Category Archives: 2019

Sparks will fly #25 #winter

Sparks are flying every way. New ideas. New pain.

Is it possible to hold the space inside of myself where expanse can grow wide and deep at the same time I want to crawl away into a tiny tight ball? This pain I carry from new knowledge about the one I loved for my whole life is eating me inside out. I am using all the tools I have at my disposal to inoculate, heal and to help myself, but there are times when they are not enough and the only thing left is tears. I wonder how the body can keep producing them, it is tiring, but I just let them come and let them go. I notice how they arrive invited and uninvited, conjured up by a memory or provoked by pain.

I come to new understandings as my brain allows lessons to be revealed or information to be surfaced in ways I can make meaning.  I long to share with others who have a common experience to do the sensemaking and am so grateful to the few I can tap into, and to others who witness me arriving at new understandings. It is winter.

This has not been an easy week on the inside.

On the outside it has been all celebrations and success, harvesting and sowing seeds that are already coming into bud. An extraordinary beginning of my version of the quest for equity. Everything else though has been an inside job, battling the demons of wounds that refuse to heal and are determined to ooze their toxins and invading me  and infecting me. Feels like vector borne diseases are eager to catch me out when I am not expecting it. The metaphorical mosquito buzzing around me that never seems to be able to be swatted and despite putting on repellent, finds the only place not covered to land a bite. Mozzies in winter are even more annoying than usual.

I am weary and restless from the incessant buzzing and just lie in wait for the bites to come and apply the salve to soothe afterwards as prevention just doesn’t seem to work.

I am finding comfort, as I usually do, in the words of John O’Donohue. His words on broken trust resonate with me as I yearn to  find a poultice of tears to wrap around betrayal, deceit, lies, broken promises to deliver compassion, dignity, healing and maybe one day, redemption. For now though, it is raw and awkward, stumbling, bumbling and fumbling thoughts sending me up and down like a game of Snakes and Ladders. There are more snakes than in the Garden of Eden, testing me and distracting me from climbing the ladder up and out of the depths of contaminated memories. I am holding onto the bright sparks of light, drawing me to the stars and the sky, where the moon now waning, hangs low to welcome the winter solstice. Sparks are flying in the fire pit.

Sometimes there is an invisible raven
That will fly low to pierce the shell of trust
When it has been brought near to ground.

When he strikes, he breaks the faith of years
That had built quietly through the seasons
In the rhythm of tried and tested experience.

With one strike, the shelter is down
And the back yoke of truth turned false
Would poison the garden of memory.

Now the heart’s dream turns to requiem,
Offering itself a poultice of tears
To cleanse from loss what cannot be lost.

Through all the raw and awkward days,
Dignity will hold the heart to grace
Lest it squander its dream on a ghost.

Often torn ground is ideal for seed
That can take root disappointment deep enough
To yield a harvest that cannot wither:

A deeper light to anoint the eyes,
Passion that opens wings in the heart,
A subtle radiance of countenance:
The soul ready for its true other.

– – John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us


Photo by Siim Lukka on Unsplash

Sparks will fly #24 #mindthegap

Decades ago I put to music to some words from Amos the prophet who relayed his God’s message:

The time will come when the grain and grapes will grow faster than they can be harvested. Then the terraced vineyards on the hills of Israel will drip with sweet wine!

I am longing for these times to come and I can see some glimmers on the horizon, but before the grapes turn into wine, they are crushed and then fermented. There are berries forming in the clear and true knowledge that their journey to transforming is still a way to go and there will be pain along the way.

At the same time, and in equal measure, harvesting is happening and it feels like there is so much going on I can barely keep up! I am enriched and encouraged by the morning song of the magpies, the silver eyed finches darting about and the cackling kookaburras that remind me I am not alone and not to take myself too seriously. But there is a lot to be serious about – from the lack of climate justice, inequity and lack of parity around the world and in my own country.

