Category Archives: 2018

Year of Self Compassion #11 #surroundsound

Gifted a ticket to hear Brahms’ Human Requiem I was moved by the generosity of those who bestowed this gift on me … and then there was the gift of the evening itself.  It was and will be a gift that will keep on giving.  The program notes tell me that “Brahms, a humanist and agnostic from the humblest of backgrounds, wanted this work to speak to everyone.” The inclusive nature of the performance had me entranced. We arrived with the performers in and around us, no distinction to differentiate them from us – a common humanity. We were silently invited in the simplest of ways, no words, to gather in a central location, make a paper cup, with each station adding a new step, and the going into the centre to drink minted water, which was deeply appreciated in the muggy night air. And for our home made cups we all drank – a communion of sorts – our common heritage of the global common gift of water – linking our bodies together in this simple act – we are all water – we all drink from the one fountain – we all then leave and go to our places to walk, listen, sit, stand, touch, mingle. We are one.  Fitting ourselves around each other, being held in the spaces and sounds created when we all are in the same frame – this is what embedded inclusion looks and feels like.

The unifying moments we have when the auditorium sings a chorus together at a rock concert truly leave no-one behind and the residue of the experience can carry us into the possible in other domains which is what I need right now. Setting my self-compassion compass to north, I am discovering how much other people are contributing to my well-being and how I don’t have to do it all alone! This week I have received many gifts, invisible and visible,  and been in gracious company for meals, music, theatre and activism.  I have been held by sounds – the sounds of women cheering, the sounds of silence in the pauses between words of comfort, the sounds of the bells telling the time and calling us to prayer in the city cathedral, the sounds of the children skipping, dancing, doing cartwheels as if no one is watching, the sounds of choked voices sadly eeking out a phrase of distress and seeking my support, the sounds of democracy unfolding with all the familiarity of aging pollsters and aspiring politicians. Each sound carrying an invitation to belong to something bigger than myself, holding out a hand to me saying come listen, come rest and be held.

Surrounding yourself with sounds of love and grace are surely acts of self compassion however they might be delivered and Brahms knew what he was doing when he wrote his Requiem and the Rundfunkchor of Berlin took it to new plane. The sound infusing our souls with every breath in and every breath out. At the cellular level we were transformed, as we became one with no bodily fluids being exchanged. Choristers looked into our eyes with such empathy as they moved among their audience. Eye contact surely one of the most intimate acts we humans can participate in.  Hearing a voice true and whole moving behind us, alongside of us and then fully expressed joining with another 59 voices (and the piano played by two people with a four handed score) brings the aural intimacy to fully consummate the experience of surround sound. I belong to an acapella gospel choir and it is wonderful when we can’t hear a single voice, just one sound, that is the perfect descriptor for me of unity.

We are all pilgrims moving through space and time, the great human endeavour to know we are finite and blessed to be a community of sojourners. It is together we travel best, in company and beauty and joy, to be held when we need to be held, to be in the spaces and silences when it is time for those moments. The invitation from others to join their journey, to be part of their story line is an invitation for them as much as for you, there is a mutuality in the gift offered and accepted.

The Requiem opens with a blessing for those that mourn to be comforted, this is a time for the living and I am comforted by the blessings of dear friends, surrounding me with  sounds of love, delivering me grace.

Year of Self Compassion #10 #hugs

There isn’t a definitive moment in my memory when I became a feminist. I have always wondered why people aren’t treated equally and still think gender is the low hanging fruit for an inclusive world – yet it remains as a work-in-progress.

When I enrolled at university for my second degree I was 21 and heavily pregnant with my first child (who, by the way, has a PhD in gender studies). The man at the enrolment desk looked at my completed application and choices for subjects and asked me if I knew I had selected a full-time load. The implication that I didn’t know how to fill out a form correctly was the take I had on the exchange, it was only in response to me explaining that yes I was aware that I realised he meant – you’re pregnant there is no way you could do Semester 1 full-time … I mean you look like you could have that baby any day.  Well he was right, the babe was due in Week 3 of the course – but he was 100% wrong that I wasn’t going to complete the course full-time … and for the record I did.  It was in these early days of my adult life that I galvanised my feminist streak and it was mostly when pregnant (another three times) that I experienced discrimination and exclusion.

This week I was on a panel for International Women’s Day and a mother with a newborn was in the audience. We caught up with a mutual friend after the session. She had two children – the new one and a seven year old. I asked her if she noticed any differences between now and when she had her first child and she said no. She told me of feeling left out, invisible and two stories of being treated completely differently in academia – one where her lecturer asked her not to breast feed and another where the lecturer said bring your child to everything (it was a course where students would end up working in hospitals and medical settings and the lecturer figured if they couldn’t learn with a child in the room, then they couldn’t work in that kind of a setting). I saw this as a glimmer of hope. The young academic has received honours and national recognition for her work and could still be reduced to tears and feeling left out and left behind once she was seen as nursing mother. And while not all women are mothers, we all have a mother. We know the comfort, reassurance and warmth of the simplicity of arms around us, holding us in place, steady and hearts beating together.

