Tag Archives: poetry

Year of Self-Compassion #46 #poet

On arrival to the Byron Bay Community Theatre, the line is already out the door, while the coffee beans just roasted brew to join with the steam in machines arrested and held by slender latte coloured bodies. There are no ugly people in Byron. I choose a seat in the fourth aisle immediate front and centre with a spotlight above my head. I come as a naked pilgrim, stripped bare and with nowhere to hide and nothing to hide. He tests the sound system with that eternal question from the nunnery scene in Hamlet, the most famous of our English bards handed down throughout to the centuries: To be or not to be. This is no rhetorical sound check , it is delivered not as a question, but as a statement. The perfect beautiful question in this place where yoga and reiki and meditation novices and masters find one another; where stones and chakras and cards are caught, folded and coerced into be-ing and be-coming and be-held.

I am in the light and on this day where being and not being live along side of one another in the poetic practice of blessing and being blessed. I know I am ready and also so weary my eyes can barely stay open. As I settle in to the listening, the three wise women chatting behind me, invoke Jesus, Mary and Joseph as their cussing lineage. Now invited into the space the Holy Family settle in too and appear from time to time throughout the day brought into the conversation by the poet and stories of his beloved friend and this comfort holds me near the nativity, a surprising advent invitation.

In the gathered, there are the groupies and those who have come dragged along by their female lover reminding them a lyric is an aphrodisiac and if only they could serenade their soul like the charismatic poet. We are all seated on red chairs for this red letter day. Phones are being put to good use with texting of girlfriends to tell them where they are. The fifty shades of grey hair in the room are interrupted on a regular basis with chemical offerings of red, purple, blues, blondes and blacks. I think about our desire for individuality and wonder what would happen if we all lived the truth of our bodies, one hair at a time. I notice one of the younger ones in the gathered taking a selfie and think well I haven’t seen that before at a poetry and philosophy session. I am so delighted to see this rock star of the word worthy of this modern iconographic action – it is an arrival all of it’s own, alongside the words and pictures we will be making in our imagination and memories today.

A green Edwardian chair of perhaps oak with a hint of a regency strip is placed next to the clothed table with a pile of his books, carafe of water in a glass already half full and my mind instantly recalls his poem Everything is Waiting for You. The chair and I begin a conversation and within a few back and worth lines, I am mischievously invited to come and sit. It is an invitation I refuse but laugh gently and know this crone is home to an Empress as well and maybe … everything is waiting for me too?

Most of the audience is bespectacled. Ready to see with new eyes and hear with new ears, perhaps a phrase or a line to sustain them as they go forward in their lives. The lady next to me (who I discover is called Susan) has gone to the toilet twice before we start, she is so excited. Locals are connecting with friends and the last of this tribe for today arrives as the final wriggles and giggles leave the bodies. I am excited for them who will hear the poet for the first time in the flesh, in the same way I was excited in the cottage at Ballyvaughan with fire stoked and hearts warmed by other pilgrims. Abundance and generosity had settled in long before we got there.

He stands on the stair off stage but visible to all, his eyes glued to Mel the promoter extraordinaire who has midwifed his visit. She is in a regal blue skirt and she relays his conversational leadership credentials and then with a whoop and a cheer and some serious applause he arrives. Nothing in the way between him and the audience, we are about to begin a conversation and his first words are “very good”. To ease himself into this conversation he invites WB Yeats and his life long love Maud Gonne in and recited the Song of the Wandering Aengus. I surprisingly hear the poet’s daughter Charlotte’s soprano voice waft into the lyric, maybe he is thinking of her as he recites the poem, I decide intimacy is on the menu today.

I start composing a Litany for Intimacy:

To meet life as we find it

to arrive at a place where the river has already flowed by

to go just beyond yourself

to be half a shade braver

to say no to something formed and yes to something yet to form

to be around tonics, those people who with their gravitational pull just make you feel better

to recognise the past in your body

to break promises and vows

to have your heart broken

to fall forward.

