Welcome to my blog.
I post regularly about things that energise, inspire and engage me in my life. Occasionally I post about things that infuriate me too. Please feel free to comment and I look forward to hearing from you.
I post regularly about things that energise, inspire and engage me in my life. Occasionally I post about things that infuriate me too. Please feel free to comment and I look forward to hearing from you.
I’ve started to tell more of my friends that I love them. I’ve abandoned a smiley face or puffy pink heart as a stand-in for expressing myself more forthrightly. I don’t want to look wistfully after their cars anymore then shut my front door with a sigh. I’m too old for that now and they’re too important to me.
I’ve learnt as a single woman what I never really knew as a married one; intimacy is anarchic. Culturally, we’ve colonised the term, relationship, to represent only one thing; a couple set-up, typically heterosexual, which includes being bedfellows and all that means. Emperor’s new clothes or not, this is still the benchmark for legitimate intimacy between adults in our society. We talk about wanting a relationship, missing a relationship, feeling ambivalent about a relationship. The term is so much a part of our everyday speak, we fail to not only question its validity, but to notice how subtly its construction demeans every other relationship in our lives too.
I remember meeting up with my friend Neil in a café in Totnes once. It was at the time when I’d just begun to question the substance of ‘relationship’ as the holy grail. We’d been friends for about five years and our deep bond fastened us together in a remarkably uncomplicated way. I had an agenda, I wanted to tell him I loved him and I was nervous about it. Would he assume I was in love with him? Would he shy away from such a strong declaration of feeling? Would I be able to stay true to my intent? My affinity with Neil had taken me onto virgin territory. It was then, and remains still, what the Victorians might describe as a romantic friendship. We are very close and we are not, nor ever have been, lovers. What an introduction it was to the anarchy of intimacy.
I did tell Neil that day I loved him and his response was to first quickly look down, then up and into my eyes, ‘Oh mate.’ We shared a big pot of tea and our talk tumbled and tipped over all the edges both of us had once been afraid of negotiating. By the time we left the café, our mutual declaration of love had elevated our relationship to its rightful standing. It wasn’t a stopgap until ‘the one’ came along, or a counterfeit connection that would vanish as soon as either of us were engaged in pillow talk again. It was a cogent, satisfying, significant soul-tie with another human being to be valued and cherished in its own terms.
Many of us know too that the opportunities to let our hearts speak words of tenderness are finite. When I was twenty-two and seven months pregnant with my first child, my father had a stroke at fifty-five and died. For weeks after, I was so demented in my grief, I could not convince all of myself that he knew I cherished him. Finally, I found a letter in his possessions I’d written, which was signed with my name and the words, I love you. I also found a measure of peace with this discovery.
So for all of these reasons and more, I want to honour the anarchy of intimacy and openly declare its value in my life, wherever it exists. That feels like the least I can do in response to such a wondrous gift.
The fabric of family life is textured with so much that can’t be predicted. This reality is in the forefront of my mind at the moment as my grandchild, Reuben, continues to express his identity differently from his peers. Reuben’s small fierce journey is cutting a path across the gender landscape most of us inhabit. He’s too young to know the undergrowth there has yet to be cleared of fear, prejudice and discrimination.
The article I’ve written below is important to me. Valuing equality is non negotiable to me. The freedom for children to follow their own star is absolute for me. Because of this I follow my grandchild’s lead and, in doing so, discover more about who I am, and who I aspire to be.
I tweeted David Cameron this week. It was after I heard him on the radio espousing, ‘Britain, as ever, will support the Syrian refugees,’ knowing full well, the UK has ‘welcomed’ only 143 people from Syria’s decimated and terrifed population. Asylum legislation, which ring fences our island like razor wire, is as lethal in its own right as the convulsing sea swallowing desperate refugees in splintering boats off the Libyan coastline.
A friend of mine who writes expert reports for people seeking asylum, told me it became mandatory in March 2015 for all asylum appeals to be heard, in person, in Liverpool. It’s like one of those God awful problems my brain rattled with during double maths when I was fourteen: A failed asylum seeker has to find his or her way to Liverpool. He or she has no money and speaks little or no English. He or she may have been persecuted and tortured and be experiencing trauma. How will the asylum seeker stay within the law and reach Liverpool within the designated time frame?
