Monthly Archives: July 2018

Year of Self Compassion #30 #familiarity

Travelling through time and space, in a tardis camouflaged as a 2017 Kia, it is inevitable there will be familiar and unfamiliar moments to greet me.

This week my pilgrimage has taken me back in time to meet relatives I didn’t know I had and to join some dots on the family tree. Once again the nature / nurture theory is being cross-examined at close range. Rebecca Sohnit says “branches are hope, roots are memory” and these words seem to be helpful.

In the roots, I find more generations of music, lilts and tilts towards the Emerald Isle. The wind instruments echoing and haunting wild landscapes, that somehow contain untamed mysteries. The endless pattern of call and response, the syncopation of clapping and stomping drives home the familiar. (All we were missing was a fiddler.) There was dancing and drinking.

Many branches of hope from these roots across generations uprooted, pruned, cut off, abused, neglected. Faded photographs, snippets of stories, incomplete threads – all have a way of being woven together as the soundscape holds us around the table. Bread broken, wine poured, a powerful eucharist and toast to the common ancestor, a woman Alicia who bore a generation of children that found their way across this country.

You can travel for hours and still be in the same country. That is what grief is like for me – always being in the same country even though I travel far from home. There is wailing on the songlines of this journey and my tears join with the other branches, where loss and being lost has been the status update of other pilgrims. Around this table, I witness resilience from these hardy roots. I experience solidarity without explanation. I offer song without fear. Roots are deep and branches are wide.

Hope is invitational and promises the ability to change the narrative, without denying the history. Memories serve as humus, transforming by decaying into food for the branches. Whatever caused the break is unknown and now irrelevant, as another chord is played and toe is tapped.

I ache to be on The Burren and to have the west wind in my hair. There is a grand disturbance once again making me unsettled and joining with revelations of who no longer longs for me. I am taking instruction from the roots in County Tyrone so these branches can push out power and hope from the dark, blessed and blessing.

For Longing
By John O’Donohue

Blessed be the longing that brought you here
And quickens your soul with wonder.
May you have the courage to listen to the voice of desire
That disturbs you when you have settled for something safe.
May you have the wisdom to enter generously into your own unease
To discover the new direction your longing wants you to take.
May the forms of your belonging–in love, creativity, and friendship–
Be equal to the grandeur and the call of your soul.
May the one you long for long for you.

May your dreams gradually reveal the destination of your desire.

May a secret Providence guide your thought and nurture your feeling.

May your mind inhabit your life with the sureness with which your body inhabits the world.

May your heart never be haunted by ghost structures of old damage.

May you come to accept your longing as divine urgency.

May you know the urgency with which God longs for you.

Year of Self Compassion #29 #urgency

For two days I have been in the Hybrid World Lab working up an idea about measuring  individual and corporate contributions to Sustainable Development Goals, inspired by Nobel Laurete Muhammad Yunus challenge for a world of three zeros.  Being in the lab with two amazing women was intense in the context of a competition. It is not the way I like to iterate ideas and bring them to fruition, however it is how mostly I have worked over the years with urgency of parliamentary question time, front pages and more importantly the urgency of the changes that are necessary for population well-being or individual well being.  Whether it being about getting someone into a service to help them make it through the night in domestic violence or psychiatric care or for the three year old who will be starting school in two years in a location, conspiring against them so  they won’t be reaching their developmental milestones – urgency is real.  We have the capacity to make decisions in a climate of urgency many times a day – running a red light springs to mind immediately. A sense of urgency is not the same as something being urgent – and not all urgency is important.

In the lab we were exposed to mentors with a wide range of backgrounds to challenge, extend and develop our thinking. They all wanted the best from us so we could make our idea visible to investors.  To be surrounded by such talent was an incredible privilege and with it I felt an urgency to make the most of their time and learn from them.  We also had some speakers to inform and encourage us along the way.  One of those was Dr Christyl Johnson, Deputy Director of Technology and Research at NASA.  I was on the only all female team (in fact only 2 other teams had a woman on them out of 13 teams).  She could have talking about pitching to government, she could have shared her knowledge of research and investment, but instead she spent her 15 minutes telling us to become masters at managing our fear. She defined fear as an acronym – false evidence appearing real.  This is not the first time I have heard that, but this time it resonated me with a sense of urgency and prompted by a question from my fellow team member about the fear of success inviting me to recall Marianne Williamson being quoted by Nelson Mandela at his inauguration speech (it was his 100th birthday this week).

 Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. 

My sense of urgency seems to be fuelled by the big issues of our time and my own mortality looming as another decade approaches.  There is nothing like a palliative care or sudden death experience to wake you up to living more intentionally with legacy in mind. These are some of the ways urgency shows up.  The rate of change is a driver of urgency too. I once worked with a woman for whom everything was urgent and the rest of the developed a code for how urgent she thought something was with the number of times she used really in a directive …. this is really urgent had a lower value to this is really, really, really urgent. We took to treating a 3 really’s as urgent and in imminent danger. I used to call this the Danger Will Robinson moment in the office and if everyone wasn’t ready to deliver in that moment the fallout would have catastrophic consequences for some of us. I took over the leadership role after her and made it clear to all that we knew everything was urgent, but we were not the A & E department dealing with a car crash victim every five minutes, so instead we would have a set of values and guides to get us through all the small decisions before anything came urgent. Inoculation for the everyday and urgency when something we couldn’t see landed in our orbit.

Having values to hang on to, principles to guide you, a squad of people to support you – all help deal with urgency. As Christyl reminded us yesterday, holding tight and having mastery of your fear, and being clear that you know best or what it is that is important to you (whether that is an idea, a change you want to make for yourself or the world), will keep you grounded.

Unmastered fear and unfettered urgency are a nasty combination, but mastery over fear and urgency liberated by truth … well … that is an act of deep self-compassion.  Settling into yourself with your feet planted and deeply rooted in your own genius, fabulousness and with fearless unleashed … whoa that is something to behold!  I got to see what that looked like in Christyl Johnson and I am deeply grateful for the experience getting into the Hybrid World Lab offered me for that piece alone. We didn’t win the comp, but we won over fear.

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A fangirl moment with Dr Christyl Johnson

 

 

 

 

Year of Self Compassion #28 #querencia

As I head towards my 60th birthday in a few months, I am embracing what Jane Fonda calls “Act 3”. Right now, I am in the wings, backstage, changing out of one costume, re-applying makeup, checking out the props to see if they are all ready. I am freshening up.

My Dad was a psychologist and I was introduced to Viktor Frankl (Man’s Search for Meaning) at an early age. The biggest takeaway that was regularly reinforced in the home was that the freedom to choose how you will respond to a situation, was the only freedom no one could ever take away from you. Choosing how to appear in Act 3 requires time for reflection on what is still useful from Acts 1 and 2, what can I put down, what do I need to pick up and of course re-wiring …. making sense of what has been and making choices about the meanings of choices made past and how they will serve me into Act 3. This is not the work of nostalgia, it is the work of querencia.

Querencia is that place where we feel ‘at home’. The place where we draw our strength and inspiration. In bullfighting it is the place where the bull goes to that part of the ring, where he takes a big breath and gathers his energy, deliberately and with focus, before he goes in for another charge. Hemingway described querencia as the place where the bull “is inestimably more dangerous and almost impossible to kill” (Death in the Afternoon). In my early childhood one of my favourite books was The Story of Ferdinand, the bull who preferred to smell flowers that fight the provocative matador, such a great metaphor for nonviolence (did you know Hitler banned this book and Gandhi loved it?). The bull ring is perhaps the location for the opening scene for Act 3 and their are many choices in the centre and circumference, including smelling flowers and making a charge. I have an inkling bullshit fighting will feature. Regardless of what is on offer, at this time, I am gathering myself up to prepare and being at home with myself.

