Island Blog – Second from the Right

I am very happy to have had my covid jag. It never crossed my mind for one minute to refuse it and I was astonished to hear that anyone would. However, that is not my business. My arm was mildly sore for a couple of days and I felt tired but otherwise escaped any side effects, not that I would have minded them. I have, after all, been given a small dose of a killer virus and my body has had to fight it, the busy little thing that it is. I said as much. Well done busy little body, still standing by me after all these decades and ready to leap into action in the face of assault, snipers posted at all vantage points, unlike me who would struggle to leap in anyone’s face these days. My walking is slower. Noticed. My rise from a chair and my return to it more considered. Turning my head quickly can send my eyeballs into disco mode and I hold the bannisters when ascending the stairs. I don’t know when this began and it doesn’t bother me even if I do sometimes remember, wistfully, the younger mountain goat in me, the one everyone begged to slow down, sit down, sit still, the one who was more girl gone than girl sitting.

I still feel a big fudgy today but without any discomfort. I can rest when I want now that all demands are silenced and the only demands around are those I make upon myself. Yesterday I made none at all but instead sat watching a TV series and drank cups of tea beside the fire. Outside is not worth looking at to be honest. Wind and more wind, gusts that make the windows flex most alarmingly and slanty rain that comes in great punches. It’s February, I remind myself, the month of slanty rain and wind punch and time travels so fast. It reminds me of other Februarys, stomping down to the steadings, early doors, in enough waterproofing to allow lift-off should a gust decide to punch. I am going to feed the calves, about 15 of them, with sliced swedes. I think about swedes. I know some very good looking ones with bodies and green eyes and big muscles but these are not on the menu today, more’s the pity, and I would hesitate on the slicing thing with them. These swedes are cold, round and hard-skinned and I have to feed the damn things through a hand-turning swede slicer. It takes ages and a lot of effort to raise enough for the babies who await breakfast. Eventually, and puffing like Thomas the Tank Engine, I fill the troughs and 15 heads are instantly lowered. Whilst they are distracted I move into the pen behind them to rake out yesterday’s muck and straw. I get too close and without even turning around one whacks me a belter on the knee with a hoof. I shoot backwards, airborne, or it feels like it, to land on my butt right in the middle of the muck pile sending it up and out, as if a bomb had just landed. I am that bomb. The muck flies out, turns back in and lands all over me, face, hands, waterproofs. I am livid and very sore. Struggling to my feet I resist, with great difficulty, the urge to stick a pitchfork tine into the arse of Second from the Right, who still doesn’t turn around. Once breakfast is done, I herd the calves out into the rain and wind for a merry day in a soggy field with no shelter and no grass. By the time I return to the farmhouse kitchen, all but my face is cleaned of muck and the turn ups of my too-big waterproof breeks hold enough water for at least 8 goldfish.

I am glad those days are done and glad that I lived them when I did. Younger, I bounced back more quickly. Of course there was no time for moaning or whining about a face covered in calf leavings, nor sympathy for my big fat red sore knee. I was the fool who got too close, remember? This is farming life. You have to keep moving, keep going, keep upright because if one goes down everyone loses. I loved that life and loathed it in equal measures. Even now as lambing time moves closer, I remember the thrill of being so vital to the day’s work, however hard it might have been. Being active as no matter of choice keeps a body fit and supple, a mind clear. It is different now, now that my activity levels are all down to me and there is a noticing required in my older days. Keep moving, keep finding something to make you bend, reach, walk, move, climb, lift or you just might seize and freeze into a shape of great inconvenience.

When I limp back down to bring the calves in later that same day, I stand at the gate rattling a bucket of cake (not our sort of cake) and I can feel a fire in my belly. As they file through the gate I clock Second from the Right and give her one hec of a thwack on her arse. She bucks and flips and turns to face me, snorting. Right back at you Missy, I say. Right back at you.

Island Blog – Ma, Him and the Canyons of my Mind

Ok so yesterday was yesterday. In looking back I always ask myself, What do I learn from the day before? I am quite unable to just let it go without a considered and mindful consideration. It has come to me, puzzled me in its intensity and thus has a message. I won’t miss that message. Although the terrain through which I inched my snail-like hours swung between a tricky wade through old porridge, a vast empty desert that scalded my skin and burned my toes and an endless stretch of bog with pummets of strong grass and sinkholes to trip me, I knew I had something to learn, to understand.

