Monthly Archives: November 2018

Year of Self-Compassion #46 #poet

On arrival to the Byron Bay Community Theatre, the line is already out the door, while the coffee beans just roasted brew to join with the steam in machines arrested and held by slender latte coloured bodies. There are no ugly people in Byron. I choose a seat in the fourth aisle immediate front and centre with a spotlight above my head. I come as a naked pilgrim, stripped bare and with nowhere to hide and nothing to hide. He tests the sound system with that eternal question from the nunnery scene in Hamlet, the most famous of our English bards handed down throughout to the centuries: To be or not to be. This is no rhetorical sound check , it is delivered not as a question, but as a statement. The perfect beautiful question in this place where yoga and reiki and meditation novices and masters find one another; where stones and chakras and cards are caught, folded and coerced into be-ing and be-coming and be-held.

I am in the light and on this day where being and not being live along side of one another in the poetic practice of blessing and being blessed. I know I am ready and also so weary my eyes can barely stay open. As I settle in to the listening, the three wise women chatting behind me, invoke Jesus, Mary and Joseph as their cussing lineage. Now invited into the space the Holy Family settle in too and appear from time to time throughout the day brought into the conversation by the poet and stories of his beloved friend and this comfort holds me near the nativity, a surprising advent invitation.

In the gathered, there are the groupies and those who have come dragged along by their female lover reminding them a lyric is an aphrodisiac and if only they could serenade their soul like the charismatic poet. We are all seated on red chairs for this red letter day. Phones are being put to good use with texting of girlfriends to tell them where they are. The fifty shades of grey hair in the room are interrupted on a regular basis with chemical offerings of red, purple, blues, blondes and blacks. I think about our desire for individuality and wonder what would happen if we all lived the truth of our bodies, one hair at a time. I notice one of the younger ones in the gathered taking a selfie and think well I haven’t seen that before at a poetry and philosophy session. I am so delighted to see this rock star of the word worthy of this modern iconographic action – it is an arrival all of it’s own, alongside the words and pictures we will be making in our imagination and memories today.

A green Edwardian chair of perhaps oak with a hint of a regency strip is placed next to the clothed table with a pile of his books, carafe of water in a glass already half full and my mind instantly recalls his poem Everything is Waiting for You. The chair and I begin a conversation and within a few back and worth lines, I am mischievously invited to come and sit. It is an invitation I refuse but laugh gently and know this crone is home to an Empress as well and maybe … everything is waiting for me too?

Most of the audience is bespectacled. Ready to see with new eyes and hear with new ears, perhaps a phrase or a line to sustain them as they go forward in their lives. The lady next to me (who I discover is called Susan) has gone to the toilet twice before we start, she is so excited. Locals are connecting with friends and the last of this tribe for today arrives as the final wriggles and giggles leave the bodies. I am excited for them who will hear the poet for the first time in the flesh, in the same way I was excited in the cottage at Ballyvaughan with fire stoked and hearts warmed by other pilgrims. Abundance and generosity had settled in long before we got there.

He stands on the stair off stage but visible to all, his eyes glued to Mel the promoter extraordinaire who has midwifed his visit. She is in a regal blue skirt and she relays his conversational leadership credentials and then with a whoop and a cheer and some serious applause he arrives. Nothing in the way between him and the audience, we are about to begin a conversation and his first words are “very good”. To ease himself into this conversation he invites WB Yeats and his life long love Maud Gonne in and recited the Song of the Wandering Aengus. I surprisingly hear the poet’s daughter Charlotte’s soprano voice waft into the lyric, maybe he is thinking of her as he recites the poem, I decide intimacy is on the menu today.

I start composing a Litany for Intimacy:

To meet life as we find it

to arrive at a place where the river has already flowed by

to go just beyond yourself

to be half a shade braver

to say no to something formed and yes to something yet to form

to be around tonics, those people who with their gravitational pull just make you feel better

to recognise the past in your body

to break promises and vows

to have your heart broken

to fall forward.