The UK has the third highest death toll of asylum seekers and migrants in Europe. There is well publicised evidence that the rancid puss of racism is spread thickly throughout this phenomenon. Reading such material makes me sick and it makes me angry. http://www.irr.org.uk/news/deaths-of-europes-unwanted-and-unnoticed-migrants-exposed/
Furthermore, Group 4 Security, who lost their home office contract to deport asylum seekers after Jimmy Mubenga died while being ‘escorted’ by his guards on a forced deportation in 2010, subsequently ‘won’ £620 million of public money to house people seeking asylum. Another unfathomable equation. GS4 and several other security firms with similar influence, are best known to people seeking asylum as guards who monitor, restrict or terminate their liberty. The toxic consequences of the cynical decision to give these companies power over a destitute population continues to unfold, http://www.irr.org.uk/news/g4s-and-housing-abuse-of-asylum-seekers-the-truth-emerges/
I am not very well informed politically. This might place me on the side of ignorance, or it might place me in the category of ‘beginners mind,’ as the Buddhists say. In other words, precisely because I’m not schooled in political deliberations, my naivety puts me at an advantage. My premise is simple. I’m not looking to party manifestos for answers, I’m looking for compassionate decision making in political parties. I’m looking for the beating heart that refuses to reduce a person to their difference and then sanction their demise. I’m looking for enough humanity to plunge into the sea to save drowning refugees because it’s impossible to do anything else. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/25/migrant-boat-crisis-the-sergeant-who-did-his-duty-towards-people-struggling-for-their-lives?CMP=fb_gu
Instead, Cameron and Osborne and much of the political elite, continue to stand sentry on the white shores of England, colluding in historical amnesia. From this vantage point of unexamined prejudice, power and rank, the flaying hands of frenzied children, women and men are merely scavenging birds faltering beneath territorial waves.
The last few months have seen me labouring over the completion of a module on my writing MA course. I’d been ill for several weeks, moved home and then my internet provider failed, twice, to install broadband at the agreed time. This combination of circumstances meant, ultimately, I wasn’t able to align my internal creative process with the requirements of the non-fiction block. Instead, I got significantly behind with the weekly tasks and spent a great deal of time with my face in my hands.
The contents of the module were important: how to pitch a book successfully, research the competition, compile a single A4 sheet with all the information a publisher requires, compose an author biography. All good stuff if you know what you’re doing. I didn’t. My creative project needed more time to gestate and I couldn’t force a premature labour, though I tried to. In the end, I was dangerously close to a stillbirth so I stopped. Literally stopped. The part of me that has vowed fidelity to my own process, took the pen out of my hand, laid it flat on my desk and stared at me with arched eyebrows. I was unable to write a word.
Cajoling, bullying and bribing hadn’t worked. Willpower, the holy elixir of my childhood training, wasn’t enough. In the face of strike action I needed to renegotiate terms with myself and rapidly. But before I could do this I had to consciously ground myself after the walkout:I took long baths, paced the cemetery opposite my house, played with my twin granddaughters, sipped chamomile tea and noticed the buds of blossom beginning to stud the trees outside my kitchen window. Finally, when my body felt rested and my soul, respected, I opened my diary. I cleared four days and booked into a London hotel where a friend of mine is the general manager. The deal I’d brokered with myself pivoted on not even glancing at the uncompleted assignment until I was sat in my room.
A few weeks later, upgraded to an apartment, I stepped back over the creative threshold. I did so with humility, the eloquent companion of my chastised ego who now sat quietly waiting for directions. I also bore a sense of liberation, because I’d trusted my own process over the anxiety of being a non-compliant student. Almost immediately I began to write. I spent each day going between my rooms and the vast lounge on the twelfth floor, which laid on coffee and pastries all day for guests. Sometimes I tapped into my computer, other times I picked up a pen. Often the reception staff printed off reams of paper and handed them over to me curiously. Finally a young Italian man asked me what I was doing, ‘writing a book proposal’ I told him, and his smile was a benediction.
