Island Blog – The Luckiness

Oh we are so very busy, so fraught, so flapdoodle about Christmas. I remember being all of the above back in the last century when my five feral kidlings wreaked havoc in as many ways as they knew, and they knew many ways. Their excitement was loud and fraucous, high pitched and very fast. What happens to legs, I ask myself, as I cautiously descend the stairs and never jump anything over 12 inches high, remembering the blur of Child as it tore through a room causing even the wine glasses to fall over in the afterwrath of such a cosmic blast? When I was ‘busy’ and responsible for everything Christmas, the presents, the wrapping, the dressing up of the 20 foot tree with its point pointing to the floor because the ceiling just wouldn’t lift to accommodate, the star hanging down land twinkling like the drip from an ancient and cold nose, my legs were right beneath me and as fast as any cosmic child. I was lucky to have legs at all and so was my family. Had I been legless, the whole lot of them would have effortlessly escaped the rule book; probably burned it along with the logs that were more like tree trunks. At least my fully functioning and agile body could prevent disasters, catch the ferals to spin from room to room averting disasters such as the 20 foot tree falling on the sleeping dogs, cats and pet lambs and who let them in btw? Don’t give me ‘Aw, they’re cold’ or I’ll just cook them.

Now in my pensioner days, I rush not, nor am I busy. That chaotic life is in my past and thank the holy crunch for that. No more must I panic about stocking gifts, other gifts, in-law gifts, writing a zillion cards to a zillion people and the annual freak out about serving up a Griswold turkey; the making sure that the in-laws, who invariably arrived in an argocat with a bumper laundry basket filled with well wrapped gifts settled into chairs aligned just right, candles at the ready, lambs definitely out and who brought that crow in? Atop the tree, well, not actually at the top because we all know where the top is, but in the tree nonetheless and shrieking worse than any child. I had to blow out all candles at that point. The thought of feathers alight gave me indigestion in my imagination and that is not a comfortable feeling. Ah, such a past. So many adventures. Such a lucky woman. My life, our life, would kick the Griswolds into second touch, for certain.

When I write that I am not busy, let me explain. My days are always engaging and active. I stack wood, I walk, I clean, I write, I sing and I dance, but the have to, that pushy crow-shout in my ears is quiet now. I can do what I like when I like. Sometimes I don’t like either of those but I can still perform the tasks and there’s another word I like. Perform. Thinks me of my non-existent stage life. Did I tell you I was offered theatre work and turned it down to marry himself? Well, I did, and I regret it not. In fact, my agility and ability, both physical and mental as a stage performer, storyteller and activist (a good one) has supported my life as wife, mother and now grandmother. Lucky me. When I take a wee wander back through time there is a lot I forget until out of nowhere a memory lifts like a swan from the water and I watch it fly up, up into the vast blue sky and I smile. I was there. I was her, that woman, that wife, that mother, those times are mine to treasure. I also recall the stomps and stamps and slammed doors, one of which fell off its hinges with the force of me. I am proud of that even though, at the time, it was of great inconvenience.

This morning I tootled into the harbour town for fuel and fish. I really don’t know why anyone ever bothers with going off island as everything anyone could ever need for feed is grown right here. As I lifted into the mist, the mist flashed with sunlight, the frost sparkling on the grass and on my little mini, along the empty switchback road, I passed the grave, the new headstone. I stopped the car and watched it for a few moments. There it is. There you are, facing the rising sun and with a view you always loved. T’is right and rightful. T’is your landing place and it will be mine too, one day. There’s a new grave. I knew that man, that quiet, gentle man. He is gone too. I wonder if you and he have encountered each other yet. I like to think so.

The town was quiet. The shops alight, their windows dressed in baubles and gifts and mostly empty; the town lights all a’twinkle, few cars parked and only a few islanders on the street. Not like the old days, in the last century when the pavements would be buckling beneath the feet of those with gift lists, stocking lists, in-law lists; those collecting food and fish and turkeys and chocolates, when ‘on’ and ‘line’ were two words that never went together. Well, now they do and we are lucky to have that option at this time. Now let’s go otherworldly. Beyond our fuss and fret, beyond our rush and our busy, what is the voice of Christmas? Is it love, is it giving, is it peace, is it sharing what we have? When the packaging is burned, the toys broken, the meal devoured, even a Griswold meal, what are we left with, the something that will succour us through the Big Cold Months yet to come?

The moments. The pictures, we remember, the affection and the warmth, the rebirth, even if I raise the busy and the frantic. I remember it and them. They had their place in my remembering and they are so much a part of it all. However, they are just part of the structure of just one day, and just one day can create ripples. We know this. What we need to learn is the wholeness of everything, including Christmas Day. There will be ups and there will be downs, and in that intricacy, there is a landscape. Rest in the whole. Look at the bumps and the awkwards, the imperfections and the exploding turkey and smile. We are who we are and we are just perfect just as we are. Just as we are. Lucky us.

