Category Archives: 2017

Promises to tomorrow 31 #love

For so long I have gone to a beautiful piece of poetry to search for a way to describe the essence and potency of love. Rumi exhausted, I return to my roots and find Corinthians 13 waiting for me as always.  I continue to find treasures and challenges in each line, and truths that need not be told as they are so universal there is a knowing beyond words.

In these days and nights there are precious moments. Priceless. Irreplaceable. Some are of harvest and others once-in-a-lifetime you need to be vigilant, so not to miss the fleeting nano gift arriving.  Sentry duty becomes a practice to keep out unwanted and unwelcome distractions.

My promise to tomorrow is to give the sentry a little rest from time to time by putting in placeholders of poetry; to let the eyes fall when they need to, and to remember love will do her work even if I am not looking.

1 Corinthians 13 New International Version (NIV)

13 If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

If I speak at all it is the language of breath and silence, each inspiration fills the lungs with the future and each expiration delivers memories to the universe. I am only love made mute.

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

If I can forecast and bring mystery to each moment and make meaning from the depths of all knowing, yet cannot hold still the singular moment of joy, there is nothing.

If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.

If I empty my shelves, my bank account, my body to make visible what I have accumulated, and humility has not made a home, there is nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love’s laws are fused in quiet spaces, expansive kisses, confident dreams, accidents and surprises: hidden and visible in equal measure. Salt, vinegar, nitrates, sulphur preservatives of love, build resilience, stave off fear, clean off the plaque and disappointment debts.

Love never fails.

Love comes through, time and time and time again and is all that there is when everything else is stripped away. Unplugged. Love remains.

But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.

There is no compass, no crystal ball, no stars to consult. Silence is the guide towards wholeness.

11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

What has been known in the dark, the light now reveals. Breath, bearing gifts carries love with optimism, trust, confidence.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Hands held in the great silence. The UniVerse: where love, the code and decoder become one.



Promises to tomorrow #30 #Litany

My promise to tomorrow is to spend time when I have some more tomorrows to give some very direct feedback to systems that aren’t working for me right now. I only have energy for litanies – supplications, invocations, recitals where the call goes out and the faintest response hangs in the air, not quite landing into resolution.

The systems failure litany goes on an on: carelessness, lack of problem-solving.

A piece of equipment essential for life failed this week and one out of four hospitals contacted offered a solution (an expensive one, but a solution to get us through to the next step), the provider of the piece of failed equipment fell at every single hurdle. First the technician was on a cruise and his Dad who knew how to service but not fix was unable the help, then the promise of a replacement arriving was not fulfilled in the timeline offered, failure to return call with correct information and we are now living in hope this new timeline might be able to be fulfilled in the next 24 hours … I have lost trust and confidence … so let’s wait and see. It is difficult, and in a first world system, I am struggling to see why it is so difficult. I would have thought at these times support, efforts to the edges would be standard and not above and beyond the call of duty. I get to the point when someone, just doing the job they are paid to do in a timely manner, makes me want to send them flowers and chocolates as they are shine out from the rest.

I started my professional life as a social worker in a psycho-geriatric team and there I learnt so many things about creativity, regular and reliable reviews, the relationship between pharmacology and well-being, how to listen and observe, how to be in a multi-disciplinary team, how to advocate, when to be pragmatic, what to let go of and what to hang on to. Every day I let those learnings rise up and wonder whatever happened to our health system and all the intersecting and moving parts? It was a terrible system then, but we all worked together as a professional team to challenge it, make it better, undermine it, conspired to get new rules … we never lost sight of the most vulnerable person at the centre. It was truly a great place to learn and to make a difference. The people who I served didn’t even know most of the time due to their cognitive state, so we worked hard to take their cues and look at their past life to guide our decision making, listen to old friends, neighbours or family members if they had any (which wasn’t often).

When under stress I make mistakes and I accept mistakes and imperfections, we are all human … but these compound fractures are unnecessary and cause more stress for those who are least able to have more at this time in their lives.

When my tomorrow comes I am going to spend some of the days offering up unsolicited fearless and frank advice with courage and compassion, and a hint of the memory of my worst self.

Litany of my worst self

For when I want the share price to drop for the company whose piece of equipment failed and then their support failed further.

