Island Blog – From There to Here

Leaving 40 degrees and arriving back to zero in the belly of a couple of planes with the ambient temperature of an airport or two in between requires a person to be vestment canny. Well, I really don’t know what I was thinking as I packed for Africa but it appears I put little thought into my return. Today I am wearing most of my frocks over jeans with a vest at skin depth, a long sleeved tee over the said frocks and a jumper to complete my shapeless bulk. When I step outside, I add to that a puffa jacket and a scarf long enough to wind into a neck brace. A most fetching look.

I noticed, among my fellow passengers, as a foggy Glasgow appeared at the windows, that they had considered a vestment strategy. How had I not? This question has thought me a lot since I returned to zero. All I can guess is that I was in such a flapdoodle as I packed for the sunshine that my brain dealt only with the immediate. Then I realised that dealing with the immediate has become my default, for everything is immediate around dementia care and any unnecessaries are pushed into the shadowland. Although it is delightful, in many ways, to realise how much of life can be unnecessary when necessary, it behoves a girl to remember those things that still await her in the wings of her life. In Africa I went to a spa and had my nails done. This was a first for me as I usually just bite them off or clip them to the quick so as not to scratch anybody by mistake (or intentionally). I have enjoyed watching my French polish flash little white moons into my looking and this little indulgence will not revert to the shadowlands again. Although this indulgence may not be a regular thing, at least I know the pleasure of it. It isn’t just the nails and how they look. It is the time taken for myself, to sit and watch someone else caring for me. This is important, for all of us, not just me. Taking time to spend time with Me is not something many of us talk about without either getting embarrassed at the blank faces around us as we try to explain what we mean, or getting the giggles. Well, it does sound a bit ‘out there’ does it not? I think the key is not to bother explaining it at all to a world completely caught up in logic and the daily dash to Nowhere. Of course, not everyone is doing this dashing thing but most of us are if we are honest.

But the wisdoms keep coming. They go back to Rumi, to Ancient Greece, and further back, and we still don’t listen, because we have not learned how to live this way, the way of emotional intelligence, the way of good health, calm hearts and heads, peaceful sleep, gentle breathing and love of self, not matter what the demands of our lives. I don’t think it’s easy, far from it, but I do know we need to wake up to a different way of being. In a hysterically busy world we are but cogs in a million wheels, or that is how it seems. children, work, families, governments, religions, rules rules and more rules can overwhelm the very best of intentions. We can feel like tumbleweeds in a desert wind.

So how to change that feeling of being out of control of a life? I am no guru with a mouthful of answers but what I have learned in this decade of dementia care with all its associated ‘immediates’ is that I want to come out of this as intact as is possible. Too many of my compadres have fallen sick as a result of intense caring over a long period, wherein any time for self was intermittent and without a plan. Perhaps, like them, I thought it wouldn’t drag on for years but it does. Perhaps, like them, I thought I could wait for me, that I would be there at the other end, just as I was before. I don’t now. Now, I know better. This is a journey and there is no map, no destination I can stick a pin in. And it’s ok. In fact, I would not have learned the valuable lessons I have learned had dementia not come knocking. One of these lessons, the one I most value, is the importance of self love and how it never seemed important before. I don’t believe I am alone in this. With accusations of selfish up-yourself coming from older generations, schoolmarms and all the other ‘For Your Own Good’ ies, it would have cried anarchy and that meant trouble at any age. But I have learned to own the ‘selfish’ accusation and it fits me well. Let them think that, is what I said to myself and myself grinned wide.

There is no rule book for self love either. Only this. Stop and listen, as the world threatens to swallow you whole and the noise of it is deafening and the demands relentless, to what your heart whispers. Hear it and do as it guides you. Just once will do for now, because when it whispers again, you will hear it more clearly. Then go with it a second time, a third, a fourth and on and on until your heart is a match for both the outside world and the inside mind. I admit there is quite a lot of stopping required at first, until you get in step with You, but the rewards are endless. Eventually the outside of you fits the inside no matter what Life brings.