I have discovered more of the dark side than I would ever have wanted to in my only intimate relationship. I have been filled to the brim with joy at the delight of dancing and skipping around a little one as he finds his own place in the sun. This is the paradox we all lean into if we want to be fully human, fully alive. Searching for the off switch, or even the pause button, is futile in the dark. It is only in the light can we find the moment to be caught in our vulnerability, that dangerous threshold, calling us to transformation. This threshold could be shingled with “mind the gap”.

This has been a week where once again that shingle has turned in many ways: in the not fully formed smiles of a seven year old and on the platforms of our country’s largest public transit system.  Mind the Gap has taken shape in what it means to conjure up the past and what is missing between the memories. It has also taken shape in the spaces between the rich and poor, black and white, those with spiritual freedom and those without, what is public and what is private and all the mud that smudges those lines bringing a lack of clarity.

As the prophet would say, grain and grapes are growing faster than they can be harvested. The gaps get minded. We set ourselves an intention to see them, make them visible and come to their edge, discerning whether we run towards them and leap over, perhaps we ask others to hold our hands so we can take the step over without falling in, maybe we invite someone to do something chivalrous and place a blanket over the gap so we don’t see it and walk on through … but once a gap has been seen it is hard to be unseen. It is an invitation to explore the in-between space.  That is the place between the grain being sown and harvested, between the berries on the vine forming and being clipped, liberated from their vine. This is the space I find myself in so often these days – in and between. In the fullness of the moment that is now and in the invitational space that is next.

Knowing the hills will in time, drip with sweet wine is a comfort, while the in and between spaces have sparks flying to fuel this pilgrim’s journey.


Mind the Gap – Sydney June 2019

Sparks will fly #22 #truth

There is a truth telling movement emerging. Telling the truth on climate change, telling the truth on what happened during colonisation, telling the truth in the board room – these truth telling moments are playing out in the media and in Royal Commissions and in conversations where counsel is being sought. Truth telling is finding its way through fake news and alternative facts. And what happens when the “truth be told”? What is unleashed? What is recovered? What is redeemed? What is reconciled? Does it bring liberation or more enslavement?

There is the Christian mantra that the “truth will set you free: and Iyanla Vanzant added to that by saying: “The truth will set you free, but you have to endure the labour pains of birthing it.” And like birthing, truth comes out squeezing and heaving its way often through narrow passages pulsating between contractions and expansions of the muscles that are trying to move it out into the open. The darkness can hide, but nothing like sunlight as a disinfectant.

I have noticed working at the edges and massaging the data to make things look better, to apply my best spin doctor techniques, even getting a bigger re-frame are all psychological gymnastics to get me further from the truth. In the end reality plays the trump card and the game is up. I recently watched a long and slow wriggle and side step in a situation that had been brewing for a long time. Numerous attempts had been made to try and set things right, but there was a fundamental premise which was wrong, on which the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, was going to be able to set a new course of action. It was liberating to watch unfold but the labour pains were real for all involved, and not the least the person who took up the mantle of truth teller.

I am faced regularly with the dilemma of telling the truth, or perhaps succumbing to some sugar-coating, or at least trying to wrap it in words of compassion. But in the end, it is the truth, naked and raw, that exposes what has been hidden at best and deception at worst. It is inevitable truth will disarm. There is no unhearing or unseeing once the truth has been revealed. There is no going back only going forward. The Dragnet line – just the facts ma’am – is an attempt to get to the naked truth, no embellishments, not cloaked in adjectives, just plain and simple about what can be seen and understood. It seems so simple, so why is it so hard?

I have witnessed many face difficult and unbearable truths about their health and we are facing all the news we can about our planet’s well-being. Sometimes preferring to turn away so we don’t have to face facts. Facing facts head on requires courage, tenacity and lots of deep breathing. It calls us to action and to places we didn’t want to go.

I am discovering all kinds of truths in parts of my life and some of them are very, very unpleasant; about people and systems I have loved and trusted. Getting to the facts, is deep emotional labour. It hurts. I sometimes struggle to see how it could possibly be setting me free. I move between shock and disbelief just as a climate denier might when struggling to come to terms with compelling and overwhelming evidence. All the signs in the landscape but my lens and data filters not attuned to the frequencies where I might have picked up the information earlier. Walk on pilgrim, it is inevitable that sooner or later sparks will fly.