It has only been 12 weeks since he abandoned me to me; since he fled the nest and left me with a thousand words in my mouth and as many questions. Although I can now choose white lights over those miles of coloured ones, choose where I put this chair or that little table, choose when I walk the dog and where I walk her without having to say where I am going, I find such a freedom both heady and terrifying. All those little things we said, like Look at that! or It’s our granddaughters birthday on Monday, or Shall we play scrabble? Maybe it was Do I feed the orange tree or shall I wait till next weekend? Now there is no him to say it to, even if, latterly, I got little response. The warm being that was there and not there was still there, was here. I remember my old ma saying to me when I furioused at her for his lack of interest in me ‘At least you know he is there.’ I didn’t get it. Dad had died a long time ago. But I get it now.

Today, this day, the day after porridge, desert, bog day, I feel an acceptance. I know that I spend a lot of time in the canyons of my mind, wandering like Alice sometimes and like a refugee on the run at others. I am looking for a new land, after all. I know it will be there one day and that this ‘wandering’ is very important. I will not stay fixed like one of those old Scottish stone markers still planted and dating back to the days of Rob Roy, my forebear. One says 25 miles to Oban. In a car it is half that. Walking the ups and downs, traversing the bogs and avoiding musket fire en route meant more miles on foot. It meant something once, a reassuring marker and guide but nowadays it is obsolete and I know this is important to ‘get’. Fears nowadays are not of musket fire, nor of sudden ambush from the reevers or royal soldiers, loyal to the king, but of the inner enemies that live inside a mind. I work to challenge my mind, to stop as I wander through its canyons and to notice, to notice. Birds of prey flying high means something is dead beneath. A song bird means trees and fruit are not so far away. A scampering rat means there is a predator around, something with a higher shelf life. Geese, swans and ducks mean water. Distant laughter means humans.

This may sound a bit weird but I have know since childhood that I live in many worlds. It compromised my dreams and confounded me as a young girl. Now, in my evening life, I get it. And in that knowing comes responsibility. I need to pay attention and to learn, even when I sometimes feel fed up with all these learning requirements. I never know what any day will bring but I have chosen to notice and to pay attention. Sometimes, when I meet someone and look into their eyes (not in a weird way) I can see they also live in many worlds. I also see that this world has managed to tame them and I am sad. My ma always said, after we chatted about the fact that I was born in Westmoreland which has now become North Yorkshire at some human’s whimsy hand, that I would have been burned at the stake had I lived in an earlier time. She didn’t really get me and no more did I, but latterly when we had time together she was open to my ‘nonsense’ in the fondest of ways.

So I walk on through the canyons. They do not meet my eyes as I look out of my window. They are not in the conversations I have with friends or passers-by. They are not in legal documents nor in the discussion about what grave stone we should erect for himself who fled the nest and left me to me. But, and this still astounds me, he ‘got’ me. It infuriated the bejabers out of him often when the worldly requirements were required, but he did say I was his spiritual guide and that I was the one he came to when, on rare occasions, he could speak of his own porridge, deserts and bogs. And sometimes he would walk the canyons with me.

I’ll rest with that.

Island Blog – Disparity, Contradiction and a Heart

How strange it is to be the meeting point for two opposing thoughts. My head feels like a boardroom just before two factions arrive to wrestle a great big problem into acceptability. One side thinks A and the other, B. How will this ever resolve, wonders the mediator? How could it when both sides are absolutely certain they have the answer? A contra-diction in the making.

And so it is when a fear walks in first, into my mind. Go away! I shout threateningly, pointlessly. It doesn’t move a muscle, this fear, just stands there, shoulders squared, feet planted and growing bigger. It’s irrational of course. My fears always are. They aren’t ever real, but imagined and yet they burn holes. They really hurt. But I used to think I knew enough not to ask them questions like ‘Oh do tell me how you plan to pan out?’ because, if I did that, they might be only too ready to paint me a vivid picture of destruction and disaster, all so very believable, all so very terrifying. This was my old thinking.

This time I just indicate their allotted seat and pour them a glass of water. I do this because I know that they will not be shoo-ed away. I cannot forbid them entry. They are, in that moment, too strong, too righteous. Ignoring them doesn’t work either. It doesn’t disappear them. I have learned this over longtime.

