Monthly Archives: February 2018

Year of Self Compassion #8 #Footprints

No longer just an imaginative tool in a science fiction story, your finger print is unique and the way to open many a door or transaction.  Yet I am more captured by my footprint. How I live on this earth and how lightly I tread. We have plenty of guides to help us with our ecological footprint, but how about our emotional footprint? How we tread on each other’s hearts, how gently we inhabit our thoughts and steer unwelcome ones away; how we make a mark with hobnail boots or light as a feather plimsolls.

I was pulled up this week and rightly so. While I had been moving through grief and loss, other sojourners were at a different place and on a different tangent, and I had a case of foot in mouth disease …. my footprint not very elegant or helpful. And while a sad emoji face with a suitable coy look of embarrassment might be appropriate too – I know my own journey needs to respect those on the same path. Keeping your own counsel has its place in self compassion and treading lightly on the emotional environment we share with others.

The first place of belonging is to ourselves and finding ourselves dwelling in our own house and creating the garden for all kinds of ordinary and extraordinary beings for us to cohabit doesn’t actually mean we are on our own.  The threads and beads of life weave around us and intersect in places visible and invisible, with the power to be gentle or the power to throttle with a strangulation that silences and suspends life itself.  The space between the two may be gossamer thin.  In these moments catching yourself to ask, is the next sentence, or phrase, an act of self-compassion or perhaps it is a unceremonious fall into a chasm that is going to take a while to get out of, is time well spent in discernment. And I failed to take that moment more than once these past few weeks and there have been consequences all round.

Putting on the right shoes for the walk we are in, helps with the footprint making that follows. I have had a week of stilettos and blundstones, when more slippers and flats would have been a better plan for the maintenance of relationships and my own health and well being. It is a lonely place to be, knowing the footprint is bigger than it needs to be and deeper than it was expected to be, and making more of a memorable mark on others.

Re-purposing the spaces I inhabit and helping my ideas, hopes and dreams to find their way home in me so I can belong to them again, and indeed have new ones find their way to me.  This is the way of the pilgrim to have a footprint that is worthy of the path and a path worthy of the footprint. Somewhere inside the house we belong to is also the one that belongs to us, and in that belonging there are clues to self-compassion. It starts with being merciful to oneself and letting every part of yourself be in sympatico, and in that place of tenderness, perhaps your footprint can be just the right shape, size and weight it needs to be for you and for others.  Sadly that won’t always be so, and unintentional harm will be done because the shoes are a few sizes too big, or maybe the heel is a little sharper than it needs to be, or a sole that is heavier than the ground on which you walk requires. It is not with self-flagellation I come to this awareness, but with gratitude for the reminder, gentle footprints of self-compassion are gifts to others too.

THE HOUSE OF BELONGING

I awoke
this morning
in the gold light
turning this way
and that

thinking for
a moment
it was one
day
like any other.

But
the veil had gone
from my
darkened heart
and
I thought

it must have been the quiet
candlelight
that filled my room,

it must have been
the first
easy rhythm
with which I breathed
myself to sleep,

it must have been
the prayer I said
speaking to the otherness
of the night.

And
I thought
this is the good day
you could
meet your love,

this is the black day
someone close
to you could die.

This is the day
you realize
how easily the thread
is broken
between this world
and the next

and I found myself
sitting up
in the quiet pathway
of light,

the tawny
close-grained cedar
burning round
me like fire
and all the angels of this housely
heaven ascending
through the first
roof of light
the sun has made.

This is the bright home
in which I live,
this is where
I ask
my friends
to come,
this is where I want
to love all the things
it has taken me so long
to learn to love.

This is the temple
of my adult aloneness
and I belong
to that aloneness
as I belong to my life.

There is no house
like the house of belonging.

– David Whyte
©1996

Year of Self Compassion #7 Dissent

With frangipanis on the altar, forty years ago today I made vows : “I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love and honour you all the days of my life.” We encouraged each other to be our best true selves, and from time to time that level of honesty and authenticity wasn’t easy to hear or live by. Dissent often arrives when we turn up bringing our truth.

