Island Blog – Homecoming Queen

Well, I was never that, whatever it is. I was never Queen at all, not all fineried-up, and with servants to fan me when I got too hot. I would be the one fanning someone else. Probably the King.

From 40 degrees most days to snow and ice. From one glorious view to another, polar opposites. It doesn’t take long to adjust either way, not if a girl decides so. I love the seasons and would very probably struggle to live beneath endless blue skies for long. I’m used to the changes, even if I do inhabit a strange and uncomfortable limbo as one season sends the promise of itself, only to snatch it back, with a great big HA HA. Cardy-on cardy- off. From bare arms to a warm fleece and back again, until the new season finally arrives in all its glory.

I came home to a new wet room and no bath. I will miss that huge green beast of warmth, the candles around the edges, the soapy bubbles inviting me in, the fragrance of essential oils and that plastic pillow thing with suckers on, for my head. Now, it’s a stand-up wash in a disabled area, cordoned off with what looks like a panelled wind break. The loo is higher and flanked on both sides with assistance rails. My feet don’t touch the ground any more, which does make me chuckle. I feel like a kid again. Gone is the old fashioned water fed towel rail, and in its place, a small electric one with green and orange lights (that flash for god’s sake), thus enabling extra clarity. Gone, to my intense delight, is the avocado green wash basin. I am super chuffed to lose that! Avocado green bathroom suites must date back a hundred years. Nobody chooses avocado green nowadays. In fact, it is something people joke about. Many apologies to anyone who has actually chosen avocado green.

The stair lift is a ‘delightful’ addition to the lovely stripped pine staircase, which is now all but invisible. I know it is still there, however, hidden within the fat metal supports, and I had a chat with it just yesterday. Everyone needs to be recognised, after all. Yesterday, yet another walking aid was delivered. I can’t move for walking aids. This one has four corners and two wheels and is for traversing the new wet room floor which is considerably larger, sans avocado green bath. Various bits of my kitchen have been re-located for easy access. This means, in effect, that I cannot see my work tops anymore. They are spread with biscuits and medication and other things I never need. The bird feeders are in a different place so that they can be easily watched from the easy access orthopaedic chai,r with extendable legs, and a softly-cushioned, easy wipe, plastic seat, wide enough for a Heffalump’s bottom.

Clothing is now arranged on my art shelves, and opened to the room for easy access. My art supplies are piled up on a high shelf that offers no easy access, and it took me a whole morning to find my dress-making scissors. The news blasts out from the easy access easy wipe down conservatory with the heated floor. I never listen to the news, never did and never would, not on a loop. News doesn’t change much from morning to night unless there is a fresh bit of salacious news, more sadness in the world. I don’t want to hear a word of it, although I might consider listening to it once, if good news came as part of the package, which it never does.

Re-adjusting to the weather is not hard. The alternative would require moaning, and I don’t moan. Re-adjusting to my role as carer, however, is a bigger ask. I had forgotten so many of the demands, happily so. I had grown so used to spending my day in my way, that back home felt like a wispy dream. Well, it isn’t a dream. It’s right here and right now and I must re-wire my brain quickquick if I don’t want to feel that moan rising, which I absolutely don’t. Caring for someone is an honour. That’s what I tell myself. And, remember, the cared for one never asked for this either. In fact, he would give his eye teeth, if he had such, to be the man he once was: the man who saved whales, the businessman, the shepherd who strode the hills in search of his sheep, the father of five, the husband, the strength.

So, if he can do this, then so can I. In theory, my brain is well connected and operating efficiently, so it should be a doddle for me to care with grace and selfless kindness. In theory. His brain is slowly closing down so that he needs me to sort and think and organise for him. It’s an honour, even if I do swear under my breath at times, times when I have just sat myself down to sew by the fire, or picked up my book in the mistaken belief that he is fine for now, in his easy wipe orthopaedic chair, on a seat that is wide enough for a Heffalump’s bottom. When the phone rings, it is never beside him, and, as I scoot about like a dingbat, it’s never beside me either. However, it is I who needs to find the thing before it runs out of breath, to ding no more. Sometimes that infuriates me. Sometimes it doesn’t.

And I think that’s ok. It’s ok to feel put upon one minute, only to turn into a cheerful giver the next. It is more than ok to feel an intense desire to run for the hills one minute, and to happily cook mush for supper, the next. The key is self-love. The roller coaster will roll and it will coast in equal amounts. And it’s not over yet.

Arriving back on the island lifted my heart. Although it was deeply weird to go from full-blown summer and baby birds learning to fly, to ghost trees in a winter landscape, I know I am home. I could feel my roots ready to dig down deep once more. I embraced the cold air and hoped, fervently, that the tea tree essential oil on my hanky had protected me from all those airplane germs. I held on to the time away, but not too tightly. I changed my clothes and pulled on a thick soft jumper and my fleece-lined boots.

Homecoming. A lovely word. And, although I may not be Queen over all I survey, I am queen over myself, which, for those who know me well, does require quite considerable ruling.

