Island Blog – Into the Mirror

Last night I dreamed the strangest of dreams. Everything is acceptable, believable, in dreams. The craziest happenings are, well, just normal. I had driven miles to a place in the middle of nowhere, a place of one house at a time and hundreds of miles apart. In between, vast cornfields. Poppies and other wildflowers grew at the edge of one such field, although I never found the responding edge. Chances are it was a three day drive away, so huge was this crop of golden stems. Man food. I considered those who were here before, the wildflowers, the great trees, the wildlife, all working together in a synergy we have never successfully simulated.

I parked at the end of a track but could see the guest house nestled in a halo of man-planted, fast growing shrubbery and whiskery trees. I was extremely tired and considered, for a while, sleeping in my car. But the longing to lie down between crisp cotton sheets overtook such thought and propelled me towards the door and check-in.

My room had no walls. Not one. It seemed quite normal to me. Furniture, a desk, a cupboard with hangers, a chest of drawers and a chair created the illusion of a contained space. There was even a door in a frame, attached to nothing. I lay awake a while staring out at the cornfield, watching it vanish as the dark intensified. Then I slept and deeply.

I awoke to the sound of the door opening. A manservant (I knew him by his dress and his demeanour) came in with a silver coffee pot to fill my cup. I asked him the time and when he told me it was 9 am I was astonished. I never sleep beyond 6. I rose, dressed and headed out for a cornfield walk. A man walked by on stilts and I greeted him, watching him lope through the corn in long easy strides. Two children played with a stuffed giraffe. I heard their laughter before I saw them. This giraffe was a fully grown male, or had been, once and it was lying on its side. The children jumped over his neck, a skipping game of their own devise. The girl, breathless, sank down to wrap her arms around the long neck, her little fingers scratching over the glass eye. I watched them a while. All still perfectly normal.

On my return, I found a woman entirely dressed in pink in a warm motherly sort of way, sitting at a trestle table upon which sat pots and bowls of red jelly and a round mirror on a stand. She tipped jelly from one container to another, studied her work and noted her findings down in a little book. I stopped to greet her, thinking she was my hostess but she assured me she was not. I lingered awhile watching her work. She was lost in it until she suddenly came back to me and smiled, turning the mirror around until I saw me looking back.

It thinks me; not what it all meant because dream divination is not my skill, nor my interest, but more, why the mirror? I know that at the end of every road is a mirror. I read it once, heard it said often. The mirror shows me, me. It also shows what is behind me, the places I have been, my part in a created past, my past, my creation. How I felt, how I feel when catching sight of my reflected self is always a surprise. I look like that? Seriously? From behind these eyes of mine I see ahead. I see you but I don’t see me and when I do, it takes me a few seconds to acknowledge my own face. It brings me back to me and a lot of questions. Am I happy with myself, proud of my achievements? Am I kind and compassionate, strong and vulnerable, humble and yet ready to fight for my beliefs, for others, for justice? Only when I have made answer, settled my initial fright, can I turn back to looking out.

I remember one counsellor (been to hundreds) suggesting mirror work. Back then I could barely look myself in the eye, turning hurriedly from a snap reflection in a shop window. Now I get it. The mirror is vital as a reminder that life is not someone else’s problem, but my own. The walking out, of Me, matters. Not just to others but much more so to myself. All the great and good know this, taught it and still do. All religions hold loving self as a basic truth, a first step, the very heartbeat of life. Until we can look long and steady into that mirror, sorting out all those failings that make us turn away, we will live only half a life. We will snap back into our shame and blame as great pretenders. We will arrive at the final day and wonder what happened.

I want to meet that last mirror with a long hard look, no secrets, no shame. I want to see the miles and miles of my past just as it was and know I did more than okay. And then, to move on.

Island Blog – Loss and Recovery

I had to Google the word that stands in opposition to the word Loss. I know that Lost is versus to Found, but that didn’t help in my search. The word Lost is lighter somehow, to do with small things, like purses and ski poles, but Loss is deep and wide as space.

I hear things that make me feel loss. The more I write it, the weirder it looks. It rhymes with floss, for starters, or joss, and they aren’t called that anymore, or so I am reliably informed. So, I am facing this word and wondering if it is as tall and as wide as a redwood. I think it is. And then some. However, and unfortunately, even a thousand year old redwood is never sure of its standing in our greedy world. If someone wants a house right here, and here has an ancient, wise, redwood in the way of a tailored lawn, then in a few moments, it is dead.