I arrive home tomorrow. Let’s see how clever I am at walking my talk when the old ways and I collide on a familiar doorstep. One thing I do believe in is all that stopping to listen to the inner whisper.

It just has to have made a difference.

Island Blog – Spring into Winter

Tomorrow I leave African Hothot, traversing space and time over 24 hours, to land in what sounds like an icebox. En route I will meet, without meeting, thousands of other travellers going back the way I came or on to lands I may never see for myself. Many, like me, will be confused about what to wear during our journeys, knowing that what lies ahead of us is drastic change. I find change is often like that, but that’s another blog altogether.

I will miss the sound of inexhaustible cicadas and frogs. I will not miss the mosquitos. I will find myself listening for the lite bytes of sound across the bush from maids and gardeners I cannot see, who josh and laugh with each other all day long as they go about their work. I see them delivered and collected, standing together on the bed of a truck, butterfly coloured, their teeth white dazzlers in the sunlight. They look but never wave unless we do first, at which point they leap into action and we feel like famous people. Always friendly, always smiling, always generous, proud of their work, with a strong faith and a strong community, these Africans could teach us all a thing or two about how to be an effective human.

In the local town when buying food or cogs for machines or plastic grommets for piping, some folk recognised me, as I did them. Two months of exposure does that. I will miss the crazy drivers and the dirt tracks in game reserves; a sudden 6 metre giraffe by the roadside or a baboon family under a shade tree, invariably scratching. The jacaranda, coral, frangipane and other wildly coloured up trees will be just brilliant memories as I wing my way into winter. And Spring, back home, will come again. The dead time is Nature’s rest and she needs it as we all do. Unlike many, I love the winter as I love the sunshine warmth. Winter is a time for reflection and reading by the fireside, for bracing walks, long johns and hot buttered toast.

And Christmas is coming……

Island Wife – Hallo Happiness

Today the temperature stands at 36 degrees and feels like 40. I know this because, by this time I have got the hang of 40 and I recognise the colour of it and the weight. Add to that baggy-bellied air a humidity count of twice that and you just know I am melting. The pool, to date a pleasant cooling aid, is hot enough to make tea and the bobbing thingy full of chlorine has a sun-twisted top. As makes perfect sense in the aforesaid scenario, my son has just lit the braai and the smell of the wood shoots up my nose, propelled by a lot of over-excited flames. We will feast on chicken joints, butternut squash brushed with rosemary olive oil, a crushed garlic clove au centre, roasted peppers and maybe a corn or two on the cob. From time to time we all dive inside for the blessed coolth of the aircons which never go silent out here. I cannot imagine what it must be like for the shanty dwellers in the townships and, in remembering them, I know I am very fortunate indeed.

This being fortunate indeed way of being constitutes my library of inner thinks. Despite the truth of getting older or feeling scared about pretty much everything or, perhaps, looking back over my 67 years with a critical eye and with a resident judge to pluck at my vocal chords, I focus on things that make me happy. I know that many of us set orf to India in search of this holy grail but I have never needed to do that, not least because I discovered some 30 years back that although Happiness may well reside in India, she also lives with me, and with you and with everyone else to cares to notice her. Although life at times may deal cruel blows or bore the bejabers out of me or trip me up so I fall and break my spirit, Happiness doesn’t go away. She is there at the end of a whisper. She shows herself in moments with a loved one (Oh……why couldn’t it have been longer…?) or on spotting a bright blue dragonfly on a flower (Oh, NO, I forgot my camera) or even in that moment when a stranger smiles at me (weirdo..) but it is entirely up and down to me to notice and to keep the moment without blemish. I could miss all of her visitations if I allowed the negative responses to her beauty. In short, nothing of her is kept and I have not changed for she has not changed me. I need to control my mind not the other way around. Even if life is tough, even if I am hurting or afraid, full of doubts and delusions, my mind is under my control alone. Will I let it keep Happiness moments from me?