We are barely into this day and I am being drawn in memory, once again, to what I have stopped being and what calls me to love. And another litany begins to unfold, this time a list of names start to turn up alongside one another, and, with no filters, unrequited love appears and disappears. Just like the chattering monkeys of meditation, I don’t hold on to them, I notice them and then let them go. Tears fill the well as the poet reminds us all it is only because you care that your heart can be broken, and you chose the person for that special gift, a super power of being the one to break your heart. This gift of a thousand shards leaving me bleeding and bruised, never able to be put back together, I hear an invitation to write more about falling over and it was not the ground beneath my feet no longer there, but my feet no longer able to tread on anything solid. Like The Burren, my favourite spiritual director, I need to learn to walk on ground that is swampy, with hidden crevices, that looks solid when it is not, that is stone and ancient, ready and waiting for me.

I got a glimpse of my old mischievous self at the beginning of the session and caught myself with an inner smile, a familiarity and echo to my old self. It was a joy to recognise, I have been laughing again more, and this spiritual discipline might well be the one to guide me home. My small steps, though infantile and tenuous are helping me fall forward. A mantra is forming “go a step beyond yourself”. This is attributed to John O’Donohue and joins Seth Godin’s line “levelling up” and this poet’s phrase “half a shade braver”.

My bravery, between the cracks, and in the solitude, is haunting and humbling me down – all I need to do is show up. A pro tip arrives with the advice to ask for help – visible and invisible. Another one follows in close succession: develop the discipline of breaking promises in order to keep the conversation real. What promise do I need to break right now, that has been held and nurtured in my soul is a question I expect to lead me to a profound act of self-compassion. I have plenty more to mine from this gift of time and place with David Whyte. His new collection The Bell and the Blackbird has more than enough breadcrumbs for me to find my poetic pilgrim way on this camino.

The Bell and the Blackbird

The sound
of a bell
still reverberating,

or a blackbird
calling
from a corner
of a
field.

Asking you
to wake
into this life
or inviting you
deeper
to one that waits.

Either way
takes courage,
either way wants you
to be nothing
but that self that
is no self at all,
wants you to walk
to the place
where you find
you already know
how to give
every last thing
away.

The approach
that is also
the meeting itself,
without any
meeting
at all.

That radiance
you have always
carried with you
as you walk
both alone
and completely
accompanied
in friendship
by every corner
of the world
crying
Allelujah.

The Bell and the Blackbird
© David Whyte and the Many Rivers Press 2018

bandb

Lens

Dear Hildegard,

All those glorious paintings you did that we get to enjoy and contemplate reveal a woman who could see with more than her eyes; a woman who could see with her heart, her soul and intellect as well.  This has me reflecting on the lenses we use to see and interpret the world around us. The lens of imagination and possibility has often attracted me and at the beginning of this year I imagined that I would write to you each week and try and tune in to the way you saw the world – it was an invitation and I am grateful for it. Thank you.

In this year of writing to you,  I have sought to orientate myself to see, and be in the world, in a way that I might connect with you.  As the year comes to a close I am grateful for this conversation and for the lens your life and gifts offered to me.

Seeing the world through the eyes of a poet, a mystic, a composer, a musician, a gardener, an advocate, a woman, a prophet, a community leader  … has encouraged me to draw sap from deep within myself to rise through my thoughts and actions and be embraced by a higher self, a bigger God and to listen to the Uni-Verse.

A lens can transmit and refract light and so a poetic or mystical lens applied in my daily life equips me to see more clearly, or have light shed on a subject or object and discover meaning that wasn’t there without that lens.  Light brightens and makes visible something that perhaps was hidden and using a different lens revelations certainly appear!

My glasses are multi-focals, tinted to adjust to light and are only removed to sleep. They are a part of me and I feel incomplete without them.  My glasses have corrective lenses. They correct the errors my eyes make so that I can see what is really there without distortion and they bring clarity.  This experience is equally true of any other type of lens I apply.  The lens of the poet has enabled me to see beauty all around me more easily than ever before, and has me tuning into the sounds and rhythms all around me – from birdsong to traffic.

