Tag Archives: John O’Donohue

Promises to Tomorrow #4: Play

The more I play today the more silt I am laying down in the river of play for tomorrow … or that is the how the logic goes in the parallel universe of compassionate imagination (thank you Phil Porter co-founder of InterPlay for sowing the seeds of these thoughts and practices with Agnotti Cowie this week). Being playful, and mischievousness break through. In this era of alternative facts, fake news and post truth brings multiple platforms to play.

Being able to laugh (even on the inside) is a way to inoculate yourself from some of the harm of the powers of evil. Satire is a gift to get through hard times – the first all Aboriginal TV show Basically Black in 1973 introduced us to Super Boong, the first Aboriginal Super Hero, it took another couple of generations before Cleverman came to our screens and breathtakingly took us all (not just one person in trouble) to a new place to save the planet (can’t wait for the next series).

Play can reveal, camouflage, inspire, transcend. Without play we don’t learn how to get along with others, build our muscles and find interesting ways to use our bodies and our brains. Play helps us find out what works, form habits and attitudes, beliefs and trust. Play is essential in our human development. Play is sometimes called the “universal language of childhood”. I will often play peek a boo with a child on public transport, even one a few rows away they usually pick it up in a few moments.

Play is too important to be left at the school gate. It gets codified into sport, or the arts as we grow older and improvisation is left to everything other than play! We improvise through the rest of our adult lives, so why not in play too! One of my favourite living poets, David Whyte says with a chuckle directing listeners and fellow poets: “just follow the instructions as if you know what I meant when I gave them to you; isn’t that what you do anyhow all the time?” I have stolen this instruction more than once when working with groups – it is liberating advice.

Playing for play’s sake and noticing the instructions embedded in the experience, allowing the body to be teacher and mind to be taught, allowing the spirit within to be released and captured in a thought not yet fully formed, to be revealed in a contemplative moment – this is the essence of an improvisation practice known as interplay.

Start in small ways …. Instead of for pity (insert your vernacular expletive here) sake – say for play sake. Next time you walk through the security screening at an airport – say Ta Da with outstretched hands or do a pirouette as you exit. Tap dance your way into a lift. Say yes and when you want to disagree and add your own layer to the conversation. Respond to an email with a made up poem. Talk in gibberish when you are lost of words.

I dip into the InterPlay well each year.  To play is a gift and one not to be taken for granted. My promise to tomorrow is to do more playing, to recognise play as a way of exercising and holding power; as a way to unlock possibilities for resistance, resilience, fun and whole-heartedness. I also promise to know and understand the power of play has inherent qualities like following and leading.

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PS:

Here is a John O’Donohue blessing for one who holds power.

And a few thoughts from past blogs

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Reflection on Revenge

Dear Sor Juana,

I have discovered that gossip and scandal, lampooning and scuttle buck are ways revenge takes shape in my language and conversation – from a subtle put down here to a full blown personal attack there.  Words laced with vengeance have a capacity to rise up from a from a well deep inside I had thought was dry. The words echo from this dark chamber and make a lot of noise.

I can see why you might have chosen silence as a way of monitoring your own behaviour. Silence need not still the thoughts and from time to time they eek out through my mouth and become audible.  I had one of those times this past week.  Revenge is one of the dark sides of the desire for control.  I am indebted to Hugh Mackay who unintentionally helped me join those dots this week while I was reading his book “What Makes Us Tick“?  And reminded me once again of the difference between justice and revenge; “one civilised and measured, the other brutish and primitive”.

Control issues are inherent in my personality and the quest for integration is a balance of leadership and power and surrendering to vulnerability. I noticed my anger and vengeful self having a day out this week. Sor Juana your uneasy relationship with power and authority perhaps propelled you through the courts using your intellect to control others and within the container of the convent able to find balance in community and prayer, subjecting yourself to the rule of religious life.

The search for equilibrium is universal and in our western world phrases like “work-life balance” abound. An on / off switch regulating my working hours makes no sense to me. This is becoming easier as work practices are more dynamic and technologically supported; but it is also becoming easier as personal reflection is an integrated practice.  There is no work-life divide – just as there wasn’t for you in the convent – it is vocation to be who you are (warts and all).  I have written about this previously and been encouraged by David Whyte’s work in his book The Three Marriages.  This constant conversation is with all the elements and when the conversation is undertaken in whole heartedness, insights emerge healing and inviting us to our deeper selves. In the case of revenge, it may lead to forgiveness.

Forgiveness begins in the shadows of fear, betrayal, anger and breaches of trust. Finding the light, brings humility and is restorative.  As a pilgrim, I accept “We are each a river with a particular abiding character, but we show radically different aspects of our self according to the territory through which we travel” (David Whyte, The Three Marriages). The river flows through rocky rapids and other times takes up a foetal position in a cul de sac nudging the muddy banks. The invitation to get inside what revenge is all about has been an act of restorative justice. It is self restoration, a coming home to myself from darkness to light and appropriately so in this Holy Week Easter season.

Easter Sunrise

John O’Donohue

As the embrace of the earth
Welcomes all we 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.

 

Corcomroe Abbey, where John O'Donohue celebrated Easter morn many times. I visited in June 2013

Corcomroe Abbey, where John O’Donohue celebrated Easter morn many times. I visited in June 2013

Vintage Cynicism

I was meeting in a coffee shop this week sharing ideas and experience on volunteering, a church organisation and future thinking.  To dream, plan, conjure and play with others is a delight. Hildegard you would have been so at home there. Two school girls, still in their school uniforms, were auditioning and we gave them a glowing review between bubbles and chai latte.  I am sure I got to sneak preview of what will be a duet to rival my beloved Indigo Girls.

