Island Blog 158 A Missing Mountain

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Yesterday the top of the mountain was missing.  Cloud cover was low, thick as my mother’s whipped egg whites.  I sat watching it, missing, for quite some time; a whole mug of coffee, to be precise and it thinked me of how my eye is drawn to something that was there, always there, and now, is not.  Sometimes, as I scan the morning, spreading out in fingers of light across the grass and down to the sealoch, I know something has changed but, for a while, I can’t say what.  Perhaps the greylags are grazing, blending perfectly into the willow scrub and the stands of wiry old grass, and, then, one of them moves.  All I am aware of is change.  Walking along the Tapselteerie tracks, my attention is drawn uphill, to where the tall pines wave their arms at the sky, their bodies a shining deep red, wet still from the rain last night.  I look and look but they are all there……ah. no. One is missing a rib.

As I walk on, move on into the day, I consider how easy it would have been for me to miss this change or that.  All I have to be is slave to my to-do list, my plan for the day, the caterwaulings of my mind, the pressures I feel I am under to achieve. My alert button is on mute.  Knowing, deep within that I want to stop and notice missing mountains, I keep going.  The mountain will either return or it won’t, isn’t that right?  What is it to me either way when there is shopping to be shopped for, admin to complete, emails to respond to, rooms to be cleaned, washing to be washed?

Well, I’ll tell you what it is to me.  It is something mysterious, something beyond myself and my piddling little life, and it begs consideration.  When life teeters off balance, which it always does just when I think I have it all levelled up nicely, I need the acceptance of mystery to carry me onwards, because that acceptance brings in new game players, hope and faith.  If my life is all about lists and control then I am set up for a fall.  There are books and essays, wisdoms, poems, short stories, plays, documentaries, novels and memoirs all addressing the bizarre human failing to celebrate the unknown, the unfathomable, the unexplainable.  Even if I know there are geese grazing, or tops of mountains lost in cloud, and I study those subjects in intricate detail so that I beome an expert, something will take them a step further without me, for everything is changing all of the time, with or without our involvement.  And yet, and yet, we fight, daily, to control all of life, not just our own.  We justify and explain as much as we possibly can, and those things we just can’t, we dismiss – even if we agree that there has always been ‘imbalance’ in nature, chaos in nature.  We call it the natural world, and behave around it as if it were completely unnatural to us.

And still we long for it.  There is inside every one of us a deep connection to the wild places, to the mysteries of life, to the impossible, the unbelievable. People sigh with green envy just hearing me speak of the view from my window, the wild all around me, but you don’t need to live in the wild to know that it is all around you.  I believe that, although we fight to be in charge, the desire not to be in control of everything is strong.  Besides, if we are really in control of it all, then what a mess we have made, together, or alone, for nobody is really smug about getting everything right.  You can think you love your children without judgement but they will still feel judged at some point.  You can think you are the perfect boss, until someone hands in their notice because you expect too much. You can think all sorts of things for years and be oh so horribly wrong.

Most of us are taught to find our best way to walk through our own lives, to know our enemy, to keep our house in order, and yet overnight, however strong the walls, however well-kempt, that house can be whipped away from us, metaphorically and literally speaking. We can have money in the bank and lose it all.  We can think we are well and find, in one moment, we are far from that. When we root ourselves in what we can control, can organise into a perfect order, we are looking at the wrong things. I hear people tell me they have no choice about their lives, and I always challenge that, for it is not the truth.  We all have the choice, nobody controls that but our own selves.