Island Blog – Flying High

I’ve packed.  There isn’t room for so much as a whisper inside my case.  I bought a new roly one with four wheels, if you don’t mind, in a loud red, when my first case decided to fall apart on arrival in Africa.  It happens.  However, my clever and resourceful son managed to repair it, to re-join the main business to the extending handle, thus giving me the chance to donate it to the Community.  The Community is black.  Farmers, schools and other educational programmes are the people this project works to help.  Volunteers come to hoe weeds, plants seeds in the dry earth and in the children’s minds.  I remember, last time I was here, joining the group at one of the schools.  I watched the big African mamas, colourful as Christmas trees, and wearing as many baubles, cook lunch for the children under a thatched canopy for shade.  Huge pots sat on woodfires bubbling invitingly and sending out glorious smells into the day.  The children, equally colourful, stood quietly in a polite line holding their tin plates.  As each one came to the front, the cooks laughed and joshed with them, all white teeth and belly laughs.  A very happy moment to witness.  Yes, they are poor.  Yes, they have little and live in shanty huts all higgeldy-piggeldy and with no inside water supply, nor loo.  No, they don’t think they are badly off.  Everything they have, is more than enough.  Food, shelter, mamas and papas, school, clothing.  It is a humbling thought.

Last night, the staff laid on a boma night for me.  The boma is an area for barbecue (braai) and a gathering.  The cooks served up their usual delicious food, and we queued, like the children did, plates in hand.  Then came the music.  The head groundsman is a musician and a Zulu.  He sang to an exciting beat, and, before long, I was up and dancing.  The volunteers come here from many countries, and this night, Greek music was requested.  Thank goodness for Spotify and a good speaker.  As the darkness fell, bringing with it the sounds of an African night, and we watched the lights twinkle like fireflies,  a line of Greek dancing began.  Then the Zulu showed us his magical and energetic dance.  It was wild and it was scary in its power.  I get that a line of Zulu warriors on the brow of a hill overlooking a British fort would have been terrifying.  The Zulus are warriors after all.

Now…..Scotland!  I called out, and we were off into a completely made up spin, barefoot on the sand, skirts whirling like Catherine wheels.

I thank them all for making me so welcome.  For naming me Mama Bear, for trusting me with secrets and fears, for the delicious food, the fun, the clean room, the laughs and the genuine sadness at my departure.  To feel so connected, so valued and appreciated is, indeed, a gift, one I will always treasure.  There are things I didn’t do this time, animals I didn’t see, trips I didn’t make, but I am returning in 20/20, if not before, because this Africa is inside my heart.  Although my roots are on the island, I have found another place that sings to me, that makes me dance, that challenges me and that feels like home.

I am a traveler in life, a pilgrim, an adventurer.  Being here, staying this long has opened my eyes to what could lie ahead.  3 months ago I didn’t see anything beyond my caring job.  What fools are we to allow ourselves to go blind with eyes that can still see!  What fools to just survive, and not to live, live, live, right up to the moment we die.  The most regretful people are those who allow their innate creativity to starve and who stand before Death wondering what happened.  I was heading there fast.

But not now.  Now I see what I just did and it served me not at all.  Even in circumstances that are un-changeable I can still sing and dance and look until I see.  I make my limitations, not my circumstances.  Someone said that the best adventures are all inside our heads and, when the cold of a day bites my skin and ruffles my feathers, I will go forward just knowing that I am the light in any darkness.

Just like you.

And it only takes one candle to turn night into day.

Island Blog – All Change

In a few days I will fly from this place.  Although I will miss so many things about my stay here, I am ready to go back home.  That’s what I tell myself, and what I tell myself is very important.  I refuse to be at the mercy of my thoughts, unless they are chirpy ones, and, even then, I need to consider, mindfully, how much chirping I allow myself to engage in.

I will think often of my time here, the people, the animals, the wild bush life, the encounters and the learnings.  Bizarrely, I will actively miss the daily check for scorpions and spiders in my boots, my wardrobe and my bedclothes.  I might even find myself wheeching back the duvet at home, or moving ginger fingers through my drawers, specs on for safety. Going for a mid-night pee will be a very tame journey.  I will miss early waking into the heat and the sun pushing brazenly through my curtains.  I won’t have to shoo monkeys from the kitchen bins, nor will I find them bouncing through the trees or playing on the hammock or scooting through the tall grasses.  The impala herd will migrate across the scrub without my eyes on them and the late night leopard will walk undisturbed.

The visual change from crazily painted blooms to dead winter will be very odd indeed.  No more jacaranda blooms to fall on my head, nor their hard as concrete seed pods, the length of 2 bananas, nor a petaled ground as colourful as a Persian carpet, fit for a king’s palace. No more rainbow birds or insects the size of Dinky cars, no more black on white.  Braais, or barbecues, will be paused for some months and big warm jumpers given air and light after a long hibernation.  I will miss maid service in my bedroom.  I will miss the maids, who arrive dressed for a party, in impossible shoes and wearing wildly coloured tight-fitting dresses over their curvaceous African bodies.  Then, they change.  Into uniforms for their work, work they are proud to have, and work they do to the highest standard.  I know them by name, as I do the groundsmen and the cooks and we share a hug most days as they laugh their way through everything.

I will miss the space, the time, the peace.

However (and there’s always one of those), I am now reprogrammed.  All I have experienced here, all I have read and studied, all of the encounters, conversations, observations and conclusions, will be my core strength on my return to base camp. I am lighter now, fleeter of foot, more in control of my mind, my choices, my beliefs.  I see now how easy it is to turn into a tumbleweed, blown every which way and not going consciously forward at all.  I want to go consciously forward.  I will take all the gifts from Africa and make good use of every one, weaving them into my life back home, so that, instead of an empty wasteland, my life will be vibrant, exciting and dynamic.  I will be vibrant, excited and dynamic.  Now, what’s not to like about that?