So, an old friend and a new one, chatted to this sound track of delicious young women melodically fusing their voices and their guitars. And while we chatted one of their mother’s looked on and the business owner confirmed they got the gig. We had just witnessed the beginning of their public careers – taking the step from the classroom and bedroom to the front room of a coffee shop. What a privilege to see that step taken – these postulants making it to novice.  The coffee shop, as true a convent, as any of yours Hildegard.  A sacred space for women to listen to one another, plan for the future of a church organisation, fostering young talent and spirituality, breaking bread and sharing wine, communing with one another. Here we were celebrating the threads that bind us invisibly together as women and custodians of the past, present and future.

A transition to the next stage of something not quite revealed was peering out behind all our voices.

There have been a few transitions I’ve witnessed of late. Seeing the aging folk star move to eldership inviting a young guitar technician to share the stage, while we all ached for times gone by grounded in our common knowledge that from little things, big things grow.  The 60s were a very good vintage and the the echo from the past, as well as the sounds of now and the future were alive in the coffee shop too.

Working out how to disappear with grace and gratitude is a daily challenge and a practice and a discipline that I have fallen short of many times. In its place grumpiness worthy of Oscar the Grouch takes hold and my demons dine out!

The contrast of the virginal duet to my deep throat murmurings is stark.

I yearn to recognise all the spaces I am in as knaves and altars of the underground cathedral (a concept offered by the Abbot of Glenstal Abbey) – places where the architecture to sustain is neither Romanesque or Gothic – but a recycled retro fitted coffee shop, that has fair trade products and young women singing like angels, to soothe the soul of a cranky crone.

So Hildegard, I will recognise the underground cathedral in I am in, when I find the seductive siren Cynicism calling me. There, I will find more of the spirit of joy and not have a stale taste from the bad mouthing I had been up to this week.

John O’Donohue, it is fabled, blessed his penitents to go and sin beautifully. I have a smile on my face when I recall this story re-told by his friend David Whyte, and so by way of confession and penance, a poem.

Vintage Cynicism

She calls out to you.
Beckoning.
Alluring.
Inviting.
Seducing.

You are captured by her spell;
You are in her grip.
No matter how much you try,
Cynicism has arrived at your door.

The daughter of distrust,
Doing a strip tease to your soul.

Your better self, unable to resist the temptation.
You indulge.
You revel.
You bathe in it;
A bath of thought bubbles appear.

Cynicism dances and prances around you:
Flaunting herself.
No chance of getting this geni back in the bottle tonight.

Gingers, Goodwood Rd

Gingers, Goodwood Rd

New Shoes

10 days ago

Any self respecting pilgrim would have left their shoes at the end of their journey. I left mine in Ennis, County Clare. I first put them on when I started going to the gym, almost five years ago, intent on keeping fit enough so that I would be able to be physically and mentally prepared for mid-life and beyond.  The shoes served me well and were obviously good value for money!  They took me to the gym three or four times a week, to the Willunga Farmers Market most Saturday mornings, to countless short trips to familiar places, to far off lands and to the shores of oceans and streams.

After being on The Burren I knew I was going to say goodbye to them in Clare. And with that goodbye,  I would but some new ones in the new world of Dubai on the way home. And that is what I did.

This new journey warrants new shoes.  Ironically the ones I left behind were designed for walking and the label on this new shoe box says they  are designed for running!  I wonder if the shoes are being prophetic?

I thanked the shoes for carrying me this far and explained to them they had done a great job and their wear and tear was evidence of that. The right shoe had lost all its stitching on the toe perhaps channelling the number of times I have wanted to kick someone or something in or out of my way.
My new shoes were bought at one of the many temples to mammon in Dubai during Ramadan – an oxymoron to this reluctant shopper. Dubai is as far as any one could get from Patrick McCormack and the farmers in Clare.
The shoes will need to be broken in and I will reluctantly be back at the gym in a few days  and maintain my original intention and if the shoes are prophetic I will need to be ready.
I come to the end of these 30 days home and rested with the sounds of the pigeons in the distance, hearing The Ashes and with soup bubbling on the stove to comfort and reassure that I am indeed home in body and soul and ready with my new shoes for the next steps on this pilgrimage.
Today
Dear Hildegard, I have just read what I wrote ten days ago; and it has taken me until today to put on my new shoes. Yesterday there was the most glorious of sunrises and Brother Sun was telling me very clearly it is time to start again!
I think my procrastination is about not wanting the old journey or my holiday to end. But this day has come and on they went. One foot in front of the other the only way to walk – baby steps first.  I am remembering the instruction of The Burren, carefully watching where I am going; being mindful to the hidden holes; enjoying the flat land as a moment to relax vigilance and to test the rock for movement first before completely committing to the stride.  The Burren is a challenging spiritual director.  My new shoes will carry me to new territories and help me through familiar ones as well. They will need to be prepared for times when my reluctance will need to be met with patience.  They will need to be ready for times of both safari and pilgrimage.
When the time comes for these shoes to be rested I will have taken them to who knows where and whatever paths I find myself on with them I hope they serve me as well as the old ones.  So in the spirit of John O’Donohue who, it is claimed, could bless a carburettor and bring divinity to the moment, I have been self indulgent and written a little blessing for myself and my new shoes.
Blessing for the Pilgrim’s New Shoes
May the left shoe lead you to clear horizons.
May the right shoe follow in even time.
May they both hold you firmly
May they help you walk; and climb.
May they cup your feet so you feel grounded.
May they hold your ankles so you do not trip.
May they take you near and far
May they help you run; and skip.
May you always know to thank them,
For accompanying you along the way;
And may you let them bring you home safely,
At the end of every night and day.
Morning 25 July 2013

Morning over Willunga 25 July 2013