Category Archives: 2019

Sparks will fly #4 #wings

It has been hot, hot, hot this week, plenty of sparks flying when the temperature reaches 46C.  The afterglow of the heat in the sunsets has been spectacular and a reminder of the eternal dance between heaven and earth. We are in a season where bushfires are a sniff on the north wind long before they arrive and so far they have not taken their February Dragon form, as Colin Thiele once wrote.

This has been one of those ordinary weeks full of extraordinary moments. Leigh Sales latest book An Ordinary Day takes a practical examination with her usual curiosity of how your life can change in an instant. You get up in the morning, stretch, do your ablutions, get dressed, have some breakfast … it is an ordinary day … and by the next time you head to sleep you are not the same as you were woke up.  We have all had those days – grief, joy, new job, lost a job, become a wife, become a parent, become a widow. Maybe you have become a hostage, been in a car accident, won the lottery … ordinary people changed forever. This is the human condition as the Buddhists remind us – suffering, death, impermanence. Everything will pass. All the more reason to savour those moments full of spark and energy and build as fuel for the times when there might be little in the tank, and for resilience when a withdrawal is needed.

So far this year I have woken up more times in other people’s houses than I have in my own, the equation will balance out in no time at all. Waking up in new places is a metaphor all of its own, and when those moments come to shake us all about and rip us from moorings or rise us to new heights, we do get woken up again and again.  I am noticing there is a theme emerging about paying attention. Thanks Mary Oliver once again, and to miksang practice and Thich Nhat Hanh and Br David Stendl-Rast and Pema Chodron … and all the others over the years who have reminded me to pay attention.  I can see times when I have not been awake, have turned away, not wanted to look, not wanted to pay attention, moved too quickly to the next moment.  Being in the moment is one of those universal truths to co-operate with the foundations of impermanence and embrace the invitation to pay attention. Each little spark has the potential to be something bigger like a bushfire – and with it to be destructive, cleansing impurities, turning sand to glass, healing the earth, bringing ancient seeds to life.

I went to sleep last night after one of those days. A day of joy and filling up. A day of harvest and recognition. A day putting fuel into the reserve resilience tank to draw on into the future. A day where simplicity and complexity and mixed emotions combined. A day where the evidence of collaboration, secret squirrels and bureaucracy, contrived a gift. I received an Australian Honour. It is an AM – Australia Medal and for those who don’t know about these things – it is prestigious.  I discovered the nomination had been put in nearly two years ago and with the efforts of a band of friends, colleagues, peers and family providing all the details and evidence required by the process hosted by the Governor-General’s office.  Many of the contributions have been invisible and to have them out in the open with this shorthand of two letters to tell that story is very touching and I do feel honoured.

I could give a litany of actions public, private and some in-between – just as we all could – that are in the service of others. That is really the point – we spark off each other. Someone else’s need is another’s gift and more often than not, the gift of time, talent and/ or energy transmitted is helping the giver as much, if not more, than the receiver.  That has been true for me anyhow. I have learnt new things, discovered new opportunities, found ways to work around problems, created and amplified, had fun and generally been well and truly rewarded by seeing something come to fruition or a person blossom and bloom.

This relationship between service and paying attention is so brilliantly reflected in the arts. How often do we get to see with new eyes through a creative paying attention? So it was very fitting that I ended up at the close of play yesterday with the sun setting behind me while I sat on a butterfly chair, created by a local woman (Anna Small) who could see wings.  One of the conversations I had during the week, one of those moments to carry me through a lifetime, was an invitation to see this time as encased in a cocoon, liquified and not yet fully formed into a new creature. At this moment encased in a silk, protein, hard purse hosting the changes hidden inside, first spun by the old being before the new one forms. This spark of insight to see the old form having first spun the protective coating to enable the new to form is so obvious once I pay attention. I am exploring what branch my chrysalis is hanging from and how delicate the wings will be when they unfurl wet and perhaps still a little bit gooey. What was hidden on the inside, is woven around and then voila – something new that was already there!

After the winter, there is spring, after the chrysalis, there are wings. Now in this moment, and coming soon, are dangerous and noble things, calling for lightness, improbability, boldness and bravery.  Sparks. Will. Fly.

 

…..Extract from Starlings in Winter by Mary Oliver

I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard, I want

to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.

Mary Oliver, from Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays, 2003

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Sparks will fly #3 #taking

Riffing off a conversation during the week about the difference between giving and receiving and giving and taking has set some sparks flying.  I am pretty good at giving and I am getting better at receiving but the idea of taking that is foreign territory. What does it mean to take?  Literally to grab something with both hands, yank it into your life, pull it towards you feels a little violent and perhaps even greedy or entitled … but what if it was about showing up, leaving nothing to chance, proactively and decisively making a claim? I think I am out of practice at taking a trick. We played a lot of cards and board games when I was growing up but no so much in recent times.  I steered away from competitive activities and have somehow aligned taking with competition – if I have something then someone else doesn’t.  This is not true.  That is a scarcity mentality and that doesn’t line up with my usual approach to life around abundance.

Taking and giving are not mutually exclusive. I can take a photograph and enhance the beauty of what is there and see something new and give that to others. I can take a position and advocate to be more inclusive which opens up, not closes down possibilities. I can take what I imagine is potentially mine and that need not be taking from another or from someone else’s future. There is intentionality in taking that feels quite different to the humility of receiving.  This is sparking me up to consider what might I like to take from this time?  What might I want to manifest, grab with both hands … make happen, instead of passively let happen?  Alert: No children will be harmed in the making of taking.

