Category Archives: 2018

Year of Self Compassion #28 #querencia

As I head towards my 60th birthday in a few months, I am embracing what Jane Fonda calls “Act 3”. Right now, I am in the wings, backstage, changing out of one costume, re-applying makeup, checking out the props to see if they are all ready. I am freshening up.

My Dad was a psychologist and I was introduced to Viktor Frankl (Man’s Search for Meaning) at an early age. The biggest takeaway that was regularly reinforced in the home was that the freedom to choose how you will respond to a situation, was the only freedom no one could ever take away from you. Choosing how to appear in Act 3 requires time for reflection on what is still useful from Acts 1 and 2, what can I put down, what do I need to pick up and of course re-wiring …. making sense of what has been and making choices about the meanings of choices made past and how they will serve me into Act 3. This is not the work of nostalgia, it is the work of querencia.

Querencia is that place where we feel ‘at home’. The place where we draw our strength and inspiration. In bullfighting it is the place where the bull goes to that part of the ring, where he takes a big breath and gathers his energy, deliberately and with focus, before he goes in for another charge. Hemingway described querencia as the place where the bull “is inestimably more dangerous and almost impossible to kill” (Death in the Afternoon). In my early childhood one of my favourite books was The Story of Ferdinand, the bull who preferred to smell flowers that fight the provocative matador, such a great metaphor for nonviolence (did you know Hitler banned this book and Gandhi loved it?). The bull ring is perhaps the location for the opening scene for Act 3 and their are many choices in the centre and circumference, including smelling flowers and making a charge. I have an inkling bullshit fighting will feature. Regardless of what is on offer, at this time, I am gathering myself up to prepare and being at home with myself.

I am finding parts of myself that have been dormant or hidden for a long time and hardly made an appearance in Act 2. There is Chekov’s principle operating too:

“If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.” From Gurlyand’s Reminiscences of A. P. Chekhov, in Teatr i iskusstvo 1904, No. 28, 11 July, p. 521

There are shots in the locker yet to be fired and Act 3 is beckoning. Working out what was there in the beginning and has potential to re-appear or be revealed is intoxicating. Music and drama certainly feature as unfinished business. So far, I have taken my electronic keyboard (which I bought in the middle of Act 2 and has hardly been used) to be repaired. I have enrolled in Seth Godin’s altMBA program will preoccupy me in October to unleash new ideas and bring discipline, diversity and collegiality from around the world. I am reverting to my family name and doing all the paperwork to accompany that decision. I have signed up to sing in the Jenolan Caves in 2019. I have downsized my dwelling space and my wardrobe. I am beginning to get back to the gym a few times a week. And to my astonishment, I am getting recognition and reward for my movement building in the gender investment gap. All of this is just to remind myself that the re-wiring is happening and Act 3 is beckoning and brimming with potential.

The agony of grief and tsunami of challenges, the final scene of Act 2 has offered, are Shakespearean and invisible to many given the choices I have made about what is visible and what is invisible. I am gaining energy from knowing the practice of reflection brings wisdom, integration and wholeness. The practice is also a way of leaving things on the cutting room floor and picking out a new costume or remodelling an old one, sewing a patch on to bring new life to something that was past it’s use by date that can be freshened up with a bit of colour.

I am in the wings, at home, gathering energy for Act 3. Querencia

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Photo by Giovanni Calia on Unsplash

Year of Self-Compassion #27 #Equanimity

I have written a blog, in fact two for today, but neither of them will find their ways to the public space just yet. I can’t bring myself to be that vulnerable and make another part of my story visible. Writing can leave me thread bare and that is not always the best thing for my own wellbeing. Over sharing can be bad for your health, yet the constant yearning to be more transparent, bringing all of myself and wholeheartedness to conversations invites me to see-saw through my own expectations. Vulnerability has a price I am not always prepared to pay.

Paying attention to small, scratchy thoughts, can be a distraction, a way to skip through decisions that yearn to not be made. The daffodils will however break through the icy, cold soil with all their power and might to bloom in the spring. Inviting these new flowers to appear in the landscape, means they have to be planted first, and in the dark they begin to transform long before they are visible to the light, yet it is still the light that calls them forth. Such an obvious metaphor in songs and poems for as long as humans have not been able to find the words to explain transformation.