Island Blog – Dark to Light

Sometimes there is dark. Not the outside dark which comes this time of year, but the inside one, the one with more fingers, more legs, more traverse. I know this dark. So do you. It never gets to hold ground anymore, nor the chance to grow roots, although I remember times when it did exactly that, and so, and so, I flap it away, move beyond it, turn my back. But I remember the hold of it. In the winter months there is an awful lot of dark beyond my window. Nights begin early and hang on like there really might be no tomorrow. I light a candle in my warm conservatory to eat a breakfast of half a toasted bagel, half an avocado, squished, and one poached egg. I can’t see any of it but I can see the outline of the plate and thus am able to centre in on the food. Once nourished and almost without a spill, I can do the ironing, light the wood burner, wash the dishes and change the bed, all in well lit rooms. What is it, I wonder, that so intrigues me about the dark? Although there are times when I wait impatiently for morning to wake up, in the main, I am calm with my candle and my invisible breakfast. By now, once the light is lifting the birds and showing me my overgrown garden, I am prepped for the day. I am dressed, my slap is on (although I did apply it pre dawn and therefore might need to check my face before a trip to Dugie’s shop), and my fingers itch for writing.

The darkness within is not my enemy these days. Nonetheless I am cautiously un-smug about that, remembering the winters of discontent and my inability to lift my boots from the suck and pull of an imaginary swamp. It is beyond me now to see how I could have sunk so low, what with all those bright and energetic children hurtling like missiles throughout the walls of Tapselteerie. But I did and others do and there is no quick light-fix for the darkness within. Those who have never experienced such a state can never know how lost a person can become. And it is a slow process, an insidious creeper, as if the damp, cold cave is swallowing me bit by bit. My mind becomes dull, my body slow and shivery. I cannot get warm physically or inside my mind. Nothing anybody can say or do will lift my spirits until gradually I see little point in getting out of bed at all.

On the other side of such a state, I still cannot proffer a solution. So how did I rise from that swamp and when? Was it because I decided not to allow such a state to form and how did I recognise the first signs of its planned invasion of my self? Perhaps, although I do believe there is a lot more to it than that. What I now practice can be written in just a few words. If I feel just a bit down, I look for something, anything to be thankful for. Sometimes I can only come up with one or two things but, and this is critical, I tell myself that two things are better than one is better than none.

Another practice when feeling slow and sluggish is to do just one thing, any one thing, inside such a day. For me it might be, and has been, that I swept the floor. That’s it, that’s all I did, but, again, I congratulate myself on that one achievement. I refuse to listen to the judge in my head, that smug smartarse who is quick to remind me of all the things I haven’t achieved, of all the things I used to achieve, of my lack, of the high standard I have always and heretofore expected of myself. Oh Go Away, I say, out loud. What do you know of me, I mean really? You are just a robotic voice in my head, the critic, the emotionless automaton. Whereas I am blood and bone, living, loving and temporarily lost in the dark. No comparison, just saying.

In my family and in my life I expected much of me because that was my conditioning. No ironing till the afternoon. No television or sitting down in an armchair until the evening. No slacking ever, not never, not even if your body and mind are frazzled and exhausted. Certainly not. Always be available for everyone else and put yourself last, eat the smallest portion, be the first to rise from the table while others remain comfortably seated and engaged in conversation. No washing up until everyone has left the room, or the building and it is an irrelevance to mention that it is way past 11.30pm and my day begins about 3 hours before anyone else’s. If the baby cries, it is my job to uncry it even if I too am dressing for a dinner date. If the children have measles, noisily and all night long, scratchy as baboons and hot and miserable, it is my job to soothe and ease their struggle. And so on.

It helps that it is only me here now, of course it does, but I somehow managed to fend off the judge long ago. I do remember a sudden realisation that the only person who was falling apart was me. The rest bounced like Tigger through the days, through the dark, turning it into a grand opportunity for hiding games and mischief. Understanding that I had, and have, the power to stand against the inner darkness was and is pivotal to healing. With that understanding comes a new energy, an excitement and enough curiosity to seek a new way. I will not let this darkness subsume me ever again. I have no idea how I will achieve this but ‘that’ is not getting me again. I will notice the first signs of tiredness and announce that I am going for a rest. I will iron at dawn if I so choose. I will watch Cinderella at lunchtime if that’s what I want to do and what is more I will watch it from within the comfortable folds of an armchair. If someone pings the doorbell, you go, you make coffee and listen to their inane blether. I am busy. Busy being myself. Busy living just as you all have lived and I will do this living thing without a smidgeon of guilt because guilt is learned and I am awfully busy unlearning it.

