Tag Archives: John O’Donohue

Year of Self Compassion #42 #receiving

This week I was asked a number of times if I enjoyed my party and the answer was a resounding yes. One of the things I have had to learn this year is to receive. I have been so unable to do so much so often, reception is what has been left. Bereft and broken, alone and fumbling around I have had to put down my arrogance and fear and be waited on more than once. Vulnerability and humiliation paired up to remind me I am human.  While I invite others to be together, to find the good in one another, to celebrate and extend generosity – I haven’t been so good at doing that for myself. Hence this year of Self-Compassion.  I still have my L plates on, but as a wise woman said to me this week – L plates is a good place to start.  And starting I am, and learning I am, and practicing I am.

Learning to receive is a practice all of its own.  I think the key is the practice …. like any discipline. I was looking up the history of the word receive and it is declining in its use over of the past two hundred years or so. It has Middle English and Anglo-Norman origins from back and take. I think there is a clue in here for me to think about receiving as giving back. In receiving you are giving back, by acknowledging the gift and honouring the giver. It seems to hold a promise and potential too. By receiving you are moving a relationship forward, taking another step in trust towards deeper intimacy.

Another clue to the power of receiving, is the opposite, the betrayal of a gift being rejected. Having spent yourself and given with joy, to have that thrown back at you is a hurt that creates a hole which is often hard to be re-filled.  You are greeting the good in the other when you receive as they give witness to the good in you.

It is not always easy to receive and so I am growing my reception muscles and my birthday has helped me in that fitness quest. Inviting other to give to me so I can receive is quite a big step. To receive random acts of kindness is a whole other level and to be impacted by a stranger or an invisible human seems to always connect me to the cosmic energy of the goodness in the Universe. Universal love is made visible in those random acts.

And then there is the receiving of what is around us everyday – the big blue sky, the pleasure of a cup of tea, the blossom on the trees, the little ants going about their business underfoot, the magpies calling me to the day and the majesty of the grey box tree offering spiritual direction from broken branches, peeling bark and a precarious nest being held halfway to the sky protected from the elements and predators.

Receiving is an art and craft. I find myself bowing to the giver so often, to recognise what they have done in their lives to make the gift and the cost that has been. The act of receiving is only possible because someone else has eeked out time for me, found and prioritised resources, knowing me well enough to match their giving to what my needs are.  This is call and response. And I know the giver receives as well, I know this better because I am good at giving, and learning to receive is what is opening up  … and I like it!  And may you too be blessed with good friends as John O’Donohue writes in this blessing from The Space Between Us and find your visible and invisible soul friends in many you meet on the road.

Blessing for Friendship

May you be blessed with good friends,

And learn to be a good friend to yourself,

Journeying to that place in your soul where 

There is love, warmth, and feeling.

May this change you.

 

May it transfigure what is negative, distant,

Or cold within your heart. 

 

May you be brought into real passion, kindness,

And belonging.

 

May you treasure your friends,

May you be good to them, be there for them

And receive all the challenges, truth, and light you need.

 

May you never be isolated but know the embrace 

Of your anam cara. 

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Photo credit: Catherine Lawson 

 

 

Year of Self-Compassion #37 #commoncold

The gift of a cold is unwelcome and accepted . My immune system has been vigilant and done an amazing job to keep me cold free all winter, but the change of season is here and it has decided to take a rest. The sniffs and sore throat have arrived and rest is called for … not surprising I am in this state in what has been a tumultuous time. The body will do the work if the brain doesn’t has often been a mantra of mine and inevitably has sent me this invitation to be in the company of tissues, hot lemon and honey, echinacea, menthol and eucalyptus. One of my homemade remedies on these occasions is a cup of hot water with Vegemite in it – unconventional – but it does seem to work more often than not.

I am trying to accept this gift and am beginning to wallow in the heavy head hosting the nasal drip. I have also started thinking about the medicinal properties of chicken soup. My preventative vitamin C tabs, one of my daughters gave me during the early dark days of grief, ran out during the week, and I am reflecting on the irony of an empty jar depleted of its contents and how I am feeling right now.