I am finding parts of myself that have been dormant or hidden for a long time and hardly made an appearance in Act 2. There is Chekov’s principle operating too:

“If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.” From Gurlyand’s Reminiscences of A. P. Chekhov, in Teatr i iskusstvo 1904, No. 28, 11 July, p. 521

There are shots in the locker yet to be fired and Act 3 is beckoning. Working out what was there in the beginning and has potential to re-appear or be revealed is intoxicating. Music and drama certainly feature as unfinished business. So far, I have taken my electronic keyboard (which I bought in the middle of Act 2 and has hardly been used) to be repaired. I have enrolled in Seth Godin’s altMBA program will preoccupy me in October to unleash new ideas and bring discipline, diversity and collegiality from around the world. I am reverting to my family name and doing all the paperwork to accompany that decision. I have signed up to sing in the Jenolan Caves in 2019. I have downsized my dwelling space and my wardrobe. I am beginning to get back to the gym a few times a week. And to my astonishment, I am getting recognition and reward for my movement building in the gender investment gap. All of this is just to remind myself that the re-wiring is happening and Act 3 is beckoning and brimming with potential.

The agony of grief and tsunami of challenges, the final scene of Act 2 has offered, are Shakespearean and invisible to many given the choices I have made about what is visible and what is invisible. I am gaining energy from knowing the practice of reflection brings wisdom, integration and wholeness. The practice is also a way of leaving things on the cutting room floor and picking out a new costume or remodelling an old one, sewing a patch on to bring new life to something that was past it’s use by date that can be freshened up with a bit of colour.

I am in the wings, at home, gathering energy for Act 3. Querencia

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Photo by Giovanni Calia on Unsplash

Year of Self-Compassion #27 #Equanimity

I have written a blog, in fact two for today, but neither of them will find their ways to the public space just yet. I can’t bring myself to be that vulnerable and make another part of my story visible. Writing can leave me thread bare and that is not always the best thing for my own wellbeing. Over sharing can be bad for your health, yet the constant yearning to be more transparent, bringing all of myself and wholeheartedness to conversations invites me to see-saw through my own expectations. Vulnerability has a price I am not always prepared to pay.

Paying attention to small, scratchy thoughts, can be a distraction, a way to skip through decisions that yearn to not be made. The daffodils will however break through the icy, cold soil with all their power and might to bloom in the spring. Inviting these new flowers to appear in the landscape, means they have to be planted first, and in the dark they begin to transform long before they are visible to the light, yet it is still the light that calls them forth. Such an obvious metaphor in songs and poems for as long as humans have not been able to find the words to explain transformation.

Every tradition has its stories of butterflies and bulbs, seasonal changes and the rhythm of life. Everything we need to know is in our bodies and everywhere we look. Setting out in the dark on any journey might well be a helpful reminder in these times. My habits of the years, to pack my bags the night before, place them by the door, leave before dawn breaks and watch the night give way to shards of light to welcome me to a new day, another step on my way. I like to travel light and give myself a badge of honour for taking only what I need and improvising as unexpected opportunities or challenges come (which is inevitable).

Setting out in the dark is with the knowledge that the morning will come regardless of anything I will do, I have to do absolute nothing for the sun to rise. It will rise with or without me. My insignificance is a great comfort. I show up. But of course just showing up isn’t enough, its what you do with the day, how you leave it at the end and what bags you might pack for the next day and the next and the next as you once again leave in the dark. And even when you are fully prepared or perhaps a bit over prepared, something unexpected is going to happen, the plane will be delayed, you will run into someone you don’t want to see, you will find an extra $5 in the pocket of your jacket – all wonderfully, sometimes intoxicating invitations to move away or towards, invitations to say but instead of and, invitations to stay the course or take a tiny detour in self-talk you call a correction or edit. Whatever the day holds for you, you have already shown up, that’s the first step in the dance with your day, it’s not the only one.

In this year of self-compassion, the amygdala, those almond shaped parts of my brain are getting a daily workout. Their job is to support me to be ready for fear or emergency situations,and offer up playing possum, processing emotions and memory. Recognising and understanding emotions are carrying memories of bags not packed, of not showing up, or perhaps even not getting out the door in the dark, are designed just for me. While it is a circular process, it is not going around in circles, and holding on to a proven process, is, perhaps the self-compassion piece inviting more equanimity. And now I remember I have packed a poem for this purpose (originally appearing in this blog post from 2013).