Remembering the child in me is all about being mindful of the small things and to see them as big things.  Whatever life sends is always rich in goodness, however hard it may be to see that on first looking.  And, besides, what do I have to complain about?  Nothing at all.  If I have a richly fed soul (that’s up to me) and a strong set of personal ethics,  mindfully attended to on a daily basis, then I am living a richly fed life.  Of course, not everyone thinks they can take time out to reset.  From where I am, I will challenge that.  Everyone can, if they so choose.  I am not lucky because I came here and stayed here.  It was a choice and one that required a clear-headed plan of action.  It was a huge mistake on my part to leave it till I almost cracked wide open and I am very fortunate to have had the healing I so needed in a safe, warm and loving place. But, what I do not understand is why we humanoids cannot see how dangerous it is to keep on keeping on when it is clear a soul is starving to death.  I don’t understand it in myself.  But I do know I won’t let it happen again.

We are taught that, if we ‘show’ any weakness, such as having a nervous breakdown or a collapse into addiction, we are lesser mortals, objects both of disgust and pity – and yet, it is we who let a bad situation get worse.  If we could just unlearn this nonsense and care for our own well-being as brilliantly as we care for others, we could be heroes, every one of us.  Instead, we pretend we are okay whilst neglecting our primary relationships, shouting at other drivers, eating junk foods, crumbling into secret addictions, abandoning friendships, exercise, nature, books and principles.  We lose personal credibility and we don’t even notice it’s gone.  We don’t rest when we are tired.  We become isolated even among crowds.  We lose who we are and then we bring up the blame finger.  We forget that, in this one life, we have one shot at being our best, so we just stagger along without thought, without doing the work we need to do to be that ‘best’.  And yet, we have all the power we need, not over others, but over our own choices and decisions.

I know that when I return to the island, it will take me a while to re-adjust.  I know that things will upset or annoy or trip me up.  Of course they will.  This is life.  But, because I have not wasted my time here, I have learned a new set of lessons, on self-love and compassion, on the extraordinary power of the human brain, on noticing thoughts and emotions, on making due diligent behavioral choices, on trust, on letting go and on gratitude.

I pulled on my jeans this morning, just to see if they still fit, in readiness for the long plane journey.  I am smaller than when I arrived, a discovery that took me on a wee dance around the room.  But, I am bigger too, although you can’t actually see that growth.  It still fits neatly in my skull.

I am amazed that all that learning, all that information, information that can bring about a sea change, is quite invisible.  How I look is nothing, dust, fleeting.  Who I am is extremely powerful.

And that goes for you too.



Island Blog – Good Enough

The moon is upside down.  Back home, it arrives in the sky as a fingernail, the top is the top and the bottom is the bottom.  On this side of the Equator, the rules are different, so that the moon lies lazy on her back, filling up over the days until she is fat and round.  She makes me chuckle each time I look up and see her.  It seems she can relax more as she goes about her business making a big golden hole in the African night, whereas our moon must shiver over the colder climes of home.  The clouds show me ships and dragons and mountains and valleys, pushed by a warm wind and heralding crazy storms, change, threats and promises, and stories from far away told through voices I will never hear.

All this thinks me, as the moon grows fat.  Of circles.  When we are little, we learn some wonderful things at our mummy’s apron strings, and we also learn some less than wonderful things.  As we are consistently praised for doing things well, for achievements ranging from winning a place on the team to putting our pants on the right way around, we are collating important information.  Over time, and as we grow into adulthood, we will hold onto this information, believing it to be factually correct.  The right way to live.  We don’t think much about it, to be honest.  It is how the world works, this striving to achieve, this drive towards perfection.  But ‘perfect’ does not exist.  Not for warm blooded humans, emotionally driven and longing for love.  It does exist, however, and absolutely should if I were to build a bridge over the Firth of Forth, for example.  Anything less than perfection in my work would cause massive destruction.  This is clear to me and just a bit obvious.  However, if an individual judges themselves by this rule, then guess what?

Failure, is what.  Using the guidelines learned in childhood with intelligence and aforethought is a good rule for a life, but only as a starting point. If those guidelines tip us into circular thinking, meaning we don’t stop to notice our thoughts, we are doomed to run out of steam and to hit the buffers.  So many of us need to be perfect and as a result we feed the inner judge, the feelings of regret and the sense of failure.  Just imagine allowing ourselves to be imperfect, to get it wrong, to develop within ourselves a ‘Good Enough’.  This does not mean being sloppy.  I don’t do sloppy, nor ‘can’t be bothered’ but I am, thankfully, acquiring new Good Enough skills and am still getting whatever I need to do, done and done well.  Just not perfect. I take the circle and I break it so that it is I who holds a line, not my parents, not the world.  And this line is one I can make into any shape I choose.

Perfection brings comparison into the mix.  We have an astonishing ability to watch someone else present their huge carrots at a garden fete and to wish we hadn’t brought along our own.  I must be doing something wrong here.  These carrots of mine are definitely not perfect, not beside those ones.  I’m a carrot failure.  Even if we manage to laugh it off, whilst crying inside, we still chew over what we did wrong, our fault, not enough not enough, for days or weeks afterwards.  We may even give up growing carrots at all, speaking out the lie that we’ve quite gone off carrots anyway.