With the death of Mary Oliver this week I have been reflecting on her legacy to future generations and how even a tiny spark of her talent has held me many times. She took from the natural world and shared her insights. She absorbed, at a cellular level the lessons of all things elemental. While we received, she did take, and knead and hold and filter and fuse. I am sure she would have seen her taking as necessary for her to give.  In fact her instruction is quiet clear in her famous One Summer Day poem meditating on the grasshopper – what is your plan to do with your one wild and precious life?  Embedded in that line is a confirmation and imprimatur, to be wild, accept your life as uniquely precious and irreplaceable, unable to be replicated as each day, each moment to be spent by only you and the way to you spend it. Making a plan includes giving, receiving and taking. Paying attention to falling down, kneeling, rolling in the grass, gazing around, floating away – these are all instructions from the school of life and living includes pushing through pain barriers in dark days, unfurling wings while they are still wet, moving the jaws up and down, ruminating, chewing through things hard to swallow, being nourished and fed in the process.  I don’t know what a prayer is either, but the spark to consider taking as well as receiving and not making anyone else the poorer, weaker or losing in the process that may also make be richer, stronger and a winner along the way is worth considering … and even a bit of planning.  Here’s to the summer day!

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean–
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down —
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

by Mary Oliver

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Photo by Chris Galbraith on Unsplash

ps To hear or read an interview with Mary Oliver and Krista Tippett from On Being click here.

 

Sparks will fly #2 #NewYork

Here are four sparks from the week. Sparks that have ignited my soul and warmed me in the cool of winter in North America.  Sparks releasing energy to give light and shade. Sparks offering promise and revealing potential. Sparks from the soles of the shoes of this pilgrim that has taken me across the world and home again safely thanks to the generosity of a few and kindness of many along the way.

Spark 1

Simmering thoughts bubbling up in anger sooner or later turn into sparks of inspiration and seem through their friction to open up new possibilities when allowing those sparks to transform and expand their energy. Holding on to the fuse and not letting the energy find its way out can be a source of constriction, pain or at a minimum exasperation.  Wandering around some of the world’s greatest art spaces these past two weeks I was particularly struck by the power of anger as creative energy to get thoughts expressed and forced out through tear ducts, paint brushes and stone.  Solid objects chiselled and honed into beauty through disappointment, fear or aching neglect and words spilling out onto stages where the receptacles of open hearts and minds took the offering to deeper levels as we internalised meaning and applied to our lives. I have been reflecting about what it might look like in my practice and my work to leave nothing left unsaid and bring every single cell of my being into view for public display. The creative soul expressed is vulnerability writ large and empathy unplugged.

Spark 2

Sparks of light creating the in-between spaces and the shadows as well – there are always shadows – to fully accept what is being revealed is to also recognise the shadow created. I have recently been introduced to the contemplative practice of miksang. The Tibetan word means ‘good eye’ and is about the eye being synchronised with the contemplative mind through photography.  It seems to be about seeing as is, empty and free of interpretation. It is based on the Dharma Art teachings of Chogyam Trungpa.  I have not taken a course or read much about it, I have a friend who is a practitioner and I have taken some offerings and suggestions from her as well as witnessed her practice which I have found invitational. I added my immature and beginning steps into miksang with a kind of walking meditation, wandering where my feet took me without a specific destination in mind and tried not to have too many plans to take a right or a left.  It has been refreshing to see as is and to notice what is given and to receive the what is without interpretation, to feel into the seeing. It has led to multiple ways of seeing what is before me, both in real time and in reflection and then again when reviewing photos seeing again with new insights, shadows, patterns, hidden messages in reflected glass, surprising shapes and camouflaged insights revealed more fully a few days later.

Spark 3

Outside of the window I called home for two weeks Lady Liberty was pointing her torch to guide the way as ships came in and out of the river basin into the Atlantic. The Iroquois called it, the Muhhekuntuk, the river that flows both ways, because near the Atlantic it flows north and where it begins in Lake Tear of the Clouds it flows south.  Every day the elements re-arranged themselves around the skyline punctuated by skyscrapers to reveal plenty of light and shade and to offer nuanced ways of seeing the landscape. The sun sometimes casting a beam in between buildings to light up a dark wind tunnel alley way to give some warmth, the clouds closing over to being a mood setting to the scene on a dock worthy of a dramatic New York method acting stage, the twinkling lights acting as a join the dot game for young lovers to play as they set a course for their future.

Spark 4

Being in the USA and soaking up the political climate as well was to recognise the sparks of change igniting a nation that is re-correcting itself post the mid-term elections. The politics of relevance is at play and democracy is in the light and in the shadows. As the extremes define the middle new voices are arriving. The rise of young women in Congress are thrilling for many and terrifying for a few. The reclamation of the gavel by a grandmother is giving comfort and confidence to many in the middle and the juxtaposition with the grandfather in the White House is another expression of the gender wars reverberating around the world. I am so encouraged and enthralled by the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who The spark in her is a raging fire, not yet thirty she understands the urgency of this time and is not waiting in line, not waiting for her turn, who is arriving ready, with an agenda to take care of business.  Like the artists she is using her spark to create for us to see what might be hidden, to offer another way of seeing and understanding what might be in front of our eyes. There is discipline in this practice of democracy and she is not leaving anything in the locker room – all of her is being brought into view.

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