Sparks will fly #9 #pell

What is a pell? According to Your Dictionary here are some of the meanings?

Noun

(plural pells)

  1. A fur or hide.
  2. A lined cloak or its lining.
  3. A roll of parchment; a record kept on parchment.
  4. (Sussex) A body of water somewhere between a pondand a lake in size.

Verb

(third-person singular simple present pells, present participle pelling, simple past and past participle pelled)

  1. To pelt; to knock

Origin

From Latin pellis (“animal skin, pelt”), from Ancient Greek πέλμα (pélma, “sole of the foot”).

 

For sometime now the word pell holds another meaning in Australia and in the Vatican. It has been synonymous with power, persuasion and influence. It is now taking on deeper and darker overtones, but the solid foundations of privilege continue to drive the narrative between an institution, an office and a man. For those of us who have been up close and personal to those foundations, this week has brought its own pain and grief, more layers to heal and peel away, definitely knocked about and feeling trodden on. I am a long way removed from the horrors of a victim, but as a first responder and listener to historic events, as part of the church family, and as it has been revealed more recently, as someone who didn’t see what was going on in plain sight – this has been a very tough week.

What holds our beliefs in place to only see or hear what we want to see or hear, and not even realise there is other data coming in? This brain teaser question has been held by me for some time now and takes on a bigger frame in this current context. We trust and trust again, each experience building on what we know, making those neuronal pathways stronger and when something doesn’t quite add up, we dismiss it, ignoring our own intuition and placing our faith in the quality of the relationship. Studies show the relationship between trust, well-being and social connectivity are intertwined and feed off each other. The power of the tribe and trust held collectively is a very powerful phenomena and hard to shift.  For those outliers who don’t trust, or call out the anomalies they see around them, often get ostracized, excluded or leave the places and spaces that hold that trust in place – often gravitating to others – finding other ‘misfits’ who in fact maybe just the ones who have been able to see what others, more trusting were unable to see.

Trust is sacred and when it is betrayed literally all those well worn neuronal pathways are shaken up. What was familiar is now questioned, actions that appeared to be in good faith are revisited and a conspiratorial lens is put over them, things that seemed out of place, or just a feeling of not being quite right are tested again in the new knowledge.  The cloak of invisibility is lifted and the threads of the stories don’t quite hang together like they used to. Perhaps the person who has betrayed still holds on to their story, backing themselves above all others and the systems designed to uncover breaches of trust, measures of truth.  It is in those moments the tapestry of trust that has been the bedrock on which relationships and systems have been held in place is literally an experience of having the rug pulled out. People topple, neuronal pathways get scrambled, falls happen, accidents and friendly fire arrive uninvited. Martin Luther reminded us that ” each act of betrayal begins in trust”.

The ripples from the pell of pain reverberating around our country with their origins in country Victorian town of Ballarat, go all the way to Rome. Along the way some of us are captured in the ripples and like the boom of the sound barrier being broken – a shock wave in the very real sense.

The real and vicarious trauma of the continuous media about what is going on is exhausting. How we reach out to one another and care for our selves in this time is vital. It is a time when rebuilding of trust may not even be possible, so the little acts of kindness towards yourself and seeing the greater humanity around us and the beauty in nature will always serve to inoculate and heal. I took myself off to see the Green Book yesterday, that was a good decision. I read some of the transcripts and interviews, of accused and those giving evidence, that was not a good decision. There is something though in coming to terms with truth and how trusting yourself again is connected into that re-wiring process. I am beginning to understand why facing facts is linked to the concept of the truth setting you free.

I am pondering on what might you be free from, if you know the truth? Sparks. Will. Fly.

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Photo by Genessa Panainte on Unsplash

 

 

Sparks will fly #8 #drawing in

In Interplay there is a practice which holds the space for you to rest into the moment after the exercise is complete and “take it for yourself”. It is an owning and holding close into your heart and body what you have experienced, a way to integrate and internalise. This practice affirms, enriches and deepens the experience. Just taking a moment to have for yourself, is like cream on the cake, a bonus luxury to be soaking in your own goodness. I have noticed that when things are tough I will hold on to those feelings a little longer, but I don’t do the same for the good, I let them fleet away quickly. This has to stop, it’s time to do some revelling in the good and grand moments too!

