Category Archives: 2018

Year of self-compassion #52 #sparks

After a year which might be described as my personal annus horribilis I know I have survived it and I can account for myself being present to all the heart aches and traumas delivered in multiple blows. There is room for alcoholic lemonade and there will perhaps be more of that brew in 2019, and while a year is just a mark of time, it is a way of gathering up moments and endeavours, and noticing the sprints and marathons endured. I am grateful beyond measure to those who took up my invitation to be witnesses to my year, to those who have been guides and others who have been messengers. To the invitations extended even when they knew they would be rejected and the ones extended knowing they would be accepted. To the offerings that came wrapped with ribbons and bows and to the ones that arrived unwelcome and unannounced, all have been part of the never ending call and response pattern we dance to in this journey of life. To stay upright some days was nigh impossible, yet the moon sets and the sun rises with promise and certainty whatever else is going on in the world or my micro experience of that world, the beauty of the seasons coming and going, the planet turning and returning brings me back and propels me forward in equal measure.

Being unsettled and dithery has become second nature, as has renewed courage and certainty – everything inside and outside of me seems to be a paradox in flux, and I am not quite able to find a way to settle. Being unsettled might be the state of play and instead of trying to settle rest into the restlessness. This is an interesting call and maybe in its own way bring adventure and surprises. Watching a fairly second rate movie when one of the actresses admonished her friend for having been so settled into aloneness said – you can choose to be happy, and reading Michelle Obama’s book Becoming, she writes of failure being a feeling long before it is an action. These twin instructions have called to me this week and I wonder if they might be messages to begin the new year, or perhaps more powerfully, ones to help me end the year with?

By this time of the year I usually have decided on a theme for my next year’s blog. There has been a lot of support for continuing with a theme around self-compassion. This feels right and an act of kindness to myself and possibly readers alike. What might a gentle approach look like to accompany some of other feelings that are bubbling up in me? During 2018 I read The Power by Naomi Alderman and just finished Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister two must reads for those seeking to get a handle of the application of a gender lens to all kinds of things from climate change to #metoo. I am ending 2018 and beginning 2019 by arriving in the republic of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. This amazing woman, youngest to be elected to the US Congress is giving me hope bringing messages and actions of generational change, cultural, climatic and economic disruption. The disruption we need on this planet is ground up democracy, organising is the only thing that has ever worked. We need to organise our thoughts, our neighbours, our electoral rolls and get out to vote for the many not the few.

Igniting my own energy and tapping into some of the anger fuelling the gender and equity movements, the climate activists and those seeking justice for all kinds of issues, I feel closer to blessed unrest than to self-compassion. There is no time to wait to be asked, or to stand in line for it to be your turn, or to wait for the right moment. Having turned sixty I feel an urgency, and pent up impatience to draw on to start the new year.

2019 is shaping up and sparks will fly. As witness, guide, broker, enabler, one way or another I am looking for sparks to take flight and light up corners and crannies inside and outside of my self and as I look some may come to me and other sparks I might have to make with filings and flint I find around me. One way or another, sparks will fly as a theme to embrace what rubs and what ignites will be a great blog theme for 2019 and there will be room for self-compassion.

Year of self-compassion #51 #repeat

Usually by this time in the year I have started to discern what the next year’s blog theme will be and others have noticed this as well and are providing advice and suggestions. This phenomena is letting me know that I have readers, that it is OK to offer me advice, that I might be open to suggestions, that perhaps I don’t yet know what to decide – all of these are true. In the listening I am noticing a theme around making another year of self-compassion might be useful. I am also noticing that others are reflecting on the ways they may or may not be kind to themselves and how some of my words might evoke a response or a memory or perhaps a pondering into the future as well. This is quite fascinating to me. I only really write for myself and part of my accountability is to put my posts into the world and in doing so join my humanity with others. The experience of being human may resonate with others of my species.

And so it came to pass that as the summer solstice arrived, I found myself at the Waging Peace exhibition at MOD (Museum of Design) in Adelaide this week. I was given a quick personal tour by the Director and now must go back and soak it all in. It is the perfect exhibition for this season where we make room for a peacemaker to arrive in our hearts, in the back shed where the animals rest, take shelter and feed, where we travel to ancestral lands and reconnect with our heritage, where we gather under stars and look to the heavens for signs of hope and instruction on how to live, where we subject ourselves to border crossings and arrive pregnant with possibilities. This day is also known as “founders day” in my family, the day my parents married in a little town on the edge of the Gulf, saltwater people both, young and full of promise and who within the year would be welcoming me into the fold. Travelling under a wandering star as the song from Paint Your Wagon goes, became part of the family narrative as well and when I saw my own brood scattered across the planet, it should come as no surprise to me. While none of them will be getting on donkeys or planes to come home this year, there will be the aid of technology and satellites and magi created moments to connect us with voice and vision.