The “ïf only” mantras are flooding in with each reach to the box of tissues. If only I had got some more vitamin C before they ran out; if only I didn’t do the gig I did yesterday: if only I hadn’t listened to distress of another and batted it away; if only I had rested earlier in the week; If only …. If only …. The If only mantras do not serve me well, they drag me to the past and to regret, they offer no more than a holding pattern and with each nag, lean me into self-flagellation – definitely the opposite of self compassion! I am chuckling to myself even as I write about how indulgent colds are, but giving them credit for arriving to slow you down, hold you in an uncomfortable place and seduce you to rest.  It is a time to allow the flowing out of liquid from the body, carrying the last grams of energy, and when the flow stops it is time for restoration and open-ness to being filled up again begins. Perhaps it is a bit like spring rains, building up slowly and then with a sudden burst of hail, wind and drizzle, the ground is refreshed and the sun comes out so all the creatures can bask in their glory, pampered by the rays warming them on rocks and slowly returning to their homes as the temperature drops.

The heavy head needs attention, over balancing needs a pillow to rest on so the weight of it all is softly supported, being held without holding on. It is the pause button pressed without any urgency to play or fast forward, although there seem to be plenty of thoughts waiting for the rewind button to be pushed with the wallowing mantras making themselves known every now and again. The head is home to the cold and although there is some oozing of aches and pains into the limbs they do not take priority, the head is consuming most of the space the cold is inhabiting. It has got me thinking about how a cold comes and what we do to catch it.  I am mean if something is caught, it means it has been thrown. And I have had my fair share of things being thrown at me in the last few years. I have also dodged a few things coming my way, but this cold has snuck up while my bodily defences were down.  This cold is an external sign of my weariness, my body’s surrender to the change of season and recognition that comes with fogginess, drips and drizzles, gripes and grizzles.

I am comforted, as I am often am, by a blessing from John O’Donohue for those who are exhausted In this Year of Self-Compassion receive the blessing for myself, under the covers, with a hot water bottle, sipping a cup of hot lemon and honey and waiting out this empty time.

 

When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,
Time takes on the strain until it breaks;
Then all the unattended stress falls in
On the mind like an endless, increasing weight.

The light in the mind becomes dim.
Things you could take in your stride before
Now become laboursome events of will.

Weariness invades your spirit.
Gravity begins falling inside you,
Dragging down every bone.

The tide you never valued has gone out.
And you are marooned on unsure ground.
Something within you has closed down;
And you cannot push yourself back to life.

You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken in the race of days.

At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.

You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.

Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.

Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.

Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.

Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.

Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.

Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.

John O’Donohue To Bless the Space Between Us

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Photo by Bryan Minear on Unsplash

 

 

Year of Self Compassion #30 #familiarity

Travelling through time and space, in a tardis camouflaged as a 2017 Kia, it is inevitable there will be familiar and unfamiliar moments to greet me.

This week my pilgrimage has taken me back in time to meet relatives I didn’t know I had and to join some dots on the family tree. Once again the nature / nurture theory is being cross-examined at close range. Rebecca Sohnit says “branches are hope, roots are memory” and these words seem to be helpful.

In the roots, I find more generations of music, lilts and tilts towards the Emerald Isle. The wind instruments echoing and haunting wild landscapes, that somehow contain untamed mysteries. The endless pattern of call and response, the syncopation of clapping and stomping drives home the familiar. (All we were missing was a fiddler.) There was dancing and drinking.

Many branches of hope from these roots across generations uprooted, pruned, cut off, abused, neglected. Faded photographs, snippets of stories, incomplete threads – all have a way of being woven together as the soundscape holds us around the table. Bread broken, wine poured, a powerful eucharist and toast to the common ancestor, a woman Alicia who bore a generation of children that found their way across this country.

