Island Blog – Watcher

In this clifftop cottage I have panoptic view. The sky fall, the sea-rise, the shapeshifter clouds, the sempiternal changes of light and the communication between them all. I am not a member of their group, merely an electrified and interested observer. I cannot watch enough, hear enough, sense enough. I’m always hungry for more, more change, more manifestations of a slant in the conversation, a break down, a loving reconciliation, from peace to a wild fury. Much like a family I suppose. One misplaced word, one tipped comment, one challenging stand and Boom is an understatement. Not that I know. My family is too focussed on the greater good of the whole, thankfully, no matter what.

The days have been tipsy. Rain, hail, sun, calm, hooligan winds, complete still, noise, silence, birds, no birds and so on. Life is exciting on a clifftop on the West Coast of Scotland and very unpredictable. I doubt I could ever live a life that wasn’t either of those. We come back from a wild walk, soaked through and frozen. Wet leggings, rain heavy frock-tails, dripping faces, happy, alive, rejuvenated. Now that we are inside, the sun laughs a big Haha from the sky, a great, round, hot orb of fire who, by the way, was nowhere to be seen whilst we pushed against a wall of hail-gusty wind. Thanks, I say, looking him (the sun) straight in the eye. He isn’t remotely bothered. At his back another load of watery ice gathers a boil of grey into which he will evanesce without a backwards glance. I think he’s enjoying himself. If I was him, so would I. We mere mortals who take 20 minutes from decision to departure, wrapping, zipping, pushing feet into socks, then boots, re-locating gloves and tissues are a joke at our own expense.

Niveous spume froths around the rocky shore, sometimes leaping feet into the air as the sky messes with the ocean which in turn messes with the shore. Oystercatchers lift and land like pinging tiddlywinks, their voices carried on the wind. A sea eagle startles a bunch of Herdwick sheep as it floats like a small plane overhead. They scatter and I wonder if they’ll do that once they lamb. I hope their instinct to protect will decide them on that although sheep are not known for their large brains. I have seen hens do a much better job. Once, when leaving a cottage we had cleaned for the new guests I caught a large shape overhead. A buzzard. On the ground along with me, a hen clucked her tiny brood under the protection of her wings, filling me with a new respect for the farmyard hen. If she can do this, why not a ewe?

In the warmth of the conservatory we, my best friend and I, sew and knit and tell our stories. We are no influence at all on the conversation between the sky, the ocean and the land, and, yet, we are an integral part of the group. Our influence is made evident in many ways, not all of them empathetic. But this bit of the island is in good and intelligent hands. We watch the farmer fork a huge load of kelp onto the grassland which will feed the grass, the wildflowers, the insects, the birds and the sheep. They, in turn, will feed him and his family. This is active participation in the pursuit of the greater good and I am uplifted every time I stay here, just knowing that one small corner of our beautiful worldly conversation is unhindered by short-sighted greed. The place is heaven (www.treshnish.co.uk). Isolation, comfort, welcoming warmth and a family who take their role as caretakers very seriously indeed. My kind of people.

The sun is out now, big and brassy and with no threatening backdrop. The farm tracks bifurcate into the distance. It’s down for the ocean, along to Treshnish Point and up to where the hills nudge the sky. I can choose my way as I do with everything else. Whatever life expects of me, I always have that choice, as do we all. I may not be free to follow my heart at all times but I can always have a conversation with my heart….. and together we can, and we will, go always forward into whatever happens next.

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 – Spring into Winter

Tomorrow I leave African Hothot, traversing space and time over 24 hours, to land in what sounds like an icebox. En route I will meet, without meeting, thousands of other travellers going back the way I came or on to lands I may never see for myself. Many, like me, will be confused about what to wear during our journeys, knowing that what lies ahead of us is drastic change. I find change is often like that, but that’s another blog altogether.

I will miss the sound of inexhaustible cicadas and frogs. I will not miss the mosquitos. I will find myself listening for the lite bytes of sound across the bush from maids and gardeners I cannot see, who josh and laugh with each other all day long as they go about their work. I see them delivered and collected, standing together on the bed of a truck, butterfly coloured, their teeth white dazzlers in the sunlight. They look but never wave unless we do first, at which point they leap into action and we feel like famous people. Always friendly, always smiling, always generous, proud of their work, with a strong faith and a strong community, these Africans could teach us all a thing or two about how to be an effective human.