Island Blog – Mindful and Busy

Today I was very busy being mindful. The Buddhist in you might be rolling your eyes at that. Busy and mindful don’t tend to go together, after all. Perhaps, if I break the day up into bits and bobs I can divide that sentence up. I was busy. I collect my hoover boyfriend, Henry, for the second day in a row. I can see he’s startled but chuffed too. How come, he asks, as I wheel him into the light of the sitting room? You smell better, I reply. The last time we met, before the day before thing, I had excoriated him. I removed his internal organs and emptied the contents of his stomach into the wheechie bin. ‘Wheechie’ because capricious winds come in the night and tapselteerie my bins all over the place without, it appears to me, a modicum of guilt, no apology and no resurrection. Very poor manners. Anyway, once completed and with a new stomach liner in place, I dropped many drops of spike lavender essential oil into the filter. This is how Henry smells so much better now. We work together, him with his powerful suck and me being busy around corners and underneath things that have an underneath until the downstairs shines like new.

Next I sit to sew more patches for my 16th wonky chops baby playmat. A boy this time. I select my blues and greens, my sea colours, flowers (boys need flowers), dinosaurs and Peter Rabbits, and set to. Listening to Pema Chodron on audio book as she guides me through my own betterment, I work for the rest of the morning. Then I whizz up the left over wild garlic leaves and make a gloriously green garlic butter, one that could knock a bull elephant back at least half a mile. Sausaged up in baking parchment it now sits fragrantly in my fridge, cooling its pants. I don’t mind my fridge smelling of garlic. In fact, I could eat garlic at breakfast and now, thanks to all these lockdowns and those masks, I can, without a single botherment over how my breath might be received. I lug my basket of washing up to the hilly line and fight with the big cotton bedding as it fights me back. I am almost felled by a blue striped double duvet cover as the capricious wheeching wind punches at us just I tippytoe the material over the yellow plastic wire. I win, naturally, although it is hardly a dignified process. I have a word with the wind, of course I do. Make your mind up! I snap. Are you coming from here, or there? One or the other would be respectful. The wind just chuckles, scoots off into the safety of the pines. That’s the busy bit over.

I grab garlic for lunch and a cup of earl grey, fragrant as I imagine a Japanese garden to be, even if the tea doesn’t come from Japan. (or does it?). Then I take myself upstairs to my bed, redressed now in a rather smart off white and settle to read for an hour. I doze and am awoken by the doglet who wants her walk. This is the mindful bit. As I go through my little garden gate, I consciously let go of all my busy thoughts. That lovely sense of space and clarity lasts for about ten paces, as a rule, so I have to keep pausing and clearing (busy?). I suspect I am a babe in the work of mindfulness but I have no plans to quit trying. Birds slide the sky, sparrow hawk, buzzard, sea eagle with their usual followers, hecklers, the go-away-ers, brave birds these finches, tits and other small feathered warriors. They don’t like the big guys. I stop and watch the sky action. Much better than any movie. Walking on I see the horse chestnut has leaved up since yesterday, its open palms lifted, drinking in the sun and buffeted by that flipping wind. Long grasses from last year tipple and shiver, the sun backlighting them corn gold. Lord Larch is in full shout now despite his broken body. He is tall as a giant and the emerald of his needles shock a gasp against the cerulean sky. Lady Larch, who is way more together than he is but being in an old style marriage has never ever bloomed before him, even as she could. Her limbs grace as a dancer, and I want her to turn, to show me the full and glorious swing of her fulsome skirtage. She is magnificent, but am careful to big him up first, the crusty old fellow, because, as I know only too well, if he thinks she is more admired than he, she will get it in the neck once me and the doglet have moved on.

Primroses stud the woodland banks like tiny jewels, violets too and the star moss is really showing off like a daylight constellation. I hear geese erupting somewhere down on the shore, then quietening again. Curlew, oystercatcher, a robin that flits along with me but says not a word. Bumble bees turn a willow tree into a performance. Street musicians. They don’t bother with me as I stand beneath the branches and stare up at their busy bottoms. I close my eyes, let the hum become all I can hear or want to hear. Moving further along the track, now latticed with tree limb shadows, a moving mosaic beneath my feet, I hear the wind rifling through the massive old pines, sounding them like an ocean. In my ears too, this wind creates me an ocean and there I am, on a rocky beach with my spirit animal, my white wolf, my Luna. We sit on a big flat rock and just be. Just be. The waves, like mornings, like seasons, like day and night, keep on coming. A regular percussion, reassuring, calming. To know in all of this impermanence, the impermanence of a human life, there are things that are permanent. For now, anyway.

Heading back home, the track changes. This is a drive-through track and thus topped with grey shards of road stones, unreal, not island. But I am glad of the ground beneath my feet even as I prefer the natural pulse of a ground that knows itself, that knows it is home. I walk beneath two unlikely archways, trees on either side whose branches have reached out to each other. An alder with a larch, a pine with a cedar. I pause beneath both and look up, say hallo and thank you for your beauty and your shade, a gift to me and the panting doglet. The blue is arresting, the sky fixed and looking right back at me. I know it. A plane going somewhere leaves a contrail and I watch the capricious wind pick it apart, dissolve it. The sun is warm on my face and I breathe in its warmth, mindfully. It has been a very long winter.

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.