Island Blog – Snow Angels

This very day I set sail, winds permitting, for the mainland. Destination the French Alps. I travel with family, kiddies and adults and am away for a week. In theory I will don ski boots and give the slopes a chance to delight and excite me, but my last efforts at maintaining the vertical in such conditions warn me that I may not continue with my lessons. Back in the day when I was a tricky teenager I really hated ski lessons. In fact, I only had one and that was enough. I am a walker by nature, taking my time, gathering no speed and certainly not at the mercy of those long Turkish slippers. In walking, I control myself.

It thinks me. Although I am not interested in gathering unnecessary speed either grounded or in elevated position, such as on the back of a horse, or inside a car, or, even, on skis, I always like to give something my best shot before saying this is not for me. It is the same with anything I do in life. To say ‘this is not for me’ without experiential knowledge of that to which I say No, is just plain foolish. How can I possibly know from the outside of anything? Of course, there are many things in this life, in any life, to which saying No is just not an option. But there are ways around that too.

Say I am stuck in a job I dislike, that doesn’t float my boat. I may dread stepping into another day of this arduous drudgery, among these people who aren’t of my tribe, who don’t respect and value my work, and yet it seems I have no choice if the bread is to be earned. There are two ways to change how this goes. Either I tell myself that these people do not define me, that I know my work is of value and that I wholly respect myself, leading me to research new work and to give in my notice, or I take a good look at my perception of the situation and work on changing it. I know, from experience that this is entirely possible when giving in notice is a million miles from possible.

Snow is both cold and exciting. If I don’t continue with my lessons there is a vast array of alternative pleasures. I could walk over it, listening to the scrunch of it beneath my feet, look back on my footprints alongside all the others of those who have walked this way before me. I could consider their lives, their size and weight, their choice of boot. I could look up to where the mountains point into the sky, imagine the cold up there, wonder who climbed so high and how it might have changed their view on life. I could see the flowers in Springtime, now sleeping beneath their winter blanket, careless of the weight of human trudge. I could hear the laughter, ride on the chairlift, laugh and play with snowballs, breathe in the ice and feel it freeze my face. I could watch the skiers and marvel at their skill, my heart in my mouth as they hurtle down the breast of this huge majestic mountain. I could even see Hannibal and his elephants and wonder at his courage.

In ordinary times, as the West Coast rain rains and rains without ceasing, it is hard to imagine that in a few hours I will be in a very different landscape. I have my writing pad, my books, my waterproof kit and, most important of all, I have me. How this holiday goes for me is down to me, no matter how many others I may share it with. In order to really ‘see’ it all, I must clear my misperceptions and step out naked, obviously not literally or I may not get home at all, and be as a child, ready for any mystery to open out before me. It is no different at home, just much harder to believe in, but it is the key to life and I have proved it over and over again. The drudge is inside a mind, not out there, as is my definition of myself, my love and respect of self, my childlike sense of mystery ahead. And, although it could be hard to make a snow angel from rain, I will give it my best shot when I get home.

Island Blog – Patching and a Merry Dance

As I complete my task of sewing up a hole in Sheepy, it comes to me. All my days I have worked on repairing the tears other people made in things, in each other. From Sheepies to hearts, from fixtures to fittings, through burned casseroles to burned chances, I have pulled out my needle and thread or my magic wand or the car keys and set out to patch and heal. I felt like an angel at times when it seemed to work and an obstacle in the way when it didn’t. This morning’s epiphany showed me that a lot of my actions were, in fact, self-gratification. Although my intent was to dry sad eyes and to mend broken hearts, I had set myself up as the answer to the problem. In other words, it was really all about me, not them. It saddens me to realise this. My own longing for love manifested itself in my attempts to please others, more, to be the one inside their lives who could patch to perfection. A wiser me would have done it differently. A wiser me would have stood beside them in their desert and listened, comforted, told them they can sort this and asked them how they might see themselves doing just that, whilst assuring them I would stay right beside them at all times.

I am grateful, always, for the way life teaches me important lessons. Not as an opportunity to blame myself but to move forward in my learning, with curiosity and acceptance. The way a new understanding comes into my head whilst repairing a hole in Sheepy chuckles me, even if I do immediately dash back over the decades past with a machete in my hand, ready to take revenge on my earlier ignorant self. Woa! I say. Steady girl. That woman back there had the best intentions and did good, really good, mostly. She didn’t know what you know now, old woman. She didn’t know the lack of unconditional love in her own life would drive her to select herself as guardian protector of pretty much everyone in her care. Give her a break and tell her Thank you for all you did in love.

These are wise words. Seeing something old in a new light, one that illuminates all the faulty wiring simply means I tried my very best under the circumstances. No matter that I was naive or seeking to fill my own black hole with good deeds (which never works by the way). Let the judge in me leave the courtroom. I recall my mum saying a similar thing to me once after she had felt criticised and judged by us. She said, simply, I Did My Best. And so she did.

