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 113 Secrets and Mindfulness (plus donkey)

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Inside us lies a world of secrets.  Secrets we share with one or two trusted people, and secrets we never ever tell a soul.  There are secrets we won’t even share with ourselves.

I am learning the wonders of Mindfulness.  What it asks of me, this Mindfulness thingy is that I pause long enough to notice my responses to any stimulation, any event, any person, any words aimed at me, and so on.  For instance, if you say to me something like ‘ I wish you wouldn’t always kick my donkey when you walk through his field’ I might respond angrily, especially if it wisnae me in the first place, but just some woman who bought the same red jacket last Autumn. If I did kick the donkey, then I might respond defensively, maintaining that the donkey is bad tempered and sly, watching out for me crossing his field and making sure he whaps my shin when you’re not looking.

In both these cases I am holding a secret.  The first one will be that I think you are a stupid smug donkey-owner and I never liked, nor trusted you one tiny bit.  You are a gossip and probably spreading no end of rumours about me down at the shop.  I don’t tell you this, of course but hold this secret within my soft interior, a secret that rises like bile in my gut every time I have the misfortune to meet you in the road.

The second one could be that I do sneak about kicking donkeys, even if they do mind their own business and are astonished any time my boot makes contact.

I appreciate that the above example is a tad silly, and I would also like to state, for the record, that I have never kicked anyone’s donkey, even though anyone’s donkey most certainly has kicked me. But that’s another blog, another time.

My thoughts, my private thoughts are my secrets.  I like them, but there are times when I must allow them to fly away because holding onto them will harm me.

Anger and resentment for example will make me ill, or, at the very least, bring me lower back pain and plooks. Oh I know, absolutely know that people who say anger is a bad thing have never been angry enough.  Fear of anger, my own or just anger in general gives the powerful emotion very bad press, and quite wrongly so. Anger is an energy, creating adrenalin and heightened strength, and, mindfully employed, can achieve remarkable good things – lashing out with sharpened weaponry not being one of them. If I can accept and be thankful for this surge of anger and think about why I felt it so strongly when all you did was break my favourite coffee mug, I will eventually be able to understand the root of it all.  In the current climate, someone will probably tell me it’s all my mother’s fault, but I must look beyond her.  Although she is a convenient soft landing for the punch of blame, she won’t be the whole reason I can promise you that.

My over response to unkind words, or of being abandoned, rejected, accused or blamed will have its roots in childhood. Could be at home, at school, anywhere in the playround of youth.  Often, the lineage of those roots is untraceable back to source.  So what?  Mindfully I can accept this and move on, but not move on and hold onto them.  I must move on and let them go.  I don’t need them, they weigh me down and make me secretly kick donkeys and over-react to broken mugs.  I know I don’t like unkind words, but I also know that you may not have meant them they way I heard them.  I know I don’t like the accusing gossip in you, but you very probably don’t like much in me either and, as we don’t have to meet, let’s not. I don’t want to be rejected or dissed or ignored or abandoned, but life is going to throw all of them my way at some point.  If I am mindful of my response to any of these as they cross my path, I am going to hear my own secrets.  Instead of pretending that it is all ok and that I don’t hurt at all, I will be able to honestly allow anger to rise against the pain and deal with it all by myself.  I won’t need to snap at anyone, or kick a donkey.  Then, when you break my replacement, replacement, replacement coffee cup I will be able to say (and mean it) that it doesn’t matter one jot because it’s only a cup, and can be replaced (providing there are any left), whereas you are irreplaceable.

Island Blog 107 A Change in Time

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Well here we are on a Friday again and it seems like yesterday is was last Friday.

I know that as we get older we find time passing more quickly, but even young and sprightly things tell me they find it’s the same for them.  We have endless encouragement through the wise sayings of Deep Thinkers to make the very most of every minute, and we all nod, because we believe in such a truth and then carry on rushing past precious moments and precious people.

As a young mother I would decline all offers of a ‘quick cup of tea’ because I always had to be somewhere ten minutes ago, and calmly so.  I left, rushed, arriving way too early in a bright pink fluster, having no doubt remonstrated with one, or a few, of my children at the top of my tension, parked badly and banged my knee as I cornered too fast.

Why did I do that?  And worse, why did I keep doing it?  To arrive anywhere with my chest calm, my heart softly beating, my blood moving steadily and freely was a very rare and tea-less occurrence.

I can still say no to a cuppa and leave wondering why.  If I have said yes, and sat my butt on a stranger’s chair, patted another person’s dog, looked around another’s room, I have come away, not necessarily with the best cup of tea ever slopping inside my belly, but with my heart and head completely changed.  It was the encounter that mattered and the pleasure I gave and received by just saying yes, and giving myself to another soul.

The conversation can be wild, can be funny, can be informative and is sometimes astonishing.  The things on the inside of us never see the light of day in a shopping queue.  It is only when we sit and share something as ordinary as a cup of tea, that a person opens their heart.