Sparks will fly #21 #music

The poet sings like a lark surrounded by virtuosos who know how to get the best out of each and every inch of their instruments, in a space designed for the singular purpose for sound to reach our ears and soak into our bodies – this was a musical nourishment to savour. One indeed to take to the grave, as I instructed my youngest to include You’ve underestimated me dude in the set to be played at my funeral. Energetically, the pulse of life, with all it highs and lows, swirled around us in raptures. I bow down to your talent and your willingness to share them with us all:

Kate Miller-Heidke | vocals / piano
Keir Nuttall | guitar
Iain Grandage | cello / piano
Jessica Hitchcock | backing vocal

You know sparks will fly when the shock of greying luxurious hair on the cellist arrives just before the first words of introduction are spoken. The ancestors were already in place and the next generation eagerly was taking up their invitation to join the appreciation society. David Whyte says: Poetry is language against which you have no defenses. The quartet raged a triumphant victory march and reached into the cracks and chasms of my heart and soul, my sword and my shield were rendered helpless, I was left defenceless.

I am being instructed through a set of exercises which is calling me to examine some of those cracks and chasms. It is not all comfortable. As this day dawns I am wondering how perhaps there is another way in to be opened, music and poetry has served me well in the practice to keep being broken open, they can creep into me with the open-heart surgery and exam of life seems to require!

In a recent speech I made, I shared a couple of snippets of time when I was literally under threat of death – a knife being pulled on me and a gun pointed at me. There have been a few other times death has come knocking. As a child suffering from asthma where breath in the body was scarce, in traffic there have been a few near misses, running behind a bus as a ten year old on the streets of London. And, I have had a death threat too during anti-racist campaigning. Coming close to death is an invitation to live more fully. It is also to unpack how these near-death experiences can continue to work their way into the future and not be relegated to the past, as if somehow they already processed, packed up and neatly put away. Music calls these experiences out into the open for review.

The emotional labour is never really over and comes repackaged and repurposed … and often for me this is through music or poetry. When a song moves you it has tapped into memory, or maybe into possibility or fantasy. There were many such moments last night. The cello becomes your spiritual director, the shaker becomes the metronome of your heart beat and the highest notes crescendo to match your higher self as the heavy darker tones of chords thumping on strings and keys takes you down as far as the notes will go … and then some. Rumi says: If all the harps in the world were burned down, still inside the heart there will be hidden music playing. It is this hidden music which is being examined but I can’t get to it without the live music on the outside. And it is in between sets that the reflection takes place, in the quiet, when instruments are lying in state, when the cup of tea is getting cold, when the chairs are empty, when the leads are relaxed. I am in between sets when I reflect, everything is still on stage, there is gratitude and expectation of more.

Remaining open is the way sparks will fly and the door is always ajar when I can hear the music.


Between sets, Ukaria 25 May 2019

Sparks will Fly #20 #yellow

A letter to my grandson in 2035

Dear Archie,

Just before your 4th birthday, Australia had a big election. A lot of us thought it was going to be around climate change and for a lot of us it was.  But not everyone can see into the future easily, and lots of people are scared of change. Being able to adapt to change is so important. I am so proud of you when you notice you are struggling and can’t always get your own way, so you take yourself off and cool down and then come back and join in again with the conversation and the play.  Being able to self-regulate and learn you can’t always get your own way was a fabulous skill and gift your Mum and Dad taught you. You are not scared of your own feelings when they bubble up and you get to know what they mean for you.

I am sorry my generation have left you with so much to deal with Archie.  I ran out of puff more than once. I am so grateful for all those young students who took the streets long before they were old enough to vote, and by the time they got to vote, they were able to turn things around …. I just don’t know if they were able to do enough in time for you.