I am reading a book I want to recommend.  I want to recommend all the goodly guide books consumed beneath the African skies, but it would take too long.  Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown is a winner for me.  I had no idea that I was so controlled by a need for perfection, so armor plated before the world with its judging eyes.  I learned, like we all did, that to succeed, to win the prize, brought me a tsunami of parental love that seemed to disappear completely with a bad report, or when a tale teller told that I was in the pub drinking Babycham, at 16 with, god help us, a MAN.  I want to be a perfect wife, mother, friend and carer.  I fail all the time on all counts and beat myself into a bloody mess.  It takes days to recover and by recover I mean by pushing the regret, self blame and shame into a shadowy corner of my mind in the hope that they will rot away to nothing.  They never do.  The next time I am imperfect, they awaken and scoot onto centre stage pointing their fingers at me and, worst of all, laughing in derision.  Ha…’ve done it again, you failure.  You’ll never get this right.  We warned you…….

So, flying home a week today, I return imperfectly, although I sincerely hope there is no such imperfection in the construct of the airplane that will fly me past the moon, the cloud dragons, the ships and stories, across time, the Equator and on down into the snow and ice.  Back home to where nothing has changed.  But I have, thanks to my guide books, those encouraging and challenging friends who have shown me I am absolutely, unequivocally…..

Good Enough.

Island Blog – Daily Practice

Yesterday we walked around the high fence that keeps the Eaters away from the Edibles, aka, us.  When I arrived I was fearful of every step, especially when we saw the fence pulled up just high enough for an Eater to sneak inside.  But, yesterday, walking beside my big African son, I enjoyed it.  I had learned something over time, something I then had to take action over – that the Eaters are nocturnal and this is hot sunny daylight and I want to walk.

When I learn something new, about a place, about imagined danger, about a way forward, I have to take action.  I can, no longer, shiver on the spot, because I have new information.  Doing nothing with that new information is like stuffing a book back on the high library shelf and leaving it to gather dust. However, taking action is brave talk.  For starters, I have no idea what to do with this information.  I could discuss it with another, sounding hugely intelligent as I weave clever sentences together to form a thing that astoundeth, but that is just my way of avoiding doing anything myself.  It seems to me that a new understanding should stay quietly within as it incubates.  As days pass, hours and minutes, this incubation period will develop beyond itself showing me a way forward.  Birthing is inevitable, with or without my attention.  Just think on a baby borning.  It would be quite a feat to ignore this particular result, and just a little ungrateful, not to mention noisy.

So, ok, I have this new information.  I looked for it, let’s be clear, but now I have it, I would quite like to unlearn it.  Trouble is, that isn’t an option, not for any peace of mind to be forthcoming, for it will haunt me, now that I know the damn thing.  It might be new information but it most definitely relates to something I have let slip for too long.  I was fine with said slippage for maybe years, and I still have no idea where or how to initiate change.  A good part of me doesn’t want to anyway.  Life was bumbling along, wasn’t it, before I found this new understanding? Well, no, it clearly wasn’t or I would be merrily bouncing along like Tigger by now, instead of wandering lost through the wasteland of my soul.  In fact, all that angst and self-flagellation rises precisely because I am not living the way I really want to live.  I don’t mean location, or circumstance, but right inside me.

So who the hell is me?  Does anybody know?  If so, please tell me so I can follow your instructions from now on.  You will say I am all kinds of wonderful even if you observe me behaving in destructive ways, because that’s what we nice folk do for each other, thus letting me off my hook.  That avenue, although a very reassuring and flower-lined one, is claptrap, in a word.  In order for me to ‘get’ me and to make goodly changes, I am alone in my wasteland. And there are Eaters pushing up my fences.

Committing is a scary word.  It makes me accountable.  However, I have found that it is easy, and foolish, to decide on a 20 mile hike every morning at ten should I commit to a new fitness regime .  I would start on Monday, all gung ho and lycra-ed up, adrenaline pumping and with half a grapefruit in my jelly belly.  By Wednesday I would be sore and wheezing and by Friday disappointed in myself.  Instead of planning it out with due consideration for my previous unfitness I thought I could get from A to Z without the other letters bothering me. So, now I’m even more of a failure.  Might as well give up and sigh and pretend everything is fine by spending hard earned cash on bigger trousers.  No-one will mind after all.

But I will.

It might be facing down an addiction.  It might be squaring up to someone.  It might be a whole load of other things, but, whatever it is that ‘bothers’, the way forward is daily practice, carefully considered and in tiny increments.  And changing takes time.  However, the great news is this.  Once a person begins to head for Z, each letter becomes a helpmeet.  From the A position, it is impossible to see that, and even harder to believe it.  Admiring others who actually go to the shops in their lycra, have smiling faces, good skin, toned muscles, and thinking ‘It’s easy for her’, is both ridiculous and wrong.  She also had to work hard to look and to feel so good.  It’s the same with someone who has given up smoking or alcohol or chocolate for a long time and is finally free of an addiction.  They had to work too, they felt the same fears, they failed and began again perhaps many times over, but they got there in the end.  So can I.  So can you.  Daily practice is just what it says on the tin.  Daily.  Not now and then, not when I remember, not when it’s convenient, but Daily.

Why is that?  Because, my friends, there are always Eaters pushing up our fences, and the biggest of them all is Giving Up.  I have heard of a lion defeated because its intended prey fought back hard enough, and lived to see another day.  It isn’t that we fail to succeed that matters.  It’s that we give up trying.  Sometimes it takes gargantuan effort to keep the faith as hyenas circle, but nobody who got to Z did so on a short internal flight.  It takes daily commitment. Daily practice.

I’m up for it.