In the local town when buying food or cogs for machines or plastic grommets for piping, some folk recognised me, as I did them. Two months of exposure does that. I will miss the crazy drivers and the dirt tracks in game reserves; a sudden 6 metre giraffe by the roadside or a baboon family under a shade tree, invariably scratching. The jacaranda, coral, frangipane and other wildly coloured up trees will be just brilliant memories as I wing my way into winter. And Spring, back home, will come again. The dead time is Nature’s rest and she needs it as we all do. Unlike many, I love the winter as I love the sunshine warmth. Winter is a time for reflection and reading by the fireside, for bracing walks, long johns and hot buttered toast.

And Christmas is coming……

Island Wife – Hallo Happiness

Today the temperature stands at 36 degrees and feels like 40. I know this because, by this time I have got the hang of 40 and I recognise the colour of it and the weight. Add to that baggy-bellied air a humidity count of twice that and you just know I am melting. The pool, to date a pleasant cooling aid, is hot enough to make tea and the bobbing thingy full of chlorine has a sun-twisted top. As makes perfect sense in the aforesaid scenario, my son has just lit the braai and the smell of the wood shoots up my nose, propelled by a lot of over-excited flames. We will feast on chicken joints, butternut squash brushed with rosemary olive oil, a crushed garlic clove au centre, roasted peppers and maybe a corn or two on the cob. From time to time we all dive inside for the blessed coolth of the aircons which never go silent out here. I cannot imagine what it must be like for the shanty dwellers in the townships and, in remembering them, I know I am very fortunate indeed.

This being fortunate indeed way of being constitutes my library of inner thinks. Despite the truth of getting older or feeling scared about pretty much everything or, perhaps, looking back over my 67 years with a critical eye and with a resident judge to pluck at my vocal chords, I focus on things that make me happy. I know that many of us set orf to India in search of this holy grail but I have never needed to do that, not least because I discovered some 30 years back that although Happiness may well reside in India, she also lives with me, and with you and with everyone else to cares to notice her. Although life at times may deal cruel blows or bore the bejabers out of me or trip me up so I fall and break my spirit, Happiness doesn’t go away. She is there at the end of a whisper. She shows herself in moments with a loved one (Oh……why couldn’t it have been longer…?) or on spotting a bright blue dragonfly on a flower (Oh, NO, I forgot my camera) or even in that moment when a stranger smiles at me (weirdo..) but it is entirely up and down to me to notice and to keep the moment without blemish. I could miss all of her visitations if I allowed the negative responses to her beauty. In short, nothing of her is kept and I have not changed for she has not changed me. I need to control my mind not the other way around. Even if life is tough, even if I am hurting or afraid, full of doubts and delusions, my mind is under my control alone. Will I let it keep Happiness moments from me?

Okay, now back to the library. I cannot sort this dichotomy out by myself. I have always known that the only way to learn and to understand a hidden depth is to pull up someone who has already plunged it. I find these sages in books. Only a fool with an over-active ego thinks she can move on without guidance and I am no fool. I know how noisy and compelling the shouty world is. I know how easy it is to believe that this world is all there is and how much disillusion lies in that belief. I know about getting lost and going hungry for something to change. I know about disappointments and sadness, grief and rage but so does everyone else. This is the human state and when I last looked we are all humans. What makes the eternal student stand out is their decision to control their mind. To practice noticing everything that lifts a heart. To stand in Nature and to watch light move across the hills, or to study (as I did this early morning) a single dung beetle pushing a huge giraffe poo along the sand track. I watched it succeed for a bit and then topple over and get stuck underneath . I saw it push its way out from under, only to see the prize roll back down the incline. I watched it go back and start again. I had no camera to hand. I just watched, holding my breath, willing this brave soldier on. And I was happy.

The practice of Happiness costs nothing. It requires no level of education (in fact, academia can present a big stumbling block) no required apparel or status. It doesn’t mind what colour your skin is, nor how old you are when you decide to whisper Happiness in. The only thing she needs, in order to blossom and flourish, is for a person to decide to notice everything that lifts his heart – the polar opposite to the way the world thinks. Instead of grumbling about someone’s rudeness, look elsewhere in search of beauty. It could lie anywhere so look up, down, ahead, behind you. I promise you will find something that lifts, and, when you do that as a daily practice you will find that when someone is next rude to you, you will see their hurting spirit and be gentle with your thoughts on them, because your core thought control is on Happiness – and not just for you – because once Happiness is a choice, you want it for every living soul.

