Island Blog – Flapping at Clouds

Yesterday was a day of long hours, the end game of a week during which I wasted much energy flapping at the clouds with a tea towel and expecting them to move on, metaphorically speaking. I don’t know why such times come, nor when they will, but I know everyone has days like these. I used to scrabble about for reasons why, most of which required me to beat myself into scars with a bendy switch. I don’t bother now. Now I am well aware that there are forces at large who are invisible, all knowing and with the big picture in mind, unlike me down here inside my little life. I let them play with my mood and my mind and just wait for them to go, which they always do in the end. But oh my, it’s uncomfortable. My body feels like I swallowed a hippo and my brain is a peat bog after heavy rains. I have to make myself do the ordinary tasks and cannot settle to anything creative. I stare out at nothing and wish the hours away. There is no reason for this; nothing has drastically changed; it is, as if, punishment is due for some heinous crime, one I have no recollection committing, or, worse, that I am sick. Long experience of this scoffs that nonsense away. It is just as it is.

I know these discomforts have come to learn me something; that I will, after the air settles back around me like a soft blanket, understand something that wasn’t on my radar before. It’s a shake up, a wake up, a take a look up thingy. Oft times it is easy to keep on going on without noticing the whole. Sometimes ‘noticing’ the whole, through the eyes of my own limited vision, is merely me circling through the same precepts, the same thoughts, opinions and ‘absolute truths’ until the goodly wise decide on action to stop me eating my own tail. I’m glad of it, once the discomfort has passed, because even if it takes me a while to learn the new learning, the new way to do an old thing, or, even, to relegate said old thing to the compost heap and to reach for a new thing, I am curious by nature and well aware that stuckness is death in life. Lack of motion and the refusal to allow new ways to infiltrate my old ways would kill me off inside a month. Maybe that’s just me. I know that some of my ancients were very happy to be stuck in old ways. We is all different and some more different than most. I know this too, but being stuck is not my nature, even if I can become so without any trouble at all. I always have my eyes on a better me. However, I cannot do this alone. How could I? I am the one who folds into little life without a second thought, scrabbling on through the tall grasses with the odd tea-towel flap at clouds, should they irritate me. I need those goodly spirits with vision, the high flyers, the ones who already know me better than I will ever know myself; who understand and who are kindly-meant. I need to lean into the storm in order to feel the vital force of it.

This morning I don’t need my tea-towel. This morning I know they have moved on. I can tell because my belly is not kicking up a storm and my heart is more Beethoven’s Pastorale, less Def Lepard. I also know that something will dawn on me soon enough and I will add that to my very long list of Aha’s, taking whatever I learn into myself so that I can inch a little further forward in this journey of life. I am certain all of us know these times. We are human, after all, grounded and unaware of so very much. Oh, we read the news, know the science, understand the proven truths, but we have no explanation for the Mystery. We can try. We can argue points, choose different names, fix on gods or God or no gods at all, but we cannot fully explain any of it. And there is something wonderful about that.

All I know is this. As I quest through this amazing life, grounded among the tall grasses of this beautiful and broken world, my mind is free to roam and, in being vulnerable, I know I am fully alive.

Island Blog – Self Seeding

When I awaken at silly o’clock, my mind is full of thoughts. In no particular order, they step up to the microphone to tell me things and the critical thoughts are the pushiest. They invite me to revisit my choices and actions from the previous day/week/month/decade, taking care to highlight any such choices and actions that might have been done ‘better.’ I tell them they’re fools if they think (even with my magical powers) that I can turn back time. Other thoughts scatter, flitter, dip and dive about, thoughts on tonight’s meal for himself, whether I need more bird food, who’s trending on twitter, what Boris might say today. They’re like butterflies, these thoughts and pose me no threat. They simply require action.

However, I am disappointed to realise that after all these centuries of life on earth, most of us, if we’re honest, let the ‘could do better’ or, worse, ‘could have done it better’ thoughts take the stage. We actually listen, pay attention, greedy, it seems, to sink ourselves into a bog from which it is surprisingly hard to self-extricate. We don’t talk about these thoughts, not out loud, anyway, and certainly not to A N Other. It would be a confirmation of truth, would make the judgements real and we would run the risk of outside confirmation. So we do everything we can to shut them up, take them out, bury them. Ah…..bury them……well, that’s a mistake, I have discovered because, like seeds in the ground, they can rise into bloom after decades of darkness, alive and spreading. So how do we get rid of this propensity for self-judgement?

