Island Blog – Disparity, Contradiction and a Heart

How strange it is to be the meeting point for two opposing thoughts. My head feels like a boardroom just before two factions arrive to wrestle a great big problem into acceptability. One side thinks A and the other, B. How will this ever resolve, wonders the mediator? How could it when both sides are absolutely certain they have the answer? A contra-diction in the making.

And so it is when a fear walks in first, into my mind. Go away! I shout threateningly, pointlessly. It doesn’t move a muscle, this fear, just stands there, shoulders squared, feet planted and growing bigger. It’s irrational of course. My fears always are. They aren’t ever real, but imagined and yet they burn holes. They really hurt. But I used to think I knew enough not to ask them questions like ‘Oh do tell me how you plan to pan out?’ because, if I did that, they might be only too ready to paint me a vivid picture of destruction and disaster, all so very believable, all so very terrifying. This was my old thinking.

This time I just indicate their allotted seat and pour them a glass of water. I do this because I know that they will not be shoo-ed away. I cannot forbid them entry. They are, in that moment, too strong, too righteous. Ignoring them doesn’t work either. It doesn’t disappear them. I have learned this over longtime.

When the other faction appears through the doorway, we sit down together. The difficulty in finding any sort of resolution lies in the fact that this meet is between the feeling of fear, and logic. In other words, neither side comes with the same level of bargaining power as the other. Let us say that the fear is of possible sickness, possible disaster, possible loss and that those on the side of logic just cannot get it. Why on this goodly earth would you allow to apocalypse something that hasn’t even happened and probably never will? It is tempting to go with that sensible, logical kind of thinking, but in the end a mistake. The thing about an illogical fear is that, when it is dismissed or suppressed in one guise, it will just evolve into another one, to return another time. It is like Covid, silently attacking at random, no rule of thumb, no logic.

What I do is this. I welcome both sides to the meeting. Hallo, I say. I see you. Let’s talk this through. I am the mediator after all. My varying fears are not silly. They are very real. Look at them, sitting smug on one side of this table, watching me. I decide to let them start. Even though it scares me, knowing how they can spin their spin. I take a deep breath. Courage mon brave! Describe yourselves, I say, and wait. They do. I follow them, watch them grow and develop themselves into monumental cataclysms.

We all do. The logic faction snorts derisively, but doesn’t interrupt. It’s not their turn yet. When it is, they deconstruct each possible cataclysmic development, turning it to dust. I feel rather sorry for my fears now. They just got annihilated by clever talk straight out of a textbook, and, yet, they are still here, albeit now looking a bit sheepish. They did embellish things somewhat, t’is true, and they probably wish they hadn’t gone as far as they did; the end of the world, death, destruction, mass murder, tsunamis etc etc. But when I consider each deliverance coolly, I can see a use for both factions. I can appreciate the need for fears as warnings, just as I can appreciate the need for logic. I can see that feelings are just feelings, and that thoughts are just thoughts. As I look around the table I notice they are all just children, the result of childhoods good and childhoods bad. We are not really opposing factions at all, but just vulnerable kids trapped in adult bodies. None of us are right and none of us are wrong. We are just different, have learned different ways to survive, different ways to cope, different ways to live.

I thank them all for coming. I employ sensibility and compassion, both coming straight from my heart and not my head. I acknowledge both fears and those on the side of logic. I tell them all they are valued and appreciated, in balance. I suggest they talk to each other without prejudice, open, interested, listening to what the other says instead of listening for an opportunity to contest. I feel the air soften around us and in my head. I tell them I am stepping out of the room for a bit, distancing myself. By the time I return with coffee they are chatting like old friends.

Although I know the fears will rise again, as they do for us all, that meeting of so-called opposing factions teaches me that we humans have enough heart to solve any problems, however overwhelming they might appear at first. The key is to appreciate whatever floats into a mind, to notice it, to say Hallo, sit down, let’s talk. Wishing fears away, or dismissing them with confounding logic, only holds sway for a short time. I know where my fears come from. Self-doubt, lack of self-confidence and from believing all the horror stories in the media. The world is not like that even if the tabloids and news programmes would have us believe it. We make up the world, we people, all of us. And we have big hearts, remember? I have also learned the art of stepping out of my own head, my own room, when fear and logic lock heads. Neither of them will win, this way. The removal of my sticky fingers, my gobby mouth and my imagination is always a good thing.