Within 36 hours of the last of the Christmas Day cherries being swallowed and slurped, I will be jettisoning off to the other side of the world for a short trip to connect into my non-biological family. One has called to me with an irresistible invitation to come and see snow falling on a vertical city to be with her while we watch the lights twinkle and see the sun set early while the sun rises on my home. This generosity comes from the heart, from recognising the hole in my heart, and from the shared stories of joy, grief, movement and being still. It will be a chance to reconnect with our common story. I have sent word to stock up on tissues and champagne, to find places for me to be still and to be distracted. The getting there will have its own pilgrimage of border crossings, although no donkeys will be with me, there will be a backpack, as I can’t seem to leave home without one of those. The stars will offer up a map to me, a guide and perhaps signs for in this other hemisphere there are different celestial stories in the sky.

Arriving as I will a week or so after the days are getting shorter here and longer there, this may well be an aid to reminding me that the planet tilts and it orbits around the sun. My life revolves and is bathed in light across the course of a year with various amounts of intensity depending on how far I am from the source of that light. My life is seasonal and I have learnt a lot this year of what it means to be thrown off the axis into a different kind of orbit, it has been my ecological and molecular experience of personal climate change – tsunamis, wild winds, floods and droughts.

I am going to be looking for signs in the skies, to be surrounded by angels singing to me in celestial harmony, to be welcomed by an inn-keeper who has found a place for me to lay my weary head, to find a way to come home to myself in a strange land and to wage peace on myself.

I am no closer to arriving at a decision on what this blog will focus on in the coming year, but as the axis seems to be coming to some kind of stillness, maybe inviting me to revolve around self-compassion again? Maybe it is time for me to wage peace? Another instruction that came my way this week was the information that it was fifty years ago that we saw the Earth rise from Apollo 8 catching a glimpse of what it might mean, for us to rise and fall, and for us, to rotate and tilt.

Next year could not be like this one, and perhaps with a bit of light and intentionality of holding to a steady rotation to go around the sun again, I will discover “… fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains will repeat the sounding joy” our beautiful planet delivers to me in the people and places this pilgrim encounters.

Year of Self-Compassion #50 #Christmas

Heading into the week of Christmas used to be full of making – garlands for the tree, sweet treats as gifts, special food requests, home crafted goodies for family and friends, cards from every possible bib and bob. This year there is no tinsel, no treats and most notably no music making an appearance. It has a long held tradition that my favourite Christmas Carol tape (yes so old that a tape recorder had to be maintained to enable it to be played each year) would be hidden so I would have to go hunting for it. But this year hasn’t been recovered from the archives to be played and there is no cat and mouse game for the music to be played. Although this is the second Christmas, for the first one I was still in shock and yet I did manage tinsel and even a few cards, this one is different, it is unencumbered by the shock and just has the sadness in its place. No one to cook for here and only one of the brood actually even in the same state this year. It feels like I am visiting a foreign land – I can see all the lights and hear all the songs, I recognise the greetings and know what they mean – yet I am a visitor. It is not where I live. I live in another land, a place where Christmas is absent, probably on holidays and it will come back one day but just not making an appearance this year.

I am working out how to be a visitor in this land and I do have a pass to get in because I once lived there. This land is familiar, but I am a voyeur not a participant; I can look in but I can’t stay.

Looking through the windows and seeing silhouettes of parents wrapping parcels, I remember the joy of Christmas Eve and each gift, even down to each battery, was wrapped individually with love and hilarity under the cover of darkness while the little ones slept. The ache of children not getting up early, such was their confidence of a future world of gifts, they didn’t have anxiety about what may or may not be left under a tree. This was an annoying disappointment for their father who couldn’t wait to see their faces. Turkey cooking would start in the very early hours and I loved the quiet to potter in the kitchen to get all the trimmings together and over the years perfected the bird and it was welcomed with whoops by the non-vegetarians. Over the years I also learnt how to devise a menu fit for vegans, lactose intolerant, gluten free diners as well. The table was a feature and everyone enjoyed the bad jokes of the crackers and usually the elder challenged everyone to a Catholic Quiz – an exercise designed to separate heathens from holy and generally divided the generations. There was regularly a Christmas concert that had variations of well known carols and games – usually hilarious. One of my personal favourites was my grandfather with some serious disabilities acting out the 12 days of Christmas with his son and my two brothers – and only one of those four is still here today so there is no likelihood of a repeat performance – lost in time and saved in memory. Another favourite was a re-enactment of the nativity which melded together current social issues and although this happened about twenty years ago is still current – refugees being turned away and the inn-keeper on this occasion with resplendent in a giant Mexican sombrero. I also remember the first Christmas with a new generation and the joy of a child being born under the star of Bethlehem, inviting me in again to the wonder of new life and the eternal experience of being gathered around a child. The Christ Child is said to have really been born in July and all the evidence from astronomy points to probably the star appearing on July 4 which ironically was the day my first grandchild was born. I wrote this poem at the time:

Blessed be the child who is born under the star of Bethlehem.

May he be at one with the Universe

Skipping his way through life

On the energy of the Sun

And in the light of the moon.

May he be at one with his species

Understanding all the while he is the only one of his kind.

May he grow in the knowledge he is loved;

And with all that love comes responsibility to love others.

May he be like Micah:

And live justly, love tenderly and walk humbly.

For the past few years I have written a Christmas blessing, here is the one I did in 2017, knowing full well I was going to be exiled from Christmas for a while.

May you find joy in perfect and imperfect harmonies.
May angels witness your silence between sounds.
And may you look to the heavens for a star to guide you to a home full of love and promise.

And one I did last year for the summer solstice too.

May the longest of days

Bring your labours to the labyrinth

May the shortest of nights

Begin new dreams and visions

May the harvest of summer fruits

Yield sweetness and stickiness

May the cool sea waters

Soothe the sears of sun soaked skin

May the quickening of grain and grape ripening

Confirm the successful completion of a season.

So much prophecy in each of these for what the following 12 months brought and I have so much more to unwrap in the gifts I have received this year, even though I don’t yet see them under my invisible seasonal tree.

My act of self-compassion is to give thanks to my past self for seeing into the future, and knowing that today will one day be the past self I can also thank for remembering, count my blessings. hold the space for sadness and not be in a rush to move on. I know one day in the future I will no longer be a visitor to the land of Christmas and it will be waiting for me when I get there as a citizen again.

Year of self-compassion #49 #seesaw

This year of self-compassion is in it’s last month and I am still such a beginner. I am noticing the two planes I seem to be living in – one full of promise the other full of grief. For most of the year I have been trying to integrate these two planes and now as an act of self-compassion, I am letting them each live alongside of one another in parallel and in peace. I can put down one path and go to the other. The quest for unification maybe unwise and too soon. Each has its own journey to run.

I have learnt that grief is a thief, it steals your time, your memories, your past, present and future. It sneaks in and around moments of happiness and ambitiously turns up in all its glory just after you have had a fabulous moment. It refuses to settle and gnaws away on some invisible power cord like a rat, and then the lights go out because you didn’t hear the stealth crafted gnawing amidst the joyful noise.

There are more good days than bad days, but the bad ones can be brutal. I am noticing a pattern though and noticing is helping prepare myself to be kinder and gentler to myself. Preparation to be miserable is an interesting concept and for me seems to include comfort food, maybe a glass of wine, some favourite music to be reclaimed from the archives, a virtual retreat, a time to be sad in the cave that is my little cottage.

I am fascinated at how distractions waft in to turn me away from the wallowing and how I have welcomed those distractions as respite. As this year closes though I am asking the distractions to leave me to my sadness and come back later. I was describing the experience the other day as being like the apex of a see-saw. It doesn’t matter about the highs and lows they will come and sway in whether I like them or not, the weight off the other bumping one into the air and crashing the other to the ground – equilibrium is not possible – but the apex remains there just watching, observing, not moving. I don’t have to be on any end of the see- saw, I just have to notice to swings from the apex.

This change in orientation is surely an act of self-compassion. To be able to say to myself – look at that high, look at that low.  The middle point is the fulcrum, the place where the pivot takes place. This is the place that holds still, the place for the centre, steady and the only place to hold still when all around there is movement. It is said that the word see-saw comes from the French ci-ça, which literally means this-that. There is this and there is that – there is the joy and there is the sadness and both are held in the tension and dynamic of the weight of both as they leverage one another in motions and speeds designed to throw me to the ground or into the air.  If I think of myself not on the see-saw, but at the pivot point, that thought invites stillness and centredness. It is an insight to allow both planes to co-exist.