You can travel for hours and still be in the same country. That is what grief is like for me – always being in the same country even though I travel far from home. There is wailing on the songlines of this journey and my tears join with the other branches, where loss and being lost has been the status update of other pilgrims. Around this table, I witness resilience from these hardy roots. I experience solidarity without explanation. I offer song without fear. Roots are deep and branches are wide.

Hope is invitational and promises the ability to change the narrative, without denying the history. Memories serve as humus, transforming by decaying into food for the branches. Whatever caused the break is unknown and now irrelevant, as another chord is played and toe is tapped.

I ache to be on The Burren and to have the west wind in my hair. There is a grand disturbance once again making me unsettled and joining with revelations of who no longer longs for me. I am taking instruction from the roots in County Tyrone so these branches can push out power and hope from the dark, blessed and blessing.

For Longing
By John O’Donohue

Blessed be the longing that brought you here
And quickens your soul with wonder.
May you have the courage to listen to the voice of desire
That disturbs you when you have settled for something safe.
May you have the wisdom to enter generously into your own unease
To discover the new direction your longing wants you to take.
May the forms of your belonging–in love, creativity, and friendship–
Be equal to the grandeur and the call of your soul.
May the one you long for long for you.

May your dreams gradually reveal the destination of your desire.

May a secret Providence guide your thought and nurture your feeling.

May your mind inhabit your life with the sureness with which your body inhabits the world.

May your heart never be haunted by ghost structures of old damage.

May you come to accept your longing as divine urgency.

May you know the urgency with which God longs for you.

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 #6 Luggage

Luggage comes in all shapes and sizes, colours, contours, with hidden and visible compartments. We all lug stuff around, that great effort it takes to carry or drag a bulky or heavy load. The stuff itself is only part of the story, it is the lugging it around that is visible to others even if they can’t see what is inside.

I was watching people arrive at a destination recently and as they collected their luggage in the airport, some moved easily through customs and each point of transfer and transition to a new status – a citizen arriving home, a visitor being welcomed, an alien being processed and sent away. The luggage they bring with has a status all of its own.

Luggage offers up lots of lessons in this year of self-compassion – what I can hang on to, what can be left behind, what might be waiting for me at a destination, what needs to be packed before a journey to be made.

What does a pilgrim pack? Usually we all pack too much and I think that is true for the pilgrim too, and there are, from time to time, contradictions, for even a small day pack can be hard to carry.

As Leonard Cohen writes:

I know the burden’s heavy
As you wheel it through the night
Some people say it’s empty
But that don’t mean it’s light – The Street

Finding a message or a few old coins in the seams of a bag that hasn’t been used for a while can take you back to a place you have once been, and you hear the echo of a memory or a gentle reminder of what you picked up there or left behind. It may be a Pandora’s box secreting blessings and curses simultaneously.

I have been doing a lot of packing up and moving of books, CDs, DVDs, clothes, furniture this past week and each item carries with it a story of how it came to be here, its contribution, some books never opened, others barely touched, some falling apart from their daily interaction with the world. Like the things we put into luggage, some never used and other items that travel close to your person and irreplaceable. Some carried by others through generations for another generation to treasure or discard. In this year working out what needs to be held and kept and what needs to be packed away for a future moment to challenge or remind, what needs to be rejected, what needs to be abandoned and left on the side for someone else to collect … big and small moments to discern invitations to be strong and to be gentle on yourself.

So in the spirit of John O’Donohue here is a blessing I have written.

A Blessing for Luggage

When the load gets to heavy

May you know what to put down.

When the load is light

May you skip with a giggle.

When you are sharing a handle

May you give a turn to your companion.

When the tag has your name writ large

May you own up to the luggage.

When you arrive but your luggage doesn’t’

May you remember to take a deep breath.

May an empty suitcase ordained to be filled with gifts and treasures

Be a vessel for your willingness to receive.

May your passport pouch with the tiny pocket

Hold your precious self, safe and secure.

May your backpack of trusted belongings

Be the source of all your basic needs.

May your carry-on bag

Find a place to rest in the cabin above you.

May your inner pilgrim

Get lighter, the longer on the journey.