Okay, now back to the library. I cannot sort this dichotomy out by myself. I have always known that the only way to learn and to understand a hidden depth is to pull up someone who has already plunged it. I find these sages in books. Only a fool with an over-active ego thinks she can move on without guidance and I am no fool. I know how noisy and compelling the shouty world is. I know how easy it is to believe that this world is all there is and how much disillusion lies in that belief. I know about getting lost and going hungry for something to change. I know about disappointments and sadness, grief and rage but so does everyone else. This is the human state and when I last looked we are all humans. What makes the eternal student stand out is their decision to control their mind. To practice noticing everything that lifts a heart. To stand in Nature and to watch light move across the hills, or to study (as I did this early morning) a single dung beetle pushing a huge giraffe poo along the sand track. I watched it succeed for a bit and then topple over and get stuck underneath . I saw it push its way out from under, only to see the prize roll back down the incline. I watched it go back and start again. I had no camera to hand. I just watched, holding my breath, willing this brave soldier on. And I was happy.

The practice of Happiness costs nothing. It requires no level of education (in fact, academia can present a big stumbling block) no required apparel or status. It doesn’t mind what colour your skin is, nor how old you are when you decide to whisper Happiness in. The only thing she needs, in order to blossom and flourish, is for a person to decide to notice everything that lifts his heart – the polar opposite to the way the world thinks. Instead of grumbling about someone’s rudeness, look elsewhere in search of beauty. It could lie anywhere so look up, down, ahead, behind you. I promise you will find something that lifts, and, when you do that as a daily practice you will find that when someone is next rude to you, you will see their hurting spirit and be gentle with your thoughts on them, because your core thought control is on Happiness – and not just for you – because once Happiness is a choice, you want it for every living soul.

And then the magic begins. No matter what turns Life takes, if I am in control of my thoughts, every part of me is filled with something I have yet to find a name for. All I do know is that this nameless thing has stopped my acid reflux, calmed my heart, grounded me and shown me the great wide sky. Something has changed because I decided to change and that something is showing me how, in seeking Happiness, I have no need to travel further than my library of books; no qualifications beyond my desire to learn; no appropriate clothing, footwear, status, colour, creed, religion or history.

I only need to be open to new learning and willing to make it my daily practice.

Island Blog – Animals and Persons

Yesterday, as we drove home from Graduation Puppy School (with a rosette, if you don’t mind) we saw a run-over snake on the sand road of the wildlife estate. We had a moment between us. It could have been an accident, or it could have been deliberate. Not many of us are fond of snakes, although I am as long as they don’t appear in the bathroom whilst I am somewhat compromised.

It thinks me of how we busy ourselves protecting animals. So many of us give to animal charities without a second thought. Dancing Bears in cages, abandoned dogs and cats in darkened suburbia, starving and lonely; rhinos under threat from the abhorrent sex aid markets; gorillas for their feet (ashtrays); zebras and leopards for their skins; the heads of all of the above as trophies.

But how often do we think of the protection of people? I am not talking abused children here, nor battered wives or husbands, all of whom elicit our auto-natural sadness, empathy and support and quite right too. But I am talking Ordinariness here. The people who, daily, cross our paths and over whom we might easily run in our daily dash to Nowhere. Ok, it is Somewhere in our perception but not in theirs and that’s my point.

in our ordinary days we cross paths with so many people. Not, I concur, on the island as much as, say, in London, Chicago, Glasgow or Edinburgh, but there will be, guaranteed, on everyman’s journey a crossing of paths. Encounters may irritate, collisions may infuriate but if we can find it in ourselves to respect every other’s journey, we will be giving a gift to our broken world. Just a smile. Just a backing off, an invitation to go first, a stop in our road so that someone else does not feel ‘run over’, will bring a flood of surprising sparkles to a heart. If we could practice this until it becomes our way, inside the work place, on the road, in school, at home, with everyone, no exceptions, we might just set in place a cure for the (thus far) incurable.