Island Blog – Learnings

It’s already hothot here and the time is 06.30.  When the daily heat rises to around 40 degrees we know a storm is coming.  Storms here are like the best firework display ever.  Lightning cuts the sky into bits with striations of yellow fire, as if a Jedi master was out practicing with his light sabre.  The boom of a thunder drum is sudden and deafening and the kittens both dive for cover under something.  When I babysat them one stormy evening, that something was me, or, to be accurate, my dress.  I hunkered down to offer a reassuring cuddle, whence the smallest kitten dived under my dress and refused to come out.  It was excellent work for my calf and thigh muscles, balanced as I was in a crouch, and for some long I-can-do-this minutes.  The other one disappeared under the bed clothes.

It made me consider vulnerability.  I like that word, and what it means, now that I understand it as a goodly thing.  In accepted teaching we have a different take on the word, the condition.  We don’t like to look nor to appear vulnerable, and, yet, it is our very key to freedom.  It is the antithesis to weakness.  In order to manage whatever our lives demand of us, we work overly hard at not looking or sounding vulnerable.  We must appear strong and confident in all we do and say.  Our protective outer layer must be strengthened and repaired when it cracks or grows weary and we must never be open enough to show the real truth about us.  This is what we are taught from childhood.  After all, vulnerable people are on a list, aren’t they?  The homeless, the abused, the children, the mentally challenged, the old folks…..surely these are the vulnerables?  Yes, they are, but not in the way I mean.  In order for us, any of us, not on that list at all, to really get how a life could be lived to its very fullest, we need to learn to be vulnerable.

For starters it helps us to look with a greater compassion on the world, on other people.  By opening up our own truth, in letting it show and be heard, we let go of the armor plating and its tight constraints. After all, it is only ever by doing something ourselves, first, that we can look with genuine compassion on another.  A sort of Walk the Walk thing.  We can talk about compassion and the state of the world today till the cows come home, but, unless we actually make personal alterations through research and daily practice, we might as well howl at the moon and expect it to reply.  Secondly it makes a better person of a person.  As someone lets go of the fear-that-protects, the outer appearance, the language of confidence that (often) clearly does not tie up with the inside,then that someone becomes connected with an inner honesty which will turn a man or woman into a veritable giant.  Think, now, of someone, past or present, with whom you feel completely at ease – a person who you trust, aspire to be like, believe in.  I am betting that person was open and honest, vulnerable, in other words.  He or she didn’t have to look like a media celebrity or be able to move like Jagger on the dance floor.  That person just is.  Or was.

Fear is our ready guide through life, if we welcome it in.  However, we can be forgiven for thinking it is of huge value, for this is what we have learned from pretty much everyone bigger than us.  And, there are times we really need Fear to save us from death or disaster, but we make too much of a friend of it.  The media doesn’t help with its culture of bright lights and false reality, leading most of us into a destruction of comparison and disillusion.  If I don’t look like her or him, sound as good as that, speak with big long confusing words, win this prize, make that much money etc, then I am just boring old me.  Don’t believe any of that.  Bin it now.  It is a socking great fib.  Ordinary lives are what most of the world lives.  The salacious glamour is at best mildly entertaining and at worst a death sentence to those who will never be seen on the screen, never win the lottery, never walk the red carpet.  Like me.  Like you.

So how does learning to be vulnerable help me, clever clogs? It will open you like a flower.  It will turn an ‘ordinary’ life into an extraordinary one.  Not overnight, but eventually, with practice.  Speaking truthfully at a job interview?  Try it.  Making that connection with a ‘lost-in-technology’ child or grandchild just by being bold enough to feel vulnerable?  Try it. Speaking out (vulnerable)to a partner on a tricky subject, without anger (fear of the fallout)?  Try it. Befriending the most undeniably irritating work colleague (nobody likes him/her)?  Try it.

It is easy to be outwardly kind and compassionate to those with whom it is easy to be kind and compassionate.  Anyone can do that.  Nil Points.  Learning to be vulnerable requires no map or demographic.  It asks only that we take off our own armor and that we relocate the one thing in our minds that bothers us.  Something we so badly want to do but through fear have avoided, sometimes for years, a circumstance in which we feel frustrated, impotent, stuck.  Well, nobody is stuck, and this switch to being vulnerable requires no conversation.  It is a private shift, just me, only me, no committee meeting.

Be bold, that’s what I say.  Be vulnerable and find the freedom that comes only when the self-protection, the what-will-they-think-of-me armor is off.  You can feel a bit weird at first, as you would if you went to Tescos in your underpinnings, but so very quickly things change, because you are changing.  And, change is a scary thing.  However, if, like me, you are sick of living through fear and self-protection, then there is only one thing do, and it isn’t to apply for an X Factor audition or to change jobs or move house or to give a bunch of cash to charity.

It begins with you.



Island Blog – Learning to Change

When I first arrived here I was a mess. I hadn’t realized just how much of a mess, but now that I reflect on the changes in me over these past 3 months, I can see clearly. Caring is exhausting. Not physically, because I am not shy of work. In fact I need that work or I would become a fat old lump of a woman. I love to dance through my day, my work, my chores, taking great pleasure in unloading a ton of firewood, outside in the elements, of which there are many on the island. I like to challenge my muscles and to reassure myself that I can still bend and stretch, not as I did when younger, of course not, but still strong in back, belly, legs and arms. I refuse to make old lady noises as I rise from a chair, even if I do find that grunt in my mouth at times.