My question is what have we done to ensure personal inner strength, in order to cope with disaster?  Have we read good books, watched mountains re-appear, paid attention to what our loved ones don’t say? Have we watched a whole sunset, or just taken a quick look and said ‘Oh Wow’ and gone back to the email telling Mr Whatnot just what we’d like to do with him? I am not saying we should loaf about waiting for mountains to disappear or for suns to set, but I am saying that we don’t give the mystery and wonder of these sights the time they deserve.  What happens when really watching, really engaging with nature working her magic, is that it changes my thinking.  It lifts my thoughts beyond my piddling little lists and into a greater mindfulness. If I spend time each day watching, noticing, stopping the car, walking down a country lane, I will begin to feel differently about the balance of important/not important inside my life.  If I really stop to really watch a pair of cherry-breasted bullfinches in scatterwood, or really listen to the sound of the wind making music in the branches of an old beech tree, or stop to chat with an old man on a bench, then trust me, I will be a much gentler person on my return to my ordinary, explainable, controllable day.

I think we need to pay serious attention, and right now, because  balance, as the hapless world teaches it, is not balance at all.

Island Blog 152 Small Things

Island Blog 152 Small Things

I had to take action.  I’d been listening to their scurryings above my head every night and wondering what they were up to in the loft.  It’s a dark, cobwebby space, long and spooky, silent, waiting, holding boxes of heaven knows what, familial bric-a-brac, books – stuff the children will wander through when we are gone, wondering why on earth we ever kept any of it.

Okay I said to myself, time for mouse traps.  Yeuch I hate them.  I hate mouse poison even more, not that I’ve ever tasted it, of course.  I hate the slow dying of it.  At least traps are quick, unless they’re not.  It’s the ‘not’ bit that keeps me turning over in bed and pretending it’s the wind pushing things over up there.  Well, it could be.  There are loads of holes for it to shoot through. ‘Up there’ is one of our mysteries.  Unlike modern day lofts, ours is 19th century and has hardly changed at all over the years, beyond its contents.  Gaps between slates show me sunlight, and as for lagging, there is a bit here and there, but nothing that quite spans the space between roof trusses or ceiling beams.  There is flooring, but that just hides a possible Mouse City so I’m not fooled by it.  The cobwebs are black and strong.  I’ve been right to one end on my hands and knees in search of something, anything I might recognise, batting away cobwebs quite impervious to batting.  After a fretful and panicky few minutes during which every episode of Nightmare on Elm Street shot through my brain like fire, I re-appeared down the wonky steps in dire need of both a jolly good hoovering and a double brandy.  I could hardly breathe for hours and my dreams were littered with gigantic spiders for nights after.  I actually like spiders very much.  Just not the nightmare ones.

Anyway, back to the mice.

In trepidation and braced for Cobweb Attack, I donned my head torch and pulled out the wonky steps, took a deep breath (my last for a while) and, with my head, pushed up the trap door.  Let’s re-name it.  Loft door.  Yes, that’s less scary.  I pushed up the loft door and let my torch scan the darkness.  What did I expect?  A line of jaunty mice, all waving and saying ‘Gosh, we haven’t seen you since last winter!  How have you been?’  Hmmmm.  Nothing, of course greeted me beyond the long dark spooky silence and all those flaming boxes of nothing I recognise.  I actually did wonder if the stuff wasn’t ours at all, but left behind by one of the Whoevers who lived here before.  I saw a cricket shin pad thingy, well, half of it to be precise, the upper part now a fluffy mish-mash of ‘munched white’.  Spurred on by this sight (himself will be horrified…..no more Wicket Man) I set the traps with peanut butter and nearly lost a few fingers before getting it right.  Sorry…..I whispered into the gloom and let myself down.  All day I hated myself with a strong hate.  How can I be so cruel?  I know it is utterly foolish because mice should stay outside shouldn’t they, and if they don’t, well, it’s their funeral?

It thinked me of small things, generally, in life, because it is the small things that have the power of big failure or of big success.  For example, our daily habits are small things.  We dont really consider them much, are not mindful of them until one of them begins to jar, to feel wrong, to nudge for change.  If we don’t make regular checks on our daily habits, we may find ourselves caught in the cobwebs of our lives, trapped in the dark.  We humans can think that we are who we are and that’s that. We can’t change now.  Well, I will challenge that.  However old we are, we can change and all change begins with the small things, one small thing.