Let us take control of how we deal with our minds. Let us learn how to take a step back when turmoil hits the boardroom. Just through observation and without any attachment to either argument, we can solve any issues inside our brains.

It isn’t the world that needs fixing. It’s our minds. When they are seeing the good in everyone, the beauty in the life around us, when they decide to be unbiased and open, to step out of the current melodrama within and to think, instead, with our hearts, the world will automatically heal.

Island Blog – Repeat Daily

The way I see things when I am tired, stressed or fed up is never how they really are. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. In certain moods or when pressure feels heavy as a truck on my head, I slip into a weird world, one full of victims with me being the biggest. I am at the mercy of whatever comes my way; my seeing becomes slanted, ditto my hearing and my poor underused brain turns into an untethered disco ball. Instead of being inside this body, I am all over the place, running here and there like a headless hen.

And then the next day comes, the next songbird dawn, the new light, and what happened yesterday seems small and insignificant, solvable in a few simple steps. Why I couldn’t see it that way yesterday beyonds me. Yes, I was tired of repeating things, gently; yes I was upset about the rain getting into my post box; yes I was lonely and wondering when life would begin and yes I was pitching for a fight. I guess the nice lady from the Council, just doing her job, is fortunate I didn’t get to speak to her. I have no idea what she called about, beyond a vague and fluffy explanation (and even that word is too long to describe what I did learn). Are we still shielding? Are we allowed to see anyone and would that be from Now or from July 31st, and are we still getting the food deliveries? I know the answer to the last question having just learned it from a friend, but the rest, himself nodding and saying No and Yes and then No again could mean he has signed us up for a pilot mission to Mars. I guess I will find out eventually, if a space suit arrives by carrier.

My point is that, in my strong and right mind, I can see all the mild irritations and the intense enfuryments as just things colliding with my just thoughts and just feelings. I can step back, breathe, observe and quantify, deconstruct and take appropriate action. When in a compromised state of being, it looks and feels as if I am under attack from a mysterious, invisible band of mercenaries, with me in their sights. Of course, it would be impossible, being an ordinary extraordinary human woman, to sustain such a peaceful equilibrium at all times and in all sets of circumstance. life isn’t like that for any of us. Tsunamis will rise and threaten to destroy; rain will seep into post boxes, mushing paper and packaging, days will feel trudgemonkey and food will go off in the humid heat, just before I go to re-heat it for dinner. Life is not plain sailing and we all know that. But, if I can set up an inner programme of self-encouragement, write down uplifting affirmations to stick on walls, seek conversation with friends and read good guide books – if I eat well, exercise, laugh a lot, show kindness, share love and think more often of others that of myself, I will have prepared myself for anything that might come my way on any given day.

Which is what I am doing this day. One day at a time.

Repeat daily.

Island Blog – Flapping at Clouds

Yesterday was a day of long hours, the end game of a week during which I wasted much energy flapping at the clouds with a tea towel and expecting them to move on, metaphorically speaking. I don’t know why such times come, nor when they will, but I know everyone has days like these. I used to scrabble about for reasons why, most of which required me to beat myself into scars with a bendy switch. I don’t bother now. Now I am well aware that there are forces at large who are invisible, all knowing and with the big picture in mind, unlike me down here inside my little life. I let them play with my mood and my mind and just wait for them to go, which they always do in the end. But oh my, it’s uncomfortable. My body feels like I swallowed a hippo and my brain is a peat bog after heavy rains. I have to make myself do the ordinary tasks and cannot settle to anything creative. I stare out at nothing and wish the hours away. There is no reason for this; nothing has drastically changed; it is, as if, punishment is due for some heinous crime, one I have no recollection committing, or, worse, that I am sick. Long experience of this scoffs that nonsense away. It is just as it is.

I know these discomforts have come to learn me something; that I will, after the air settles back around me like a soft blanket, understand something that wasn’t on my radar before. It’s a shake up, a wake up, a take a look up thingy. Oft times it is easy to keep on going on without noticing the whole. Sometimes ‘noticing’ the whole, through the eyes of my own limited vision, is merely me circling through the same precepts, the same thoughts, opinions and ‘absolute truths’ until the goodly wise decide on action to stop me eating my own tail. I’m glad of it, once the discomfort has passed, because even if it takes me a while to learn the new learning, the new way to do an old thing, or, even, to relegate said old thing to the compost heap and to reach for a new thing, I am curious by nature and well aware that stuckness is death in life. Lack of motion and the refusal to allow new ways to infiltrate my old ways would kill me off inside a month. Maybe that’s just me. I know that some of my ancients were very happy to be stuck in old ways. We is all different and some more different than most. I know this too, but being stuck is not my nature, even if I can become so without any trouble at all. I always have my eyes on a better me. However, I cannot do this alone. How could I? I am the one who folds into little life without a second thought, scrabbling on through the tall grasses with the odd tea-towel flap at clouds, should they irritate me. I need those goodly spirits with vision, the high flyers, the ones who already know me better than I will ever know myself; who understand and who are kindly-meant. I need to lean into the storm in order to feel the vital force of it.