The other things about Loss is that it arrives, uninvited, and settles down on the sofa looking all comfortable and cosy. Loss is about something that feels big. Huge. Massive. It could be children moving away, or a dementia/cancer sentence. Basically loss is life changing, whereas lost just means you pop onto Amazon and buy another.

Ok, so next? Well, next is vital to dealing with loss. Obviously there will be time of sadness and a sense of abandonment by all that we knew like we knew the redwood, its kindly offer of shade and protection, its arms open to house endless canopy dwellers, its wisdom and patience. And we can learn a lot from that. My whole lifetime thus far would create a skimpy ring in its bark. It has seen war and peace, ice and burning, endless nomadic tribes, big changes to the forest floor, tourists, renegades, danger and safety.

If I could see this whatever loss as just a part of the whole, how much peace would I find in that? Just wait, my gut whispers. Just wait. It may take days, or weeks, months or years, decades even, but if I wait, I will let the Next move gently and kindly in. We humans get in such a falafel about everything, costing us health and wealth, relationships and inner peace and yet we keep reacting.

So what would happen if I didn’t react by either foolish flapping or by taking knee-jerk action? I don’t yet have an answer for that, but if my life as was is about to be a very different shape and colour, what experiential wisdom can I bring to bear? None. What if I just trusted that the universe knows me better than I do and will deliver, at the right time, solutions to my sense of loss, if, indeed, over that length of time, it still feels like loss and hasn’t turned into recovery and opportunity?

Which it well may not.

Island Blog – The Overstory

I walked yesterday among the trees in the Fairy wood. I barely glanced up into her leafless arms nor stopped to touch the bark of the tallest Fir, nor paused to consider the tangle of roots thrust into visibility by endless erosive rains; roots as thick as my arm, conifer fingers, gnarled and scarred over hundreds of years by hundreds of human boots, marching boots, tramping across the overstory with little enough thought. I didn’t look, nor see, nor stop to garner soft peace from the whispers of these gentle and protecting giants. I just took my place in the march. I didn’t pause to consider over what I did this marching thing. I just wanted to get back out of the nipping wind and into the warm.

All evening, staring out at the dark, I considered. The understory thinks me. What brilliant planning, synergy and sharing goes on down there, in a deeper darkness that Night could ever bring? In a clutter wood, where new springlings struggle towards that wee patch of sky, of sun to hear the stories carried on the backs of the winds that dash across this rocky island from all points on the compass, how can life go on? Is there a finite of trees within the human boundaries of this wood? And how do they know not to crowd themselves out of sunlight, water, food – to leap across the track to where that fallen beech has created, in its final death cry, a whole rack of gentle space just asking for a friend. And not only space, for in its dying, in its soft slow submissive return to the earth, this giant is preparing magical layers of nourishment for that seedling to grow strong and straight-backed.

Roots will be under my feet even on this track wide enough for a whacking great lorry. Roots don’t bother with our boundaries and it isn’t just that. I think they conjoin, I know they do, merging and melding together for the greater good, the good of the wood, of the family. Unlike us, separation is not their main thing, not a thing at all. Unlike us, they do not judge by species, sex, type, shape or achievement. They care not what colour your leaves might be, nor if those leaves are bigger than their own. Like us, they need each other. Like us they sing better in a choir, a unison of voices rising into the sky sending harmony, melody and rhythm out to warm a listening heart. They know it. We are only learning.

Life is lived in the overstory. Although the underneath matters a great deal, it is easily hidden from the world. I can do this as well as anyone. I can slap on my smile and pretend just like you do. And there is no wrong in that, unless, unless, either of us forget our tap root and that of others with whom we share our life. The good news about tap roots is that, like the trees, they grow in silence, whether we pay them attention or not. As they grow in the silent darkness of our hearts and souls they find other roots. This meeting is not confrontational, nor constrained by fear but a vulnerable reaching, meeting, greeting; a gentle slow winding together of fingers, a melding perhaps, or a share of time before moving on. We can learn from that time of open curiosity, the lack of fear, the acceptance of another life doing its very best to grow and to grow right.

