Island Blog – Feeling the Bones

As I walk beneath the coppering beech trees, the bare bones of ancient larch, the garnets of gold on this tree and that, like halos, I become suddenly aware of my body. Paying attention to this I can feel each muscle ripple and stretch, contract and stretch again as my legs take me down the track. In my mind’s eye I see my bones, my skeleton and it makes me laugh out loud. I think, What if someone saw me like this? All flowing frock and skinny bones. I hear the creak and grind of ball and socket, the constant movement deep inside my skin, my protecting armour. I think of all that movement, that silent and secret life of very important organs and other bits of gloopy squidge that mean the bones can keep me going. I stretch my bare toes inside my furry boots, consider each one and its unique purpose. I feel the stones beneath my rubber soles and notice how that foot, those toes, work together without me doing anything conscious at all. One toe less and I would be wonky chops for as long as it took my brain to catch up, to readjust, to set me level once more. I flex my fingers, the only part of me not moving, as they hang limp inside my warm fingerless mittens. They curl in repose and are colder than any other part of me. I lift one hand to my face and study those gnarled old digits which have worked hard and for many many years at all sorts of different things. These bumpy looking sticky-out appendages can play soft and soothing piano. They have held newborns and adults in times of joy and times of grief. They have obediently frocked me up of a morning and then deconstructed me at bedtime. They have made tea, dinners and beds. This finger has pointed. Often. In anger, at an astonishing sight, at the openly merry mouth of a welcoming cafe in a rainstorm. This thumb has pressed, eased and held down string for knotting. So many important actions I simply took for granted.

Moving on through the canopy of beech and alder, hazel scrub and ancient pines I notice a newly dead pine, tall as a building and now naked as a skeleton. A peppering of holes tells me of woodpeckers and unfortunate bugs. The spine is almost white, all sung out now and suggesting firewood. The tide flows noisily out followed by a shriek and cackle of gulls, snow-white against the smoky grey of a raincloud. Earlier I had watched 3 otters fishing in the sea-loch, when the tide had stopped to draw breath before turning back to Mother Atlantic. Flat water. Otters like flat water, I have noticed. I suspect it is a more peaceable hunt for them.

Still aware of my body moving, still feeling and noticing, I realise I haven’t done this before, not quite like this. I didn’t set out to notice. The ‘notice’ just came as if something had changed outside of me drawing my attention. Staying with the moment and allowing it to take control I consider what this body, this mind, this vital combination has achieved through life and what it is achieving now. Perhaps as we age we grow more aware of such things, whereas in youth we just expect everything to work without question. Perhaps. Does it matter? No, it does not. What matters is simply that I respond to the gentle nudge of awareness and that I engage with it.

I am happy to report that the walkers I did meet on the track were not horrified by a skeleton in a frock and furry boots and I am glad of it. This special and powerful invitation for an inner dance was for me. Just me.

Island Blog – A Secret Garden of Change

When change or improvement of standards are required, they nudge me, bump me, sprawl me until I turn to acknowledge their existence. I don’t really want to make friends with any of them to be honest because change, or improvement of an existing way of doing things, requires effort and action and the only person who can effect said change or improvement is little old me. Me, who, btw was quite happy not changing for ages, dammit. But these infuriating bumpers, nudgers and sprawlers will not give up. They know, smartarses that they are, that they know a better or, worse, a new way to do an old thing. However, I have to admit that on consideration I can see their point. There is always a better way to do anything, everything, always. Pretending I am not interested just sharpens their wits so that they bounce and trounce me from around corners that were just corners before – nothing lying in wait for me. It’s like hide and seek except they are the only ones hiding and seeking. Okay, okay, I say from where I have landed all ungainly and definitely cornered, okay. I’ll do it.

Now the work begins. I must deconstruct the doing bit of this thing, embark on a new spreadsheet #myanathema, write a list of do’s and absolutely do nots and this is the hardest bit. Absolutely do nots are so well established in my neural pathways that it is going to take the wiles and the wisdom of Captain Cooke to navigate new passage and I’m already yawning. However, I do know what comes next for I remember this embarkation process of old. Change is a procedure and can drag on for months. What it does not do is arrive for one sleepover with an instant solution in its pyjama pocket. I don’t get handed a miracle, complete, accomplished. Oh no indeed. What I need to do now is to relocate the secret garden, find the key and walk myself inside. Once within those walls that hide me from the world, I must open my mind, be still, reflect, consider and above all, not come out again until I know what I need to do next.

In order to effect change, to add gravitas to a new way of seeing and doing an old thing, or even to not do that old thing anymore, there is an uncomfortable period of self restraint. In small matters such as biting someone’s head off every time they slap their lips together whilst eating toast, or turning into Miss Trunchbull at every spill of milk, or a big matter like eating a whole cake for lunch every day, thus putting on 3 stone in a week, there must be a time when self control, diversionary tactics and a plastic smile must be applied appropriately. Whatever it is, we all know what we need to do but not always how to do it. The steps towards refinement of a person are so personal that there is no official manual to follow. And some of don’t fancy refining anyway, which is perfectly okay by me. I am not one of those people. I most definitely fancy refining but it still irritates the bejabers out of me. Just when I think I could not do this thing any better, those nudgers, bumpers and sprawlers who, obviously, don’t have enough takers for their grand designs, arrive to trip me up and, with my eyes rolling back in my head, I am eventually given no option but to turn around and acknowledge them. Again.

When I have finally conceded defeat and am still and reflective inside the secret garden I always wonder why I resisted to the degree that I did. Surely everyone loves to be better, kinder, more sensitive, compassionate, interested – curious to find out how they will feel as the process of effecting change reveals that which was hidden before. It’s like an Alice adventure. Wandering through the fruit trees, noticing the delicacy of petals, their vibrant colour, hearing the birdsong, the bee song, the rustle of soft breezes combing the leaves on the tallest tree, looking up at the wide, clear sky, all this stops me, halts my breath, slows my mind. And it is healing me too. From here I can see the old thing, the old way, as definitely passed its sell-by date. Why did I not see that out there? Well, I’ll tell you why. Out there, running like a hare on fire, doing things out of habit, routine or because my mother always did it that way, leaves no room for my imagination to rise above zero. I might think everything is tickety boo but that is my illusion, my delusion. Inside the secret garden of change I can see that now. I can breathe at my own speed, hear my breath, feel my heartbeat. I notice, that’s what I do, in here, waiting, reflecting, accepting. Out there I could run into a herd of elephants and not see them until we collide.

Everyone has a secret garden and everyone has a key. That’s the wonder of this human life.