As your 16th birthday approaches, I am so grateful for all those lovely paintings you made for me when you were little, they help me keep seeing the world through your eyes. You did one for me once when you were three you called Black and Yellow Australia. You could see the sun rising and the night falling.  It really helped me through some tough days after the 2019 election and a few more between then and now in 2035.

All I could see when I was sad for my country was two worlds – old over young, coal over climate, Presidential over team, known over unknown, comfort over risk, little over big, negative over positive, no policies over policies, men over women. I thought about your painting and realised black and yellow is not black and white – things are more complex than that. Yellow is the colour of hope, the colour of joy and happiness. It is also the colour associated with being a coward and often the colour for not being well, a bit jaundice giving you information that there might be something wrong with your liver, gall bladder or pancreas. Yellow is a paradox.

I did get more active on climate and helped out some of the students in the strikes for climate change, I cheered madly with the lovely Greta got a Nobel Prize and was so inspired when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest US President ever. So I know it wasn’t all lost, but I felt pretty sad and a bit hopeless the day after the 2019 election.

I knew then, as a I know now, hope is not a substitute for action. And if you do want something to happen about what matters to you, you have to put your shoulder to the wheel, join with others and mobilise.  And the lesson I learnt and hope you learnt too is: Don’t give up, get organised.  Let sparks fly and glow with the yellow light shining on and through you.



Sparks will fly #18 #humiliation

The different between embarrassment and humiliation has been a topic of discussion this week.  Embarrassment being an inside job and humiliation being an experience of power and something that cuts a lot deeper than embarrassment. Humiliation is often covered up and put in the corner, but it can be complete with outing and public scrutiny. The never ending dance includes familiar friends of shame and guilt.  Shame is also an inside job, and you feel completely alone and guilt focusses on behaviour and can often be shared. There is no end to opportunities to experience these emotions and see them play out everyday!  On the weekend, I was at a friends birthday party and some of the in-real-life Dad jokes caused embarrassment to the children of the father in question, but there was no guilt or shame to be seen.

Exploring these themes with aplomb is Brene Brown and her work around shame is bringing a revolution to emotional growth. Empathy, resilience and self-compassion seem to be the holy trinity inoculation and anti-dote to these other emotions, and breaking them down to be clear about what is yours and what belongs to the other.

If your heart can be big enough to hold the hurt, it might also be that strengthened by generosity, be big enough to hold the healing.  Matching the healing to size of the hurt, seems to be one of those equations of life that isn’t easily addressed.  Lots of little hurts can amalgamate in all kinds of ways, being swept under the carpet, stored behind closed doors, hidden under a bed … look at all those metaphors which imply darkness, out of sight and mediated by a solid object.  I think that is what we do to ourselves as well as our hearts harden and become impenetrable when we don’t let the hurts ooze out and act like the vulnerable human beings we are when we are betrayed and lost.

Coming out into the light, being exposed to the elements, it is inevitable we will be weathered. The innocence, power, creativity and splendour of the elements best described by John O’Donohue are at our disposal constantly being revealed in the landscapes around us and as the earth and the rivers are worn down and the wind wildly blows about us, as it does in Western Ireland, or for us in Australia how the sun beats down on us, the elements are irresistible. We are caught in their flow and our attempts to manage them with air conditioners, sunblock, umbrellas or even dams, doesn’t stop them being there. There are lessons we can transfer from the elements to our human condition. We can put up barriers, use devices, create and use psychological gymnastics but those emotions are with us and we need to work with them, not against them, to find our way out into the light and good weather of good health.

We are elemental beings where the great forces of air, earth, wind of course fire find themselves a home in our emotional selves and in our bodies.  Humiliation is in the earth from which the very word derives and has us digging deep to get through it.  Perhaps it is by working with the other elements to blow it away, give it space to breathe and let the sparks fly? Maybe then that it can be relieved of its duty to call us closer to knowing our worth and understanding humiliation as a by-product of institutional injustices. When that realisation comes to the fore … sparks will fly.



Photo by Mahkeo on Unsplash