The hug hormone of oxytocin apparently accelerates trust and deepens social connection (and they are relatively easy to get so getting hugging for the health of yourself and the planet). I have a suspicion that the confusion about touch in our culture is not helping feminism and is at the root of many of discriminatory behaviours. Maybe if we feel secure and operate with high levels of trust we are more likely to be huggers, although I can point to a number of people I know (all men as it happens) for whom hugging is on the verge of sexual predation. One of my favourite huggers is coming home to my town this week and we have regularly hugged for a little longer than usual to get a bigger dose of oxytocin and release some dopomine to help us through the day and deepen our connection. (If you want to know more about healthy hugging and how to do it here is a great guide.)

Touch and intimacy in our culture are so heavily encoded with sexuality, yet at its core it is an echo of the bond between mother and child we are all seeking to recreate. Even if our experience was not good in that first stage of life it is still a craving and trust is the first developmental step we need to master to grow into functioning human beings. Ironically it was Erikson’s work on child development that was the first course in my first semester of the degree mentioned above. This development step, according to Erikson develops the virtue of Hope. With hope we can successfully move to the next developmental step which will result in will after successfully learning the differences between autonomy and shame. I often think those who are not feminists are stuck moving onto the second developmental step while they have not successfully completed the first where trust is learnt and hope embedded.

There is nothing to fear from inclusion – you won’t get less and there is no need for a scarcity mentality. An abundance orientation knows there are enough hugs to go around. You won’t be left out if you let others in. I admit I cling to Erikson because it just seems to make sense to me. Every time I see a baby feeding at the breast I am reminded of the primary call and response of hunger and comfort and trust being built in every sip and cuddle.  It is at the core of what it means to be a feminist for me too. When we hold each other we are all that little bit stronger, little bit braver. We can push through the nay-sayers who tell us we can’t do it, we are over committed, unable to balance responsibilities, incapable to completing what we set out to do … and we can find someone to give us a hug if we need one along the way or even if we don’t need one but want to give one … the effect will be the same. We will be held and holding – an embrace for ourselves and inclusion. This year’s theme for International Women’s Day was Press for Progress and the kind of pressing I want to see more of to give us the support we need to stay the course, is the press that turns into a squeeze.

Grandma getting a hug so she won’t be scared of the drone.          Coffin Bay March 2018





Year of Self Compassion #9 #caving

Getting to the keyboard to write this weekend didn’t happen so for the first time in years it is a Monday I am writing … a hint that I can be flexible with my practice even though it feels out of line. Part of self-compassion is surely to recognise limits and being clear with myself about what they are by noticing them emerging instead of always pushing through. It is a delicate balance to know what might be a caving in to a lack of discipline or a gentle ‘fair enough’ attitude. Caving in also an invitation to go deeper to notice what is blocking the discipline, so that is where I will go with this post.

Not writing this weekend was partly due to travel and spending time to share in celebrations of a family wedding half way across the state, close to where I was born. The scenery was epic with hospitality to match. Joie de vivre infused every body, heart and soul – a contagion from the happy couple to all those who were breathing the same air. It is hard for me though to be at these beginnings and middles, knowing how it all ends. A fatalism banished from my heart and head as I was blown away by a Baker Street saxophone reprise – that old familiar riff and the lyrics are sung in my head and Sherlock Holmes has been recruited to the cave. The words remind me that maybe in a year I will stop crying, and in the morning, the sun will be shining and I will be going home.

For months now I have had little to no energy or excitement about my business– it feels too big, too far away and too much. There are nibbles of interest but it was requiring me to be the initiator and right now that role is not for me. I have been preoccupied with so much in my own life and immediate family, to go beyond those horizons had felt like a bridge too far. I have had energy for governance work, for my volunteering and community leadership …. And that would be more than enough save for financing my future and some of the dreams that will need funds to bring to life.

My cave is dark, and has a few line drawings from prehistoric times on its walls. Like an explorer I am hold a torch to help cast and throw shadows to get around the space, searching for buried treasure or secrets to be revealed. Not everything I find is helpful or comforting, and with light the finds are uncovered, assessed, integrated. I am being coaxed to come into brighter light and back to work.

There is energy to create, interpret, engage, enable, facilitate and a reminder that I have everything I need. And indeed in the morning the sun was shining and I was going home and there were the early signs of my old work self emerging. I stared to think about the offerings and conversations of the week behind full of promise and possibility. Coupled with colleagues inviting me into a new space with my old toolkit, the saxophone called me out of my cave and into the light (and the dance floor). Grateful to my ears remaining open in the cave to help me hear the sax on Saturday night in a hall on the west coast.  Grateful for animate and inanimate instruments of joy calling me forward.