Sometimes it is overwhelming to be surrounded by all this poetry and music.

I recall coming to an awareness and appreciation of rap music after being in the Museum of Modern Art in New York a couple of years ago. There was an exhibition about the foundations of rap music, the percussive beat, full frontal issues and rhyming narratives had eluded my understanding. However that day having walked the streets of New York and listened to sounds of the street it dawned on me that rap was the folk music of the inner city – using the sounds of traffic lights, taxis, subway calls, the “rattle of the prattle” between friends, customers and pilgrims alike and it made sense to me completely.  The exhibition gave me a new lens. I felt less overwhelmed by rap and it opened me up to a new way to eavesdrop on a generation and a culture.

The lens that has made all the difference to me this year has been gratefulness.  I have written to you previously about being a gratitude practitioner. This year I was introduced to the idea of putting on ‘gratitude glasses’ and purchased a number of oversized plastic glasses with coloured lenses and used them to share the idea of gratitude glasses with a number of groups I was working with and my peers. This has been fun and opened up many conversations about what it means to be grateful and how to name and claim the gratitude in our lives.

There is so much I have to be grateful for – not the least living where I do with the ones I love and who love me back – for being educated and employed, housed and healthy.  I yearn for a planet of inhabitants who are able to embrace gratefulness and for those of us who have plenty to share with those who have less – this is a constant call and invitation to deepen my gratitude for the abundance, a veritable cornucopia that I have been gifted and hold in trust.  Having a “Hildegard” lens to reflect and refract the light so that I can see more clearly and deeply appreciate what I am being invited into and what I inherit has been a blessing this year.

Imagine, Central Park, NY

Imagine, Central Park, NY

Heralds

The forecaster predicted rain and so it came to pass that the memorial service for Mandela drenched dignitaries and Soweto citizens alike. I watched from the comfort of my red couch. Boos for Zuma and a speech from Obama that will go down in history as one of the great speeches of the 21st Century.  Hildegard I listened to the words and songs and dabbed at my eyes along the way and prayed his death will herald a future of reconciliation and restorative justice in other parts of the world – Cuba, Palestine, Tibet came to mind. The US and Cuban leaders shook hands, Mandela’s words about Palestine filled twitter and the Dalai Lama was refused an entry visa to South Africa to appease China – so there is plenty for Mandela’s spirit to herald.

Reflecting on being a herald in this season of Advent, when there are so many heralds in the nativity story is capturing my imagination.  Those who brought the message of hope, the one who carried the child, the shepherds, the innkeeper, the astrologers, the animals too – all heralds to the news of child like no other come to greet us to in turn announce and proclaim a message of peace and justice.

The herald announces something is about to happen. The stars twinkle and turn each evening making their way through the night sky, like a town crier, each flicker a message, inviting me to join in the great cosmic event about to unfold when the day breaks.  Br David Steindl-Rast reminds us that each new day is a good day, an irreplaceable gift, one that arrives freshly delivered each and every morning.  I wake to the sounds of the birds who sing a chorus of welcome in my garden and urge me to join in the song.  As their song makes its way to my ear I wake up to the new day. A battalion of carollers arrive every morning to announce to me that the new day has arrived.

Not all heralds bring good news. My email in box delivered some news I didn’t want to read this week. News that I knew would come one day from a dear friend of an illness that has taken its next step in her body.  But in bringing that news to me I responded and was able to share an embrace in real time face to face. We were in the trenches together once and the spirit of the ANZACS somehow got us through. Her spirit is holding her too now as she lives in these precious moments of each new day.