There are many ways to do this, and one of them is to let those critics speak out. I sit with mine, once I realise they won’t go away of their own volition. They are ancient voices, after all, rising from childhood, school, marriage, friendships, and they show the other side of my coin, the one that doesn’t really want to be seen. They can tell me I’m all kinds of horrible. I know the guidance that teaches me to feed the white dog, not the black one, to water the seeds of self-love, not those of anxiety, doubt, fear or judgement, but the actuality of each awakening, each morning, can confound me in a nanosecond if I have not watered the right seeds. It is a daily practice and not just for me. Understanding that, even with my magical powers, I cannot turn back time is understood at a logical level, not an emotional one. I know it is a true fact. Nobody can turn back time. Good, that’s that sorted! No it isn’t, because those critics from my long ago past made a scratch on my heart and that scratch is still there. I have to learn a way to accept those scratches, to remember that pain and to then allow them to heal rather than picking away at the scabs. I do this by recognising they are there; that they do not influence who I am now, beyond a whisper memory. I see you, I hear you, I tell them, but I no longer need you in my life. Thank you for reminding me that life was tough (as it is for everyone growing up) and I survived; more, I blossomed, rose like a spitfire into the sky, nurtured my family, loved with all of my scarred and battered heart and although I am nowhere near smug about who I have become, I can see she is rather wonderful and thoroughly deserving of all things good.

There will be someone reading this who knows exactly what I’m saying. We are all unique, spectacular beings doing our very best to live a good long life. We might remind ourselves of that and go water the seeds of self love.

Island Blog – Chaste with Cheese

This morning I heard a different goose sound. It wasn’t the scrabble babble of greylags, all talking over each other and yet still managing to fly in formation, the ones who are here every year to breed. No, this was two geese making what sounded like gentle conversation; one waiting for the other to finish before responding. It leapt me out of bed in what once was a trice and now takes a bit longer so that my limbs can catch up with the trice thing. I saw them. A pair of geese from the Branta genre, black geese, Canada geese as far as I could tell. I have never seen them before here and it thrilled me to my toes. I watched them swim together through my binoculars and verified my sighting. How completely wonderful that they have chosen to come, just when we are all wondering how on this good earth we are going to manage with in-housing, not to mention those of us who might have chosen option B, had we had the choice. I’m sure you have seen that YouTube funny. If not, take a peek. But, option B or option A aside, there is life growing on outside our windows, unaware of our collective need to see life in the face of death.

Meanwhile, her indoors is making cauliflower cheese. I am aware that at some point, cheese, along with other important will run out somewhere. It might be here, so I am chaste with cheese, flavouring the sauce with chopped spring onions, red pepper and coriander before adding about half the cheese I would have lobbed in during times of abundance. I am chaste with loo paper too and that won’t surprise you. Someone, somewhere has bought up the lot and good luck to them and their associated familial bottoms. We have a saying in the north. If you run out of loo paper, just grab a handy scotsman. I thought that was a rather unpleasant idea on first hearing it, even if I did laugh so as not to look stupid, until I realised it meant the newspaper, which, on reflection, sounds equally as unpleasant. Let us hope it won’t come to that. I don’t really fancy finding editorial print on my bahookie.

Along with being chaste around everything, I find I am cleaning more things and more often than I ever have in my life. I don’t think I ever scrubbed the latch on the front gate, nor the door handles and knobs, light switches and taps. I would have given them a cursory wipe whilst cleaning the room, but not like this. I count 67 hand washes a day, and that doesn’t include washing up or squishing soft suds through a woolly. At first it felt very odd and quite tired me out, but now it’s a habit. Washing himself, however, is not quite so straightforward. I tell him, You need to wash your hands. I washed them on Wednesday, he said, his feathers somewhat ruffled.

Being profligate is not something we can be any more and that is no bad thing. I had no idea I was so tally ho with pretty much everything from cheese to loo paper…..until now. Now I could sit with my old ma and agree on half a tomato each without rolling my eyes once. I get it. And, I think, I hope, that it will become the norm not to waste as much as we all did before. It isn’t being parsimonious, more respectful of whatever we handle, cook, use in our daily lives. It might mean we learn how to repair things like paddling pools and socks and broken wings and in this learning we will honour what we need instead of grabbing what we want without a backwards glance. Perhaps we will become kinder to each other, more ready to keep in regular contact, less fond of staying late at work in order to gain an A+, whilst a grudging E- awaits us at home.