[Dissent is paralleled in formalised sets of relationships that become institutions. The great Australian leader, John Menadue wrote in his autobiography:

All institutions, like people, are in need of radical daily reform. Without dissenters, institutions die. In that respect I became more radical as I grew older. I now believe that the one thing above all else I’ve learned is that we need relationships and community if our lives are to be complete.

The protestant tradition of dissent was the foundations for Menadue and fortunately for us he continued to hold that in his public life. It happens that I live on Methodist Street and I am grafted from the oldest of vines in the Christian tradition. Despite this heritage, I am not adverse to the dissenting spirit and it is taken shape in me over the years mostly with feminist and liberation theology, While I have grown weary of holding myself in the places where dissent is a form of survival as well as a political imperative, it is still there inside of me and won’t go away. ]

Dissent gave me a big God and helped me inherit a deeper more powerful story than I was being offered by clergy. If all creatures are made in the image of God, then the sheer diversity of what we can see and what has been and yet to come is surely the only evidence of a God who has many guises. This really helped me get a deep appreciation for ecumenism and then multi-faith practices.

It is in relationship we come to test boundaries and how much dissent can be managed. [This happens in democracy too – a flawed but vital way we organise ourselves to be free within shared agreed limits. It is fragile and we enlist with our vote and then often leave the accountability to the elected. But we have signed up, and in the conversations and public discourse can shape what happens next.]

I want my relationships to be messy, to include dissent, to take me deeper and to new places, to give me insights and challenges, to help me turn up to my true self. I want a road less travelled and possibly along the way slay a few dragons, cross jungles, ogle at vistas and survey huge horizons in awe and silence. I want a big enough canvas for a God too big to be contained on that canvas, and I want to know in all of this, dissent will strengthen, not weaken. I want to be brave enough to bring a dissenting voice or idea with kindness and compassion to any conversation – big or small. I want to be able to say to myself with conviction and follow through with action: the truth will set you free and being true to your self is a freedom.

Freedom is a gift hard earnt by detaching (and de-cluttering) and in this time of detachment, I am learning some things are easier to let go of than others, including the notion of being true to yourself carefully hidden in the first part of the marriage vow – I promise to be true to you – has the power to mean a fidelity to your own truth … and that is a new dissenting idea in this year of self-compassion.

I can smell the frangipanis.

Vows to My Self

I promise to be true to my self

In good times and in bad,

In sickness and in health.

I will love and honour my self

All the days of my life.

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Four Frangipani Flowers, Kuching, 2018

Year of Self Compassion #6 Luggage

Luggage comes in all shapes and sizes, colours, contours, with hidden and visible compartments. We all lug stuff around, that great effort it takes to carry or drag a bulky or heavy load. The stuff itself is only part of the story, it is the lugging it around that is visible to others even if they can’t see what is inside.

I was watching people arrive at a destination recently and as they collected their luggage in the airport, some moved easily through customs and each point of transfer and transition to a new status – a citizen arriving home, a visitor being welcomed, an alien being processed and sent away. The luggage they bring with has a status all of its own.

Luggage offers up lots of lessons in this year of self-compassion – what I can hang on to, what can be left behind, what might be waiting for me at a destination, what needs to be packed before a journey to be made.

What does a pilgrim pack? Usually we all pack too much and I think that is true for the pilgrim too, and there are, from time to time, contradictions, for even a small day pack can be hard to carry.

As Leonard Cohen writes:

I know the burden’s heavy
As you wheel it through the night
Some people say it’s empty
But that don’t mean it’s light  – The Street

Finding a message or a few old coins in the seams of a bag that hasn’t been used for a while can take you back to a place you have once been, and you hear the echo of a memory or a gentle reminder of what you picked up there or left behind. It may be a Pandora’s box secreting blessings and curses simultaneously.

I have been doing a lot of packing up and moving of books, CDs, DVDs, clothes, furniture this past week and each item carries with it a story of how it came to be here, its contribution, some books never opened, others barely touched, some falling apart from their daily interaction with the world. Like the things we put into luggage, some never used and other items that travel close to your person and irreplaceable. Some carried by others through generations for another generation to treasure or discard.   In this year working out what needs to be held and kept and what needs to be packed away for a future moment to challenge or remind, what needs to be rejected, what needs to be abandoned and left on the side for someone else to collect … big and small moments to discern invitations to be strong and to be gentle on yourself.