When the other faction appears through the doorway, we sit down together. The difficulty in finding any sort of resolution lies in the fact that this meet is between the feeling of fear, and logic. In other words, neither side comes with the same level of bargaining power as the other. Let us say that the fear is of possible sickness, possible disaster, possible loss and that those on the side of logic just cannot get it. Why on this goodly earth would you allow to apocalypse something that hasn’t even happened and probably never will? It is tempting to go with that sensible, logical kind of thinking, but in the end a mistake. The thing about an illogical fear is that, when it is dismissed or suppressed in one guise, it will just evolve into another one, to return another time. It is like Covid, silently attacking at random, no rule of thumb, no logic.

What I do is this. I welcome both sides to the meeting. Hallo, I say. I see you. Let’s talk this through. I am the mediator after all. My varying fears are not silly. They are very real. Look at them, sitting smug on one side of this table, watching me. I decide to let them start. Even though it scares me, knowing how they can spin their spin. I take a deep breath. Courage mon brave! Describe yourselves, I say, and wait. They do. I follow them, watch them grow and develop themselves into monumental cataclysms.

We all do. The logic faction snorts derisively, but doesn’t interrupt. It’s not their turn yet. When it is, they deconstruct each possible cataclysmic development, turning it to dust. I feel rather sorry for my fears now. They just got annihilated by clever talk straight out of a textbook, and, yet, they are still here, albeit now looking a bit sheepish. They did embellish things somewhat, t’is true, and they probably wish they hadn’t gone as far as they did; the end of the world, death, destruction, mass murder, tsunamis etc etc. But when I consider each deliverance coolly, I can see a use for both factions. I can appreciate the need for fears as warnings, just as I can appreciate the need for logic. I can see that feelings are just feelings, and that thoughts are just thoughts. As I look around the table I notice they are all just children, the result of childhoods good and childhoods bad. We are not really opposing factions at all, but just vulnerable kids trapped in adult bodies. None of us are right and none of us are wrong. We are just different, have learned different ways to survive, different ways to cope, different ways to live.

I thank them all for coming. I employ sensibility and compassion, both coming straight from my heart and not my head. I acknowledge both fears and those on the side of logic. I tell them all they are valued and appreciated, in balance. I suggest they talk to each other without prejudice, open, interested, listening to what the other says instead of listening for an opportunity to contest. I feel the air soften around us and in my head. I tell them I am stepping out of the room for a bit, distancing myself. By the time I return with coffee they are chatting like old friends.

Although I know the fears will rise again, as they do for us all, that meeting of so-called opposing factions teaches me that we humans have enough heart to solve any problems, however overwhelming they might appear at first. The key is to appreciate whatever floats into a mind, to notice it, to say Hallo, sit down, let’s talk. Wishing fears away, or dismissing them with confounding logic, only holds sway for a short time. I know where my fears come from. Self-doubt, lack of self-confidence and from believing all the horror stories in the media. The world is not like that even if the tabloids and news programmes would have us believe it. We make up the world, we people, all of us. And we have big hearts, remember? I have also learned the art of stepping out of my own head, my own room, when fear and logic lock heads. Neither of them will win, this way. The removal of my sticky fingers, my gobby mouth and my imagination is always a good thing.

Let us take control of how we deal with our minds. Let us learn how to take a step back when turmoil hits the boardroom. Just through observation and without any attachment to either argument, we can solve any issues inside our brains.

It isn’t the world that needs fixing. It’s our minds. When they are seeing the good in everyone, the beauty in the life around us, when they decide to be unbiased and open, to step out of the current melodrama within and to think, instead, with our hearts, the world will automatically heal.

Island Blog – Inside Out

My washing machine, which, by the way, has behaved normally for a long time, has suddenly begun to turn clothes, bedding and other things, inside out during each wash. At first it annoyed me. What do you think you’re doing? I asked it. I mean, you have washed things as I rendered them into your maw for, oh, years now, and all of a sudden, without consulting me, you turn things about. Yes, I know that most goodly women wash everything inside out. We are advised to do this. It says so on the label. But I never read labels and there was a frisson of excitement that arose in my goodly breast as I pushed everything in with the outside on the outside. I love to break the rules anyway.

As I fight with a huge cotton/linen duvet cover that is half inside out and half outside in, I have some thinks. Going deeper, I wonder if the Universal Mother Protector is trying to tell me something. What could that be? Is she advising me that, before it is too late, I begin at the age of 67, with a hec of a lot of washing years under my belt, to obey the rules? Surely it can’t be that. This bedding, these jeans and tops, frocks and socks have managed with my disobedience for as long as I can remember and nothing has fallen apart. Well, not many things, anyway.