This morning I don’t need my tea-towel. This morning I know they have moved on. I can tell because my belly is not kicking up a storm and my heart is more Beethoven’s Pastorale, less Def Lepard. I also know that something will dawn on me soon enough and I will add that to my very long list of Aha’s, taking whatever I learn into myself so that I can inch a little further forward in this journey of life. I am certain all of us know these times. We are human, after all, grounded and unaware of so very much. Oh, we read the news, know the science, understand the proven truths, but we have no explanation for the Mystery. We can try. We can argue points, choose different names, fix on gods or God or no gods at all, but we cannot fully explain any of it. And there is something wonderful about that.

All I know is this. As I quest through this amazing life, grounded among the tall grasses of this beautiful and broken world, my mind is free to roam and, in being vulnerable, I know I am fully alive.

Island Blog – Wild Heart

“Strong back. Soft Front. Wild Heart” – Brene Brown

Some mornings you just wake up happy. I did this morning, helped into sentience by a big rumble of thunder and the tickle of rain dripping from the thatch outside my bedroom window, splatting on the stoep like the marching feet of tiny soldiers. Rain! Good rain, and at last. The birds lift from the sand floor to snatch at flying termites and other members of the flighted macrosystem; too small to be of interest on a sunshine day. Inside this wet dawning the symbiosis of natural life is centre stage, visible and buzzing with life. Without the rain, the insects wouldn’t fly; without the insects there would be no birds; without the birds no germination of precious seeds; without the seeds, no green shoots for giraffe, zebra, elephant, buck, rhino, both black and white, buffalo, nyala and so many more. Without the herbivores, no predators, no leopard, lion, cheetah, hyena, painted dogs, jackals and I could bore the pants off you with a much longer list. And it all begins with that rumble of thunder, the clouds heavy with precious water, more than ready to off their loads. The Blue Mountains are part-hidden in cloud, their heads lost in in the lowered sky. I can almost hear the parched ground sigh in a delicious relief.

The symbiosis found (when studied and understood) is no different to the one we humans need as we need water for our bodily thirst. But here’s the thing. We have forgot. We think, in our foolish ignorance that we don’t really need each other all that much in order to be a ‘success’ in life. We need our families, of course, and our carefully selected friends but the rest of humanity is just there and sometimes we wish they were not. People come with a load of irritating, nay infuriating, habits that we simply do not want to be around. So we circumnavigate these other humans, judging them cruelly whilst not really knowing them at all. ‘It is hard to hate a person close-up’ (Brene Brown). We can happily snigger together about colour, creed, race, religion and an opposing political view, sticking, instead, to those who think as we do. There’s a comfort in that, but it is unsustainable and ultimately unsatisfying for anyone who is curious enough about a life’s journey and who wants to learn more about the path ahead.

Mid-life crisis for example is simply, in my opinion, boredom at the thought on continuation in the same footwear and on the same path. This is quite natural. Boredom, dissatisfaction at our current way of living, with the same old faces appearing in our doorways day after endless day is a vital part of a human’s life. It comes, this huge discomfiture, as a gift, but few of us see it that way. We may think we need to abandon a relationship, or move house, or change jobs and all of those may indeed be a part of a new change (sorry, oxymoron), but none of those are It. It – is simply that we are bored with what we have done for ages and now is the time to think outside the bodily box, to use our big brains, to research, to study, to be open hearted and curious as a child. I know it isn’t easy because our first thoughts are loaded to with all sorts of unhelpful lies such as the one that tells us we got it all wrong to date; that it is my partner’s fault, or that of my boss, or, and this is always a safe bet, that of my mother or father.