And Mother Nature is smiling wide. Because we are not tramping down the grasslands, wild flowers can grow, bees can visit, birds can nest and the whole glorious circle of what life should and could be, is turning us into mindful humans. Let us find the fun in-house, around our children, through contact with friends and family and let our minds be wide open. One day, when we can open our doors without having to scrub someone else off the handles, when we can walk out free once more, let us take what we have learned, and are still to learn, out into a brave new world.

Island Blog – Woman

I’m thinking about her today. I am one, after all. A woman I mean. As Dennis rages like a husband outside my door, threatening to uplift the new conservatory, I turn in to my thoughts. After a Dennis sort of morning I put on music – my sanity these days. Have you heard Disturbed sing The Sound of Silence, or Elbow’s Fickle Flame or Lily Allen sing Somewhere Only We Know by Keane? I research music a lot and am helped considerably by my youngest, equally in love with music. Lyrics, musicality and beat can lift any soul from a dark place. I recommend it if the dark surrounds you this day, or any other day.

I add something super dull to the shopping list, holding said list in place with a heart shaped stone as if Dennis might get in somehow and snatch it. Actually, he is welcome to it. I get dead bored of shopping lists, of washing clothes on the right setting, of wiping down tables, of mopping spills I never spilled. It seems to me that women are always on the move and it is just as well or most of the world would just sit down and wait for a sandwich. Not only do we end up on the sandwich rota but we are required to pop here and collect that on a regular basis. Then there are screaming children to squeeze into clothes they don’t want to wear ending in a fraught drive to school. There’s a flaming mother-in-law to appease and toilets to clean; there are beds to make, rooms to tidy, gardens to tease back into life; phone calls to answer, batteries to replace, dogs to feed and supper to be planned, bought and prepared. I am sure there are modern women who fold their arms, say something colourful and then go out for Prosecco with the girls but I don’t meet too many of those. From girlhood we are conditioned. I see it with my own little grand-girls, the unconscious teaching by their mums, the learning they absorb through example. I want to throw fireworks at it all, but (and there’s always one of those) I cannot see how the family would survive if women stopped being IT. That indomitable spirit is in each one of us. How else would we survive? Although life does dump on us, despite the fairytale wedding and all those impossible promises, we find an inner strength we never knew we had. It seems we can take pretty much everything on the chin and still keep our sense of fun and fight.

A man once said, a man I admire to the skies, that he had no idea how we women kept so full of life. Observing the very obvious attitude of the world, that of demoting women at every opportunity, plus the lie that they believe in equality, this man made his own mind up. God bless him. We need more of him. He can see our spirit and he loves it. Loves it! it doesn’t frighten him at all, which is, of course, what it does to men in general. Strong women remind them of their mothers and they really don’t want that image in their minds.

This fighting spirit is powerful and dangerous. Powerful when guided right and dangerous when left to turn into low-boil anger. I have learned the difference between the two, often. I know when my angry puts down roots and applies itself to the whole garden, and it needs uprooting. Power is quite different, something precious to be nurtured and loved and admired. It is a part of every woman. Although young girls learn submission and polite behaviour in order to survive the early years, that spirit is still alive inside them and it will out, trust me. And it scares even them, the first time; the time they see injustice, feel it, are hurt or attacked. It will rise like a hot dragon breathing fire, one who needs teaching. Not now Dragon. Yes, now Dragon. That sort of teaching. We learn this as we form into the women we will become and it is a good thing. I have met women whose dragon controlled them and their life was not a happy one.

However it is good to just know the dragon is there, to feel her power and strength and to know she will always be there for you, and for me.

Island Blog 119 Do less and achieve more

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Oh ho ho ho and isn’t that just the easiest thing to tell someone else?

I am reading Mindfulness for Busy People by Dr Michael Sinclair and Josie Seydel and learning much goodly-grounded advice on how to fly.  Although Life throws us curveballs just when we think we are on a home straight (probably mixed up two sportsfields there….) it is really possible to live in the moment as long as somebody can show us how, and not just tell us.

As a writer I know the art of ‘show not tell’ and even the most lightweight reader (no offence intended) will yawn wide if an author reads like a schoolmarm. We are adults now and have spent way too much time being told what to do and how to do it.  Adulthood begins when a child decides, not when we with saggy skin and a certain way of doing pretty much everything tell them they may now be privy to certain conversations, once whispered, or, worse, spelled out, in shady corners of the house.