Last night was one such moment, where I could hold and take into myself the external bestowing of goodness and affirmation and harvest the external into an interiority to hold for myself. Something just for me. It seems so obvious but really a difficult practice to gather up and envelope an intimacy with the offerings around me.

You can see people glow when they are love, walk a bit taller when they have been praised, relaxed muscles when feeling at home with themselves and their surroundings.  The body tells the world, even if we can’t always tell ourselves what is going on inside. The inner brilliance will shine through where our brain is bursting with new ideas joyfully dancing their way into conversations.

I was reminded last night, by an opera singer and student of philosophy and human behaviour, of the Great Attractor, that gravitational pull at the centre of our galaxy which is driving our little planet forward at 2.2 million kilometres an hour. This mysterious force is drawing us in. The macro version of this movement we find first in ourselves, the gathering up of all the good energy being pulled inside and forward – what a tour de force. Taking some of this for myself, is fuel, to keep propelling. It occurs to me this is a renewable resource, available for the taking to fill me up when I feel like my tank is empty and is driving me forward anyway, even if I don’t realize. Just like us on our little planet don’t notice the intergalactic travelling we are doing in every single moment. We are being sucked in, not to a black hole according to the scientists, and we won’t come in contact with it any time soon, but we are being effected by it and will continue to be effected by it’s pull. I want to harness this pull and ride on those (radio) waves.

The recent public reward and recognition I have received is like a big hug back from the community and I am taking it in and wondering how this gravitational pull at the micro level is going to keep turning up in my life. I had the chance to test it once this week where a rather obnoxious man bullied his way through a community consultation shutting down conversation and asserting his views to the exclusion of all others. He has a few letters after his name, and my name tag was bereft of my new status. Quietly and without ceremony I corrected my name tag and replaced it, pulling rank, holding the moment to myself, relishing the power play and getting the affirmation of the others at my table. A simple act of nonviolence while I was struggling with my emotions to shut him down verbally (although I may have done a little bit of that too). I am going to learn how to use these post nominals for good, in the same way they were gained, and along the way take a little for myself too as I am pulled forward at speed. Sparks. Will. Fly.

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Learn more at NASA

 

Sparks will fly #7 #wicks

 

When sparks fly

glimmering specks rise

ashes form below.

Paradox in alchemy.

Mediated by wicks

twisted threads woven

drive capillary action.

Squeezing out oxygen

Shedding matter

With every loss

Light appears

Wick disappears

Darkness is forecast.

(c) MWere 2019

 

I light candles regularly for love, for loss, for safe passage, for comfort, for remembrance and for fun. The glow brings a gentle warmth and peace.  There is no romance and sometimes it is in defiance to the dark. I have long been supported by the adages “it only takes a spark to keep the fire going” and ”it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness”.

It is inevitable that when light is shone, shadows appear, and I find myself sometimes preferring the dark so as not to find the consequence of shadows. A shadow is visible but an incomplete reflection, it has an emptiness and is a shapeshifter, turning and changing with the elements. Long shadows are cast when you are furthest from the light. A lot of candles might have to be lit to mimic the sun and bring a shadow to heel. The dark offers freedom from the shadow equally as the light at its height doesn’t cast much of one either.

I am facing a time where light and shadow, wick and spark are dancing around me. There are invitations to light candles, sit in darkness, box a shadow, hold space for light and dark to co-exist. I am drawn to the wick. Threads with space between them to enables energy to travel and transform bringing light as it goes and forecasting the dark in equal measure. The dance won’t work without the wick, it must be lit and extinguished, sometimes trimmed along the way.