And then the magic begins. No matter what turns Life takes, if I am in control of my thoughts, every part of me is filled with something I have yet to find a name for. All I do know is that this nameless thing has stopped my acid reflux, calmed my heart, grounded me and shown me the great wide sky. Something has changed because I decided to change and that something is showing me how, in seeking Happiness, I have no need to travel further than my library of books; no qualifications beyond my desire to learn; no appropriate clothing, footwear, status, colour, creed, religion or history.

I only need to be open to new learning and willing to make it my daily practice.

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.

Island Blog – Dot Dot or Dash

Last night we had a thunderstorm. Huge flashes of greenish light illuminated the darkness in my room turning the furniture into eerie monsters. The thunder didn’t bother with clapping. It roared like a god in a filthy temper. And the show went on, and on, and on. I could have been at a rock concert. Sleep gave in and curled up without me and I turned to my book for solace, two books actually, one on meditation, the other on Forgetting Self. Each time the lightning flashed I startled, counted, held my breath as the storm rolled around the Blue Mountains then deafened me with an explosion of thunder so as to make me ask myself what would happen if the sky really did fall down. I don’t remember when it grew calm again but by then it was already light and the day was rising into life.

Sipping strong coffee the storm thinks me. Not just the thunder and the lightning but my part in the performance. I was there. I heard it, saw it, thought about it, tossed and turned inside it, sighed at it and read to distract myself whilst it made its attention seeking journey across my night. I watched the way ordinary becomes extraordinary, the eerie furniture in greenish light, noticed how the flash-shadows menaced my thinking, felt the anticipation, acknowledged my insignificance beneath such life/death power. This its what Life does. That’s what I thought. Life lives on and Life is everything, everyone and everywhere. And I am not everything, nor everyone, nor everywhere. I am a small dot in a vast and endless tapestry of colour and form, shape and design, texture and flow. My world is piddling in this everywhere-ness, just a blip, just a dot and yet I can believe, in my arrogance, that my world is of tantamount importance. More important than yours, for instance, with a more considered layout and healthier stuff in my fridge; my Christmas tree is bigger and better decorated; my children more polite; my floors cleaner, my day more organised, my diary up to date and my appliances all charged.

What foolish nonsense is this! Even writing it down I smirk at such thinking and yet such thinking thinks me at times because in creating a warm wrap of ‘smug’ I feel safe in this everywhere and everyone world. Unless I decide to unthink the thinks. To change them.

I have used my time here in the African bush for much unthinking. With my piddling world many thousands of miles away it has been possible to look back, forward and at each moment and it has been a splendid journey. In ordinary life I/we tend to run through the trivia, listing it, dealing with it, sorting out the bits that don’t fit, dashing through the to-do list in order to arrive. Why is that? Is it because we feel we must get through everything in order to win a prize? Where is this prize anyway? I’ve never won it and that’s for sure. All I achieved was over-tiredness and a mouth full of scratchy nips. Did I seek pity from those I scratchy nipped? When I was too busy ‘Sorry, Thingy, I’m too busy to chat just now, got to dash’, to give of my time (so much more precious than yours by the way) and way too behind on the day’s to-do list to listen to your story down the phone line (I’ll call you back……yeah, right!) did I consider you for one single moment? I don’t think so. Although we say, particularly at Christmas, that we will give more time/of ourself to our family, friends, neighbours and strangers, we mostly unthink that once the gloom of January sets in. We get all emotional about change but once a year. Sounds ridiculous to me. How can anyone change but once a year? I’m changing every day, don’t know about you. I believe that life is change and the whole flipping point of being a dot on the tapestry of Life is to make a difference to the whole. Without the dot that is I, the dot that is you, this line would merge with that line. We dots are important, critical in fact, as long as we think beyond our piddlingness and pay attention to our dotting process. We could be a big dot. We might even be a scatter of dots, depending on how wide our loving arms can reach, on what kindnesses we proffer and how often we proffer them. Inconvenient? Absolutely. Interruptus? Of Coursicus. Infuriating? Oh yes. But, the inside feeling that comes from knowing we showed kindness, respect and affection to whoever disturbed our extremely valuable time will leave a glow inside that no outward success can ever bring.

And that is the Prize.

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