking me up to consider what might I like to take from this time?  What might I want to manifest, grab with both hands … make happen, instead of passively let happen?  Alert: No children will be harmed in the making of taking.

With the death of Mary Oliver this week I have been reflecting on her legacy to future generations and how even a tiny spark of her talent has held me many times. She took from the natural world and shared her insights. She absorbed, at a cellular level the lessons of all things elemental. While we received, she did take, and knead and hold and filter and fuse. I am sure she would have seen her taking as necessary for her to give.  In fact her instruction is quiet clear in her famous One Summer Day poem meditating on the grasshopper – what is your plan to do with your one wild and precious life?  Embedded in that line is a confirmation and imprimatur, to be wild, accept your life as uniquely precious and irreplaceable, unable to be replicated as each day, each moment to be spent by only you and the way to you spend it. Making a plan includes giving, receiving and taking. Paying attention to falling down, kneeling, rolling in the grass, gazing around, floating away – these are all instructions from the school of life and living includes pushing through pain barriers in dark days, unfurling wings while they are still wet, moving the jaws up and down, ruminating, chewing through things hard to swallow, being nourished and fed in the process.  I don’t know what a prayer is either, but the spark to consider taking as well as receiving and not making anyone else the poorer, weaker or losing in the process that may also make be richer, stronger and a winner along the way is worth considering … and even a bit of planning.  Here’s to the summer day!

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean–
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down —
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

by Mary Oliver

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Photo by Chris Galbraith on Unsplash

ps To hear or read an interview with Mary Oliver and Krista Tippett from On Being click here.

 

Sparks will fly #2 #NewYork

Here are four sparks from the week. Sparks that have ignited my soul and warmed me in the cool of winter in North America.  Sparks releasing energy to give light and shade. Sparks offering promise and revealing potential. Sparks from the soles of the shoes of this pilgrim that has taken me across the world and home again safely thanks to the generosity of a few and kindness of many along the way.

Spark 1

Simmering thoughts bubbling up in anger sooner or later turn into sparks of inspiration and seem through their friction to open up new possibilities when allowing those sparks to transform and expand their energy. Holding on to the fuse and not letting the energy find its way out can be a source of constriction, pain or at a minimum exasperation.  Wandering around some of the world’s greatest art spaces these past two weeks I was particularly struck by the power of anger as creative energy to get thoughts expressed and forced out through tear ducts, paint brushes and stone.  Solid objects chiselled and honed into beauty through disappointment, fear or aching neglect and words spilling out onto stages where the receptacles of open hearts and minds took the offering to deeper levels as we internalised meaning and applied to our lives. I have been reflecting about what it might look like in my practice and my work to leave nothing left unsaid and bring every single cell of my being into view for public display. The creative soul expressed is vulnerability writ large and empathy unplugged.

Spark 2

Sparks of light creating the in-between spaces and the shadows as well – there are always shadows – to fully accept what is being revealed is to also recognise the shadow created. I have recently been introduced to the contemplative practice of miksang. The Tibetan word means ‘good eye’ and is about the eye being synchronised with the contemplative mind through photography.  It seems to be about seeing as is, empty and free of interpretation. It is based on the Dharma Art teachings of Chogyam Trungpa.  I have not taken a course or read much about it, I have a friend who is a practitioner and I have taken some offerings and suggestions from her as well as witnessed her practice which I have found invitational. I added my immature and beginning steps into miksang with a kind of walking meditation, wandering where my feet took me without a specific destination in mind and tried not to have too many plans to take a right or a left.  It has been refreshing to see as is and to notice what is given and to receive the what is without interpretation, to feel into the seeing. It has led to multiple ways of seeing what is before me, both in real time and in reflection and then again when reviewing photos seeing again with new insights, shadows, patterns, hidden messages in reflected glass, surprising shapes and camouflaged insights revealed more fully a few days later.