It is the mental side of caring that takes its toll. We carers pretend to the world that we are fine-thank-you all the time, hiding the truth from everyone, including ourselves. But it doesn’t alter the fact that it is a very real part of our job. In order to manage, we keep going, as cheerfully as we can. We have to. Caring for someone in decline however has many sides to it. To know, every day, that we must present a cheery can-do attitude towards the one we care for is sometimes a big ask. What was, is no more. Two-way, in depth, conversations about the meaning of life will not arise again. There will be no more travel together and the biggest adventures will be a tootle to the local town, loaded up with walkers and wheelchairs and other caring aids. Driving needs to be slow and careful around every bend in order not to upset anyone. Parking is a blue card thing. Timing needs to be intelligently managed. We plan to leave at 10. At 9.30, a 30 minute warning. Again at 9.45 and so on. Any shopping requests must be aided and abetted and everything moves so very slowly. Anything heavy has to be lifted in and lifted back out again when home. There are no more dates or dances or folk over for dinner. These are either impossible or just upsetting and disorientating.

Grieving loss goes on. It’s a going on thing. Parking hopes and dreams doesn’t happen overnight, well, not for me, anyway. However, eventually, these things I may have hoped for, or even planned, do, thankfully, park themselves at the back of my mind. If the primary focus is on caring to the very best of my ability, which it most definitely is, then life is kindly and I thank life for that blessing. However, the not knowing of dementia is the hardest part. Learning to live in the moment, in the day, occupying the whole space of it as if it was all I had, is something I have had to research and then study well. Everything could change in a heartbeat – literally. But I am not dwelling on that, not giving it leg room under my table. Finding, or re-finding, joy can take a while and my ‘while’ has come to me out here, in Africa. I had left it too long to take myself away and into a place of healing. It was my mistake, leaving it too long, because it could have been possible long ago. My problem was me. I thought I had to be there, in charge of the one I care for, smoothing everything flat and safe. I was wrong. He is doing just fine without me there. He has carers a four times a day who know just what he needs. He looks forward to their visits. Our children come often to see him, so why didn’t I let go before? I just don’t know.

Out here I have learned much, read 35 books so far on various aspects of life, nature, mental well-being, love, thankfulness and how to be mindful of everything. 3 months is a long time, and not every carer can take such a break, but I could and did. That time has been well used, not a minute of it wasted and now I find I am stronger than before. I have let go of some unhealthy habits, some unhealthy anxieties, fears and thought processes. I don’t know where they’ve gone, but gone they have. Sleep is peaceful. Inner turmoil may still rise, but it does for all of us, carers and not carers alike. I have learned, again through much research, how to refurnish my mind, to redecorate it, to clean the filthy windows so that I can really see the majesty of life. Someone once said that it isn’t what you see that counts, it’s how you look. Eyes turned inward can be helpful for a mental spring clean but it is out there that lifts me.

Our minds have this annoying tendency to hang on to the negative. I don’t understand why that is, but it just is. It takes study and training to rewire a lazy brain. When I say ‘lazy’ I mean one that believes there is no hope or joy or future beyond whatever gloom I read in the news or hear from others. My brain was lazy when I came out here, defeated, exhausted, hopeless. I cannot imagine that now. I have watched and heard of many carers in my situation who can see no future. I get it. Who can see a future when the present is such an unknown? When I was encouraged to consider a future, I felt angry. It’s ok for you (I said) with your chance to make plans, move house, book dinner/a holiday. In other words, to take time for granted. I have had that all stolen from me. However, that way of thinking allowed to develop can only ever destroy and I have no plans to be destroyed. So, how do I elevate this cave thinking?

Books. Research. Study.

If we want something to change, we first have to change something. And, in the life of a carer, that something is me.

Island Blog – Black and White

It all starts with the daylight, around 5 am.  I can see the sun through the curtains and it beckons me like a warm friend.  I just have to throw back the covers and leap out of bed because, well, because turning over for more sleep would be just rude.  Besides, I am a child in the mornings wherever I am, excited, full of bounce and way too much for most people.  Then there’s  the monkeys, bashing and crashing through the trees and sounding like distant thunder as they traverse the tin roof, careless of latent sleepers.  Babies clutched under maternal bellies, they swing like acrobats from branch to branch, sending down a sudden shower of last night’s rain onto my head as I walk.  I find them, again, around the kitchen, rifling through the bags of rubbish for a bit of old pizza or a crust of bread.  With tiny agile fingers, they pull apart a bin liner, discarding what they don’t want and fighting over what they do.  They don’t mind me, down here, watching them, although they are wary.

Around me graze the antelope, impala, nyala, bush buck, daker, also wary.  I sit quite still so as not to frighten them off as they browse the new shoots on the acacia, now plump with juicy foliage after all the rain.  I check around my feet for snakes.  All clear.  The groundsmen arrive for work and I greet them.  When I ask them how they are, they always say ‘I’m good, and you?’  There’s only answer to that.  If they are always ‘good’, arriving for another day’s work beneath a merciless sun, then so am I, on holiday with no agenda at all.  Some of the guides are up and a few volunteers straggle in for toast and coffee, each with a plan for the hours ahead, be it research, photography or to go out into the local community to work with the farmers or the school children.  I get to know their names, the volunteers who come for varying lengths of time and ask them about their lives back home.  Some are very young, some older and all have stories to tell and reasons for coming here.  Thrown together under one roof with a common cause makes friends of strangers pretty quickquick.