Well all of that is bullshit. However, even knowing that isn’t enough. I must decide not to welcome into my ‘boring’ life, all those critical and lying judges that tell me my life has been a waste of time, that I got it wrong about 30 years ago, that someone else is to blame for these uncomfortable feelings and instead to say Oh Thankyou for the wake up call. I must look into something else, a new direction and what is more (and this is the key) I must invite other people, strangers perhaps and homies, my kids and those existing friends who won’t panic when I tell them I am bored with my life, running back to their own, locking the door and refusing my calls, to talk this through with me. I will be vulnerable. I will put my ego to sleep by bashing it on the head with a mallet and I will look out with curiosity and humour. So what if I have lost my job and with it my sense of superiority before my peers? So what if I lose my looks and now wonder who I am without them? So what if I have absolutely no idea what to do next? I have myself, my huge brain, my body #mostlyworking, my memories, my lived life thus far, my family, my friends (who remain) and now I am going to find more friends because this is inevitable when someone chooses to stop trudging down the road alongside everyone else. There are plenty of other everyone elses. I just haven’t met them yet. I can step out onto a new path and risk. If I leave that ego behind, deflate that self-important chest, shuck off that protective armour and just begin to walk into the great wide open, I will eventually see that all of this is just what I need right now. In trepidation I have made the decision to be vulnerable, to risk and to trust, to be without answers and to allow myself to be cluelessly dependent on the wisdom of a stranger in order to learn new rope tricks. This, the path less travelled, has been walked before I ever stepped onto it. The guides will appear just when I need them. I may not eat sausages on Tuesday or a roast on Sundays, as I may have done from habit for decades, but I will taste the bite of new fruit in a new place and it may just be delicious. Under a big sky, alert and interested, curious and fearful in parts, I may find out who I really am, and those stranger-guides could become new friends for a new life.

I leave you with the wisdom of others:-

” If you can see your path laid out in front of you, step by step, you know it is not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That is why it is your path.” Joseph Campbell

“You are only free when you realise you belong no place. You belong every place and no place at all. The price is high. The reward great.” Maya Angelou

Island Blog 121 Listen to your ears

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When I hear something, I hear it.  I may respond distractedly, or with intense concentration.  I may not quite hear it for a few seconds, when a word or phrase yanks me back into the room, back beside the person who spoke and then I will ask them to say it all again.  In domestic situations, taking into account familial or relational baggage, I may find myself in the blast of a dismissive retort.

You never listen to me!  I’m not going to talk to you until you put down that mobile, laptop, dog,book, whatever!  Then follows a doggy-type following around, an apology (if you’re lucky), a plead to say it again, an ‘I AM listening, honest’…….sort of drama, which, if I am very lucky, ends well, although by this time, having pattered about whimpering and wagging my tail, I am so not interested anymore, even supposing whatever I didn’t listen to, on first delivery, could get me to the ball after all.

I have read much on the difference between hearing and listening, and, to be honest, am none the wiser, confusing the two whenever I deliver said difference in an astonishing phrase of pure wisdom.  Nobody has ever corrected me, confirming my suspicions that nobody else gets the difference either.  But I do know how critical it is to listen to what our children say and really hear it.  Really not hearing it is the root beginning of an immense baggage collection, guaranteed foreign holidays for psychiatrists, counsellors and mediums, and establishing once and for all that 90% of our troubles, self-doubts and hangups stem solely from our mother.

But what about those things I hear without actively listening?  Those words far off, lifted at random from another conversation, over there somewhere, that can float all by themselves into my head to settle on a comfy sofa, feet up, just waiting for the chance to rise into my concious mind.  I can read something in a book, or in the poetry of a hymn in church and, without consciously choosing to remember any of it, I find myself looking at it as I wake in the early morning, hearing it anew, and marvelling at the brilliance of my aging brain.  Because our senses are all linked by millions of little byroads, I might watch the movement of the clouds across a darkling sky and find words in my mouth and I don’t mean ‘Wow, look at THAT!’  It might be a line in a letter (does anyone remember the last letter that came through the post, with a stamp, licked by the writer and handed over by Amy the Post?) or it might be a phrase from the book I’m reading, or something someone said, but I don’t remember the time or the context.  Somehow, it fits in with the clouds and the darkling sky and again I am astonished at the incredible majesty of the human brain, even though we only ever tap into about a third of its potential.  Just think what we could do and who we could be, if we only knew how to build a mental motorway or, even just how we might repair the byroads already in place.  But we don’t, despite all that irritating knowledge that highlights our human lack.  Why do we have this immense brain in the first place?