The string, dipped in wax, and the strongest ones are soaked in salt and boric acid as well.  Boric acid is a wonderful pesticide especially for cockroaches and ants in our harsh Australian climate. And we all know the healing and preservative power of salt! Protection and preservation are embedded in the fuel.

I am noticing what lights me up and uses energy and in equal measure drains and descends me into darkness. The wick needs to be dipped into the salt and acid to be stronger. Pilgrimages are in the light and the dark, and to carry a candle ready to be lit and to know when to set it down is a series of discernments that come and go throughout the day and the night. The shadows are often long. The invitation seems to be for more light, not less and yet I can feel my resistance. I don’t want to see clearly all the time, to be brought into the light, sunshine that very best disinfectant. I don’t want to see all the truth, I want to turn away and towards the shadows sometimes. The hard part is to see things as they are.

I am going to spend some time being dipped in salt and acid getting ready for the steps ahead. To see clearly requires a lot of light. The wick is combustible, and inevitably sparks will fly.

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Photo by George Becker on Pexels.com

 

 

 

Sparks will fly #6 #ideas

Just a spark, a reminder that some time, a long time, ago there was a spark.  A time when the heart beat a little faster and the mouth got a little drier when that person came into view or perhaps even just the hint of them coming into view, there was a spark.  There is an imprint of that moment on my heart, unlikely to be ever put to the muscle memory test.

I notice lovers all around me, falling, fainting and swooning into each others arms, in an age of gender fluidity to further add to the complexity of emerging relationships. I grew up in a family where there were a range of relationships and complexity down through the generations, which grew in visibility as I got older and could interpret them for myself.  I am sure there were plenty of sparks flying.  I remember my father asking me if I understood the meaning of the song Afternoon Delight as I hummed along to it in the car one afternoon when I was about 16, I really had no idea, yet within a year I would have made a better guess. I think about songs like Tutti Frutti and how scandalous they would have been in their day, probably more so than the banned Skyhooks album I had bought that same year, the direct lyrics more understandable than the saccharine sweet rock of The Starland Vocal Band.  There is something about Australian music that leaves little the imagination – direct, deliberate. I like that Australian quality which is not just in the music.

I fall in love with ideas, words, pictures and sounds. I have been known to fall in love with tastes as well (Maggie Beer’s Burnt Fig, Honeycomb and Caramel ice cream springs to mind).  Little sparks of ideas come and go just like the early stages of a romance where you notice a glance, perhaps an adjustment of clothing, a deep breathe. You find yourself bathing in an idea or a perhaps even, drowning in delight of where that idea might take you, taking you off with fantasy to a land of future possibilities. Getting carried away is surely a sign of sparks flying. A sign. Something is beginning to burn, to fuse, to combust. The fuel and heat of the idea, just like hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, create a chain reaction and a new energy is released – made visible in a spark. Before you know it, more and more sparks are formed from one another dying to each other and growing more out of each of the little deaths. Ideas fall away and new ones rise up, fuelled and fed on the ones who have gone before.  Like the lovers around me, intoxicating and generous.

The lessons of constraint, fences to hold the ideas in, are gifts, in much the same way as the limits lovers might set for each other. The gift of a constraint builds curiosity, innovation, potential. Over the years in my working life I have held the view there are really only three constraints, time, money and imagination. I have often settled on the view that lack of imagination is actually the only real constraint and the other two are there to help you stretch your imagination. Too often, too many resources, produces ineffective and completely unoriginal thinking. In my experience, when you don’t have much to play with, you are more likely to be clever and creative, more likely to come up with great ideas.

So it is inevitable, this is a season of creativity supported by constraint and ideas are being courted.

Before love there are sparks, so I am enjoying this dalliance with new ideas and there is muscle memory to draw on and synaptic pathways already made for ideas to travel.  This is a practice for a pilgrim to walk a path trod by others and to make it your own, as it is after all your path too. And only you can walk your own path.

Sparks.will.fly and maybe even be able to carry you home to that place where ideas can flirt with you to fall in love with them and make them visible, direct and deliberate, and not sugar-coated.