Every tradition has its stories of butterflies and bulbs, seasonal changes and the rhythm of life. Everything we need to know is in our bodies and everywhere we look. Setting out in the dark on any journey might well be a helpful reminder in these times. My habits of the years, to pack my bags the night before, place them by the door, leave before dawn breaks and watch the night give way to shards of light to welcome me to a new day, another step on my way. I like to travel light and give myself a badge of honour for taking only what I need and improvising as unexpected opportunities or challenges come (which is inevitable).

Setting out in the dark is with the knowledge that the morning will come regardless of anything I will do, I have to do absolute nothing for the sun to rise. It will rise with or without me. My insignificance is a great comfort. I show up. But of course just showing up isn’t enough, its what you do with the day, how you leave it at the end and what bags you might pack for the next day and the next and the next as you once again leave in the dark. And even when you are fully prepared or perhaps a bit over prepared, something unexpected is going to happen, the plane will be delayed, you will run into someone you don’t want to see, you will find an extra $5 in the pocket of your jacket – all wonderfully, sometimes intoxicating invitations to move away or towards, invitations to say but instead of and, invitations to stay the course or take a tiny detour in self-talk you call a correction or edit. Whatever the day holds for you, you have already shown up, that’s the first step in the dance with your day, it’s not the only one.

In this year of self-compassion, the amygdala, those almond shaped parts of my brain are getting a daily workout. Their job is to support me to be ready for fear or emergency situations,and offer up playing possum, processing emotions and memory. Recognising and understanding emotions are carrying memories of bags not packed, of not showing up, or perhaps even not getting out the door in the dark, are designed just for me. While it is a circular process, it is not going around in circles, and holding on to a proven process, is, perhaps the self-compassion piece inviting more equanimity. And now I remember I have packed a poem for this purpose (originally appearing in this blog post from 2013).

Blessing For Equanimity
As the dawn breaks and your head aches
May you be blessed with a still mind

As the morning opens to the day
May you put down divisions and look for synergies

As the sun reaches its height
May you call on your higher self

As vespers arrives and unfinished business haunts
May you gratefully gather up the remains of the day

As evening comes and you toss and turn
May you be rested and refreshed by a deep sleep

As the darkness settles in
May you be filled with starlight.

And may the Man in Sapphire Blue
Bless you with equanimity.
(c) M Deslandes, 2013

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Hildegard of Bingen – Man in Sapphire Blue

Year of Self Compassion #26 #witness

Hannah Gadsby’s raw and powerful performance in Nanette is indelible. For anyone who is not the norm – what ever that is – who has been beaten to a pulp for not fitting in by someone else lower down the foodchain and yet somehow closer to being the norm, will resonate and celebrate her bravery and anger. This is not a review of her performance or of the content. I was effected at the cellular level and the experience of being witness to her story.

Holding onto her words about reputation and her desperate plea, her begging for straight, white, men to “pull their socks up” has me aching. I am aching for the men I know who are doing just that, pulling up their socks, being quiet, getting out of the way, relinquishing the space and celebrating the women in their lives. I am aching for the women who are pushing and pulling, and making the spaces for themselves and others and who recognise their own privilege and are getting out of the way for other women who are not the norm to fill it up. I am aching for myself, as I grow older and my own privileges change, and I am not welcome in places I was before. I am more invisible than before and I have so much privilege by virtue of my white, educated, housed, healthy, first world existence. I genuinely grieve for what I have lost but I had it to loose in the first place and I have to keep reminding myself of that. Inside of me, there is arrogance and there is shame.

Stripping back. Unplugged. Bare. The hollow space, no, hollow spaces, laying empty inside of me and more hollow and louder because they were once full.