So, back to reading………….well, this writer knows how essential it is to read avidly.  For me, it is a pleasure, a need, a drive because in reading other’s words I form my own, not as a copyist, although it has been known.  I have decided that, should I find an angry ‘other’ at my door, spear raised, I will tell them they might think my pinching to be a huge compliment, and not a robbery. I take on other’s wisdoms so that my own reflections on what they have to say might shape into a new form, one that works for me.  There are as many ways to think as there are thinkers, more, and we all must find that which will comfortably settle within our own lives, among our own circumstances – circumstances that will always change, sometimes drastically, sometimes in a more kindly way, but we can still learn how to ‘be’ inside each moment, each day, whatever the challenges may be.

Yesterday, or last week, or last month, life was in ‘this’ shape.  Overnight, let us say, it flips and now looks upsidedown and most precarious, leaning (just) against the props that seemed tall as the cedars of Lebanon, and now look like my old washing line poles after a force ten gale.  Let’s look at them – let’s just stand here and look at them and do nothing.  Just look.

I can joke about it, to get a laugh, but the truth is, it is the only way, and not just for me.  Whatever comes, whatever goes, it all passes.  It cannot help but pass, because life moves on, with or without us.

As a young wife and busy mother, I knew I could not hold onto control and to a great degree, I let go.  Perhaps I was lucky in that.  Perhaps feeling out of control all the time, taught me to live by my inventive wits and to consider control a disadvantage.  But, for all of us, this is possible, no matter how valuable our props might appear.  In the event of extreme disaster, like your house slipping over a cliff, this way of observing and moving on is essential. I am not saying don’t grieve, or ululate for that which is lost, but there is a time for grief and a time to get past it, and not by force.  Accepting some new truth, any new truth on our road is like letting in a new light.  It is not something anyone can memorise by rote and commit to memory.  That is for O Level maths (in my case) and it is impossible to retain that learning for long as I discovered on exam day.  No, we must ‘allow’ the understanding to lightly settle in our bones and there is no other way to do that than to simply ‘accept’ the curveballs, do what we can, if possible, to make good from disaster, and then walk peaceably onwards.

If you are intrigued, I cannot recommend this book enough.  Try it.  There is absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain.  If you say you are too busy to read, you fool yourself.  When you are gone, what will you be remembered for?  Being too busy?

I hope not.

Island Blog 79 On Waiting

waiting

There is something about waiting that can create an internal chaos.

Waiting for a train or a flight.  Waiting for a day to come or a person.

Waiting for life to change, or start, or end.  Waiting for seeds to grow, for my turn to come in or to go out.  For guests to arrive or leave.

For a new baby.  For test results.

That last one has to be the worst.

I knew a very old lady, once, who had been a maid all her working life.  She was deeply proud of being a maid, and would make sure you got it right, the title right, if, perchance you got in a fankle over political correctness.  This woman had no time for such malarky.  Just say it like it is, she would say, wagging a bent finger under your nose.  Maid is maid, however you try to say it.

She used to name certain days, waiting days.  These days, for her, as a country girl, were usually connected with the weather.  A waiting day meant the sky was shut, the wind all blown out, everything just standing there or hanging there……waiting.  Of course, the weather matters a lot when your family are land workers, which hers were.  Whether to plant, of plough, harvest or lay out in rows to dry, all dependant on the weather, and if the weather was waiting for something to happen, it never explained what.  Could be rain.  Could be there was a kick-ass gale in the planning, just off stage and hidden from human view.  In her day, there was the wirless, but no fancy satellite information about high pressures over Iceland.  Just the local yokel out with his moisture meter – or his eyes looking up and his own gut feeling.

On her waiting days, she would do something.  Clean the silver (not her own) or pull out the beds for a good ‘doing’ or tidy handkerchief drawers, that sort of something.  Anything, basically, to fill in the waiting time, and, in the doing of something, she might calm her own anxieties.

We can learn from her.

If, whilst waiting, we focus on what we are waiting for, knowing with perfect clarity that, in doing so, we make absolutely no difference to the thing, but only serve to discombobulate ourself into a right stooshie, we might consider a different approach.  Of course, if the thing we wait for is scary and deeply buried in the underworld, such as the results of a medical test with an alarming set of possibles attached,  we will be unable to erase it completely from our thinking.  But the mind is quite easily led, I have found, and can be eased into a different place, at least for a little while.

I agree that giving the silver a clean, supposing we have any in the first place, or pulling out the beds for a good ‘doing’ are hardly exciting options, but that, I believe, is the key.  Dullard tasks can soothe our brilliant and dangerous minds into a calm humdrum.

It doesn’t take the worry away.  It doesn’t change the end result.  But it does ease the path from breakfast to lunch, from hour to hour, from Monday to Friday.  It won’t be a smooth one, nor easy, but when the demons trip us up and make us fall, the best we can do is get up and try again.