Author Archives: moira deslandes

About moira deslandes

Facilitating futures follow at @MDC_Aus

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

 

 

Year of self compassion #4 Shadows

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There is a terrorist lurking in each of us – fear fueling flames – seduced by the fake news that we are in control. The fact check is in – we’re not. Shit happens to all of us and we can’t control all the elements as much as we would like too. We are fragile, imperfect creatures – so lighten up, laugh and be joyful every chance you get – they are deposits in your resilience bank and you never know when you might need to make a withdrawal.

A healer told me this week to worry less, laugh more, enjoy my prosperity, let my family look after themselves, take my creativity to the next level, look after my health, embrace my inner Empress. I am not unhappy with this litany, now to put it into practice.

The shadow we cast can never leave us and it takes its form in dark and light (don’t forget sunlight is the best disinfectant). Keeping the light in front of you or behind you will cast a different shadow. Dappled light will give a smudge of a shadow. Back lighting creates drama, while being lit from the front will be crisp and clean and possibly a bit boring (and maybe there is a lot to be said for boring). I can live with a little less drama and while facing into the light isn’t always easy, to hide and lurk in the shadows has its own seduction to not face facts.

I was watching a couple of young people hearing some difficult news this week and they turned completely away, each looking in a different direction not able to face into the news they were receiving. I kept thinking of all the times I don’t face into the light, the truth, the crisp, clean lines. It’s hard to swallow the idea that the truth will set you free, it’s often easier to smudge and fudge, hide and slide into the dark corners and not see clearly what is in plain sight.

“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (1Cor13:12)

We can’t unlock the clouds from their celestial rotation, their movements change our shadow even if we do nothing at all. We are not in control, we can choose though how we are controlled – to take an improv version of life – a yes and, not a yes, but. To take an approach to welcome every offering to play and the eternal invitations to include, embrace, grow.

There will always be shadows and our own is biggest challenge, dancing its way with us and never leaving us for another, wedded to us for all the elements to shine through to keep us on our toes.

We are all confronted with horrors and disappointments – we each have our own hells and cowardice to hold us back and keep us in the shadows.  Turning to the light and facing the truth is the only option to progress our journey to wholeness and healing and to leave the terrorist beckoning inside of us to be born. We turn towards the light and face facts. We turn away and are back lit so only our silhouette is visible on the landscape.

When we turn to the light, our shadow comes too, and melts away fused by the amazing power of light itself. Self love and courage are our aids to face the light.

A blessing

With love in your heart, a song in your step, a laugh in your throat

May you be blessed with a light on your face

so you will glow and grow

with the truth

you are already free.

Year of Self Compassion # 3

Hospitality nudges turn welcomes into life lasting trust-building exercises. The Balinese take hospitality to a new level from offerings to gods and their heavenly hosts to all the creatures in the fields and crevices offering back their God-given gifts to their surrounds and to each other. There is a constant conversation between all of heaven and earth mediated by the elements and all of creation. It is good to have arrived in the land of the gods. After a fall 36 hours ago, my back has seen a healer today, received treatment in the form of home made oils and potions, spent time in a salt water pool, a stone heated sauna, had volcanic salts turned into body scrubs as well as many acts of kindness to ease me into various locations including motor bikes and cars. Despite all these interventions I come to bed with panadol and a sneaky suspicion it is a cracked rib causing the pain.

This pain under my left shoulder blade is asserting itself and claiming it has no right to go away. The pain has earnt its place in my body and will not fade or dissipate until it is done with being needed. Calling me to pay attention to it in the same way as any meditation aide might, reminding me to come back to the breath, come back to the practice. The pain becomes visible to others when I want to traverse a space and having a midwife to coax me through many of the transitions. People hold their hands out to guide me on slippery steps (it is rainy season inside and out), open and close car doors for me as the weight of the push or pull are too much, theories of what might work to get me better are widely shared and discussed in a range of languages and charades. Overall my effort to be invisible is completely thwarted and I seem to be at the centre of attention in ways unfamiliar to me. Krishna playfully constructs new ways I can be in receipt of kindness and hospitality.

Emotional roller coasters are crashing and colliding in the lives of people I call family. The highs of love and new beginnings, the lows of loss in ravines of agony, the fear of waiting for results and the paralysis of prevarication are finding fertile ground and throbbing through veins, sinews and tendons. Complexity, vulnerability, anxiety take their turn in many of the bodies. I am a long way from being witness but I can feel the effects via messages mediated across all kinds of devices.

For me though, I return to my beginner practice in this year of self-compassion. Being in receipt of care from friends and strangers is the lesson – to take everything on offer with grace- to enter fully into the experience of being cared for is such a turn around for me. Ever self-reliant and in the service of others, being served definitely has its benefits and while my apprenticeship is just beginning, I am learning to notice and appreciate more deeply all the acts of kindness and generosity I have bestowed to others along the way. If I take a karmic approach to this time, the abundant care from a bottomless cup inevitably is overflowing.

The daily check-ins from afar, the up close and personal clutches, the invisible and visible help across thin places permeating my spirit telling me with crystal clear certainty I am holding on and being held. The pain is the platform for a mantra. Breathing in and out as dictated by the phrasing or the mantra that arrives at the moment it is needed. I find myself returning to the same mantras: I am alive; Keep me safe O God you are my hope; Sat Nam. I am alive is new to me. The second is from a favorite psalm that has accompanied me in times of trouble over a lifetime and the third is from my yoga practice which is well and truly in remission. So I am hearing all of these calling me forward and offering me an interiority of stillness in the raging storms swirling all around and within.

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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?