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Photo by Samuel-Elias on Unsplash

Sparks will fly #5 #breathing

Just had some news, the kind of news that could have come anytime and at any hour, the kind of news that moves the axis of the earth a little bit, not a big bit, in my world, but in someone else’s the earth’s tilt won’t ever be the same again. For them their day started in an ordinary way, and ended richer and emptier. For thirty odd years we acknowledged each other every now and again with a greeting ritual: Me – hello how are you? And he said – Well I’m still breathing. We then had a giggle and proceeded into conversation. It was as familiar as doing a nod to start some kind of colonial two-step dance. These everyday moments are like an ember in a fire being carried in sticks from place to pace and when the spark is ignited with the breath of the greeting, off we can go to build the fire, a safe place to chat with the space between us held once suspended, re-constituted for conversation. We all have people in our lives where we can pick up where we left off, with ease and little ceremony. He was one such person. He lived on his own terms and under his own conditions and I will miss our every now and again conversations.

A spark is quite fragile really, sometimes needing a little coaxing to come into its fullest self to reveal both fire and air. The elemental energies glow and invite promise. The candle starts with the spark of a match and begins to burn joining it’s fragility to another carrier. Leaving one host and moving onto another, passing on and then extinguished in a puff. February is a month of birthdays in our family and I am reflecting on the spark of life begun in the womb, passed on and transpiring into candles and as they are blown out the years gone are extinguished, relegated to history, to behind and there in a clean sweep is the year ahead. Another trip around the sun waiting to be explored. Passing on and through the flames of the year just gone. The adage of what is past is past, rings so true at birthdays. We can’t go back and the impermanence of life, becomes real with the blowing out of the candles, the reminder and truth, that every breath in and out is a living and dying and to value each breath for that reminder to ignite and extinguish. To celebrate all that has happenned in a year and to also give thanks for the one who passed on the spark, to receive affirmation and acclamation from your family and friends, to be celebrated and then to steady yourself to take a breath, to blow out candles and in-spire – breath in – again – ready to bring your spark to the next year.

The divine spark of a person never goes out while there is breath in the body, and maybe for some of us in this species it doesn’t even leave the rest of us, somehow making a leap into the unknown, or becomes attached to another or fused into memories. I am not sure how this all works! I do know that in these moments when I hear news of a death, a memory is sparked off and I have a connection to the past, built on the foundations of everyday encounters. There is an unfolding of memories that are not chronological, they just float up, arriving as fuel to the spark.

Celebrating birthdays is a way of making memories to draw on for the future, to float up when the time comes and to join with other memories to notice the passing of the flame. None of us are getting any younger and here’s to more breathing in and out and fully appreciating the practice of still breathing, being lit up with joy at being alive and being celebrated for the unique, one-of-a-kind person you are in the world.

PS: Happy Birthday to all the February babies in my family.

For Your Birthday – by John O’Donohue

The blueprint of your life
Would begin to glow on earth,
Illuminating all the faces and voices
That would arrive to invite
Your soul to growth

Praised be your father and mother
Who loved you before you were;
And trusted to call you here
With no idea who you would be.

Blessed be those who have loved you
Into becoming who you were meant to be,
Blessed be those who have crossed your life
With dark gifts of hurt and loss
That have helped to school your mind
In the art of disappointment.

When desolation surrounded you,
Blessed be those who looked for you
And found you, their kind hands
Urgent to open a blue window
In the grey wall formed around you.

Blessed be the gifts you never notice,
Your health, eyes to behold the world,
Thoughts to countenance the unknown,
Memory to harvest vanished days,
Your heart to feel the world’s waves,
Your breath to breathe the nourishment
Of distance made intimate by earth.

On this echoing-day of your birth,
May you open the gift of solitude
In order to receive your soul;
Enter the generousity of silence
To hear your hidden heart,
Know the serenity of stillness
To be enfolded anew
By the miracle of your being.

from To Bless the Space Between Us

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Photo by Aileni Tee on Unsplash

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.