Today, when I walk beneath those same trees I will be witted-up and open. I never tire of the woods and have walked through and around them for almost five decades but sometimes, like yesterday, my overstory is so shouty that I forget where I am and thus I miss the nourishment on offer beneath those ancient wise giants. I miss the startling gasp of star moss on a rotting trunk, the shelf fungi holding on even as its host crumbles away, the rain-betrayed spider webs cast between a spindle of branches, long since empty of life. I miss the patchwork of sky, the squelch of peat under my boots, that sudden realisation of the understory, always working, always growing, in gentle silence. Today I will see it all, hear the voices of the wood and they will bring me calm and a real smile, no pretend.

Island Blog – Springing

A thrush this morning was definitely springing. When the birds shift into a new season, they make it very clear, a twinkle of musical notes tossed into the milk sky as if this is the day for change. The thrush knows not what weather will be sent his way, could be ghastly, could be mild and calm. Not knowing, however, does not hesitate him, not for one split of a second. he lives in the Now, inhabits it proudly, baring his freckled breast without fear of what may come tomorrow. He will be wondering where the girls are, motivated by a powerful instinct that is the envy of trudging humans who gaze at the milk sky and tut, forecasting a terrible something, one that awaits us just around one of those endless corners. We seem unable to live inside the moment.

However, there are many books written on the subject, many well worth the read. Although not many folk would say that their life is easy, living itself is very simple. We complicate. We fret about the past, fingering through it with trembling hands in deep search of all those things we did wrong and the ripples we created in our wrongness. Or, we grow anxious about the future, staring hard into the eyes of endless what-ifs, seeing disaster at every turn. Invariably it is we who cock it up, or that’s what we believe. Everyone else, after all, is sensible and co-ordinated and works from a spreadsheet, unlike us who can lose a whole car in a shopping mall, or who buys something quite unnecessary, and from China, meaning we would have to go for a personal loan in order to return it.

The trouble with living in the past and/or the future is that we never notice where we are right now. In 60 seconds time, this minute will lie in our past, irretrievably, and our memory of it, if we have one, will not be the truth. Memories are not to be believed, not in the shape we give them. It is how we feel that matters. Only that. So how do you feel right now? Are you noticing everything inside this moment, the smell and sound of it, the touch of it? What does it look like when you stop and really look? And, how does it make you feel? There are as many answers to those questions as there are people but only one of them matters. Yours.

Feeling ‘not enough’ is commonplace. We all feel it at times and some of us feel it all of the time. Enough for what? Enough for the moment or enough for the past to look like a Disney movie and the future as a rosy ripe peach. Well, I have news for you. That is exactly how they both look. I know this because I know the lies in Memory’s mouth and the fear-driven gaze into the future. They are both fools and tricksters. Don’t believe either of them. No matter what I did or didn’t do in my past is right where it should be, dead and buried. From experiences I learned to straighten up and fly better. I still knock into hurdles and people and mountains but I fly like I learned new techniques from my ‘mistakes’. As there is no perfect person alive today I reckon I’m doing pretty well. As to the future, well, what on earth is the point in me getting my knickers in a knot about something that isn’t even here yet? If I keep working on my improvement, keep standing inside each moment with all my senses alert, then whatever this future brings (it never arrives by the way. futures never do) I will be ready to take appropriate action whenever I need to.

For now, I work on bringing myself back into the Now every time the tricksters leap into my head, and they can do that a lot. Go away, I say. Don’t bother me. I’m deciding to stand here in the Now, listening to the thrush singing Spring. On collapso days I might wear myself out with all this deciding to stand thing as the hooligan tricksters are more determined than ever, but if I keep practising it becomes more natural to just Be. I might be hurtling at quite a lick on the outside, but on the inside, the only place we can ever make effective changes, I am inside each moment. Some of them slip by, unnoticed, of course they do. We are all busy at something. But I make a point of noticing and stopping to feel this moment whenever I remember. Actually, I don’t even need to stop, physically, because my head can relish the moment even if the rest of me is hurtling. And the feeling of being present is addictive. The more I practise, the more I bash away the tricksters, the stronger I feel. I can do this living life thing! Life isn’t living me. I am living Life.

The thrush gets it. We have to work harder, but we can get it too. Depends on the level of commitment. If life feels like a huge disappointment, try binning the past and the future. Both are fickle friends. One is a lie and the other grown from fear. If success feels like it has passed me by, then I am being controlled by the tricksters, because the truth is that every single one of us can find the success we long for. Try reading Meant For More by Mia Hewitt. I will leave you with a quote from her:-

‘Success is not a game won by those who do the most, but by those who focus on the least.’