The snake is gone. Eaten by something. As happens more often in our peopled world than we might like to admit And we can change that. If we begin with one day, one choice, one decision, one commitment. That is how revolution always begins. One dream…….. and others watching.

Island Blog – Connectivity

As my departure day moves inexorably closer, I think on the ties that bind. Some I can see, like a rope fence or the woollen threads in my jumper, but many I can not. The familial ties of parent and child, husband and wife, friend connecting friend, distance between places, people and things, all quite invisible, but strongly there, nonetheless. Both ties need careful and attentive attention, all ties do. There are threads connecting us to our past, some of which need the snip, some need untangling from the falsitude of memory and some just need untangling for a more intelligently wholesome second look.

On the ground I have complete control over my ties that bind. I can choose the flavour of my message, text, tweet or letter as I can choose my response to those sent to me. There is an awesome and awful power right there in my hands. I can create and I can destroy just by letting my fingertips dance. They say the tongue is the most dangerous part of a human body. What you say can kill or it can cure. But it isn’t just the tongue. The way I think is the true beginning of everything, for if I think all people are intrinsically good, then this thought automatically controls my tongue. It also opens my heart to acceptance, compassion and humility so that my tongue has no desire, nor motivation, to wag unless, that is, it wants to support another’s dignity, in which case, wag on tongue, wag on.

Connectivity requires intelligent attention in all things, from rope fences to woollen jumpers, from familial ties to a worldwide spread of proffered threads. I have often been astonished, when someone I barely know wanders into my head and then astonished again a short while later to receive a message from them or a phone call. At times when I have met a friend or child or family member in my mind, I discover that on the very day I thought of them, they were going through something tough. However, I don’t believe I ‘thought’ of them through my own undeniable genius as a medium. I don’t believe I thought of them at all. In fact I know, without doubt, that it was absolutely nothing to do with me. Some higher source connected us because that is what higher sources do – they see the whole, the eagle eye view, only they fly even higher and can see a whole lot more. This connection opportunity is just that, and it has a name. Love. My task, down here on the ground is simply to let go of my need to control and to open my mind and my heart.

Doing this brings rewards. Not things, not status, not an ego polish but instead that elevating sense of being connected to everyone else. Deep inside we are all damaged to varying degrees and we all need each other to heal. Think of that smile that some stranger sent your way the day you were late and flustered and cut them off at the roundabout. They could have sworn but they didn’t, they smiled and in that short moment everything changed inside. Think of that WhatsApp message that came through on a rainy morning as you battled with your year end accounts, saying “just thinking of you my old friend” and adding a heart. If we pay attention to these times, we open our hearts and minds for more. We are also inspired to give back in the same way. But paying attention is a decision. it doesn’t just ‘come’. We must invite it in and walk with it wherever it may lead. We don’t need to study. We just need to take the time to notice everyone. There is no feasible excuse for not paying attention. ‘I’m too busy’ doesn’t cut it because we are all too busy if we decide to be. Busy is not productive. Productive is productive and Busy is just making noise and loneliness. Busy cuts us off from others and it is Others we need, not Busy. When people ask me if I am busy I say an emphatic NO, because that screen between me and everyone else has done me no service at all in my life beyond cutting me off from my healing source of light.

Keeping connected to family and friends is comparatively easy, although even then we can erect that Busy screen. But the real and proven way we can heal ourselves and the sadness, loneliness and war right across our beautiful world is to pay attention to connectivity; to let those threads flow out from us.

Every moment, busy or not.