Lord have mercy

For when I want the complaints department officer who didn’t return my three calls for further information to have to give evidence in a parliamentary enquiry and be chased by a TV crew down the road.

Christ have mercy

For when I want the staff member at a country Victorian hospital to be subjected to a black out and a failed generator at their most vulnerable moment.

Lord have mercy

For when I want the doctor who wasn’t brave enough to be honest to be faced with some hard truths at a medical tribunal hearing.

Christ have mercy

For when I want to leave my best self behind and embrace my energy zapping worst self.

Lord have mercy.



Litany to any worker in the health system

Do your job.

We beseech you

Know your role and accept your responsibilities.

We beseech you

Help enable the system to work.

We beseech you

Actively disable the system not working.

We beseech you

Ask yourself: Is there anything else I can do to help here?

We beseech you

Be kind.

We beseech you

Be patient.

We beseech you

Be compassionate.

We beseech you

Pick up the phone.

We beseech you

Return my call.

We beseech you

Read the signs.

We beseech you


We beseech you


Promises to tomorrow #29 Puddling

A puddle-in-waiting – soon to be transformed by the arrival of Wellington boots inhabited by a toddler who intuitively knows what a muddy water filled crevice in a path has the potential to be. In two jumps the puddle is revealed, squeals of delight and brown goo turns into joy creating matter. Puddles are intrinsically invitational.

Can we make puddles? Places where a hole in our path fills with gifts from the sky? A place where the first empty erosion and corrosive properties remains open to being melted by the transformational H2O. The combination of their union makes happy mud when they meet in the imagination of a toddler. Only by being willing to recieve the invitation like a little child is it possible not to fear the puddle but to jump in “boots ‘n’ all”.

I find myself meandering, puddling about, once easy decisions now complicated and multi layered, requiring meticulous planning and contingencies. Plan B and plan C often needing to be actioned and even then unexpected scenarios turn up to stretch the limits. Each variable another puddle making moment.

My promise to tomorrow is to recognise the puddle-in-waiting is an invitation by having my Wellington boots on so I can jump in and splash around in the mud, to be joyful and see the potential pleasure of mucking about with simplicity in complexity of the puddle made.

Easier said than done. My heart has a hole, my tears fill the hole, my feet know how to say yes to puddles – now if I could get them all to synchronize – puddling about could be fun and less like moving in slow motion through molasses.

Promises to tomorrow #27 Hanging out

There is an art to hanging out, sitting around, chewing the fat. Hanging out is not being idle. It does have meaning and value. Hanging out does make a contribution. Hanging out builds up the stocks towards high quality stillness. Hanging out is under threat as an artistic practice. Operating at low speed, disengaged from the engine helps preserve energy.  The informality of hanging out brings relaxation and values spending time with others as a gift of wanting to be in one another’s company and brings respite from the fullness and intensity of intentional high powered times.

Being around others in a soft, footloose and unstructured ways is a sign of deep, easy relations. Just to be, without purpose, is a be-ing of deep certainty of acceptance and freedom. To hang out with old friends, and new, with nature, with your spirit, your god brings a deep rewarding fullness requiring a little effort of marking time together.  Breathing the same air brings its own intimacy. Hanging out is not nothing and maybe indeed a mechanism to inoculate yourself from falling into the Nothing of Michael Ende’s NeverEnding Story – that great abyss where fantasies have no place – hanging out refuels dreams and makes memories.

G’mork: Don’t you know anything about Fantasia? It’s the world of human fantasies. Every part, every creature of it, is a piece of the dreams and hopes of mankind. Therefore, it has not boundaries.

Atreyu: But why is Fantasia dying, then?

G’mork: Because people have begun to lose their hopes and forget their dreams. So The Nothing grows stronger!

Atreyu: What Is The Nothing?

G’mork: It’s the emptiness that’s left. It is like a despair, destroying this world … People who have no hopes are easy to control, and whoever has the control has the power.