So in the spirit of John O’Donohue here is a blessing I have written.

A Blessing for Luggage

When the load gets to heavy

May you know what to put down.

When the load is light

May you skip with a giggle.

When you are sharing a handle

May you give a turn to your companion.

When the tag has your name writ large

May you own up to the luggage.

When you arrive but your luggage doesn’t’

May you remember to take a deep breath.

May an empty suitcase ordained to be filled with gifts and treasures

Be a vessel for your willingness to receive.

May your passport pouch with the tiny pocket

Hold your precious self, safe and secure.

May your backpack of trusted belongings

Be the source of all your basic needs.

May your carry-on bag

Find a place to rest in the cabin above you.

May your inner pilgrim

Get lighter, the longer on the journey.

May your inner Empress

Await courtiers arriving with gifts from far off lands.

And may you leave behind what no longer needs to be lugged. – Moira Deslandes

Midtown-luggage-storage

 

 

 

Year of Self Compassion #5 Being held and carried

The feeling of being carried and my hand being held continues, cries and sobs are heard. And let’s be clear there is a difference between crying and sobbing. A cry is an acute response, while a sob is chronic – an ache that seems to go on and on.

In this year of self-compassion there is a lot more crying and sobbing than I have done for a long time … and it not all grief. It is also release, the pressure valve being discharged and letting off steam turned to tears. It is also coming to terms with reality, a veil being lifted to see what was hidden and facing facts. Reality isn’t all its cracked up to be (and I am convinced the way we remember is one of nature’s ways of showing compassion towards us, only revealing what we can handle one bit at a time). Memory does play tricks on us and I am having lots of flashbacks to times gone by and reconstructing what was going on with a new lens, or sometimes with no lens at all, just seeing facts. It is possible to have more than one memory, more than one reality, we all live on multi-planes as we go about our lives on this planet.

As a child I loved (and I still love) science fiction and I used to imagine that we were living in a multi-verse – things happening in different dimensions at the same time all around us – even though we couldn’t see them such is the creative power of time and molecules. This is a common experience. In my multi-verse, time was the same in each place, but it was different configurations of people, places and creatures. Time being the foundation holding all the verses together even though they were parallel universes – a bit like Dr Who in the Tardis having a Groundhog day in many worlds. I haven’t thought about this idea for a very long time, maybe half a century, but it has returned to me in this Year of Self Compassion, offering me a way of seeing and understanding what is going on in my life with the familiarity of the world clock (my constant companion when I was working internationally for five years). It was perhaps my first exposure to the idea of liminal space and time.

Going under each lintel and over each threshold to new places, new beginnings you cannot cross on your own, you are carried. The tears open the door, which needs to be open to before you can go through. The ancestors, the angels, guardians, witnesses, escorts – all carrying me. Such a powerful realisation of being held and that old familiar experience of moving on and holding still.

Having had a couple of falls recently and feeling very unsteady on my feet and being ungrounded may well have been the invitation to be held and to be carried. To being lifted over a threshold to come to a new place, to not let my feet touch the ground. This is in contrast to the horrific origins of women being carried over the threshold of the new home on their wedding day. (This tradition dates back to Roman times where soldiers abducted and raped the women and carried them off against their will as reflected in the mythological Rape of the Sabine Women.) In my version of being carried over a threshold at this time, I am not touching the ground, it will be there for me more solid when I am ready to cross it and go out into the world having been in a new place. This is a constant renewal as you are never the same going in as coming out. But this post it is about being carried and recognising and naming the experience, honouring and acknowledging the invisible help.

The safety net offered by those closest to us who turn up over and over again invited and uninvited intuitively knowing when the moment is to step in and hold up with no fuss, no show and no comment is how I know I am being carried and held. Being held, banishes loneliness and being carried, reduces the chances of stumbling and falling.

I am overwhelmed by the visible and invisible acts happening in real time to get me over thresholds. In the new places, where the ground is less likely to go from under me, I can face the facts of parallel universes and move on while holding still.

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In the garden at Glenstal Abbey