Island Blog – Understanding

As I sit at my laptop and write my stuff, my reflections on this life as a woman, I learn a lot myself. Unfolding scenarios unfold to finger their way into my own ordinary thoughts where my mind seeks to develop and research them. I am curious by nature and there are times I wonder how I knew I was thinking about this or that when all I did was to sit down, lift my hands to the keyboard and begin. I feel like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, wondering, a bit fearful but mostly curious.

The things I write about are commonplace, regardless of individual settings and circumstances. How each of us live may be chalk to cheese but the deep inside of a mind, the way we feel is generic. Each of will respond according to our circumstances, our expectations, our dreams, our brokenness, but that is where our individuality steps up to the bar. We are all lost at times and in those times there is always someone around who isn’t and who can lift a failing spirit. Some days I am the one lifting, some days being lifted. I used to think, and have heard others say, that at my age, whatever age that is, I should know this and therefore have no excuse for my faltering. This is a great untruth. Faltering is part of each one of us and it never stops, not till the last breath, for we all live with fear and questions. We expect ourselves to ‘get it’ and from then on to ride like Freedom across vast spans of safe ground. This is a myth. There is no safe ground. But there are others around us, all doing what we do, making a go of life, all doing our very best, learning and curious to find answers to a gazillion questions, the answers to which are like smoke in a hurricane. The sea keeps clawing at the shore. She has done so for centuries and she will never cease as long as she has salty breath. We do the same, reaching out our fingers for the answers to life and it seems we will never stop either. No matter what we teach our children, no matter how deeply we study, there is that answer that consistently evades us.

So, we accept Lukewarm and keep trudging. And despite feeling rather beige in her arms we can rest in the calm she offers. Nobody lives long who cannot rest in Lukewarm at times. No work of art is believable if all the colours are crazy loud. And that’s what we all are. Works of art. Individual, unique, a perfect design and there are no copies made. Therein lies a responsibility and oodles of opportunity. The life we have been given is the only one in which we can fly, the only one that will ever be ours to alter or to change completely. All of us feel trapped at times, laden down by the expectations of others, childhood lessons, circumstances, worldly pressure and just plain exhaustion but not one of us is really trapped at all. We might not be immediately able to alter or change things but we can be curious enough to think about what we can do. It may mean one tiny step, and then another, but that’s how you climb a mountain or traverse a desert. That is how you move away and move toward.

It’s not in the answer that understanding lies, but in the question.

Island Blog – Lukewarm

I have never been good at lukewarm. My life is either skyborne or in the underworld, neither of which are middling. But, the lukewarm of life is where we mostly live, all of us. We have exciting tips at the sky and dreadful plunges into the dark but where we seem to level out is in the middle, in between the rise and the fall. We live lukewarm, neither full of joy, nor lost in despair. We spend money, time and effort maintaining lukewarm. It is our safe place, however dull it may sometimes appear. Routines belong in lukewarm, things like breakfast at 8, school runs, trains or buses to work, how we dress during the week, how we cook sausages on Tuesdays, how we this and how we that.

Sometimes, we can arrive at a weekend in a state of euphoria, imagining that this weekend will be different, that lukewarm will sleep in the corner till Monday and that something wonderful will happen. I have heard so may folk say to me ‘I just want my life to start,’ no matter how old they are. I have said it myself. So what do I think my life should look like? Should it be all sky borne? I doubt that is even possible. The last person I read about who reached for the sun saw his wings melt in the embrace of gravity. We are not fashioned for endless highs; how could we sustain such? And yet we long for exactly that.

The times we fly are the times we fly. End of. And there is always an end to flight. The key, I believe, is to learn to thrill – to thrill at those times of new love, of passion, of seeing the sky close up, of feeling that the full moon is an arm’s length away and of saying this. It is enough. I was there. I saw this, I felt this, I know this. And then (and isn’t there always one of those?) to hug that marvellous unexplainable secret to a beating and faithful human heart and to walk into the lukewarm for another while or two. Or three. It is the same for a dive into the underworld. Nobody wants to go there but those of us who have spent time in Hades will tell out that the light inside us is too bright for that place. Somehow we find our way back (even when our light is so flickery and weak that we can barely see) into……yes….lukewarm, that lukewarm that sent us there in the first place. Or so we thought.

The lies we tell ourselves are a whole university degree. We think we are the product of our parents, our broken lives, our bloody lashings from the whips of Fate. We are not. Changing our thinking is not something that just happens. It requires work, reading from those with experiential learning, questing, like all those questers who have gone before, refusing to believe in inevitability.