However, whilst we girls and women of good intention repair until our fingers bleed, we may forget that we too need that care and love. I certainly did. I took the smallest portion, the back seat, the last straw. I taught myself to accept mean graces because all the best ones were doled out to others. I was the one who cleaned out the landcover with a smile, allowing everyone else to run indoors for toast and jam. I was the one who couldn’t sleep if a child was troubled at school. I was the soother, I was the warmth and the safety net. But what was I to me? Not enough and there’s another learning. In my day to think of self for more than five minutes was heresy. Women who shared the same turning of the earth, at the same time as I, knew this too. To be accused of being selfish was devastating.

Now we know different and thank goodness for that. However, it does present us with a problem. If we have loved and patched and healed others for most of our lives, how can we now place ourselves centre stage? The super trooper is too bright and we have forgotten our lines. Do we have opinions or did we just repeat the ones we heard others opine? Do we like pasta, kangaroos, thunderstorms, cats, driving, dancing naked in the rain? Can we quickly make a decision when someone asks Early Grey, Darjeeling, Builders, or coffee? Oh……I’ll have what you’re having. Wrong answer. But we all make it. We have spent so many years obliging that we have mislaid ourselves.

Recently I have been stopping myself from answering like a well trained robot when faced with a question. I pause. this pause can irritate the questioner. It’s a simple question after all but I am tossed on a stormy sea and feeling seasick. In the past I was a I’ll Have What You’re Having sort of woman and she is quick to come forward at such times with her pinny on straight and her bright voice loud in my ears. I push her back. Hold………! What is it I want? I know what I want but I don’t think it will be popular so I can’t let it out. Speaking my truth takes balls and I am terrified of critical judgement, of upsetting the others, the applecart. However, it also feels free-ing.

I suspect it is never too late to learn. I’m curious, too. I might discover what I do like, what I do want and that learning might lead me a very merry dance.

Island Blog – The Great Sadness

I have no other name for it. Nor can I explain it, although I have tried, many times over the decades of my long life. In the search for meaning, for an explanation, we are forgiven our walks up blind alleys. It is only human to want an answer. As a child I felt it. It would suddenly invade my mind when I was most definitely looking the other way. Suddenly, even in a gathering of family or peers, in what seemed to be a happy moment, it would hit me full whack. At a young age I had no way of understanding it. I just thought that it was because Angela had pink flashing socks and mine were ordinary white, albeit with a Daz sparkle. Or that Mary had a hamster.

Later, as a supposedly intelligent and educated young women it still hit me. At a party, for which I had taken about five hours to dress, and surrounded by friends and music and a short term freedom, or walking down the town on a Saturday morning with money to spend on something ridiculous like shiny hot pants or chain-rattling tough girl boots, the Great Sadness would punch me in the gut and stumble me. it would leave me completely alone in a huge crowd, like a girl on a raft mid Pacific. Sometimes someone would spot the change and ask a kindly question, but I soon lost them as I explained what a weirdo I was. I think they were scared they might catch something dodgy. I find the same now, in the evening of my life. The only people who don’t run for the next bus are intuits, counsellors or very close friends. Friend, actually. She gets me, even if she does also consider me a weirdo.

As a child I was considered strange, difficult, obtuse etc. I could be brilliant, and I was, supreming at music, writing and insight, but the latter threw even the most open-hearted guides. I was too young, too confounded by the Sadness and, thus, too much of a threat to my peers who seemed not to ever think beyond hamsters or pink flashing socks. I felt alienated and had no idea why. This huge thing I still cannot explain shows me much. I have now learned to welcome it and to walk beside it, even if it really hurts. I used to hang it on pegs. Must be this thing, this person, this event, this fear. Not now. As I grow a stronger connection to nature and to the wildness around me, I accept the Great Sadness as an integral part of the whole point of things, of life and not just this one but the millions of lives already lived to the end. I consider myself privileged to have been visited by it from childhood, even if it did cause a tapselteerie; even if it did label me a weirdo; even if my friends’ mothers shook their heads and scuttled their daughters away; even if my own mum looked at me as she might look at ET.

There are times when I cannot lift my mental boots out of the mud. It is not that I am depressed. There are days when I imagine flying off a cliff. I do not plan to. I am just the honoured host for the Great Sadness, one that shows me all the pain in the world. I hear the cries, feel, intensely, the agony of struggle and cruelty, feel the joy and the happiness too. It’s like being in balance. I can hold the pain and the joy inside me at the same time without having to explain or justify a thing. Nor does it fear me. It gives me a real good look into the truth. And that is something most of us avoid. We would rather push it away when it hurts, buy something, plan a holiday, phone a friend, turn on the TV. But to sit with it when it comes in is not for the faint hearted. It is uncomfortable at best, and this visitor stays just as long as they like.