Equilibrium is not equanimity.

equanimity

 

Year of Self Compassion #48 #spaciousness

In recent travels I caught a few trains and noticed all the transit staff were smiling, they welcomed you in and out of the border crossings between the suburbs and the city.  They seemed to be content, even joyful.  The contrast to my usual experience where I find their peers in my usual transport system auditioning for the Gestapo.  They weren’t orphans there was generally an ease and light touch in all my encounters with people who were serving as guardians of passage, brokering moments to part with money, or to guide you to the right place. It is a bigger  city than mine and still spaciousness appeared alongside the hustle and hustlers, bustle and bustlers. I am curious about a culture that reflects spaciousness amongst the high-rise and high density living.

Spaciousness on the inside and its opposite, feeling so cramped you can hardly breathe. The long exhale and the deep breath inhale, to give your lungs a chance to expand, then to empty and expand again. Each breath an invitation to spaciousness. This is the kind of de-cluttering that understands stuff has to leave, before space can arrive. I have emptied myself of so many things this past year and reduced my footprint and yet there is still more to go. By living with less I am not less and this is one of the lessons I have had to learn. I came reluctantly and wounded to find space by living with less. I came broken and bruised to make a space that could be wide open. But it on the inside, like the Tardis, where it is bigger on the inside, the outside does not define what really goes on inside for any of us.  The space we make for inner selves, the space we make for not knowing – these are the clean benches, an empty rail in the wardrobe of our mind.  I am prone to an addiction of filling up those spaces in my mind with memories, haunting unhelpful, repetitive thoughts and then in breathing out, fill them again with news, ideas, hopes and longings.  That in-between moment of breathe in and out, when caught, is the silent steady still spaciousness of nothingness. It is the smile of the transit officer at Brisbane Central Station, the custodian at the gate between one world and another, quietly checking my ticket enabling safe passage from a carriage to a world full of possibilities. My only task is to turn up, to breathe and let the space before empty and the space after fill, again and again, and to remember that each time a little more is expelled and a little more space is inhaled.

Getting familiar with how to make the space in the first place, and then learning to inhabit it with all the feelings that come with being in space seems to be an invitation to being both comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time. The paradox of belonging and not belonging builds an acceptance of uncertainty. This is the kind of uncertainty the impermanence of everything brings alongside the familiarity of the everyday rhythms.  The truth is each moment comes and each moment goes and however hard we try to hold onto them it makes no difference whatsoever, the moment, like the breath, will come and then go. We are always stepping into the unknown, with each and every breath. This is a hard lesson to learn. Where we feel filled up and bursting at the seams is perhaps an invitation to look into that fullness and see what might need to be cleared, what space might need to be made.

I have spent so many hours this past year in particular having little space where it looks like I might have enough. Hours and hours have been filled with grief and confusion, deep, deep sadness of betrayals and hurts from beyond the grave, from lives disappearing and hurting close at hand, from the aches and pains of physical truths of ageing and disease. There have been moments of such fullness that emptiness arrives like a stone in the stomach. And emptiness unsuccessfully masquerades as spaciousness. It is not spaciousness.

An act of self-compassion is to recognise that emptiness is not spaciousness. Spaciousness arrives when you make the space, when you get rid of things that no longer serve you and where you revel and roll around in the empty and are not consumed by its false offering of fullness.  The space makes a path made by breathing out and making space. Perhaps holding on is the same as holding your breath?

letitgo

Let it Go – Michael Leunig

 

 

 

Year of Self-Compassion #47 #Uluru

This week has been all about the Uluru statement and finding the path in to take the Statement from the heart into my heart. During the 80s and 90s I was fortunate to have many tutors to guide me in learning about what standing in solidarity as a non-Aboriginal might mean.  I remember in particular the late Sonny Flynn who taught me so much. His gentle and firm kindness set the foundations for me.  He was the first indigenous graduate at the University of Adelaide in 1986. We served together on the Adelaide Diocesan Justice and Peace Commission and together wrote the ten point plan for the diocese to acknowledge and go forward in our commitment to reconciliation. One of the first things we did was get the Aboriginal flag to fly in the grounds of St Francis Xavier Cathedral in time for the bi-centenary of colonisation in 1988. We had an hilarious trip to Sydney in the back of a car owned by the Sisters of St Joseph as part of a parallel process the Catholic Church to prepare for the march across Sydney Harbour Bridge.  When the convoy left Adelaide for that march, I went down early to the parklands to wave them off with a couple of my children in tow and knelt on the ground to send them prayerfully on their way. I held some trepidation there might be violence when they got there – as it happens there wasn’t – it was triumphant and spectacular. I watched it all unfold on the TV.