May your inner Empress

Await courtiers arriving with gifts from far off lands.

And may you leave behind what no longer needs to be lugged. – Moira Deslandes

Midtown-luggage-storage

Promises to tomorrow #47 #trust and #surrender

Trust and surrender was the theme of a networking event I went to this week. Having these two words put together instantly dropped a plumb line into the conversation circles that were part of the afternoon. I didn’t intend to share my recent history with a bunch of strangers, however told a story of how I was invited to trust and surrender when Tim was first diagnosed. For long time readers of my blog you may know this story.

When Tim was first diagnosed with IPF, he was told he had 18months to 2 years to live, he actually lived 9 more years.   At the time we were in shock for a few months. I was wondering what it all meant as I headed into my 50th birthday and for years had longed for my 50s as at decade between children and (hopefully) grandchildren, between not having to invest too much in a career as already had achieved a lot (eg been a Chief of Staff, CEO, completed post graduate studies). Instead I felt I was given a life sentence too. So I took the idea of a LIFE sentence and thought about how we could live, not die. We took the concept of living with a disability and not to adopt a dead-man-walking approach to it all. I also adopted the title of pilgrim for myself and to see everything as part of an intentional journey to be walking on this earth and whatever path I was on there was meaning and message. It served me well. But I didn’t come to it easily. I had the help of a set of dreams and that is what I shared on Friday.

Between Christmas and New Year 9 years ago, I had four dreams. Each dream had me in a devastating catastrophe. One a tsunami, another a bushfire, another a flood, and another an earthquake – in each one I was still alive and ended up on a shore. In each one I also traversed some hair-raising landscapes and sometimes I was alone, sometimes with strangers and sometimes with family or friends. The dreams were all vivid and often loud, but when I got the shore each time the dream ended and I awoke, I was exhausted, grateful and calm. After the fourth dream, I thought what is going on? What is my sub-conscious trying to tell me. I realised that they were all natural disasters, nothing I could do about them, they happened whether I liked it or not, and I was able to survive them all. They gave me the frame to be in what was ahead. I was able to trust and surrender, because in each dream, I went with the flow of the disaster, I was carried along with it, but I didn’t succumb to it and I had all I needed with me to get to the end in one piece. And this is how I have now arrived indeed on a new shore and a new horizon, still intact, but not the same because of the journey to get here.

Trust and surrender is a mixture of confidence in yourself and the universe, in a willingness to be open and vulnerable, to be carried, assured, confident. Trust comes from the word strong, and surrender is more about succumbing, letting go, deliverance. I was delivered safely to the shore by being in the disaster, repelling any temptation to fight or flee, as the force of nature was bigger than anything I could resist.

My promise to tomorrow is to remember being in the whatever it is – in itself is an act of trust and surrender – whether you know you will arrive safely to being able to rise in the morning to see the dawn or a new horizon is unknown. Trusting yourself to have all you need to surrender is a promise for all the tomorrows.

I took the photo of the Cliffs of Moher as I hung over the ledge as instructed by John O’Donohue in his poem, For Freedom, to let all that is holding you fall into the ocean from the craggiest of rocks, is to accept the invitation to trust and receive the gift of surrender.

For Freedom

As a bird soars high
In the free holding of the wind,
Clear of the certainty of the ground,
Opening the imagination of wind.
Into the grace of emptiness,
May your life awaken
To the call of its freedom.

As the ocean absolves itself
Of the expectations of land,
Approaching only
In the form of waves
That fill and please and fall
With such gradual elegance
As to make of the limit
A sonorous threshold
Whose music echoes back along
The give and strain of memory,
Thus may your heart know the patience,
That can draw infinity from limitation.

As the embrace of the earth
Welcomes all who call death,
Taking deep into itself
The tight solitude of a seed,
Allowing it time
To shed the grip of former form
And give way to a deeper generosity
That will one day send it forth,
A tree into springtime,
May all that holds you
Fall from its hungry ledge
Into the fecund surge of your heart. – John O’Donohue

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Cliffs of Moher