Then I walk my thinks into other areas of life. I ponder the inside and I ponder the out. I know only too well that if the inside of me does not relate and connect with the outside of me there is trouble. If I feel one way and communicate another, I am lacking congruence. My inside, feeling as she does, is sloshing about in my drum if I don’t show her to the world. If I see injustice, feel the pain of it, the wrongness of it, and say or do nothing, I am disconnected from my own self and I will carry that disconnection like a lead weight for a long time. Regrets, shame, crimes of omission, admissions of guilt, apologies proffered, wounds healed, all will fester in a darkling silence, challenging the health and well-being of both my mind and my body. You, on the outside of me will see none of it, feel none of my disconnection. But I will.

The start point is to admit this disconnection to myself. To acknowledge that I am outside my inside and that the two haven’t been on speaking terms for way too long, is critical. Do I want to? Well, no, not really. I want the outside of me to look goodly. I want the inside of me to catch up, to hurry up and fit the space without me having to do any of this tedious inner work. But this is not how we learn, not how we grow, develop and understand the vital need to be inside out. Now, I am not saying that we need to rush out to tell folk a thing or two about what we don’t like about them. Not at all. In fact, what we find, as we admit our fear of being inside out, is that we don’t want to do that at all. What we find, as we gently open up to our own fears of being naked before all men (dreadful thought) and women (slightly less so) is that compassion arises like Venus from the waves, gentle, soft, loving and at peace with both ourselves and all those who are not us.

As I pull out the washing nowadays I smile at the inside out-ness of random things. I know this washing machine, this behemoth of importance, has a lesson to teach me. Nowadays I can inside out-flip a big duvet cover in minutes. In paying attention to something that most of us would dismiss with a worldly snort, I am learning to reconnect with the inside of me. I recommend it.

And so, it is.

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 – Extra the Ordinary

Although I live my life according to the rules, most of the time, my heart and soul are pure Paris. As a girl, as a young woman, I could feel the inconvenient wild in me, this fire blaze that burned no matter how politely I crossed my ankles or demurred to the authority of a man. The confusion of living with the two opposing women inside came with a great deal of trouble, most of it unseen by anyone but me. The trouble was my lack of enough experiential wisdom to accept both the Paris and the Quiet Suburbs and to love them both. How can I, how can anyone, hold two contradictories in one head at the same time? Well, practice, and a lot of self-love. En route to this acceptance brought tantrums, a smouldering silence, spots, ridiculous clothes, lost friendships, poor decisions, all of which came with legacy, one only I was forced to live with and through. Those in ‘authority’ over me called me names; deluded, hysterical, rebellious, ornery, bloody difficult #needsprofessionalhelp, possessed, reckless and so on. I was, in short, impossible and would never fit in. Until one day I overheard my French teacher, whom I adored, saying to my mother #headinhands that I had a lot of the Paris in me. I suspect that was the beginning of my quest, one that has led me over the bumps, into walls, off chasmic edges and on and on to many wonderful places and times.

At this age of ripeness and with a completely marvellous and exciting past, I smile at my journey. Even now I can meet good women of my age who, on recognising the rebel in me, say that they were never wild; that they never felt anything like an incendiary bomb. I always question that. Did you ever fall head over heels in love, I ask, when your whole world is thrown up into the air like a beach ball, and do you remember hoping it would never come down again? I usually get them on that one. Okay they didn’t lock matron in the phone cupboard and go back to bed, nor set fire to the school shed (didn’t burn), nor did they get back home at 10pm, check in with parents and then climb out of the window to rejoin the party. But I did, and that wildness is still here, still within, now honoured and loved, appreciated and respected. Paris is part of me.

I have never been to Paris and may never go there. I call her Paris because of what I have read, since my French teacher said what she said, and I have learned about that city of bohemian rebellion and energy. I will have added my own imagination, naturally, and together we have got me all the way up to this morning in a lively and unpredictable way. Living as I now do inside my own structure of discipline is just where I want to be. I have no desire to travel in order to find myself. Myself is right here with me and we are an excellent team. Rebelling against my own rules of engagement would be foolish. Rebelling against other people’s rules of engagement was exhilarating, terrifying and often self destructive, but I could not have avoided one minute of it. It is in my DNA and that is irrefutable.

My message in all this is to encourage you all to remember who you really are, not to fanny about with who someone else decides you are. This would be like trying to fit politely and tidily into an empty Weetabix box. So don’t. And, if any of this touches you in any way, there is work to be done. We can die with our song unsung or we can take a risk, open our mouths and sing it out, at any age or stage of our lives.

We can make an ordinary life extraordinary just by living half in, half out of the box, our own box.