I stayed present to myself so when I needed to stop I realised and did so, and then started again refreshed. I wandered around the Olympic Park under a breezy spring sky to allow the drifts of my imagination space to flow and morph into thoughts and words. In the pauses between my writing and wandering I noticed the relationship between creative tension, interior listening and action. Time became elastic. I breathed into my work.
On the final day I was at the desk paying my bill and chatting with the receptionist. She was young and friendly and we’d only met briefly once before. As we said our good-byes and I walked away she called after me quickly, “best of luck with the book.” When I stepped into the lift I looked at my reflection in the wide mirror of the back wall, my Imagination asked, ‘How does it feel to hear that?’ ‘Good,’ came the reply, ‘very good.’
‘All those who wander are not lost.’ Tolkien
I’m putting down roots after two years or so of moving around the city, staying with friends or house sitting. This part of my life was unexpected and unplanned in 2012 when my sofa sleeping started. I had planned a six month sabbatical in France to write a book but when Sophia, my granddaughter was born with a life-limiting genetic disorder, everything changed. Instead of moving to the Pyrenees I moved into my daughter’s home until Sophia was out of hospital and the immediate crisis had passed.Somehow four months had passed and I fell blinking into the world again. I still had eight months to go before the young couple I’d let my flat finished their tenancy, so the wandering began.
I stayed first in a sunny room overlooking a garden, with clematis curling around the windowpane before my friend, Jo, sold her house. I slept in Penny’s spare room and sat up in bed many mornings, looking out towards the wide pink smile of skyline, which she loves so much. I rested in the familiarity of my sister’s home and reminisced about our shared history and that of our children. I mollycoddled cats, cleaned houses and watered plants. My old red Skoda became an office and library and occasional study. But, happily, never a bedroom.
I discovered places in Bristol I never knew about including Arno’s Vale Cemetery, which has become one of my favourite places to amble around, http://www.arnosvale.org.uk/.
When I lodged at Dave’s or Doreen’s I occupied the rooms of their fledgling children and felt their absence, even though they weren’t my own. Jude squeezed me in on many an occasion, gave me hugs and also her spare keys, ‘just in case,’ Sue fed me when I got lonely and the meal always commenced with a ritual gin and tonic, and a sprig of mint. And there were many others who shared their space with me, including people who were once acquaintances and now, happily, are friends.
This journeying, facilitated by the kindness of many enabled me, paradoxically, to recover after the trauma of Sophia’s birth. ‘Going home,’ after everything that had transpired in her small hospital room, didn’t intuitively make sense to me. The home I’d left had been created out of the ashes of a twenty-four year marriage and a deep depression. It was ultimately a joyful place, a testimony to wholeness and to a mid-life woman making her own way consciously in the world. It was a place I loved and yet it didn’t fit me anymore.
This next life transition required a different bridge to the future. At the time I was respecting the wisdom of my gut, not formulating a plan or thinking anything through. My heart knew the enormity of my experience as a mother and grandmother had changed me, and I needed unimpeded space and time to fully process these events. Creating this particular outer reality for myself gave me the freedom to do this. I could live on very little money, detach from the tyranny of material objects and make relatively few demands on myself.
By the time I’d chosen a second year of wandering I recognised my inner stability had strengthened in direct correlation to the multiple rhythms and routines I’d needed to adapt to in other people’s homes. And because I wasn’t in my own home with my own things fixing me in time and place, and my own habits cementing my sense of identity, I felt free. Like a clay pot dissolved and held in water, I needed to float until a new shape manifested itself, from the inside out.
And here I am now in a new house, working at the table I’ve sat at a thousand times before, lifting my head and glancing at my books on the shelves and the carved mother and child my daughter brought me back from Nigeria, when she was still only eighteen. Our beloved Sophia, currently, is well.
I am setting down roots again as the woman I am now: softer, less attached to my opinions, more able to receive as well as give, to let go as well as to hold on. More available to live the mystery of it all and breathe. I have a quiet confidence in my ability to learn to belong in this new community too. And a force-field of gratitude around my heart for the support that made my wandering, and healing, possible.