Watching Gadsby’s performance was watching her fill up. With each breath and phrase, she added a layer of energy of power and in doing so didn’t take anything away from another else. She wasn’t emptying herself with self-deprecation, she was filling herself with the audacity of vulnerability. Persecution is not funny. Alienation is not hilarious. The stage is her safe place, no one is going to interrupt her, she knows how to hold tension. As audience, we are all witnesses, but there is no witness protection program for the white, straight men or for those who stand with them. I have colluded with many of them, made them look good by being the feisty and friendly feminist, toning down my anger to make it all a little more comfortable. It isn’t comfortable for the Gadsby’s of the world who are aching and hurt, raped and excluded. I am setting myself the challenge to be at least one or two more shades braver and will think of Gadsby’s brave choices to tell us her story (not the least using art history as the medium to explain perspective and women’s exploitation on the canvas).

It has been a week of being haunted, and watching Gadsby’s performance made sense of some of the haunting in ways I won’t share today. But I do want to say protection, privilege, reputation are taking me to humility, guilt and shame too. Brene Brown says she is ‘pro-guilt’ because it helps us stay on track and make choices to move away from behaviours and helps us align with our personal values. Gadsby showed up. All of her showed up. And as I witnessed her performance I witnessed a powerful act of self-compassion. The room was full of light and she managed to banish some of her own darkness with her anger, her begging and her relentless seeking to come home to herself. This is a quest for humanity, not power or privilege. It is a quest for us all to be each others witness, to make space for one another to be heard, to be seen, to be whole, to be healed.

We got to show up for ourselves and for our people. We got to show up for each other. There is enough room for all of us and diversity is the first step, inclusion the second. Start with the first step as David Whyte reminds us: “Start close in, don’t take the second step or the third, start with the first thing close in, the step you don’t want to take.” Close in for this white women is with the white men I am around, its easy to go to the margins, much harder to start close to home.

Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy – the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light. Brene Brown

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Photo by Jan Haerer on Unsplash

Year of Self Compassion #25 #rewiring

I have been telling people this week I am still not match fit, but getting closer to being able to get a game with the seconds.  A couple of people have taken the opportunity to remind me that sitting on the bench you can still see all the play and from time to time you are required to jump onto the field for a short time and then back to the bench where you can rest and recover.  There is a mantra about not quitting and taking a rest instead – that is also useful in these times.  I seem to start to feel better and then over commit, quickly forgetting my limitations at the moment and then even more quickly being reminded of them. On the outside most people don’t seem to notice much, but those who have known me a long time, or know me deeply aren’t fooled and offer lots of kind words, encouragement and are patient with me. I am constantly touched by those acts of compassion and companionship. Not getting back to people and not following through in a timely fashion is out of character for me, and I am suiting myself about what I can and can’t manage and have taken the view if people don’t understand that’s too bad right now. I can pick up threads later … or not.

Re-reading the American poet Robert Lee Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken. He wrote it for a friend who was indecisive although it has been interpreted in all sorts of ways. I have always found it to be an invitation to travel on the less defined path, which may be more treacherous and more interesting, an invitation to unexplored territories and more adventures along the way. My reflection now is the road not taken and the one taken are both sides of the same coin, because in the end we all end up at the end of the road which ever path we have been. Taking an easy route sometimes is ok and even what might appear easy once wasn’t and had to be overgrown first before the path was made clear.  Every journey has its hazards and disappointments, twists and turns, even the ones which appear grassy and green at first.  Regardless of the path you are on, you are on a journey and regardless of the journey you are going to a final destination. There is no way out of that reality; we have choices in every yellow wood we come across.

Choices might be laden with ease or difficulty, and in my experience, the same set of choices on a different day may be easy one day and difficult the next. So much of what is possible is linked to not just the path but to our own capacity to walk it. Being match fit, is a variable regardless of the road taken.

What helps with fitness is practice? Regular and disciplined; time to sit on the bench and watch, time to get onto the field; taking instructions from coaches and mentors, listening to the body, saying yes and saying no, paying attention to the road not taken and knowing it will be still be there for another day.

The re-wiring I am doing is offering up two roads diverging in grey matter many times a day. I take the invitation now to stop and take a long look down one way as far as I can, and see bends in the undergrowth, and take the invitation, or not, to look to the road wanting wear and to take it or not, all the while knowing there are roads not taken waiting to be taken another day.  With a breath in, and a comforting exhaling sigh to myself, set my compass to the values to turn me towards synaptic paths to rewire for differences to be made today and in the days ahead. Then once turned, take the one less travelled, invite my values to hold this pilgrim to stay the course.