Baker Street
Winding your way down on Baker Street
Light in your head and dead on your feet
Well, another crazy day
You’ll drink the night away
And forget about everything
This city desert makes you feel so cold
It’s got so many people, but it’s got no soul
And it’s taken you so long
To find out you were wrong
When you thought it held everything
You used to think that it was so easy
You used to say that it was so easy
But you’re trying, you’re trying now
Another year and then you’d be happy
Just one more year and then you’d be happy
But you’re crying, you’re crying now
Way down the street there’s a light in his place
He opens the door, he’s got that look on his face
And he asks you where you’ve been
You tell him who you’ve seen
And you talk about anything
He’s got this dream about buying some land
He’s gonna give up the booze and the one-night stands
And then he’ll settle down
In some quiet little town
And forget about everything
But you know he’ll always keep moving
You know he’s never gonna stop moving
‘Cause he’s rolling, he’s the rolling stone
And when you wake up, it’s a new morning
The sun is shining, it’s a new morning
And you’re going, you’re going home
Baker Street lyrics © O/B/O Apra Amcos

Year of Self Compassion #8 #Footprints

No longer just an imaginative tool in a science fiction story, your finger print is unique and the way to open many a door or transaction.  Yet I am more captured by my footprint. How I live on this earth and how lightly I tread. We have plenty of guides to help us with our ecological footprint, but how about our emotional footprint? How we tread on each other’s hearts, how gently we inhabit our thoughts and steer unwelcome ones away; how we make a mark with hobnail boots or light as a feather plimsolls.

I was pulled up this week and rightly so. While I had been moving through grief and loss, other sojourners were at a different place and on a different tangent, and I had a case of foot in mouth disease …. my footprint not very elegant or helpful. And while a sad emoji face with a suitable coy look of embarrassment might be appropriate too – I know my own journey needs to respect those on the same path. Keeping your own counsel has its place in self compassion and treading lightly on the emotional environment we share with others.

The first place of belonging is to ourselves and finding ourselves dwelling in our own house and creating the garden for all kinds of ordinary and extraordinary beings for us to cohabit doesn’t actually mean we are on our own.  The threads and beads of life weave around us and intersect in places visible and invisible, with the power to be gentle or the power to throttle with a strangulation that silences and suspends life itself.  The space between the two may be gossamer thin.  In these moments catching yourself to ask, is the next sentence, or phrase, an act of self-compassion or perhaps it is a unceremonious fall into a chasm that is going to take a while to get out of, is time well spent in discernment. And I failed to take that moment more than once these past few weeks and there have been consequences all round.

Putting on the right shoes for the walk we are in, helps with the footprint making that follows. I have had a week of stilettos and blundstones, when more slippers and flats would have been a better plan for the maintenance of relationships and my own health and well being. It is a lonely place to be, knowing the footprint is bigger than it needs to be and deeper than it was expected to be, and making more of a memorable mark on others.

Re-purposing the spaces I inhabit and helping my ideas, hopes and dreams to find their way home in me so I can belong to them again, and indeed have new ones find their way to me.  This is the way of the pilgrim to have a footprint that is worthy of the path and a path worthy of the footprint. Somewhere inside the house we belong to is also the one that belongs to us, and in that belonging there are clues to self-compassion. It starts with being merciful to oneself and letting every part of yourself be in sympatico, and in that place of tenderness, perhaps your footprint can be just the right shape, size and weight it needs to be for you and for others.  Sadly that won’t always be so, and unintentional harm will be done because the shoes are a few sizes too big, or maybe the heel is a little sharper than it needs to be, or a sole that is heavier than the ground on which you walk requires. It is not with self-flagellation I come to this awareness, but with gratitude for the reminder, gentle footprints of self-compassion are gifts to others too.


I awoke
this morning
in the gold light
turning this way
and that

thinking for
a moment
it was one
like any other.

the veil had gone
from my
darkened heart
I thought

it must have been the quiet
that filled my room,

it must have been
the first
easy rhythm
with which I breathed
myself to sleep,

it must have been
the prayer I said
speaking to the otherness
of the night.

I thought
this is the good day
you could
meet your love,

this is the black day
someone close
to you could die.

This is the day
you realize
how easily the thread
is broken
between this world
and the next

and I found myself
sitting up
in the quiet pathway
of light,

the tawny
close-grained cedar
burning round
me like fire
and all the angels of this housely
heaven ascending
through the first
roof of light
the sun has made.

This is the bright home
in which I live,
this is where
I ask
my friends
to come,
this is where I want
to love all the things
it has taken me so long
to learn to love.

This is the temple
of my adult aloneness
and I belong
to that aloneness
as I belong to my life.

There is no house
like the house of belonging.

– David Whyte

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.


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





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.


In the garden at Glenstal Abbey