As we grow older we begin, everso gradually, to lose the byroads we do have.  One by one, they give way to sprawling grasses, weeds and foliage that turns a shortcut into a wilderness.  Ok, we know this.  We might not like it much, losing our glasses ten times a day, forgetting an appointment made some time before, leaving the margarine out of the cake, and so on, but it a fact of life and we may as well find the dance in it.

My old granny, long dead but unforgettable, never lost her dance.  When it could no longer be found in her strong and shapely legs, or her long elegant feet, it was there in her eyes for all to see.  In a shop, at a bus stop, in her own little flat, she brought that dance forward at every encounter with every person from the Red Cross collector, shaking her bucket outside the door, to the doctor or the minister, although she was highly suspicious of the minister, to be honest.  Even in hospital, dying, she lifted her smile to every nurse, every orderly without exception, and she was no goody-goody I can tell you, being overly full of mischief and with a keen eye for the caricature.  It was for herself, she danced, not to be seen to be dancing, for she had little care for such vanities.

Listening to my ears is not really possible.  It makes little sense, suggesting that my ears have ears and, with a few large-eared exceptions, this seems an unlikelyhood.  But when my little grandson said it to me this morning as we walked through a lovely wild place, I realised I had heard what he said twice.  First, effortlessly, in the normal way, and then, again, as if I was hearing myself hearing.  It made me realise, as I considered this new phenomenon, that not only is there wisdom, beyond their understanding, falling from the mouths of babes, but that, if I really think it through, this is the only way to live.  If I do practise listening to my ears, I distance myself from an instant response, one that might cause an injury to another’s heart.  Words spoken in haste, fuelled by baggage, can wound and wound deep.  Words written in anger can live for a lifetime and beyond.  But if I can learn to close my trap (oh hallo mother) and to keep my ears (all of them) open, I not only allow words to settle in the sofas of my mind, gently; not only allow the moment to move beyond my clutches, however much my fingers itch to capture and internalise it, but, in those precious moments of mouth closed, ears open, I can hear, albeit distantly, the grace notes floating across the divide and find that my feet take up the dance.

Island Blog 80 Acorns

Dreams

Let’s say I have a dream.  Not one that requires a fairy and a wand, but  more like I’ve felt a change in the wind and I need to tighten my sail.  Oh, I’ll still arrive at the next shore in the end, but I could make all the difference to the quality of that arriving, if I made a correction or two.

Well that’s fine.  In the bag you might say.  After all, my big and agile brain has come to this conclusion.  I can just sit back now and watch it happen.

Wrong.

As the day begins I am a veritable bounce of good intentions.  I go about my list of tasks in the way I usually go about my list of tasks, but this time my step is lighter and my inner movie is definitely Disney.  I reel in the line of hours, wind them around my spool.  Done.

Ahead of me, I can see the old habit coming closer.  It’s part of the pattern, of course, so it will come closer and closer until it is right in my face and looking at me expectantly.

This is when I begin to tell myself that the whole commitment thing is pointless.  Who’s looking anyway?  Who cares?  I am still dashing along with verve and vigour, sails full, ahead of the game, aren’t I?

But I know different.  So how to make this change, that’s the question, and the answer is, baby steps.  I just need to correct my sail once, just once, and then to feel the shift and tell myself, Well Done!

Then, do it again the next day.

People we admire are always those who overcome themselves.  We all know what it is to be ‘ok’, doing away, not bad, and other such beige states of being.  We also, I think, imagine that those who overcome themselves, and therefore the mountains that block out their sun, are just lucky.

Lucky Schmucky.  No such thing.

You don’t get through to the Olympic team by luck, nor to Wimbledon, nor to the finals of The Voice.

What those ‘lucky’ people chose to do was to tighten their sails every single day and often during it.  They pushed themselves when others sat back in the sun with a pint pondering the meaning of life.  Over long lonely hours, they kept practising over and over and over again until they stepped out into the light with a Da-dah! and we all marvelled at their superhuman-ness, something each one of them would deny with a derisive snort.

I may not want to play at Wimbledon, join the Olympic team or sing on TV, but there will be something in my life I just know I want to change, if only that fairy would appear with her wand and make it happen.  If I do nothing, nobody will know.  But I will.  And when the fat lady sings, will I know that at least I tried?

We found an acorn and planted it in the woods, just pushed it into the soft peaty floor and moved on.

So did the acorn.  Now, it’s shade from the sun and shelter in a rain shower.