I may feel ludgy and lethargic.  What can I do about that?  Well, I can stay ludgy and lethargic, or I can decide to take a walk for ten minutes and then tomorrow, I can make the same decision until, after a few days, I have created a new synapse in my brain, a new habit, one I don’t even question.  I just do it.  Then, one morning I wake up and I don’t feel ludgy and lethargic any more.  Gosh!  How did that happen?  Well, it didn’t ‘happen’. I happened it.

I caught 12 mice.  I didn’t feel great about any of the process, but I knew I had to deal with the small things before they became a big thing and chewed up all those mysterious boxes in the long, dark, spooky loft.  I went up this morning and found both traps un-pinged.  I’m not saying the job is done, for the small things will, no doubt, be back, but because I have taken action, I have created a new synapse in the loft of my life.  Who knows……perhaps this Spring I will crawl up there in a hard hat, with a sharp knife to open up the past.

Somebody’s past, anyway.

 

 

Island Blog 133 One Hand

 

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Whenever I go somewhere or meet someone, or do something, and then come back to my own solitude, I bring rememberings with me.  We all do, of curse, but not all of us revisit them in order to learn a new thing.  I know this, because I have asked people who continue on the same track regardless of encounters of the third, or any other kind.  I have never worked that way, because I believe that everything changes me.  A glimpse of a smile from a distance, unexpected and easily missed had I been burying in my bag for my mobile, or lippy, or notepad; something a person says, albeit like a grace note that leads quickly back to the dominant chord; a fleeting look, hurriedly corrected so the eyes give nothing away; a chance meeting, a chance to see, to hear, to notice.

The world is moving too fast, everyone says so.  Not the actual world, but we who stomp across it’s surface, plunder it’s depths, take too many liberties.  However, it is the way it is, and bemoaning what is lost is a pointless excercise and one that can have me rolling my eyes and taking my leave.  It has aye been this way, and we were sure to speed up.  We thrive on a challenge, ache to be the first to discover new ways to do old things, so I embrace the change, however much it might trip me up.  After all, did I know how to blog, tweet and facebook a year ago?  I did not, and it is only thanks to the team at Two Roads and Hodder that I have learned anything at all, or discovered the delights and noted the pitfalls involved in this trip to outer space. Had I been curmudgeonly, had I succeeded in returning my laptop to a pile of component parts, as I badly wanted to do, I would still be on the outside, swearing I knew all about it and wanted none of it.  I would have sounded knowledgable whilst I sank in the quicksands of ignorance.

Learning how to notice every little thing, is just a habit.  However, like all habits, it requires attention and mindfulness at the outset, until it becomes something that our subconscious mind, our higher self, takes on board.  I am no expert on any of the many wonderful ways we can control the lunacy of our monkey minds beyond knowing that I have 12 monkeys at least in my head and must, therefore be 12 times more determined to shut them up when their screeching and tree-leaping drowns out all gentle sound, such as that of a baby bird calling from across the loch, the sound of one small voice in a busy street, the sound of pain, of hope, of fear, of longing, the sound of one hand.

Walking with my old Ma down a dusty track in Corfu, not lost but heading that way, we moved slowly and noticed everything.  She has just had both cataracts done so she does a whole lot more noticing that I have noticed her doing before.  The scuttle of a tiny lizard, the tipping sideways of it’s head as it watched us pass by; a new red bloom, just opening, on a wild spread of hibiscus; the twinkle in the eye of the sand-seller with his jet black face, and his armsful of colourful sunglasses; the old dog, only it’s tail visible as it lies cooling off beneath a little bridge; the dragonfly and the black butterfly, the old woman clutching her prayerbook, dust on her long skirts and not one tooth in her head.  At each encounter, we stopped to talk about it, and, when I was quietly alone, later on, I revisited them all.