It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written a blog post. I’ve been juggling keys to a new home, solicitor’s paperwork, boxes of tissues for a cold virus, all my belongings, a deadline for my MA, childcare and paid work. So forgive the temporary radio silence. I can say, in time honoured fashion with my hand on my heart, the delay wasn’t avoidance it was self-care. This still feels like a huge admission even though I’ve spent years prising off the achievement gene nailed onto my DNA by the culture at large. Not to mention the family script I inherited that my word was my honour.
Carl Jung tells us that the period of mid-life onwards is the second adulthood. This is the developmental opportunity to truly become adult human beings and take full responsibility for our lives. This journey has led me to pursue wholeness now and not perfection. It’s liberated me to fail, be vulnerable, change my mind, ask for help, honour humility, say ‘no’, respect my limits and take time out without falling apart. I don’t have to be perfect.
Wow, what a knowing, finally. Opening the door to all of myself has freed me to become more of myself. Rumi, the Sufi poet, speaks eloquently of this paradox,
This being human is a guest-house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you
out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
I hope I’ll be able to live into Rumi’s words more and more in 2015. I hope I’ll be able to love more, write more, receive more and act with more precision, awareness and compassion in the world.
I hope too that whatever is speaking to your heart, whatever cosmic flirts are enticing you or challenges troubling you, 2015 will bring with it everything you need. I hope the New Year will elicit a thousand opportunities to explore all of who you are and all you can be. As the wonderful John O’Donohue states, ‘to be born is to be chosen.’
At the close of the year, thank you for taking precious time out of your life to read my words. I’m touched and encouraged that you do so. Deeply.
After a couple of years of being itinerant, I’m soon to be settling down again in my own home. I have bought a house. The builder is now in and has promised me he’ll be out by Christmas, so I can take up occupation. These are a few simple sentences and yet they represent a whole heap of history, challenge, courage, confusion, growth and hope. To say the least. Of late, they also represent a whole heap of stress. By this I mean the sort of stress that was regularly eating my sleep, suspending my shoulders on a hanger of tension and compelling me to choose coconut and chocolate cake for my lunch. Not a great situation.
In view of this, last Friday I cancelled all my plans, which included a trip to London, and set the intention to gather the parts of myself up and spend some time in conversation with all of them. We began with some reflective writing, shared a cooked breakfast, continued over a walk and ended up in a fragrant bath, with the poet, David Whyte, for company. http://www.davidwhyte.com/
By mid-afternoon, I could feel my spiritual feet thawing and by tea-time I could wiggle my toes.
It’s been a long time since I was this tense. I understand the reasons why and I’m not embarrassed to own the stress. The human condition. I used to cower under the iron fist of perfectionism and set myself standards that were impossible to maintain and stay healthy. It’s a joy to me that now, for the most part. I don’t.
This degree of stress wasn’t inevitable, so the experience is rich in learning for me. At some point over the preceding weeks I’d let the practices that ground me, falter: lighting a candle in gratitude for the new day, writing as soon as I wake up, stillness meditation and prayer, eating mindfully. The spiral of physical, emotional and psychological discomfort emanated out of disconnection and not the stressful circumstances of buying a house.
I woke on Saturday feeling more relaxed than I had been for many weeks. I was shocked by how much I simply noticed. I couldn’t believe I’d daily been walking past an overhanging branch that’s weighed down with tiny pink buds. In November. I was able to give my full attention to a friend who’s in transition, and I attended a concert to support another friend who was playing in it.
In the café of the church where the concert was taking place, an exhibition had just opened: ‘This Light that Pushes Me’ / Stories of African Quaker Peacebuilders. http://www.allianceforpeacebuilding.org/2014/04/this-light-that-pushes-me-stories-of-african-peacebuilders/
The exhibition features twenty people, telling a collective story, of their journey from violence, to healing, to activism. As I took in the images and the accompanying text, every speck of my pre-occupation with builders, deadlines, money transfers and contracts evaporated in the light of their testimonies. Their choice to cultivate compassion and wholeness in the face of unimaginable provocation and suffering, rendered the final vestiges of my ego-centric chatter, mute.
I left the church in a deep state of appropriate humility. Later, as I reflected on the beauty in my life and the blessings and possibilities that permeate it, my heart flooded with recognition.
