Year of Self Compassion #26 #witness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo by Jan Haerer on Unsplash

Year of Self Compassion #25 #rewiring

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

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

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

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

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

The Road Not Taken

Robert Frost, 1874 – 1963

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

 

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

 

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

 

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash

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Year of Self-Compassion #24 #rains

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

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

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

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

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

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Year of self compassion #23 #friendship

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

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

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

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

For my friends

Witness my walking,

and falling on the earth.

Enter my dark and dank places.

Lighten my load with flowers and hugs.

Bring surprising questions, to open my heart.

Throw me distractions, to tease my brain.

Celebrate my resting and hibernation.

Invite and include me.

Cover me in colour.

Find me in frames of stories past and new beginnings.

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

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

May many anam cara show up for you,

just as you do for me,

at thresholds of becomings.

 

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Photo by Melvina Mak on Unsplash

 

Year of Self Compassion #22 #bestfriend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Year of Self Compassion #21 #speeches

Two years ago my weekly blog was called Dancing with Speeches and each week I wrote or rewrote a speech. It was challenging and at times a lot of fun, putting words into the mouths of others. From time to time a speech was prescient – I still get goosebumps when I read the one I had Donald Trump giving on getting the Republican nomination.

This past couple of weeks two events have stood like bookends in my life and have rippled deep down to my foundations. One the death of Archbishop Leonard Faulkner and the other the conviction of Archbishop Phillip Wilson. The first marked a life of a man who kept fidelity with his fragile, authentic leadership and the second a life marked by what appears to me as ill informed and unrepentant. The male church leaders in the Archdiocese will be gathered up to face their future in the light of leadership lost and here is a speech the acting leader might give.

“My brothers, we gather today knowing our leader is charged and convicted. While we bring our compassion to him and all those like him, who at times may even have been ourselves, covering up truth, having a bad judgement, aligning ourselves with legal advice or perhaps being blind to our unconscious bias, today is not the day we turn inwards. Today we turn to the victims, their families and those first responders.

We place ourselves in their shoes. We sit and we listen. We accept and hear what they have to say to us. We take ourselves the edge of our discomfort and wait. We examine ourselves in the light of our first guide and teacher – a child – the one who arrived in a stable under the threat of death from oppressors – the one forecasted by a star – the one held by a mother. We are called to listen to the shepherds, our pastoral associates, who time and time again are the ones who have heard and continue to give witness to the stories of abuse. We are called to listen to the magi, prophets and medical experts who bring healing to those who have been abused and who need to be equipped with new gifts for the road ahead. We are called to listen to the creatures who have comforted and held those broken with their fidelity of wagging tails and soothing purrs. We are called to hear from mothers who have sobbed and lost their children, executed by power through despair at their own hand or by way of drugs and alcohol. We are called to hear from the victims themselves.

On this day we will not take pity on our plight of being left without a leader, because we have one. We look to the child. We examine our hearts and genuinely ask ourselves what does this child call us to do. The very first instruction is to come as community – not just one class to this moment in our story. To do this work on our own is neglient and fundamentally flawed. It is central to the reason we find ourselves here. We must invite women into this conversation. We cannot and must not continue to listen to legal argument. We must listen to a compassion argument. We must stop talking and bow our heads, kneel and offer ourselves at the altar of a cradle. Holy innocence is sleeping there. Shame and sorrow will take their time and work through us as they must. But again we need to put them aside. The humiliation and grief of victims and their families has been and continues for many to be soul destroying. Their pain is an invitation to solidarity, to witness and to redemption. Reconciliation is the path to hope and we will need to find people who can be our guides and bridges. We cannot do this alone.

I invite you all, to go back to your parishes and communities and listen to your pastoral workers, invite them to help you open your ears and hearts to the acts of witness and what they know, to listen to victims and their families. I ask you to do this today. We will gather again in a week. We will not do anything else together today. Now I know some of you will bunk off and go play golf, others might gather in a pub and chew the fat, some of you may close up yourself and secrete to your room. But I implore you in the name of the Christ Child you follow to be vulnerable like this babe and receive instruction not from the laws of the land, but the laws of the love.”