The Road Not Taken

Robert Frost, 1874 – 1963

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

 

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

 

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

 

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash

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Year of Self-Compassion #24 #rains

Winter is here and that is when rain falls in my part of the world. I live in the state which is the driest state on the driest continent, so rain is always welcome, even when it disrupts the traffic and bursts water mains. Trying to capture it for harvest and refilling aquifers, dams, tanks is a valued and highly respected activity of professionals and amateurs. Replenishing what has been used over the summer, in winter, in time for the next summer is a conversation to be heard in public places: How much rain did you get? is a question not just reserved for those making a living on the land.

My heart is trying to fill up again, as for all the deposits made I feel quite bankrupt and empty right now. There is definitely a drought going on and I long for rain, a sprinkle would do, I don’t need a deluge, in fact too much, might cause a flood and a burst main inside. I am barren, not fallow. It is an emptiness that has a longing and a yearning, looking to the skies for signs of rain, sniffing the wind to see if there might be a hint in the morning or overnight perhaps even a little dew might have formed to provide a promise of some moisture. While I can always resort to being re-hydrated by turning to mains water, those arteries of love on tap through friends and family which are never far away, my inner, deeper, self is calling on the skies to fill me up again naturally.

All around me though I find dark clouds, not forecasting rain, but rather menacing clouds found in desert skies, offering false hope and promise of rains that won’t arrive. At least I can see them forming now and they do forecast a change of season on the horizon.

I planted little snow pea seeds a couple of weeks ago and in the dark, they have sprouted and with singular energy stored, burst through the soil and are now bearing a few leaves. The winter rains are offering them all they need to find their way to the sunshine. They invite me to witness their unfolding and I stare at them, wanting to be more like them. Reliant on the rain from the heavens, fostered by the species and sounds all around them coaxing them to reach higher, planted in love and confidently drawing themselves towards the light. Winter is offering them a new beginning.

Thanking Coldplay for the reminder that ‘every teardrop a waterfall‘, I contemplate my tears maybe the sign I am looking for to tell me the drought is breaking. I break over and over again. I am the seed trying to get enough moisture to swell and break through the soil covering me. I have enough resources to do some of this work on my own, but the heavens have to do their bit and rain on me too. Winter is here and in my part of the world it rains in winter and mainly rains at night.

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Year of self compassion #23 #friendship

Having friends who have been in your life for years, decades even, are gifts that give over and over again. They can see the scars as wisdom, hold the memories as prayer and recognise the frailties as kinsutori (more beautiful because first broken and then repaired with golden thread).  Friendship often just needs a light touch, a glance, a stroke on the back of a hand, even the removal of a recalcitrant thread on a garment will define the depth of a friendship.  The time spent sitting in a back yard chatting, drinking another glass of shiraz or perhaps filling up the tea pot one more time, extends the friendship and takes you to a deeper well.  In this well are the truths, the surprises, the questions longing to take shape and reveal themselves as those golden threads to weave and heal the brokenness.

Such a privilege to be a friend and a salve to be-friended. I am deeply grateful and bow down to the friend in you that I hope will find the friend in me, even when there is little for me to give.  There is a social contract of conditional love that seems to seep into many friendships and family relationships and it is often only when one has literally nothing to give that conditions fade and the gift is given without any notation on the ledger.  Perhaps this is where compassion makes a home, at the threshold between conditional and unconditional love and as we stand under the lintel, the invitation from compassion helps us lean in to accept the invitation that may take us to a new level in the relationship in friendship and a new level to our selves.

In the Celtic tradition it is cara, that is the friend, and anam cara, the soul friend – that person a guide to your self with whom you are at home and through their presence also brings you home. A friend “… opens your life in order to free the wild possibilities within you” (John O’Donohue – Anam Cara). In this friendship we show up with one another with complete integrity, vulnerability and with a knowing that hearts will meet and hearts that will break.

I am grateful for the times I have been a friend to others and the friend I might be into the future. The well is deep and making a space to receive and be blessed by the waters of that well is a daily practice and one I am learning to activate. So to all my friends I say thank you for hanging out and hanging in with me … time and time again for your love conditional and unconditional and for inviting me to threshold moments in your lives and mine.

