Sparks will fly #26 #EOFY

I bought a book for the children when they were little called Beginnings and Endings with Lifetimes in Between as a way to help me teach them about the fragility of life and what death means.  I was doing therapeutic and narrative work with children at the time so it found its way into my tool kit there too.  The simplicity, authenticity, respectful way that didn’t gloss over the realities that there are ends was helpful and opened up conversations about the nature of life and death. I wish there was a book like that for grownups, maybe that is one I might write?

Today marks the end of the financial year, which I have pretty much used for most of my working life as a marker to get business in order. Whether I have been working where budgets and staffing, reporting to members, shareholders or the public, it is a time and place to come to an account. In my personal life I have used it as a time to take stock as well. This EOFY I have used to get ready and draw a line in the sand as well. Buy tickets for travel – check – thanks to a good friend who did all the research and sorted that out for me. Publicly announce not taking on any more clients for my consulting business – check – uneventful and easy decision in the end. Get the first cohort started in my new venture and that business registered – check – that went down to the wire due to bureaucracy out of my control, but nearly there  (phew). Discern about whether it is time to leave where I am living – check – I didn’t think I would have come to that decision by now and had decided by the end of the first quarter would be the new timeline to give me some more headspace.  Interestingly this decision has been made in the last few days and you always know it is the right decision when you feel at peace about it. The EOFY has proven itself to be useful constraint it has always been to me and once again a reminder there are beginnings and endings and lifetimes in-between.

I love constraints, they really help to bring focus and freedom. Freedom for creativity and to look for ways to fuse and bind together what can be bound and in doing that you are able to discern what can be held loosely. In making and acting on decisions within the constraints, you are know intuitively and sometimes quite explicitly as well where you are going beyond the means of that boundary.  The vows we make to ourselves and with others are there for the purpose to hold on tightly to what is in and what is out.  This is not a  black and white world view. It is about respecting and dignifying boundaries as ways of supporting discernment and living more freely, not less. There was quite a reaction last week to my blog, as far as I could tell, the reaction was predominately that was about the use of the word betrayal. Betrayal is all about a shared agreement of a constraint and one party leaving that shared understanding and deliberately, with no regard and carelessly stepping out beyond that agreed constraint and there are consequences for all.  This is the lifetime in between, that space that happens between the beginning and the ending.  We can betray ourselves as well as others, when we don’t give ourselves the honour and respect of our own sacred contract with ourselves and don’t accept the constraints as gift to go deeper, to explore what is possible within a confine.  My constraint to live within the boundary of my beginning and end, to live fully, in the lifetime in between, is an open invitation to exactly explore what is at my disposal and what is in and what is out.

I set the EOFY to make a decision about moving from where I live in the coming year or not. The whole discernment process has been like the old joke about the man drowning, and a life saver appears and he says to the life saver, thanks but I don’t need your help, I have God. Then a boat comes out to help in as he is in more distress and he says to the captain, thanks but I don’t need your help, I have God. And then the rescue helicopter arrives and throws down the ladder as the seas are so choppy that is the only way for him to get out of the water, he says thanks but I don’t need your help, I have God.  Then the man drowns and arrives at the Pearly Gates and he says to St Peter – why did God let me drown? St Peter says – but we sent you a life saver, a boat and a helicopter!  I have been sent many devices and pieces of information to help me make a decision, yet my prevarications were still entertaining me. Then finally the helicopter was so loud and making the water even more choppy by hovering above me. In the end it was actually quite easy to grab the ladder and be hauled out of the water. It is an act of co-creation and co-salvation when we work with the elements and goodness, the metaphorical lifesavers, boats and helicopters and take the hand of those who want to help us out of the choppy sea. For me I have been and am surrounded by witnesses, who also point out there the helicopter coming and its role in getting me to leave the water. It is our job to discern and to cooperate with the offers around us that will help. I remain grateful to those throwing life lines, sending boats and throwing down ladders.

Putting the date of the EOFY as the moment when decisions need to arrive continues to be a tool to help me get out of the water and not roll up for a conversation with St Peter. I have set up a few questions of discernment for the year ahead and it is inevitable more sparks will fly as I enter the new year and take stock about what can earn compound interest, what needs to be expended and how I can repay myself from the past for the new in-between times that now have arrived. The spark of realisation that flew to me was recognising for the first time the book I mentioned at the start of this post has plurals in its title. There is more than one beginning, more than one end and more than one lifetime.

book co

 

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

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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.

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Mind the Gap – Sydney June 2019

Sparks will fly #23 #misogyny

I have been noticing lately how me and other women inoculate ourselves against misogyny. In my case it has been trying to make arguments palatable, not to offend or harm, to bring people (mainly men) with me on the journey to build gender equity and parity.  But there are days where this just isn’t possible. Days when I feel so outraged at the harm of misogyny to women, but actually for all people. Afterall when half the planet is diminished, we are all diminished. The social construct of gender continues to dominate and reinforce a hetero-centric worldview. I had a moment of being tipped over the edge this week when I was asked what I thought the root cause of the low number of women entrepreneurs was in my State, as if there was one cause and as if it is a linear matter. (I have written about my response elsewhere.) It was inevitable that the word patriarchy came out of my mouth, if I was forced to give a single root cause. It has been a long time since I have used the word patriarchy in the public domain and I felt like I was betraying my persuasive powers to use that language – but really there is no other word. And while patriarchy is the theory, misogyny is the practice.

Misogyny shows up in the way women are excluded, invisible and disappeared in the social and economic narratives. A panel of nine men, hosted by a government department is explained as we asked a woman and she wasn’t available.  The low number of women applying for opportunities to build business and wealth is explained as there just aren’t enough women ready for this program.  The lack of women in parliament is explained as women aren’t tough enough for the the rough and tumble of politics.  Yet it is women’s work, paid and unpaid, invisible, not counted that enabled the men to get their start up going while their female partners toiled to keep the homefires going; the legendary voice of Australia’s first female Prime Minister who said enough is enough to her opposition counterpart and let it rip in 2012, and it is as relevant today as it was then.

I notice how often I am scared of sending sparks flying by speaking truth to power. I notice that when I am bold enough to do that, how this emboldens others. I notice when I use the word patriarchy, misogyny turns up, ugly, gnarly, aged and infused with the power of generations.  I notice there are surprises too – people, especially men younger than me, being embarrassed of their own kind, and speaking up not for me but for the cause, genuinely being upstanders not bystanders. I notice that helps me get a little more brave to do it again.  I notice women feeling encouraged and inspired and urging me to do more. This gives me more courage too.

Misogyny is sometimes like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. What looks inclusive – like having 2 women on a 4 person panel (chaired by a man) – ends up being tokenistic – when one man speak for more time than all the women put together (I have started timing this on panels I am asked onto).  What looks engaging and holds promise of support turns out to be little more than a gesture.  Have you ever noticed the man who is always punctual for appointments with men and generally late for appointments with women? Have you noticed the funny, flirtatious man morphing into an aggressive competitor as soon as a woman starts to do better than him?  How about the man who presents in public as the loyal, devoted husband and father who shares the chores in the house, who is a secret adulterer? How about the man who takes up two seats on the train, mansplaying and mansplaining seem to have the same root cause to me.

Cheers to the men who act in solidarity. Thank you. Can you bring a few more bros with you, because I am over it, and need you to do that work?

You can expect to hear me using the words patriarchy and misogyny more often, because it is time for more sparks to fly.

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Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash

 

 

 

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.

Ukaria

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.

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