If, by just stopping albeit for a second or two, I grow my own world, not because I passed these things, these people, these moments by, but because I noticed them mindfully, then this must be a healthy option – more healthy than any breakfast cereal, nutritious diet, super-juice or form of excercise can ever be, although they all have their place in our general well-being.  People live and then they die, and sometimes too quickly and as a complete shock.  We know this, and yet we still live fast, rushing past moments to make contact, to make amends, to make friends, to make things well again.  We can be millionaires and poor as church mice at the same time, and we keep doing it.  The monkeys say it’s ok, don’t listen to that stuff.  They say things matter, that we should speculate, accumulate, call in the locksmith and keep it all safe, learn clever tactics for anger management and stress control, plan for the future and so on, and they are right, to a degree.  But we are out of balance if we think they are gods.

What we need to make time for, not merely hope that time will stretch just for us, are those things, people, moments, that grow our worlds beyond the daily admin.  We must become the change we want to see, not waste time wishing on a star as if we lived in some fairytale. We have it all right where we stand.  All we need to do is shut the monkeys up and listen for the sound of one hand.

 

 

Island Blog 83 Travelling

Most of the time life is predictable to a degree.  Not a huge degree, out of choice, for me, but there is something calming about a routine, until it becomes boring which is quite a different feeling altogether.  A lot of us, I notice, live alongside ‘boring’ doing everything we can to cheer it up into a fizzbangpop now and again, to add colour and texture with a weekend social or a new frock, or, more recklessly, a Wednesday dinner date.  For the rest of the time, we allow the long chain of endless weeks to pull us along in a sort of mindless stupor, our eyes searching the week-day gloom for a glimpse of the weekend- those two short days when we can really be ourselves.

It is hard to be myself in an uncomfortable suit, one that grabs at various bits of me whenever I sit down and overheats and confines me until I fear I might have turned into a lizard.  I must bow and scrape to those I don’t even like, never mind respect enough for any such bowing and scraping.  I must hear things I don’t want to hear, witness unkindnesses about which I feel I can do nothing, and, finally, at the end of this day, I must push my way home for a short rest, if I am lucky, before doing it all over again the next morning.

Now, I know this doesn’t apply to those who love what they do and have made their life into the right shape for them, but I really believe these people number few.   What they have done is to say ‘ How can I make life fit around me?’ and not ‘How can I make myself fit into life?’

Everywhere I go, when I see someone out of kilter with their work, their lives, I will ask them what they want to do.  Many will shrug and say they have no choice, are in too deep now, too committed with a mortgage or debts or schools or whatever, but I will challenge that.  It isn’t always a popular challenge, and I am not in the least bit surprised.  When a person challenged me, at a time when I was trying to squeeze myself into a life two sizes too small, I would flap them away as I would an annoying wasp.  And all because their questions touched me deeply, threw me off balance and into a black hole from which I could see no way out.

How do I go from here, where I don’t want to be, to somewhere else, when I can’t see my way ahead?  I don’t even know what I want to do, how to make my life fit me.  All my clothes are two sizes too small and I have no cash to buy more.  Nor do I want to admit the defeat I will inevitably feel when my friends challenge my crazy idea.  It just isn’t sensible.

How do we define sensible?  Is ‘sensible’ just a word made acceptable by the world we live in now?  A hundred years ago, the way we live now would have been considered completely un-sensible by every living soul.  So, which meaning do we choose to believe?

If I know anything now, I know that if a person lives with stress that leads to unhappiness, they will become unwell.  Learning to manage stress is saying ‘I am not important enough to honour myself and how I want to live.’

It takes courage to make big changes.  The fall-out can range from disapproval to downright rejection, but this blows away in time and is forgotten.  Whenever I find myself doubting on the shores of a new ocean, I remind myself of the time I walked away from work with no income.  I remember the reactions around me.

I also remember the smiles and admiration from the same people when I made myself a new life.

If this is the encouragement you need.  Take it.  It can be your truth too.