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 – From There to Here

Leaving 40 degrees and arriving back to zero in the belly of a couple of planes with the ambient temperature of an airport or two in between requires a person to be vestment canny. Well, I really don’t know what I was thinking as I packed for Africa but it appears I put little thought into my return. Today I am wearing most of my frocks over jeans with a vest at skin depth, a long sleeved tee over the said frocks and a jumper to complete my shapeless bulk. When I step outside, I add to that a puffa jacket and a scarf long enough to wind into a neck brace. A most fetching look.

I noticed, among my fellow passengers, as a foggy Glasgow appeared at the windows, that they had considered a vestment strategy. How had I not? This question has thought me a lot since I returned to zero. All I can guess is that I was in such a flapdoodle as I packed for the sunshine that my brain dealt only with the immediate. Then I realised that dealing with the immediate has become my default, for everything is immediate around dementia care and any unnecessaries are pushed into the shadowland. Although it is delightful, in many ways, to realise how much of life can be unnecessary when necessary, it behoves a girl to remember those things that still await her in the wings of her life. In Africa I went to a spa and had my nails done. This was a first for me as I usually just bite them off or clip them to the quick so as not to scratch anybody by mistake (or intentionally). I have enjoyed watching my French polish flash little white moons into my looking and this little indulgence will not revert to the shadowlands again. Although this indulgence may not be a regular thing, at least I know the pleasure of it. It isn’t just the nails and how they look. It is the time taken for myself, to sit and watch someone else caring for me. This is important, for all of us, not just me. Taking time to spend time with Me is not something many of us talk about without either getting embarrassed at the blank faces around us as we try to explain what we mean, or getting the giggles. Well, it does sound a bit ‘out there’ does it not? I think the key is not to bother explaining it at all to a world completely caught up in logic and the daily dash to Nowhere. Of course, not everyone is doing this dashing thing but most of us are if we are honest.

But the wisdoms keep coming. They go back to Rumi, to Ancient Greece, and further back, and we still don’t listen, because we have not learned how to live this way, the way of emotional intelligence, the way of good health, calm hearts and heads, peaceful sleep, gentle breathing and love of self, not matter what the demands of our lives. I don’t think it’s easy, far from it, but I do know we need to wake up to a different way of being. In a hysterically busy world we are but cogs in a million wheels, or that is how it seems. children, work, families, governments, religions, rules rules and more rules can overwhelm the very best of intentions. We can feel like tumbleweeds in a desert wind.

So how to change that feeling of being out of control of a life? I am no guru with a mouthful of answers but what I have learned in this decade of dementia care with all its associated ‘immediates’ is that I want to come out of this as intact as is possible. Too many of my compadres have fallen sick as a result of intense caring over a long period, wherein any time for self was intermittent and without a plan. Perhaps, like them, I thought it wouldn’t drag on for years but it does. Perhaps, like them, I thought I could wait for me, that I would be there at the other end, just as I was before. I don’t now. Now, I know better. This is a journey and there is no map, no destination I can stick a pin in. And it’s ok. In fact, I would not have learned the valuable lessons I have learned had dementia not come knocking. One of these lessons, the one I most value, is the importance of self love and how it never seemed important before. I don’t believe I am alone in this. With accusations of selfish up-yourself coming from older generations, schoolmarms and all the other ‘For Your Own Good’ ies, it would have cried anarchy and that meant trouble at any age. But I have learned to own the ‘selfish’ accusation and it fits me well. Let them think that, is what I said to myself and myself grinned wide.

There is no rule book for self love either. Only this. Stop and listen, as the world threatens to swallow you whole and the noise of it is deafening and the demands relentless, to what your heart whispers. Hear it and do as it guides you. Just once will do for now, because when it whispers again, you will hear it more clearly. Then go with it a second time, a third, a fourth and on and on until your heart is a match for both the outside world and the inside mind. I admit there is quite a lot of stopping required at first, until you get in step with You, but the rewards are endless. Eventually the outside of you fits the inside no matter what Life brings.

I arrive home tomorrow. Let’s see how clever I am at walking my talk when the old ways and I collide on a familiar doorstep. One thing I do believe in is all that stopping to listen to the inner whisper.

It just has to have made a difference.