An idle engine is a promise to tomorrow, purring before embarking on a journey, getting ready to warm up the car to maximise the capacity of the carburetor may be a thing of the past with modern vehicles, but the principle still has worth.  To ensure all the moving parts are ready to go, is a well known technique for the body to manage physical fitness – so why not hanging out be part of what maintains our humanity fitness?  My promise to tomorrow is to hang out more. Idle conversation, meandering with others in not so well organised ways, to find moments to chat about dreams and fantasies, to keep the Nothing at bay.



Promises to Tomorrow #26 Stop signs

Stop signs are there for a reason: to help the traffic flow, keep everyone safe, helps drivers work out who has right of way. They don’t appear randomly, they are placed with considerable attention by traffic engineers who are looking at a whole system of roads and routes. I would love to see some stop signs popping up in conversations.

As a facilitator I often act like a traffic engineer helping people to pause and rest before moving through a junction, or enabling a moment of self correction to get back on track; yet in everyday conversations I sometimes find myself wanting to crash through and just get to the next point. It has been said that not listening is the first form of violence. Paying deep attention, feeling heard, being received for who you are, where you are, and indeed why you are – is in the ears and actions of a listener. This is not a passive role in any conversation, and the power of great listening may be a stop sign in disguise. Good listening often slows the conversation down.

Knowing when to stop means recognizing the sign for what it is and there is no mistaking the red and white hexagonal message board that calls us to attention.  Not everyone recognises the stop signs in conversations but when people stop listening we usually notice and are pulled up in our tracks. We send ourselves messages that we are not very interesting or not important enough to be heard or control of the situation has switched and we are no longer relevant contributors – these all deal little injuries to our ego. Back in the 90s Hugh Mackay wrote a book Why Don’t People Listen? It became a classic. It’s not what our message does to the listener, but what the listener does with our message that determines our success as communicators was one of Mackay’s key points. Our message has the power to motivate the listener to take action and therefore drive the conversation forward and our communication to the next level. Stopping to listen and to stop listening, are the invisible stop signs in conversations.

My promise to tomorrow is to use stop signs in conversations to reinforce and reward listening by listening first. Hearing others thoughts into words and applying Mackay’s discipline to ask ourselves a tough question : What will this person do with my message? And in order to arrive at that answer, it will mean taking stock, taking a breath, listening to the other person and knowing them well enough to be able to make an honest assessment; it will mean applying a stop sign to yourself.  You can’t yell louder just to be heard. We are being offered off road stop signs many times a day, paying attention to them with the same discipline as we would behind a wheel may bring some easier traffic flows in conversations and life.


If you are not familiar with Mackay’s work, he prescribes ten laws for solving the communication problem and while this was written in 1994, I don’t think it has gone out of date. In a nutshell:

1) It’s not what our message does to the listener, but what the listener does with our message, that determines our success as communicators.

2) Listeners will generally interpret messages in ways which make them feel comfortable and secure.

3) When people’s attitudes are attacked head-on, they are likely to defend those attitudes and, in the process, to reinforce them.

4) People pay most attention to messages which are relevant to their own circumstances and point of view.

5) People who feel insecure in a relationship are unlikely to be good listeners.

6) People are more likely to listen to us if we also listen to them.

7) People are more likely to change in response to a combination of new experience and communication than in response to communication alone.

8) People are more likely to support a change which affects them if they are consulted before the change is made.

9) The message in what is said will be interpreted in the light of how, when, where and by whom it is said.

10) Lack of self knowledge and unwillingness to resolve our own internal conflicts make it harder for us to communicate with other people.




Promises to tomorrow #25 Hugs

Somewhere between stumbles and skips, lies the accomplishment of becoming steady on your feet. The toddler knows this well as they pick themselves up and start again after a fall. There is the breath held to the injury, sealed with a kiss that propels the one first felled into action for the next adventure.

We all need hugs and kisses when we fall, administered by loved ones who know how to integrate the wound back into the body and for healing to start straight away. There are so many open wounds around us all the time, where the getting up again was not supported with the right touch to help us get up and try again. (I know not all falls can be fixed with the ease of a kiss, many are more than skin deep, but there are some.)

My promise to tomorrow is to notice where a hug and a kiss might be just what the doctor ordered and to apply where necessary. Formed in the warmth and simplicity of an embrace, the restorative power of a kiss dispenses courage to go on. Picking yourself up aided by these simple acts of compassion is empowering. Being witness to the fall and then bestowing a blessing through touch is a sign of confidence in the other, that they can go on, you have hope in them, you trust them to be able to keep at it and that the fall is over … until next time … and like the faithful eye-witness you are, your dispensary will be open for the next time there is a spill.