Spark 3

Outside of the window I called home for two weeks Lady Liberty was pointing her torch to guide the way as ships came in and out of the river basin into the Atlantic. The Iroquois called it, the Muhhekuntuk, the river that flows both ways, because near the Atlantic it flows north and where it begins in Lake Tear of the Clouds it flows south.  Every day the elements re-arranged themselves around the skyline punctuated by skyscrapers to reveal plenty of light and shade and to offer nuanced ways of seeing the landscape. The sun sometimes casting a beam in between buildings to light up a dark wind tunnel alley way to give some warmth, the clouds closing over to being a mood setting to the scene on a dock worthy of a dramatic New York method acting stage, the twinkling lights acting as a join the dot game for young lovers to play as they set a course for their future.

Spark 4

Being in the USA and soaking up the political climate as well was to recognise the sparks of change igniting a nation that is re-correcting itself post the mid-term elections. The politics of relevance is at play and democracy is in the light and in the shadows. As the extremes define the middle new voices are arriving. The rise of young women in Congress are thrilling for many and terrifying for a few. The reclamation of the gavel by a grandmother is giving comfort and confidence to many in the middle and the juxtaposition with the grandfather in the White House is another expression of the gender wars reverberating around the world. I am so encouraged and enthralled by the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who The spark in her is a raging fire, not yet thirty she understands the urgency of this time and is not waiting in line, not waiting for her turn, who is arriving ready, with an agenda to take care of business.  Like the artists she is using her spark to create for us to see what might be hidden, to offer another way of seeing and understanding what might be in front of our eyes. There is discipline in this practice of democracy and she is not leaving anything in the locker room – all of her is being brought into view.

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2019: Sparks will fly #1 Joy cometh in the morning

The theme for 2019’s blog is Sparks will fly. I have set the scene briefly for the year here.

 

Where do you find the spark to keep the light going, the fire burning in your heart? When darkness descends how do you nurture and covet the light and keep it safe from a gust of unwelcome wind or even a gentle breeze? It is the hands who corral the flame from the elements. They gather around to protect keeping just enough oxygen around the flame to keep it alight and enough of a barrier to allow the flickering to continue.  The hands connected to the heart creating a mini hearth of potential.

The hearth so well known and respected as a place for sparks to be domiciled but not always tamed. Plenty of sparks fly when a combustible comment is thrown into the embers. That is what is happening in “the land of the free”. The new fresh faces and voices who have stormed into Congress this week aren’t waiting for their turn – they arrived to work, dance and disrupt. There is a heady mix of youth and age – all kinds of wisdom. From Nancy Pelosi in her late 70s to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez not yet 30 – these women are role models for every age … and yes sparks will fly.

Congress a symbol of democracy for the so called free world is a gerrymandered house of representatives from communities where the popular vote doesn’t always work itself into the highest office (just ask Al Gore or Hilary Clinton). But this Congress is more representative than ever before and every time the camera pans the Dems side of the House you cannot look away.

Diversity is the theory and inclusion is the practice. Clearing space not just making space. And spaces will be cleared on hearts and heads and hearths and homes. Having a special treat of seeing To Kill a Mockingbird on Broadway this week, it was hard not to once again be moved by the ongoing relevance of racism, innocence, a child’s view of the world and mob rule. Joy cometh in the morning, yet the morning is taking it’s time to arrive for some and for others is it dawning a new day they aren’t going to embrace easily.

Making a home for a place for sparks to fly may mean some acts of kindness from hands to hold the space for the flame to flicker and stay alight when darkness threatens as it inevitably will. Our hands may need to be ready to leave the sanctity of pockets and become agents of solidarity. The winds of change are blowing and as Cohen has prophetically sung Democracy is coming to the USA.  And as we head into our own season of elections in Australia I am looking forward to a more diverse and younger parliament to form.

We find ourselves captured by the culture of the USA in many ways, and so given that is where I am this week, I am invoking some of their spirit in the sparks to fly.

And so ….

Joy cometh in the morning, and as you start getting out of the kitchen to rattle your pots and pans, before you know it, you too might be dancin’ in the streets. May it be diamonds on the soles of your shoes flickering and sparkling as the sun rises.

 

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Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash