Island Blog – Mindful Boots

I can smell the frost as I awaken, even through the dark. It slips through the open window and tingles my nose. It is calm out there, no wind, no sounds of an earthly indigestion. I burrow into my warm duvet and listen, but not for long as I am always curious to open up a new morning, to invite it in and to marvel as my eyes widen at the beauty of it. Stags, baleful autumn moaners, challenge each other from somewhere deep inside the woods on the other side of the sea-loch, one that is quiet and settled. Mistwater sprites dance across its surface, lifting into the air before disappearing altogether and the grass yonder is almost white, sparkling crystals, unearthly.

Ice clouds pink in response to the sunrise whilst Ben Mhor rises into the sky, one that promises a clear sunshine day. Later, when the frost has succumbed to the burn of it, I will open the doors and remove a layer or two, to feel the warmth against my bare skin. These are glorious autumn days and I will love them for each of their minutes, knowing they will not last, as nothing ever does.

As each season gives way to the next, I feel a discomfort at first. It seems we go from skin out to skin in or the other way around. A thick cardigan becomes an old friend even if I haven’t given it a second glance for months. I feel the shiver of autumn or the rise of warmth in spring and feel irritated. Suddenly, it seems to me, more clothes or less are required and here was I pulling out the familiar, one that no longer cooperates with the weather. Well damnit! Now I have to think about what to wear, to clad my bones in something pretty (always) but appropriate. I am always resistant to ‘appropriate’ at first. And, then, over the following days, I find a new normal and wonder at my initial resistance to change.

Yesterday I lifted the very dead flowers from his grave. The sun shone bright and there was a friend at my side. I had thought I would feel something but I felt nothing at all. I am not a sentimental woman and he is dead and he is gone and there is nothing of him below the grass but old bones. The sheep scattered as we unlatched the gate and descended the hill, cautious of their slimy green leavings, moving our boots mindfully. It is a good way to move boots wherever it is we may go. It thinks me of life itself and the best way to live it. Traversing the distance between the gate and the grave we chatted of old ones, other ones who lie here, the characters, their quirks and scallywag games, their teasing, their strength of character and we laughed over shared memories.

Change will always come however hard we may try to fend it off. Returning home I make coffee and watch the view. I never tire of it for it is in a perpetual state of change as am I, as are we all. The key is to let go and follow it in mindful boots.

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 – Moss and Otherness.

Underneath a humungous fallen pine, some years down, is a dazzling carpet of moss. There is Fingerley moss fronding through the cracked bark, delicate falls of emerald stems, each lifting softly in response to the heckling rain. It isn’t heavy, not soaking me or the little dog, just pinging wet drops at us all for the fun of it. The puddley dyke is drying up so anything damp is going to help revive the frogspawn I noticed a few days ago, although it’s too little too late, methinks. Old leaves mulch down, retreating back into the earth as food for the next thrust of life. It’s coming, at last.

Star moss grows down in the peaty bit, stunning bunches of delicate stalks with a star on top, facing up. Big rocks, upon which this giant landed, are coated in Afro moss, so tightly affixed they could fool you into seeing a soft landing. To throw myself onto one would end me up with broken ribs and embarrassment rising, so I don’t. Then there’s Moss moss that covers anything it fancies covering. They all look fabulous and green and very much alive. The otherness beneath the lonesome pine, which, in its dying grabbed a larch tree on the way, poor love, and has pinned her to the ground ever since, includes little yellow things that tell me they are dandelions but are obviously lying, Monbretia which doesn’t bloom till after lockdown and other coloured things I don’t have names for. None of them seem to mind that at all.

The sky is milk with a whisper through of grey. It is also shut if you don’t count the spits of rain. Sometimes if I look hard enough at a shut sky, I can find a smile of light, enough to believe in, but not today. Today it is just a flat white. Walking under the sky always marvels me. It stays up and I stay down. Such a synergistic friendship, and long may it remain that way or we’ll have Chicken Licken getting into another flapdoodle. A raven floats overhead, that sharp-eyed carnivore with a taste for lambs, parping like the horn on Noddy’s car. His mate follows. There is something both regal and scary about ravens. All that black and so much of it and so intelligent. Way back in the days of Tapselteerie we tried to get rid of a pair of ravens. It probably wasn’t legal but they took too many little woolly jumpers at lambing time. They nested on a cliff face which made it extremely difficult to get anywhere near them and they would have known our intention from the very moment we donned our balaclavas. Needless to say, we didn’t succeed and I imagine they live still as they have no predators save man.

Across the sea-loch I see a holiday cottage. Empty, of course, as they all are now. Elevated standards count for nothing in these times. You could have Moss moss on the inside of your windows as we always did or an immaculate palace of a moss-less place and still nobody would come. It’s all rather levelling. This virus is catalytic and no mistake. I look ahead a month or two, seeing the same road winding on into the distance, every walker keeping 2 metres away from any encounter, touching nothing, holding breath. Then I look around my home at the books, the things, the bibelots that gather dust now that my lovely cleaners are holed up in their own burrow. The news is just numbers where it once managed a few words in between the latest statistical revelation. Drink is bad, drink is good, children are important until they drive you bonkers whence that importance retreats into the latest Pixar movie with enough popcorn to rot the collective teeth of a whole country within 45 minutes. Meditation is calming unless you get they giggles as I do and exercise is an excellent plan as long as you do it alone and in the wilderness or at midnight.

And we knit on, we tough, inventive humanoids, or sew, or paint, cook and sort out drawers and cupboards, and we dust the bibelots. We are learning to move more slowly through each project, taking time, perhaps as a first, to consider the minutiae, maybe even to read the rules. And this will do us no harm at all. Watching moss, any moss, takes considerable self control. My legs are all a-jiggle. Stand still, I tell them and they huff. But it is good re-training. It is good to sit and read, even in the mornings, to call a friend, to FaceTime, to start a jigsaw (that’s as far as I ever got with a jigsaw), tend the garden, watch the moss.

Mother Nature has called a halt. She wants her finery back, her intelligent order and we, who have turned her world into a veritable tatterdemalion must listen and we must learn.

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

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 47 – Upsettings

Island Blog 47

Yesterday, just as I was finger-tap dancing out my new blog, my almost new laptop made a groaning noise, flickered her eyelids a few times and disappeared into silence.
Apparently she has died, which is not game on at all, at only 4 months old.

This is when I realise with a jolt, that there is a body of ocean between me and a laptop hospital. It matters not one jot how brilliant the technology is, how fulsome and encouraging the communication, which by the way was first with Jamaica, then Holland, then India. I felt quite well travelled after visiting all those countries, and in such a short space of time, and I believe I made a couple of new friends, one of whom is definitely looking out for Island Wife to be published in her part of the world.

Are you sitting there in skimpy shorts with a Coolade on the rocks? I asked her and she laughed uproariously.
Not one of the questions I am supposed to answer! she replied, and that is when I mentioned my book, knowing I could say anything I liked at that point and she would be bound to listen, even if that piece of information wasn’t on her Answer Sheet either.

Today I feel a bit odd, to be honest. My nice new red laptop sits in silence, with her flaps shut, on my desk and there is no sound of that thinking hum with which she has, to date, filled the room. Perhaps that’s the problem. She has been way too cheerful working with me and somebody doesn’t like it.

When I spoke to that nice young Dutchman, he did suggest various attempts at CPR, such as flipping the laptop over….
Sorry, I whispered…..such indignity…….and taking out the battery. Then replacing it after a number of seconds and pressing the on button 10 times (exactly). Then he asked me to do something requiring a lot of pressure on the Delete button that upset all her settings right back to the ones she came with, and they took long enough to get rid of when she first arrived.

I didn’t know her at all after that, and so the bereavement process will be shorter I believe. All my orderly little icons and boxes are quite gone now, and it is only with foresight that I had asked my husband to back up all files and documents and pictures and so on onto some flashing box that normally drives me mad on dark nights when it suddenly springs into life and turns the sitting room a luminous green.
I won’t moan about it ever again I promise.

So, the box sits on the ground, complete with warranty information and laptop-shaped polystyrene in a fetching green, and all we need now is for Miss Jamaica, or Mr Holland or even Madam India to call on Monday with a return address. However, I doubt it will be Madam India, as I was fairly sure after a confusing exchange of information, that I had dialled a Flight Booking Service and almost took myself and the laptop to somewhere south of Mumbai.