We are barely into this day and I am being drawn in memory, once again, to what I have stopped being and what calls me to love. And another litany begins to unfold, this time a list of names start to turn up alongside one another, and, with no filters, unrequited love appears and disappears. Just like the chattering monkeys of meditation, I don’t hold on to them, I notice them and then let them go. Tears fill the well as the poet reminds us all it is only because you care that your heart can be broken, and you chose the person for that special gift, a super power of being the one to break your heart. This gift of a thousand shards leaving me bleeding and bruised, never able to be put back together, I hear an invitation to write more about falling over and it was not the ground beneath my feet no longer there, but my feet no longer able to tread on anything solid. Like The Burren, my favourite spiritual director, I need to learn to walk on ground that is swampy, with hidden crevices, that looks solid when it is not, that is stone and ancient, ready and waiting for me.

I got a glimpse of my old mischievous self at the beginning of the session and caught myself with an inner smile, a familiarity and echo to my old self. It was a joy to recognise, I have been laughing again more, and this spiritual discipline might well be the one to guide me home. My small steps, though infantile and tenuous are helping me fall forward. A mantra is forming “go a step beyond yourself”. This is attributed to John O’Donohue and joins Seth Godin’s line “levelling up” and this poet’s phrase “half a shade braver”.

My bravery, between the cracks, and in the solitude, is haunting and humbling me down – all I need to do is show up. A pro tip arrives with the advice to ask for help – visible and invisible. Another one follows in close succession: develop the discipline of breaking promises in order to keep the conversation real. What promise do I need to break right now, that has been held and nurtured in my soul is a question I expect to lead me to a profound act of self-compassion. I have plenty more to mine from this gift of time and place with David Whyte. His new collection The Bell and the Blackbird has more than enough breadcrumbs for me to find my poetic pilgrim way on this camino.

The Bell and the Blackbird

The sound
of a bell
still reverberating,

or a blackbird
calling
from a corner
of a
field.

Asking you
to wake
into this life
or inviting you
deeper
to one that waits.

Either way
takes courage,
either way wants you
to be nothing
but that self that
is no self at all,
wants you to walk
to the place
where you find
you already know
how to give
every last thing
away.

The approach
that is also
the meeting itself,
without any
meeting
at all.

That radiance
you have always
carried with you
as you walk
both alone
and completely
accompanied
in friendship
by every corner
of the world
crying
Allelujah.

The Bell and the Blackbird
© David Whyte and the Many Rivers Press 2018

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Year of Self-Compassion #45 #pebble

I have been contemplating how to invite more self-compassion into my life and it is a real challenge to explore what kindness to self actually feels and looks like. There is always the temptation of selfishness embedded somehow into the seams of kindness when I think about it.  So as all good teachers would tell you, the only way to get better at something is to practice it. Such a simple instruction – practice. Do it once and see what happens and then you will have a little adjustment and get better at it. I haven’t been returning phone calls, or doing detours to catch up with people who might like to see me, I have been trying to hold space so I can pursue what is life giving for me and I been walking more. It’s time to get ready for the camino, the real one, not the metaphorical one. It is going to be a quest with cobblestones along the way long before I get to the streets in Portugal and Spain.  There is baggage to shed in kilos, fitness and emotions. There is hope to be made and practices to be scheduled.  There are poems to be read and written. There are songs to be sung and stories to be heard.

I am starting my journey to this new frontier with a day with my favourite living poet, David Whyte. Along with other David devotees I am looking forward to his dulcet tones and questions to kick off my thinking and to warm my heart, and hold me accountable to the big enough story and to be half a shade braver every day henceforth.  The poem that has held me of Whyte’s so often is Santiago, and so it was very fitting some of my closest friends chose that one to read to me at my 60th birthday. They didn’t know it was a favourite, but they know and get me, so it was not surprising it was the one they chose.