Blessing For Equanimity
As the dawn breaks and your head aches
May you be blessed with a still mind

As the morning opens to the day
May you put down divisions and look for synergies

As the sun reaches its height
May you call on your higher self

As vespers arrives and unfinished business haunts
May you gratefully gather up the remains of the day

As evening comes and you toss and turn
May you be rested and refreshed by a deep sleep

As the darkness settles in
May you be filled with starlight.

And may the Man in Sapphire Blue
Bless you with equanimity.
(c) M Deslandes, 2013

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Hildegard of Bingen – Man in Sapphire Blue

Year of Self Compassion #26 #witness

Hannah Gadsby’s raw and powerful performance in Nanette is indelible. For anyone who is not the norm – what ever that is – who has been beaten to a pulp for not fitting in by someone else lower down the foodchain and yet somehow closer to being the norm, will resonate and celebrate her bravery and anger. This is not a review of her performance or of the content. I was effected at the cellular level and the experience of being witness to her story.

Holding onto her words about reputation and her desperate plea, her begging for straight, white, men to “pull their socks up” has me aching. I am aching for the men I know who are doing just that, pulling up their socks, being quiet, getting out of the way, relinquishing the space and celebrating the women in their lives. I am aching for the women who are pushing and pulling, and making the spaces for themselves and others and who recognise their own privilege and are getting out of the way for other women who are not the norm to fill it up. I am aching for myself, as I grow older and my own privileges change, and I am not welcome in places I was before. I am more invisible than before and I have so much privilege by virtue of my white, educated, housed, healthy, first world existence. I genuinely grieve for what I have lost but I had it to loose in the first place and I have to keep reminding myself of that. Inside of me, there is arrogance and there is shame.

Stripping back. Unplugged. Bare. The hollow space, no, hollow spaces, laying empty inside of me and more hollow and louder because they were once full.

Watching Gadsby’s performance was watching her fill up. With each breath and phrase, she added a layer of energy of power and in doing so didn’t take anything away from another else. She wasn’t emptying herself with self-deprecation, she was filling herself with the audacity of vulnerability. Persecution is not funny. Alienation is not hilarious. The stage is her safe place, no one is going to interrupt her, she knows how to hold tension. As audience, we are all witnesses, but there is no witness protection program for the white, straight men or for those who stand with them. I have colluded with many of them, made them look good by being the feisty and friendly feminist, toning down my anger to make it all a little more comfortable. It isn’t comfortable for the Gadsby’s of the world who are aching and hurt, raped and excluded. I am setting myself the challenge to be at least one or two more shades braver and will think of Gadsby’s brave choices to tell us her story (not the least using art history as the medium to explain perspective and women’s exploitation on the canvas).

It has been a week of being haunted, and watching Gadsby’s performance made sense of some of the haunting in ways I won’t share today. But I do want to say protection, privilege, reputation are taking me to humility, guilt and shame too. Brene Brown says she is ‘pro-guilt’ because it helps us stay on track and make choices to move away from behaviours and helps us align with our personal values. Gadsby showed up. All of her showed up. And as I witnessed her performance I witnessed a powerful act of self-compassion. The room was full of light and she managed to banish some of her own darkness with her anger, her begging and her relentless seeking to come home to herself. This is a quest for humanity, not power or privilege. It is a quest for us all to be each others witness, to make space for one another to be heard, to be seen, to be whole, to be healed.

We got to show up for ourselves and for our people. We got to show up for each other. There is enough room for all of us and diversity is the first step, inclusion the second. Start with the first step as David Whyte reminds us: “Start close in, don’t take the second step or the third, start with the first thing close in, the step you don’t want to take.” Close in for this white women is with the white men I am around, its easy to go to the margins, much harder to start close to home.

Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy – the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light. Brene Brown

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Photo by Jan Haerer on Unsplash