‘Life is short’ is one of those immensely irritating cliches that makes me want to scream.  The reason I want to, but don’t, of course, is that saying these well known throwaway words make absolutely no difference to either the person saying it, or the person hearing it, for all the smiling and nodding that goes on.  However, it is the truth.  Over one single day, I know of people fighting for their very lives, when last Friday they were full of healthy bounce.  When they recover, they will truly know that Life is Short and both will change their lives, and the one area that will enjoy their total focus will be that of relationships.

All those terribly worldy concerns will melt away into a dirty puddle.  Suddenly, and it is sudden, the choice of family over work is easy.  Suddenly, it no longer matters if there is an immovable stain on the carpet, or the cooker stops working.  It no longer matters that our mother/sister/neighbour/cousin said something or did something to let us down, either yesterday or when we were six.  The familial baggage we lug through our healthy years, we can lay down and walk beyond.  Just like that.

What matters is the happiness within the home, the smiles we can bring to the faces of our loved ones, by forgetting Things and putting Them first.  There will never again be a chance that we would say yes to the boss, and call to cancel dinner out.

Nothing travels beyond the coffin, but the spirit of a person.  All else becomes dust.

We, who are still bouncing this Friday and not fighting for a second chance at life.. we who can change everything right now……. might pause for thought.

Island Blog 72 – Back to the Future

Island Blog 72

I’ve been digging.  Not in the garden, which, this year is doing without me.  First, I announced I was no longer the Little Weed Weeder.  No, not true.  First I looked out across the brown shrubs and trunks of winter resisting furiously the spring urge to spring, and not surprisingly, as the sky was still the colour of ice and the wind sharp enough to cut through fast food packaging. Although part of me longed for the warmth, there is a price to pay for warmth I have found and it arrives overnight in wide seas of determined green, growing more determined as the days follow the nights.  I had gravel outside the door a month ago.  Not any longer.  Now it is a wondrous display of dandelions, plantains, campion and thistles.  Much softer underfoot.

That’s when I made my announcement.

Yesterday I did waiver eversoslightly when Guilt nudged my elbow and made me take a good look at the sloppy trollope I have become.

No, I said, No….go away (or words to that effect) – for I have a book to write, a new one and if I start following your fat batty guilt as I have done for centuries, I will find my gravel but lose my raison d’etre, and, having only just found it, I don’t plan to do that.

Back to my digging.

In boxes, cupboards, drawers and the like, I am finding trinkets and gewgaws from 200 years ago and marvelling at the quality of materials and workmanship. These things may be cracked or damaged, and they all smell funny, but they still work, still open and close as they did at first and that is a lot more than can be said of pretty much anything for sale on our high streets today. I am careful how I word that bit for there are indeed exceptionally high standards of workmanship spread right across the material world, but the attitude of care and accompanying skills in crafting each item as an individual piece is no longer something we expect.

As I find each piece, I can tell you nothing about it.  Chaps no longer keep a personalised manicure set bound in leather, each piece resting in a nest of soft blue velvet.  For a start, it is cumbersome, and would probably make his hand luggage too heavy.  For the ladies, a weighty and heavily ornate ladies make-up mirror.  Something else to dust and polish and blow that for a lark.  Leather bound snuff boxes, cigarette cases, monogrammed and silvered up enough for royalty, silver lighters, personal ash trays, also monogrammed, for waistcoat pockets or handbags.  Nobody smokes anymore and those who do have packets in pockets and hide round stony cold corners.  There would be little interest in the sporting of flashy pointers towards the habit they would dearly love to break.

And so on and on.

So, what to do with it all?  Do we, as Keepers of the Past, keep it?  And for what?  Our ikea children?

I don’t think so.  I think we should hold the stories and tell them into the ears of the children who want to know.  After all, not everyone is interested in great granny’s trinkets, having never even met the old girl.  And then, I think we should clear our attics, empty our veneered cabinets of decorative cups and quaintly useless fal-de-lal, and move them on.  Otherwise, trust me, when we are pushing up the daisies, some poor soul will have that awful job of clearing it all out in a volatile atmosphere of ignorance, guilt and sentimentality.  In my own role as Clearer Out, I struggled a lot.  Not with the clearing, for we could hardly breathe in this little place for lumpy trinkets and I could hardly wait for the new wheelie bins to be delivered- but with the familial tussle over letting anything go, as if, in doing so, we would threw out granny’s memory as well.

What we need to learn is to let go of things that do not take us forward in our lives.  So many of us, including this sloppy trollope, waste our precious days in general maintenance, allowing our God given gifts to float away into the recesses of our minds like clouds.  Come the day we lie, wondering what on earth we have achieved in our life, we just know we didn’t get it right.  Oh we may have polished, and labelled, looked after and managed, but did we create something completely new?  Did we say Poo to all that grey mind-numbing drudge and turn towards doing what we know we love, even if we don’t yet know how to make it work?  Did we risk?  Did we clear out the ‘granny junk’, still remembering her sparkle, her wisdom, her humour, those things that changed us and made us who we are, or did we store it in the loft, in mice-chewed boxes, moaning every time we had to dust or polish things we hate looking at?

Letting go is not easy for most.  And yet, it is the only way to clear space for the new and I do not mean substitute material trinkets.

I mean space.  Emptiness.  Nothing.  Patience.

One day, an idea will come.  Let it settle.

Then begin.