When I look over my year I see heralds everywhere! Musicians, story-tellers, poets, dogs, children, flowers, trees – all of creation – animate and inanimate – announcing and denouncing – laying out a path before me and inviting me to go deeper.  There is no doubt that David Whyte’s work has been one a very significant herald trumpeting a way to look at the world through the lens of a poet.  This has heralded for me a new way of seeing the world. He writes:

The poet lives and writes at the frontier between deep internal experience and the revelations of the outer world. There is no going back for the poet once this frontier has been reached; a new territory is visible and what has been said cannot be unsaid. The discipline of poetry is in overhearing yourself say difficult truths from which it is impossible to retreat. Poetry is a break for freedom. In a sense all poems are good; all poems are an emblem of courage and the attempt to say the unsayable; but only a few are able to speak to something universal yet personal and distinct at the same time; to create a door through which others can walk into what previously seemed unobtainable realms, in the passage of a few short lines.

Hildegard the Herald – you too have opened up a way for me to share thoughts and stories this yearl and as the year comes to a close I am grateful that a path was made by writing each week. A path that has lead me to new friends, new ideas, new challenges.  A path that has encouraged me to reflect and review my life in a way I had not done before.  A path that is now clearer for me to do more writing, more reflecting, more poetry … and who knows where that path is leading me … the door is open and I will keep walking through it each and every day because I aspire to be like Mandela and each day listen to W.E. Henley who wrote Invictus, herald the message: I am the captain of my soul.

NT Sunrise

NT Sunrise

Precision Poetry

This week I was treated to truth compressed in poems heard and printed on the page.

Story and song inspire, comfort and trouble me – sometimes in equal measure. I can’t imagine an existence without narrative being either backdrop or foreground to my every step. “When truth is told through the imaginative patterns of stories and poems, we have a chance to be caught up and rewoven into truth’s own designs. … stories and poems offer a far more practical thing: self-understanding that can illumine and help transform our lives” (Parker Palmer: The Active Life p.11).

One of the questions of biblical proportions put by Pilate to Jesus – What is truth? Was hurtled at us in quadraphonic sound with light and colour and movement at the production of Superstar I saw during the week. The production was stunning and the modernisation at times spine tingling and no more so than having Pilate gown up during the rendition of his solo piece (Pilate’s Dream) and the shadow boxing fitness routine to send Jesus to mob rule for trial and sentencing by Herod. The mob rule, trial by media and reality TV sentencing is not the precision of poetry.

And what would my answer be to Pilate’s question: What is Truth?  I would say to him: “Sir, truth is stripped bare when it appears in a poem – truth is laid on the table for all to see – a wound gapping open with no where to hide. Truth is raw, precise and elemental.”

Hildegard you heard and created poetry all throughout your life allowing your music to support it and bring it to life, allowing your beloved scripture and landscape to hold the words and the sounds together bringing truth to your generation that has continued to echo throughout the ages.  The truth of your God being universal – uni – verse – One Word.

The production of  Superstar revealed Jesus as an Everyman Activist – another leader on the frontline of a G8 riot or wikileak informant ending up in Guantamano Bay with an online iPhone army of disciples with the hashtag #TheTwelve.   The truth of his God being delivered in a haunting melody travelling on the breath of the flautist through the steel of the flute into the air all around us – the sound – a feather on the breath of God – landing into his lungs as he gasped his last breath on earth. Truth, beauty, art and for me, a poem of biblical proportions.

I will never be far away from the Jesus narrative, having signed up for the Jesus project and happily being a life long card carrying project officer ( a metaphor that has sustained me since I learnt of it first hand from the wonderful Brazilian team that visited Adelaide back in the 80s).  It is the activist Jesus that inspired me and now the contemplative expressions that sustain me.  The activist is drawn to external provocation, however as you go deeper and find truth it is the contemplative life that draws you to activism and says good bye to being a re-activist.  The activist Superstar version of Jesus has Jesus reacting to his homeland being occupied by Rome; yet Hildegard your Jesus is co-creating more beauty and the groaning and pain of his prayer to his Abba is from a place of solitude not amidst the noise of the crowd.  I will have my moments of being seduced and find myself being a re-activist but now I strive to be the poet who can reveal truth the precision of an arrow hitting a bullseye shot by a gold medallist archer.

action&contemplation_Toronto_gasworks