I am still a student. for over 60 years I have run from the Great Sadness, but it won’t go away, no matter what I do. I think when a person is very creative, the Great Sadness comes too. I see it in art and writing and music that gasps me. Oh, I think, there it is. It won’t be explained, nor justified, nor hung on a peg. It makes its choice. The key is to let it in, like a visitor you don’t much want, who has arrived at the most inconvenient time, and who has no plans to leave for a while. It will not be rebuked, nor thrown out. I am only sad I didn’t read the Great Sadness manual aged six.

Might have been just a bit further on by now.

Island Blog 155 Should or Must

 

Should Must

 

I read an online paper called Brainpickings.  I recommend it highly.  Someone miles away spends all her time researching and presenting thoughts on pretty much everything.  What I most like is her choice of material and the way she delves deep into the inner workings of her subject, supporting it with other writers’ observations, scientific fact and personal comment.  Her funding for all this work comes solely from voluntary contributions.  She obviously feels she ‘must’ do this for her life to be as fulfilled as she wants it to be.  I doubt there’s a ‘should’ in sight.

How many times a day do we say, or hear another say, ‘Oh I should be doing such and such….’ or I ‘ought to get back and get this job done’?  In our very words we are saying how terribly much we would rather not do those jobs at all.  Any sentence with an ‘ought’ or a ‘should’ inside it needs challenging. It means we are not doing what feels right to us and yet we fail so often to question our own sense of integrity at this point, mindlessly performing tasks like circus animals, for the benefit of others.

I am not saying that we do only that which we want to do.  How riddickerluss would that be?  A great number of us would spend all day in bed, or on a beach, or watching Friends Series 256 from start to finish. No dinners would ever be prepared and the housework would go to pot.  Dogs wouldn’t be walked, nor windows cleaned, nor gardens gardened, if on that particular day we didn’t want to do any of it. Nobody would commute to work and the world of commerce would die on its feet.

I am also not saying that we should swing the full 90 away from ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ because daily work is good, regular ordinary tasks essential to our lives, our businesses, our jobs.  The key is to walk away from the should, just a little and check out the view.  If I didn’t do this thing, this mindless thing that I hate doing, and no longer want to do to please this person or that, what would I do instead?  It wouldn’t be nothing, no, it would be something, so what something feels right to me?  What, in fact Must I do, for my own sense of what is right?  Now that, my dears, is the right question.  Must is when the task ahead, not necessarily an exciting one, becomes exactly the right thing to be done, in order to move on; to reach the goal, the fulfillment, the sense of achievement.  I must do this and so I will.

Simples.

In my experience, inner questioning is essential.  It’s the beginning of Mindfulness.

Did you know that 99% of all the work that leads to winning the Nobel Peace Prize, the Man Booker Prize, the painting that sells for millions, or the grown child who says Thank you Mum for teaching me all the right things in life, is done alone and unnoticed?  The glory world we live in now, the glamour of it, the annorexia of its body and spirit, the fast-track dash to ultimate success, is one of illusions.  Watch less tv, read no newspapers for a month and then see how you feel about life around you.  It is a remarkable fact that what we do/watch/listen to/surround ourselves with, on a daily basis, can turn us from ourselves, can tell us ‘this is what the world says, so it must be true’ and can corrupt our glorious human nature.

I say read more Brainpickings, read more books that lift our spirits, either novels or non-fiction.  Read ‘Feral’, read ‘The Road Less Travelled’, read anything, but read.  We writers have some good things to pass on.

This now from Eleanor Roosevelt, one of my heroines, a woman way ahead of her time, independent, strong, beautiful and wise.”  When you adopt the standards and values of someone else….you surrender your own integrity……(and) become, to the extent of your surrender, less of a human being.”

Following her is Elle Luna from her book The Crossroads of Should and Must.   Read them both, and then walk off into silence and reflect. And then, question every move you make.

“When we choose Should, we’re choosing to live our life for someone or something other than ourselves. The journey to Should can be smooth, the rewards can seem clear, and the options are often plentiful.

Must is different. Must is who we are, what we believe, and what we do when we are alone with our truest, most authentic self. It’s that which calls to us most deeply. It’s our convictions, our passions, our deepest held urges and desires – unavoidable, undeniable, and inexplicable. Unlike Should, Must doesn’t accept compromises.

Must is when we stop conforming to other people’s ideals and start connecting to our own – and this allows us to cultivate our full potential as individuals. To choose Must is to say yes to hard work and constant effort, to say yes to a journey without a road map or guarantees, and in so doing, to say yes to what Joseph Campbell called “the experience of being alive”

‘Must’ be the difference between being alive……

and merely living.