For my friends

Witness my walking,

and falling on the earth.

Enter my dark and dank places.

Lighten my load with flowers and hugs.

Bring surprising questions, to open my heart.

Throw me distractions, to tease my brain.

Celebrate my resting and hibernation.

Invite and include me.

Cover me in colour.

Find me in frames of stories past and new beginnings.

Surround and hold me, even when I don’t notice.

Hold the torch into nooks and crannies of my vault of fears.

May many anam cara show up for you,

just as you do for me,

at thresholds of becomings.

 

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Photo by Melvina Mak on Unsplash

 

Year of Self Compassion #22 #bestfriend

In this year of Self Compassion I have been blessed with the continuation of much love and support from friends of many years and newer ones who have stepped into my inner sanctum offering kindness and witness time and time again. Wiping away tears, offering practical support, delivering flowers, gifting art, books and music, holding me in their prayer and heart. I have experienced random acts of kindness and received professional gifts of free tickets to events and invitations to participate in new ways with new communities. Colleagues have generously been patient with me and held spaces for me to fold and unfold. I have been offered distractions to remind me I have business acumen and wisdom on tap. I have friends who have offered me points to fly away, another willing to plan a holiday for me and yet another who consistently reminds me there are walks and nature just waiting for my footprints. There is kindness all around me and I am filled with gratitude.

Yet despite all this kindness, and even perhaps a bit of because of it, I am noticing the invitation that I have to be kind to myself and love myself in these times of grief. Noticing my own suffering is essential and it is something I am still learning. While self-care is in place it is still routine and not yet fully formed to be an expression of noticing my suffering and acting with kindness to that first and then following up with the care I would give to any of my friends. Partly I don’t always know what I need and can’t quite name it for myself, so my newest practice is if a friend offers me something I work out a way to say yes. That is how I come to be looking forward to two days in the Compassion Lab with Mary Freer this week. Being able to say yes to people who can make an educated guess about what I need, is a bridge helping me to work that out for myself.

In Interplay there is a practice of opening to the day that ends up with giving yourself a big hug and I want to do more of that as touch deprivation is real and I find I am embracing people more than ever before. No one much seems to mind, and I know the health benefits abound for everyone, touch is in slim supply in some of the settings I find myself in and in abundance in others, so overall I am probably getting enough hugs.

I am a bit like Christchurch in 2010 and 11 , having first had a massive earthquake leaving the shell of buildings behind and then all the after shocks to reconfigure the city. I too, need to work out what can be saved, what might need to stand as a magnificent ruin, what can be re-purposed, what needs to be cleared away – and mostly these decisions are cellular and still forming. The plasticity of the neuronal pathways like a giant traffic jam sometimes bumper to bumper and not quite moving forward although there is some evidence that a light has turned green about 5 kilometres up the road. Being kind to myself and being my own best friend in these moments requires my L plates to be on. I am in new territory and I am resistant to exploring. I don’t have a map and I right now I don’t want one. A friend would probably offer me a map, although a best friend would offer me tea to sit on the side of the road until I was ready to go and it is that inner best friend I need to channel. To recognise, really deeply notice the experience of suffering and offer myself the comfort of space and rest, deep rest.

For many years I used to say to others, after a loss, it is not the first six months that are the hardest, it is the second, when the reality sinks in, and the time when re-configurations start to take shape and search for meaning. Now I need to hear this advice for myself. I am hoping winter will have me holed up snug and warm to do some of this inner work in my own good company.

The transience of all times, good and difficult, all things pass and that is central to our human condition. It is inevitable and a lesson to be learnt over and over again. To be in the moment and accept the gift of that moment, is a life times work. As John O’Donohue reminds us the place where our ‘vanished days secretly gather is memory’. Bringing the kind light to my soul for healing and self-compassion til the night is gone.

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The Lamp Post from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis

by John Henry Newman 1833
Lead, Kindly Light, amidst th’encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou
Shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on.
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!

Meantime, along the narrow rugged path,
Thyself hast trod,
Lead, Saviour, lead me home in childlike faith,
Home to my God.
To rest forever after earthly strife
In the calm light of everlasting life.