Year of Self Compassion #20 #truthtopower

This week I have been chastised, metaphorically beaten up, listened up and loved up. The thread holding these diverse and sometimes divisive experiences has been that ancient maxim from the Quakers speaking your truth to power. And there are all kinds of power – power of the purse, power of persuasion, power of the big end of town, power of the secrets, power of pretense, power of the system – there is a laundry list of power at play in our lives every single day.   I am overwhelmed by some of the powers that are circling in my worlds and this warrior princess is more weary that warrior at the moment.

To tell the truth to power is one thing and then to deal with the consequences is another. I have been thinking about Rosa Parks who said enough was enough and stayed seated. The consequences for her and her community were far reaching and the liberation did not happen straight away. My thoughts have also turned to Charlie Perkins who too hopped on a bus and kept on driving and headed into the centre. And on this Pentecost Sunday my thoughts also go to the pathetic group huddled together in an upper room too scared to go out and speak their truth to power and then were afforded a surge from a higher power to kick them along out into the street to spread their good news. Speaking your truth to power comes at a price and every now and again that price feels too high, and a cup drawn from the well to keep you going is essential.  A dear friend brought her cup and cakes around for me yesterday – such a simple act of kindness coupled with her listening ears was a salve.

I watched the royal wedding as I heard The Kingdom of God choir was going to do Stand by Me and I wanted to hear that. This is a hugely political song and one loved by Martin Luther King, it was even inducted into the US Library of Congress for its special place in history – this is no ordinary song choice – it is political. But I was in for a bigger treat with the sermon by the leader of the US Episcopalian Church Rev Michael Curry – the first time this church has had a black leader. His homily about love being the way drawing from slavery, the bible, Martin Luther King and I wondered for a moment if Beyonce was going to get a mention (see Beyonce Mass in Grace Cathedral, San Francisco if you want to know more).  This was a truth to power moment in history, with billions watching around the world,  Chicago born Rev Curry preached on human rights in the 1,000 year old Windsor Castle, the home of a colonial power who had traded in slaves, built kingdoms and queendoms on the backs of the poor, who pillaged jewels from far off lands, who put generations in servitude on their ancestral lands. He preached about love, which for each of the couple had their own versions of what that meant in their families of origin. (I say Amen. All the people say Amen.)

We all remember the broken-hearted 8 year old who had scrawled “Mummy” on the flowers adorning his mothers coffin. I am a republican and long for Australia to be a republic. I am rarely interested in the royals, but watching this ceremony I was fascinated to see the new world of the USA influencing the old world of Europe with the message of love. Choosing Stand by Me – my favourite song of solidarity – turned it all around. Here were the gospel singers offering up their voices to stand with Windsor – an invitation to come to a new party – one where everyone is equal and well that sounds quite a lot like a new world order or indeed the same gospel being preached from the pulpit!  I love these twists and turns, these moments in history when you know something is about to happen.  All the signs are there, the foundations have been put in place and the truth to power actions will be louder than the speeches.

I was uplifted by the preacher. I was uplifted by the music.  I was uplifted by the actions of a young couple who had found love. Love is always the way. There is no other way but to love and draw deep from the courage that love demands to speak your truth to power. Using the platforms of privilege many of us has a price tag and I felt encouraged and reminded of that last night. Speaking your truth to power will bring collateral damage, sometimes friendly fire, but there is no stopping that justice river roll into town.  In this year of self compassion I may have to soften my approach to be more gentle on myself, and go a bit slower to bring others with me, but there is also the truth to be spoken and the power to be challenged. And now that Stand by Me has been sung at Windsor and the grandson of a black slave has preached love is the way there too, I have another well to draw from in those moments I find it hard to dig deep. Thank you Team Markle.

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Let justice flow like a river Photo by Phil Houston on Unsplash