When you take step closer in to yourself, your truest self, it is a step into depth, to the place where you can be propelled by the discomfort of the pebble in your shoe to recognise it as an irritable invitation to go further by throwing it onto the road ahead, liberated from its confines in your shoe, you too are liberated to walk a little further, comfortably. In Godspell, the pebble is called Dare. I have loved this song since I first heard it as a teenager, I have sung it a thousand times, and again at my birthday a friend recanted how I had taught her to sing it as well. She told the story as an example of me seeing the potential in her when she couldn’t quite see it herself.  It is only now I realize the pebble called Dare has been in and out of my shoe often along the road. This song is the only one not written by Stephen Schwartz and I have gone searching to see what Peggy Gordon who wrote it had to say about calling the pebble Dare. I hadn’t really noticed that the pebble had a name, I had always thought of the words ‘pebble dare’ as an act  and not read the lyric as I shall call the pebble, Dare. So interesting that after 35 years I get another insight. The road hidden and then seen – as the poem goes.  Peggy Gordon  explains about her clown character singing By My Side and says, “ the challenge of walking with this pebble that she masters sufficiently to know that she can walk with him anywhere that he may go. She calls the pebble Dare because she needs to challenge herself to overcome her fearfulness so that she can walk with him anywhere he may go. So, it’s not the pain; it’s the challenge; and, the pebble is called Dare because she knows she needs to challenge herself.”

Calling the pebble, Dare maybe an act of self-compassion to know when to put the pebble in your shoe and even better knowing when it can be discarded.  I feel I have had a pebble, and sometimes a boulder in my shoe for so long, it is time to discard it, imagine how much easier it would be to walk without a pebble called Dare.  Maybe I could walk with a pair of shoes called Ease or Gently, or put on socks called Comfort and leave bags no longer needing to be carried so it is a lighter walk?

So many possibilities. I have already walked along roads with the pebble in my shoe and know I can do that, what I don’t know is can I walk without it? What about trying a walk without the shoes at all?  That might be too big a lean into liberation, but it is certainly an act of self-compassion worth contemplating.

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Photo by Greg Tockner on Unsplash

 

Year of Self Compassion #44 #popcorn

Conversations with yourself, the best version of yourself, the truest version of yourself, are the hardest conversations.  For around twenty-five years I have invoked Rilke’s instruction to live the questions, but not fully embraced the guide he also gave to go along with this instruction, to be patient with all that is unsolved in your heart.  And now I come to another threshold and am digging deep to discover what patience and love might feel reveal in living the questions to their fullest potential and in doing so live into the answer.

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

Along the way, the questions take on a depth hidden in their earliest incarnations. The eternal question of Who are you? Started off life with an address, a location in a family order, infused by DNA, connected by legal, moral and dutiful threads; now comes into its mature form to wrestle me to the ground liberated from all other holds. Approaching this question with a mirror, no rose coloured glasses, denuded of memories enables raw vulnerability to arrive.

When you have nothing else to lose, gain is all that is possible.  The vastness that spelt emptiness and a vacuum, now offers itself as river deep, mountain high, possibilities. A filling up and overflowing in the way popcorn can’t be contained. The hard kernel of corn protecting it’s source of energy stored to be released when put under heat and pressure and then with puff turning inside out, propelled to fill the empty space. One pop after another, exploding not imploding, reminding me I too can be released in little and consistent bursts.

Accepting the invitation to release, is a complex process.

There are many possibilities for how we might come to be released.  A simple dismal has served me well in the past. Then there is the heavy load that we carry that requires another to forgive ourselves before redemption. For instance, in the movie The Mission, Mendoza a former slave trader and soldier is released from his past sins metaphorically captured with a sack full of the weapons of his past life being carried up through high and dangerous waterfalls, the load is eventually cut away from him, by the ones he had previously enslaved. Unfettered and forgiven, he is liberated. Our release is often dependent on others forgiveness and our ability to accept that possibility. Then there is the sophistication, simplicity and science of the popcorn which is serving me well as a metaphor at the junction of Act 3 facing into the world.

That little drop of water inside the corn that turns into steam and causes the corn to pop and turn into a shape about 40 -50 times its original size according to popcorn.org. As the starch forms and the gymnastic popcorn leaps up into the air, somersaults, forms a tower with its transformed peers.  This is the kind of metaphor that can sustain me, leveraging off the steam and heat and turning into something bigger, bolder and more amazing. Just how much popcorn is necessary is the kind of question to live while seeking answers to questions that have no right to go away.

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Photo by Georgia Vagim on Unsplash