I was not yet 30 when the convoy set off. They were heady days and I was a young mother. I came to this movement late, having cut my teeth on the anti-apartheid movement and was embarrassed I had not paid attention to the issues right on my doorstep. Our household took the issues up and we had the posters, t-shirts, and modestly contributed to Pay the Rent and other campaigns. We literally had almost no money so I gave time where I could and had already been using the levers of the Justice and Peace Commission as I was Secretary in my first term and by now was Chair in my second term. It was great incubator for me to learn. Somewhere along the line though amnesia set it and I drifted away from this movement. While I had embedded many of the lessons in my life and practice I had not taken any leadership roles or pulled on any levers beyond what was in my immediate vicinity and sphere of influence. I drew most of my energy from musicians and artists and continue to take instruction from them.

I did get opportunities along the way these past 30 years and am deeply grateful to Jo Larkin and her tutelage while I was working at Volunteering SA and NT, where the Aboriginal Reference Group under the leadership of Bruce Hammond, who took over where Sonny had left off in teaching me and supporting my fragile efforts in the walking alongside.  I am a trustee for a Foundation set up as a legacy of a couple of Quakers and for years that funded the walking together in reconciliation movement during the time, when it seemed like our whole nation was falling asleep at the wheel around land rights and recognition. So I know I haven’t been completely away from the movement, I did feel I woke up again this week in Logan at ChangeFest 18.

Since the Uluru Statement from the Heart was made, I haven’t known what to do in the face of the ugly rejection of our political leaders. This week has changed all that. Indigenous leaders clearly stated what they want from people like me and what they expect and gave us the playbook.  They gave us the words and the actions and told us what was non-negotiable. I feel sad they are the ones who continue to do the work and have to keep pointing out to us what is to be done. The actions were clear – any national movement designed to create a more equitable and inclusive Australia must act consistently with the Uluru Statement which is ultimately about ensuring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples are empowered and enables to be at the forefront of system change design and delivery; and this will result in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander led and control of services and programs; and we will support and strengthen treaty processes underway around the country.  This is an explicit set of instructions which anyone can sign up for and in doing so helps shift power and systems.

It is so easy to forget, to not turn towards the arc of justice, to fail to take the step needed to go forward and instead mark time. Once again I am invited to walk alongside and once again I say yes, and I will actively inoculate myself from amnesia by listening to the truth-telling and following the direction of those kind enough to be my teachers in this way.  From these foundations, agreement making can take place.

The lesson in self-compassion is to forgive myself for my forgetting and, like a meditator who has been distracted by thoughts, notice this forgetting and put it down gently and move onto the path that brings peace and justice.

I am being invited into some spaces this past two months around land-rights and sovereignty, some of which will involve being in some tricky and possibly sticky places. I felt under prepared and ill-equipped. Being able to call on the Uluru statement to guide me and to ground me is so obvious, I hadn’t seen it. The instruction to use this statement as an instrument to support my inadequate participation is a relief.  It is also a reminder that sometimes the thing we most need to help us is close at hand. I am so grateful for these reminders this week, lessons learnt in the security, kindness and gentleness brings, wrapped in generosity of those who have been so hurt and continue to exercise their leadership in the slimmest of spaces. They found a place to open the crack and bring it wide and into the light, to speak their truth to power with eloquence and confidence, to not retreat or settle for anything less and with such grace. As a witness to this, I was deeply moved,and ashamed at my own complicity. This has been a week for reminders about what is at the heart of what it means to stand in your centre. Drawing up from the land and sea, the elements and ancestral spirits is a most precious gift and perhaps the only gift we need to walk together. A pilgrimage of solidarity and humility, if we accept the invitation. An invitation to healing and wholeness and one which can only lead to a more inclusive Australia. To walk in your truth, and be surrounded by others who walk with you in yours, is a great act of self-compassion.

Here is the Uluru Statement

We, gathered at the 2017 National Constitutional Convention, coming from all points of the southern sky, make this statement from the heart: 

Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent islands, and possessed it under our own laws and customs. This our ancestors did, according to the reckoning of our culture, from the Creation, according to the common law from ‘time immemorial’, and according to science more than 60,000 years ago. 

This sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown. 

How could it be otherwise? That peoples possessed a land for sixty millennia and this sacred link disappears from world history in merely the last two hundred years? 

With substantive constitutional change and structural reform, we believe this ancient sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood. 

Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future. 

These dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem. This is the torment of our powerlessness. 

We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country. 

We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution. 

Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle. It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination. 

We seek a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history. 

In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.

uluru.PNG

Uluru Statement from the Heart

 

 

 

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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