Touch is gift and in this time where touch is often under suspicion, of all the senses it is the most vulnerable to being misunderstood. We all know the dis-ease of a hug that is held a fraction too long, but that doesn’t mean we should stop giving them, if we know what works and often it is touch, well lets not shy away from its healing potential. The amazing organ of the skin and the power of skin to skin contact is what helps a child to thrive, the happy hormone of oxytocin is released and sets off a reaction in the body not just for the person being touched but the person doing the touching as well. Hugs are a health tonic for all concerned, and build trust.

I am respectful of people’s space and we can always request permission to give a hug, we become empathy builders, healers, bringers of hope when we hug and we definitely begin to ‘make it better’ when we give freely the simple gift of a hug and a kiss. These tiny acts of human contact may well be all that is needed in times when we fall to help us get up again. I have both giver and recipient of a lot of hugs this past week and can attest to their power to bringing more solid ground under my feet.  In the immortal words of A.A.Milne coming from Christopher Robin to his beloved  and much hugged Winnie the Pooh:

Promise me you’ll always remember that you’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.



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Promises to tomorrow #23 Winter Solstice

Winter has arrived, stripped bare trees remind me of nakedness, adornments have been shed and the elements have their way. The dark and light dance to make shadows as fairy floss fog descends on the village under the gaze of a Sagittarian strawberry moon. I have never had much interest in astrology, however the sun, the stars and the moon are my constant companions and I can usually find Venus in the night sky. The Seven Sisters are my favourite constellation and in the winter, and with the solstice approaching they take their place centre-stage.

Once the solstice arrives, the shortest day of the year, and in the southern hemisphere we are furthest from the sun, and we are poised to begin a new season of turning. This is what will happen again in a few days, a turn away from the dark, a journey towards the light. Energy begins to be stored and, emerging from the dark, potential from what has been incubating under ground now begins to be visible. I have not pruned on the June long weekend like I usually do and so I not in sync. The solstice helps to re-set and forecasts the light arriving to do just that

There are going to be arrivals and departures between this solstice and the next, in much the same way there is every year. Comings and goings inside the hidden places of the soul and in the highly visible public places of airports and churches. An arrival of a loved one, international gathering for celebrating lives committed signing up for a life long journey … and probably between this solstice and the next …. a goodbye.

Moving with the seasons and having respect for the shortest of days and the longest of nights is a movement of the heart. To live in harmony with the elements, intertwined with nature and love, where, like a Celtic love knot, there is no beginning or end. To live enchanted by this phenomena of constant movement to and from the light is my promise to tomorrow. Imagine always living knowing what step you are taking towards or away from the light. When the sun hits the ocean’s meeting place and throws itself on to the horizon reaching as far as the eye can see, the curve of our planet glows. Radiant beams. ‘You are alone with the transfiguration’…. ‘you ask the question you are afraid to ask’ May the shortest day of the year and the longest night bless and remind us the transitions from dark to light and light to dark.



Turn sideways into the light as they say
the old ones did and disappear
into the originality of it all.

Be impatient with easy explanations
and teach that part of the mind
that wants to know everything
not to begin questions it cannot answer.

Walk the green road above the bay
and the low glinting fields
toward the evening sun, let that Atlantic
gleam be ahead of you and the gray light
of the bay below you, until you catch,
down on your left, the break in the wall,
for just above in the shadows
you’ll find it hidden, a curved arm
of rock holding the water close to the mountain,
a just-lit surface smoothing a scattering of coins,
and in the niche above, notes to the dead
and supplications for those who still live.

But for now, you are alone with the transfiguration
and ask no healing for your own
but look down as if looking through time,
as if through a rent veil from the other
side of the question you’ve refused to ask.

And you remember now, that clear stream
of generosity from which you drank,
how as a child your arms could rise and your palms
turn out to take the blessing of the world.

In RIVER FLOW: New and Selected Poems
© David Whyte and Many Rivers Press


Glen Helen