I do not plan to live a life thinking that I am the product of inevitable. I know that lukewarm is a passive friend, a stable companion in the craziness of life, like a warm bosomed mother who just may get so in my face about all my wildness that I consider pushing her over a cliff…….and, yet, she is my warmth, my level peg, my comfort, my rock. She, who asks me to cook 3 times a day for decades; she who asks that I keep to the routine, get to the bus on time to work at the same thing until I am rising a tsunami of rage at what seems to be such an ordinary life. She soothes me and I hate her/love her. She is always there. She is waiting when I get home, reminding me to buy cabbage and tissues; she insists that I walk the dog and that I change the sheets over and over and over again.

She is Sanity. She is Lukewarm.

Island Blog – The Things I Learn

Himself is in respite for a week and I have moved like a gentle breeze through my home. There is nothing to stop my flow. No words, no sharp tacks splitting the atoms, no extra cleanery tasks, no need to defend; no need for that smile I keep in many jars by many doors. The show, after all, must go on, but when there is no show to go on about, it is peaceful.

That’s the outside of me. Inside, the tensions still rise like the Alps because it is only a week. Weeks tend to end, I have discovered over time. What last Monday offered will revert to the norm when the next Monday comes around. However, I have not just breezed. I have read my various guide books on various itchy subjects and I have learned things. Although it is without doubt the toughest job I have ever taken on, there are opportunities for development in many areas, most of them me. The outside is unchangeable bar the odd set of buffers to halt the Trouble Train and I do employ said buffers often, even though I would rather they weren’t required at all. I know, and have read through all the badly written pamphlets on How To Live With Dementia. I know they are not written with much consideration for the unpaid carer who is, and I quote, ‘required to move into the world of the loved one.’ Well, I am so not going there. That’s what I said 8 years ago and I’m still saying it. Of course, it is undeniably essential to go some way down the path for little bits of time in order to avoid Armageddon, but I have no intention of turning my back on my world in order to become wholly lost in the eternal mists of another.

This, my decision not to step willingly into chaos, causes its own problems, as you might imagine. Just picture it. There’s himself floating back to his mother and his childhood and there’s me, fully grown, fully adult and standing on the edge just knowing that it is not my time for stepping backwards. The balance of this complexity is down to me to maintain, deal with on an hourly basis, every single day of every single month and year and so on. And so on. And that is the tricksy bit. When does ‘so on’ stop? They throw up their hands, all of them, they who know it all. Of course they do because they do know it all. There is no timeline.

So, in this learning thingy whatsit, I meander, stomp, run, march, slow and sit with. My legs are strong from it all. In this gentle week of walks without having to explain where I am going, or of sitting reading from my many guide books without any sound effects from anywhere but Nature and the violin music I play endlessly – ‘turn that down!’ (I should have persisted with violin practice) on my sound system, in all rooms of the house so I never miss a single note or that glorious climb and fall of genius phrasing. Thank God for genius phrasing. Music is my safe place, as are my books, my craft, my writing. And there is something rather wonderful about such solitary affairs. I don’t need another to be with me. I am with me and I am enough, however much those comfy words, when turned into a question, pester my brain many times a day.

I know there are many other carers out there. I know nothing of their circumstances, their lonely hours, their inner questioning, doubts and fears. But, somehow, I know it all. Their situation may be so very different but the feelings around caring are my feelings too. I believe it is absolutely fine to feel fury as long as it doesn’t manifest in an act of violence, even though I know how hard it is at times to resist just that. I also know that those in the work of care are very reticent when asked questions. Everyone wants to be considered a ‘nice’ person, no matter what they face back home. In there, also is the need to protect another’s dignity, the commitment made to the one being cared for (sometimes far too long ago), the need to keep face before children, friends, neighbours, communities.

What I would love to do is to write the definitive “best seller’ (such nonsense). There is only one Best, not three million of them. Just saying. What I mean is that book of encouragement and experiential learning that just might lift some poor soul from the lonely pit; a tale that would tell of how this uninvited guest brought with him a welter of opportunities for someone who lived like Iggle Piggle bobbing across the waves with his sleepy blanket; opportunities for altered thinking, internal reassessment, the vulnerability to seek out guide books and guide people. But first it slams up in the form of a massive wild sea overcoming, such that requires even Iggle Piggle to Wake Up.

Maybe I will, one day.