And there was no space left for anything other than gratitude.
Last week I caught myself out. I’d been waiting all morning for a telephone line to be installed and when the man with the van finally arrived, he greeted me with a lot of warmth. Within five minutes of being in my living room he asked if I’d been to India and within ten minutes we were talking philosophy, spirituality and the benefits of traveling to open one’s mind. While we waited for another engineer to arrive, he perused my books and we swapped names of suggested authors and teachers. In this conversation we referenced ‘being awake’ and ‘non-attachment’ as though we’d been regularly hanging out in the same retreat centre. When his colleague arrived the animated chatting continued, though now included the arts, his penchant for fringe comedy and how dis-used public toilets have been converted into tiny theatres in some places in Britain. This was not what I was expecting.
One engineer with a bald head, an earring and navy overalls and another looking like a middle aged bowls player, weren’t people I anticipated I would find intellectually or creatively stimulating. And, significantly, I wasn’t aware I was anticipating anything at all until our dialogue got under way and I felt the gap between expectation and reality. Happily, I’ve learnt to face into the gap and not turn away from it for fear of self-judgement.
I know, like every other human being on the planet, I make assumptions and unfounded judgements. In this instance I had confused, again, academic education with intelligence even though this disingenuous relationship has been something I’ve challenged for many years. Such are the pernicious roots of prejudice and, if acted on, discrimination.
A long time ago someone told me a story about watching a parasitical worm get extracted from a man’s foot in a remote Kenyan village. When the worm broke the surface of the skin it was offered a splinter of wood to curl over and when it did, the splinter was turned, capturing the length of the worm’s squirming body. The turning needed to be done with exact precision and care, so nothing was left to fester or grow again.
This is how I feel about my own prejudice. I know it exists and I’ve learnt not to turn away from in disgust or denial. When it breaks through into my consciousness, I want to notice it and then take action. I don’t get into too much self-condemnation these days, which is a blessing. And learning to be transparent with myself means I can be transparent with others and seek so forgiveness where necessary. In this way, the splinter my prejudice is wrapped around becomes a tool for self-transformation and not a contaminated dart to pierce someone with.
Life has been demanding recently. Aspiring to stay centred has been like trying to rest in the bottom of a rowing boat on a choppy tide. I’ve managed to a greater or lesser degree each day. This morning I let stillness be my first companion, before anything else took my attention away from waking. My thoughts had to learn to stand in line, once again, as my breath took me further and further into my body and the sovereignty of my inner kingdom.
It’s taken me a long time to relate to my body with the same care and attention I aspire to bring to other relationships. And often, still, I struggle. I was taught to water and feed and keep my body clean, and dress it up occasionally. When I was in pain I was trained to look the other way. I wasn’t taught to respect my body’s vulnerability or cherish its limitations as wisdom in action. Mostly, on occasions such as these, I had to send my body to an emotional boot-camp or treat it like an unwelcome relative who shows up expecting something.
I’ve ignored my body a lot. And in doing so, I’ve denied my own nature and my place in nature.
John O’Donohue, a poet and philosopher who inspires me, tells a story about someone who dies. The man’s spirit leaves his body and is about to go out of the room when it looks back and, with tremendous gratitude, returns to its mortal form and tenderly kisses the container that housed it for so long. So my intention is to continue to court stillness before speech in the mornings, to privilege being over doing before my day begins. To learn to hold my body in awe.
In meditation I connect to my physical self and watch my thoughts rise and fall without comment, condemnation or censure. I notice them from inside this precious body of mine and my breath, like a plumb line holds me there. My breath teaches me that my lungs, my heart, my muscles, my liver, my brain, my stomach, my uterus and all other parts of me deserve love and gratitude. Each one communicated in harmony, long before my thoughts arrived.
And so, in stillness, with my breath drawing in and out, this temple that wraps itself around my soul becomes real to me. And then I know I’m occupying myself fully and not merely squatting in my earthly home.
I’ve just returned from the New Story Summit, hosted by the Findhorn Foundation Community in the north of Scotland, www.findhorn.org. Around three hundred and sixty people from at least thirty-five countries brought their expectations, hopes, offerings and human frailties to the event. Read More →