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 134 Reality Check

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This morning the air is still on the island.  Nobody is about, except for the birds playing out their dramas.  The doves, including Dave,  whose mate was nabbed by a sparrowhawk a couple of years back, and who will always be a gooseberry, turn up to feed, their beaks tapping out a syncopated rythm on the wooden base of the bird table.  We found the remains of the kill on the track outside the house, and Dave stumbling about lopsided and scared. Not a lucky dove, we said.  After a week or so inside a box, fed and watered each day, he managed a wonky lift from the ground, straightened up and flew right onto the telephone wire.  We hadn’t fixed anything, weren’t sure how to, but perhaps the combination of love and his own will to survive did their work.  Now, however many pairs line the wire, sometimes up to 15 in the winter months, he is the uneven number, but always faithful, staying close to home, when the others loop away across the hills to build nests, raise young, complete the yearly circle once again.

A pair of swallows have taken the nest we fixed at the back of the garage years ago.  Each spring, they check it out, and each spring, they reject it.  Perhaps this is because we are constantly in and out of the garage, for it offers the only access to the hill garden at the back, where the bee hives nestle in the wild grass, their faces towards the sun.  Every day each community, numbering thousands apiece, fly out to find pollen. The scouts communicate directions to the others in waggle dances, performed on the front step and taken seriously by the other worker bees, all women of course, who might be dithering about which way to go.  The hive mind is an extraordinary thing and one that never sleeps, for even when the bees don’t fly, we know that if we lifted the lid (which is not for the faint-hearted) we would not see one single bee loafing about with a vacant look in her eye.  Every single one is busily employed, going about her business mindfully, intelligently, continuously.  Any loafers would be thrown out.

Trouble is, the swallows number three.  I don’t suppose this works, a menage a trois, in the swallow world, but the three of them dive in and out of the garage each early morning and evening.  On the wire, they have words.  No violence is employed, but you can tell, from the tone, that it’s not friendly.  Perhaps, like doves, and swans, swallows mate for life.  Perhaps this lone one lost its mate on that huge journey back from Africa.  We watched them gathering on wires, rooftops, swirling like a dark cloud over Capetown, when we were there in March, preparing for their flight across the globe, and we marvelled.  How they manage to find their old nest sites year after year beggars belief.  We would need maps, charts, radar, provisions, a transport vehicle, confidence, determination and periodic rests in soft beds with cotton sheets and a spacious en suite.  They just fly.

In honour of their unusual tryst, together with the excitement at their final acceptance of the Garden Centre nest, (buy one, get a House Martin one free) I have fixed signs, one on the inside of the door, so we remember not to dive out and head butt a swallow, and one for anyone coming through the little gate who needs guiding to the other door.  If we need to access the hill garden, we must open the garage door slowly, peeking gingerly out, to see if our new friends are around.  Sometimes they wobble on the inside washing line.  We need an inside washing line on the island, as the outside one is often long-term unemployed.  The concrete floor is already guano-ed up and this situation won’t change, as long as they decide, finally, to lay their eggs, which they still may not, given the human comings and goings.

As I walked Miss Poppy around Tapselteerie yesterday, she made me laugh at some antic and, in response to my voice breaking the silence of the afternoon, a well-hidden nest of young tits leapt into action, their collective cheeping floating out from one of the dark holes in the old dry stone wall.  The mother, behind me on a branch, yelled at them to shutup, but they were having none of it.  I didn’t stay around to worry her, but the experience lifted my heart, just to have been allowed to witness that moment, and to fix the knowledge of it into my ordinary day.  I call that an ‘internal shunt’, for It changes me, even though nothing has changed.  My usual list of miniature disasters is still there; the demands on my time, my patience, my purse, stay in place; nothing is certain, nothing really safe and nothing I can do to make it any different.  I could lose a loved one in a nanosecond and there is little I can do to stop it happening.  I can fall ill, a silent enemy moving in to establish victory whilst I dash through my daily list, unaware until too late.  But it does me no good to focus on what may or may not happen, in fact, it will falter my step, weaken me, make me dull at parties.  What I need to do, mindfully and intelligently, is to learn from the birds, from the natural world, of which I am a part.  I am at the top of the food chain, yes.  I can think and reason, yes.  And these gifts are not given to be wasted.  They are gifts of sight, gifts of power, not over others as we seem to believe, but over myself, the choice to get real, like the birds.

How does that song go………oh yes…..

‘Hey, you know what paradise is? It’s a lie
A fantasy we create about people and places as we’d like them to be
But you know what truth is?
It’s that little baby you’re holding, and it’s that man you fought with this morning
The same one you’re going to make love with tonight. That’s truth, that’s love.

I’ve been to paradise, but I’ve never been to me.’