Island Blog – Dot Dot or Dash

Last night we had a thunderstorm. Huge flashes of greenish light illuminated the darkness in my room turning the furniture into eerie monsters. The thunder didn’t bother with clapping. It roared like a god in a filthy temper. And the show went on, and on, and on. I could have been at a rock concert. Sleep gave in and curled up without me and I turned to my book for solace, two books actually, one on meditation, the other on Forgetting Self. Each time the lightning flashed I startled, counted, held my breath as the storm rolled around the Blue Mountains then deafened me with an explosion of thunder so as to make me ask myself what would happen if the sky really did fall down. I don’t remember when it grew calm again but by then it was already light and the day was rising into life.

Sipping strong coffee the storm thinks me. Not just the thunder and the lightning but my part in the performance. I was there. I heard it, saw it, thought about it, tossed and turned inside it, sighed at it and read to distract myself whilst it made its attention seeking journey across my night. I watched the way ordinary becomes extraordinary, the eerie furniture in greenish light, noticed how the flash-shadows menaced my thinking, felt the anticipation, acknowledged my insignificance beneath such life/death power. This its what Life does. That’s what I thought. Life lives on and Life is everything, everyone and everywhere. And I am not everything, nor everyone, nor everywhere. I am a small dot in a vast and endless tapestry of colour and form, shape and design, texture and flow. My world is piddling in this everywhere-ness, just a blip, just a dot and yet I can believe, in my arrogance, that my world is of tantamount importance. More important than yours, for instance, with a more considered layout and healthier stuff in my fridge; my Christmas tree is bigger and better decorated; my children more polite; my floors cleaner, my day more organised, my diary up to date and my appliances all charged.

What foolish nonsense is this! Even writing it down I smirk at such thinking and yet such thinking thinks me at times because in creating a warm wrap of ‘smug’ I feel safe in this everywhere and everyone world. Unless I decide to unthink the thinks. To change them.

I have used my time here in the African bush for much unthinking. With my piddling world many thousands of miles away it has been possible to look back, forward and at each moment and it has been a splendid journey. In ordinary life I/we tend to run through the trivia, listing it, dealing with it, sorting out the bits that don’t fit, dashing through the to-do list in order to arrive. Why is that? Is it because we feel we must get through everything in order to win a prize? Where is this prize anyway? I’ve never won it and that’s for sure. All I achieved was over-tiredness and a mouth full of scratchy nips. Did I seek pity from those I scratchy nipped? When I was too busy ‘Sorry, Thingy, I’m too busy to chat just now, got to dash’, to give of my time (so much more precious than yours by the way) and way too behind on the day’s to-do list to listen to your story down the phone line (I’ll call you back……yeah, right!) did I consider you for one single moment? I don’t think so. Although we say, particularly at Christmas, that we will give more time/of ourself to our family, friends, neighbours and strangers, we mostly unthink that once the gloom of January sets in. We get all emotional about change but once a year. Sounds ridiculous to me. How can anyone change but once a year? I’m changing every day, don’t know about you. I believe that life is change and the whole flipping point of being a dot on the tapestry of Life is to make a difference to the whole. Without the dot that is I, the dot that is you, this line would merge with that line. We dots are important, critical in fact, as long as we think beyond our piddlingness and pay attention to our dotting process. We could be a big dot. We might even be a scatter of dots, depending on how wide our loving arms can reach, on what kindnesses we proffer and how often we proffer them. Inconvenient? Absolutely. Interruptus? Of Coursicus. Infuriating? Oh yes. But, the inside feeling that comes from knowing we showed kindness, respect and affection to whoever disturbed our extremely valuable time will leave a glow inside that no outward success can ever bring.

And that is the Prize.

Island Blog – Dinner and Confusion

Sometimes I feel an inner confusion as I study All Things Human, referring back to history, genealogy, culture and just plain Getting on with Life Wherever and Whoever You Are. I am, however, a big fan of holding two (supposedly) opposing ideas at the same time with me as an observer. In short, there are 3 of us in this moment, the two thoughts and moi. It is so easy to side with one or t’other as the observer, mostly because holding two opposing thoughts is like arriving at a traffic light stuck on red. Do I go or wait for someone in a luminous jacket to tell us in the stop zone who can go first?