I work on my tapestries – fantasy landscapes with spectacular wools.  I weave a painting, with no initial plan, no idea how it will turn out and only knowing it’s done once I reach the top.  I might work on my current one for a whole morning, if the mood takes me, and when I feel myself stiffening up, I wander out to watch the multicolour of birds or the Skink (lizard) – I have named Cullen.  Cullen lives in the tree beside my little house and has become quite friendly.  Once, he ran over my foot as I sat in my doorway absorbing some sun.  He’s quite beautiful, with a light stripe down his back and shiny eyes.  However, there are more beautiful lizards than he, big tree iguanas, some speckled to blend with the tree bark and others with bright turquoise heads that don’t blend at all but, instead, catch the eye like a rainbow.

Last night I heard the lions roar.  I am getting the hang of the night sounds now and when I hear one, in the pitch of the night, I just have to go to the window.  It’s foolish, I know.  There is hardly going to be a leopard, or lion or hyena right there on the grass just waiting to say hi, but I still have to look.  Just nearby is a big five reserve and that is where they will be and where I will absolutely not be.  The high fence boundaries this plainsgame reserve (nothing that bites) and I can hear, but only imagine, what goes on as the night raiders waken hungry.   It’s quite a shivery thing, hearing the whoop of a hyena or the slow lazy lion call or the sawing grunt of a leopard.  Yesterday we found hyena scat inside the fence which did unnerve me somewhat, plus a bit of fence pushed up.  There were fragments of hair on the wire – leopard and hyena.  So, nobody walks out in the dark for obvious reasons.  We wake with the sun and when the sun sets, we might sit out awhile but we don’t walk into the dark cover of the bush, and we are always vigilantly torched up, watching for a flash of eyes caught in the beam.

Life on the island might feel a bit tame for a while.  I remember last time I came home and walked along the track and into the woods, and feeling momentarily unsure about sitting on a cluster of rocks.  I wouldn’t do that here.  It made me laugh at myself, but I still felt the hairs on my neck rise and a shiver go through me, even though it was chilly and wet and Scotland.  When I first arrived this time, in early November, I was scared of everything, including the monkeys.  That sounds ridiculous now.  It thinks me of that old saying, ‘A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.’ to be honest, I never really understood it, but I do now.  Fear is a good thing if there is a real reason for it such as meeting danger on a path, but imagined fear is not healthy at all.  Research on that imagined fear is vital.  Once I know how to navigate my way around or through said imagined fear, the fear just melts away.  Sitting for the first time at the wheel of a car is terrifying.  What if I crash/turn over/hit someone/can’t stop? Imagined fear.  As I learn how to drive well, this fear goes away because through practice and study I grow more confident, although I am still cautious and vigilant for the rest of my driving days.

There is much written on overcoming fear and some of it is very helpful, although the tactics employed by ‘professionals’ can seem rather drastic to my way of thinking.  If I am scared of something, to the point of real terror, I know I need to do my homework, in order to understand just how the object of my fear really ticks.  Often I need to make myself do whatever I am scared of doing.  When I was sick, way back, I found it almost impossible to go down to the village shop.  I would panic, find breathing difficult, my legs turned to stone.  If I had to go to the mainland or into a crowd (anything over 3 people!) I was a mess.  Even now I might balk at putting myself out there, choosing instead to stay home and eat pasta and pesto, again, but I do know that fears multiply if not acknowledged and addressed.  I don’t beat myself up anymore.  I’m super kind to me.  I comfort, encourage gently and says things like “You are wonderful.  You can do this.  It’s ok.”  And before I know what’s happening I am out there, and the terrors have gone to bother someone else.

I think we all have imaginary fears, and some of them can be very real.  Paralyzing.  Stultifying.  Crippling. We walk between the dark and the light and it was always thus.  We cannot have only light.  We need the dark.  As long as it doesn’t turn us black inside.

Knowledge, Self-Love, and Good Books.   My answers to everything.

Island Blog -The Wild Things

I like to wander through the canyons of my mind, where all the wild things are, just waiting.  They’ll welcome me back, I just know it, and we will re-friend, share memories, laugh, dance and sing enough together for me to garner the wildflowers in me and to plant them again.  This time I won’t let them die for lack of nourishment.  This time I shall call on all the gifts of Mother Nature, that life-giving water, that sunshine, those busy little insects, that space.  Sure, the weeds will grow, but they flower too and I’m not scared of weeds.

At the gate stands Genius Locus, the protective spirit of the place.  I must show her my credentials in order to gain access, for, too long, have I cluttered my mind with worldly tripe and noise and other unimportant things.  I had forgotten me and me doesn’t find that one bit amusing – in fact me is in a right strop about all this wasted time, and I don’t blame her. Wearing stout boots for this earthly walk is, indeed, sensible, but it is quite another thing to get stuck in the mud over and over again with a mouth full of wailing and a head full of depressing thoughts.  This protector works extremely hard to keep me centred,not just on my worldly walk but in complete balance with my otherness.  I’ve written much about otherness before, the unworldly, otherworldly connection to all that I cannot see, control or manipulate with my limited powers and sticky fingers; that omnipotent energy, available and free to all, so vast, so silent, so timeless and so essential to a life.  It isn’t taught to children at school, nor in the workplace.  I cannot buy it or contain it or gift it to another.  All I can do is tap its vital energy, invite it into my mind, body and soul, and then learn how to care for it as if it was a matter of life or death.  I don’t mean death death, as in, oops I’m off, but death whilst living. I must tend it, talk to it, ask questions, make it my friend, living in humility, without apology and in complete reverence.