My current conundrum is all about when to speak out and when to shutup; when saying what I think can make a good difference or when it will serve no purpose whatsoever in terms of anyone moving forward, leaving, instead, a confusion of confusions in everybody’s head. Not to mention anger or hurt. Standing up for someone is a good thing, even if I wish they would do it for themselves, but when is the right time for my voice to be heard on their behalf? In doing this standing up thing I will obviously be knocking another somebody down so that the end result is messy, to say the least. In a relationship there are a gazillion chances to make a right stooshie of things by saying anything at all. I guess there are the same number of chances to make good but knowing which and when is the issue here.

In childhood I learned that to speak out was only acceptable when the eyes of my elders and betters turned in my direction and a question was asked of me. Even then I must needs consider my response, taking in everyone’s feelings and placement in the hierarchy of the moment. In other words, not using my true voice at all. Exploding into baby adulthood, I spent long times in my room asking myself what I wanted, believed in or felt and I often came up with a big fat zero. I had no clue. Then I met my life partner and learned some more about myself, but only through his eyes. The length of my skirt, the visibility of my cleavage, the kohl around my eyes, the way I walked, talked and laughed all were dingled through his idea of a wholesome wife, and delivered back to me as my guidelines for my life. I found it most confusing to be told not to laugh so loud. Over time I forgot how to laugh at all, giggling, instead, like a hyena but quieter and in a different key to the one I felt comfortable with. I could be severely remonstrated with over the way I said something whilst the actual something got lost altogether. Confusing that. Coming away smarting from speaking my mind on some relational subject and feeling like I was back at school and had just cheeked the headmaster was weird indeed.

Standing up for someone else is considerably easier than doing that standing up thing for myself. This wonders me. Yes, learned behaviour is in there like the roots of an old oak tree, but I do look forward to the day I can challenge someone’s jab at me with consideration to self and to them, concomitantly. It is so much easier to go quiet, hugging the hurt and the sense of injustice and then to la-la-la away, only to return bright-faced and in collusion with all involved, as if nothing ever happened. Trouble is, those times don’t leave the building, not never. They rise again over time when a similar situation arises, reminding me of those long tangled roots.

However, there are times to shut up and take the knock, never to challenge it at all, ie when the reason for the perceived insult is a result of their baggage, not my own. In many ways I feel privileged to be able to take it and not to respond at all, unless with a kindness. I like to be kind. Working out when to and when not to, on the other hand, seems to be a lifetime’s study into All Things Human, for me, anyhoo, and I still have no definitive answer to that. Perhaps I never will, and doubly perhaps it doesn’t matter one tiddley jot. When I lie on my final bed and consider my long life stretching out behind me, burgeoning with memories of ups and memories of downs and a million squillion hectares in between, will I have the answer? I doubt it.

The biggest load of questions come from my relationship with my life partner. Well that’s not news to anyone with one. A life partner, I mean. Opposites attract and then that oppositeness becomes opposition shortly after returning from the honeymoon. In the Great Plan for All Things Human, this is, undoubtedly, a major flaw in the blueprint. When people rant on about our education plan, saying that none of the really important things are ever taught to our children, I can agree to a very great extent but the old stumbler is that most of what they really need to learn has no formula whatsoever. A conjoining of two souls for life is the biggest ball of confusion ever. Everyone knows that. So how can it ever be taught or learned? Well, it cannot. It is as slippery as an eel and as hard to hold on to.

Yesterday we played a game. If you could invite any 10 people to dinner for just one night, alive or dead, famous or down the road, fictitious or real, who would you invite?

God, I said for starters. And he’d better arrive first and I bagsy sit next to him because I have a constellation of questions to fire his way, to which I will require clear and understandable answers (no parables please). Another would be Freddie Mercury and a third Billy Connelly. (I only got to three but I’m working on the rest). Between the three of them I just might gain a little more insight into this confusion of a life.

Oh, and none of them are allowed to bunk off early.