I know there is a band of sniggerers who reckon that what we see is all there is.  I cannot imagine being that scared for a lifetime. If their belief is true, then everything would be down to me and my limitations.  Well, blow that for a bag of monkeys.  The yearning inside us is not for more success or a new house/relationship/sofa even if we long to believe that’s the truth.  It might mean we could fix life just like that.  We can’t.  This black hole is in every single one of us and it has a fine purpose could we but accept that.  It feels uncomfortable and randomly sad at times.  It powers up huge anger, desolation and an intense pining for a wider understanding of why we are here at all.

Many of us deny the black hole, or, at the very least, put the restless discomfort of it down to  last night’s Chinese take-away.  We deny it even to ourselves, even when, inside the dark folds of a dark and lonely night, we struggle to breathe as it looms ahead of us like a blood moon, only pitch black and with a huge magnetic pull.  We welcome the dawn like a saviour and then busy ourselves in filling the darkness inside with all the wrong things such as pretty wallpaper or lots of noise and colour.  For a short while this can work, but not for long.  It will have none of us.  Our attempts to avoid our black hole are always futile.  This darkness in all of us will be seen, whether we choose to look, or not.  And, not only seen, but heard, recognized and accepted.  It is, bottom line, essential for our balance, and we all like balance.  What we don’t like is anything dark.  However, those who have traversed Space will tell you that a black hole pulses with a compelling light show.  It is the same inside us.

The Genius Locus lets me in as I knew she would, and I begin to wander, to marvel at the vast expanse of wasteland, the canyons of my past rising into the sky.  I see what I have achieved, what has made me proud, what has made me ashamed, all the lessons I have learned.  This land is rich in minerals and cool clear water flows freely.  What it has lacked are human hands, my hands, to bring it all back to life. When I was a child, I was a dreamer and I am a dreamer still.  I can see, now, how to make this place inside me become a living balancer.  I found my way here through reading books, many books on the meaning of life and other animals.  In absorbing wise words from those who came before, who acknowledged their own black hole and who walked right into it, I have found the right trust to walk into my own.  In there lie all the answers, all the mistakes made, the regrets, the crimes.  All the things I wish I’d never said or done and all the wonderful things I had a part in, or initiated that changed another’s life for the better.

As I move deeper in, the wild things begin to appear.  One, then another, then another until they play around me like happy children, their sing-song voices lifting into the soft air.  They know I need to go back, as do I, in order to get on with whatever comes next, and whatever always does come.  But this re-connection with my wildness will both balance and strengthen me in ways the world can never do.  I need the world but not just the world.  I need my otherness too.

We all do.

Island Blog – The Point

All of us seek meaning for our lives.  We’ve done it, as a species, for all of time.  We wonder ‘what’s the point of my life’ as we madly scrabble for something, or someone, to be that point.  Of course, as events, circumstances and people join us on our daily walk, or abandon us in the middle of nowhere, the point changes, shifts, fades or brightens.  This is Life, for nothing and no-one is forever.

Those, like me, who dedicate huge swathes of time in research on the meaning of life through words long written down by men and women so much wiser than I will ever be, people who ‘think too much’, (as was always written in my school reports) have found the answer.  Well, the answer might be too small a word for it because it is a vast thing and not a thing at all.

Involved and committed as we are to whatever culture or span of time within which we live and move and have our being, we can make the fatal error of being pointless.  Eyes down and legs running ever faster towards achievement, material wealth or one-upmanship will always leave us standing naked at the edge of the great River Styx wondering what just happened.  My life happened, that’s what, and bother, I missed it.  It happened without me, without my mindful awareness.  Oh, I launched a few lovely children, built an empire, discovered a new wonder drug; I’ve been a good friend and neighbour, kept a tidy garden, limited the amount of TV I watch (thus disallowing a deconstruct of my core values and beliefs… that a double negative?)  been kind to my family and other animals, kept cheerful regardless, welcomed strangers or change and so on tiddley pom, but what was the point of my little life that felt so big as I lived it?

I am.  I am the point.  So, why didn’t I get that as I leaped onto the daily hamster wheel?  Cultures teach us to be self-less, and I applaud that, but not to the exclusion of self.  The effort, time, thought and care we put into others is laudable.  It’s what our parents and teachers tell us to do, after all, but, if we deny ourselves the same set of goodly things, we are just hamsters, not humans.

The locus of our power lies not in work, or working harder, or running faster, learning new forms of human manipulation for increased financial gain, but in the silent contemplation of a single soul beside a gently flowing stream.  In other words leisure time, as priority, food for the imagination, a re-friending of the vast reaches of the natural world.  And not just for an hour or two, now and then, but, indeed, for a considerable amount of time.  Looking for meaning in the material world will never be enough, for we are so much more than the things we gather around us.

If we had this primary rule in place, the sickness queue wouldn’t be a queue at all.  Suicide, abuse, murder, addiction, broken relationships, all that pain could never take over as it so clearly has done, were we to study the art of self love.  Jesus, Buddha, Allah all knew it and tried to get the hamsters to look up and out beyond what we see and to really connect with the whole point of our lives.  They must be exasperated as they watch us all hurtle towards the dark.

However, it only takes a few to start a revolution and this one needs no weapons, nor military tactics.  It just needs more questing, reflective souls, readers who mindfully read to learn, to consider and to understand how simple life can be, how fulfilling, how healthy in body and mind.  In solitary study, in a gentle place, taking time just to stand under the stars, to lean against an old tree, to watch children at play or to walk into a sunset, we turn the world off.  Or, at least, its volume down.  We say yes to self and in valuing that self we find love.  Only then are we in a position to share that love.

That’s it?

Yep, that’s IT.