Island Blog – Two Ways of Looking

I have weird taste in breakfasts. Where most good folk are chomping on muesli, yoghurt and fruit, I hanker for poached egg over warmed avocado and chopped banana with lemon juice, salt, pepper and herbs. Sometimes I tuck into last night’s leftovers. I don’t have a sweet tooth, in fact teeth play a lead part in my breakfast choice because it takes me a whole lot of work, and time, to sort them out after muesli. I also eat very early, long before the sun is up so that lunch is often required around 11 am. Living alone, this is not a problem at all. Who cares when I eat? Who will notice? Only me and that’s just fine.

There are times, I confess, when I think enviously of those who sleep for 7 wonderful hours and who, on waking, can sip tea or coffee, read in bed, pondering the day from the warm snuggle of a duvet for another hour or so. These people sleep, I understand that, whereas I can manage a few short hours at best, waking into darkness and with no desire to remain in bed for another second. I am way too excited about the day ahead, too curious to see what awaits me downstairs. Did I wash the supper dishes? Did I buy something online, something I absolutely do not need at all? As I rise, I laugh at myself, at those questions. Washing dishes after each meal was a big issue when I cooked meals for large numbers of hungry people, most of whom were in my own family, but not now. One plate, one pan, one knife, one fork. I can barely see them on the draining board. Back in the years of manifold dishes there would have been a crockery crash had I not washed up after every meal. But it does think me because I know how easy it is to not bother as a live-alone person ages. There is nobody here to judge my standards after all. Ah, no, that’s not true because there is me and I am the strictest judge of self. My standards are always in need of improvement, and I have vowed as I watched other live-alones get sloppy that I would never allow that in myself. So, the dishes are washed, the floors swept, the bathroom clean, the rugs bashed to death and if the dog starts to smell, she is dunked in a bucket and scrubbed to a shine.

In short, it is exhausting being me. I often wish I could lower some of my standards, not one of which I expect to see in another living soul. Quite the opposite. Was I reared to be so damn critical of myself, allowing no laxity? Very probably. But surely at my age I could be less driven? It seems that I am fated to run all the way up to the end. I can’t even sit still for long, the dance in me is too dancey. I am curious about what might be around the next corner and I just have to find out, even if it is only another corner, which it often is. This doesn’t slow me down at all and when I think of this condition, this endless curiosity, I can see it two ways. Fidget, restless, too imaginative, hyperactive, or really alive, curious, interested, imaginative, mischievous, fun, inspiring.

I pick the latter.

Island Blog – Turnaround

I remember dancing as a child. I found most of it easy but the turns were tough. I had to spin my head quicker than my body so as not to fall over. Whip, whip, whip, focus on the point I chose pre spin. It kept my spine straight, my neck erect, no dipping. Dipping meant slipping and slipping meant an ungainly sprawl in the chalk dust. In ordinary life, walking or running, not dancing, a turn can topple unless there is a focal point, one level with my eyes but far ahead, or far behind. A child falling, a call from inside a crowd, a sudden scary alert. Eyes matter in any turn thingy. I wonder about someone who is blind, who cannot eyeball anything but who can still remain steady on fickle pins. It is magic to me.

These days of learning how to live alone require some turning. This lady, unlike others, is for turning. Not back, no, but in that full whipswing of dance. A fleeting look at what lies behind in the past, a millisecond appraisal of what was and what is still there at my back, but with no plan to stay looking at it. Grandmother’s footsteps, her old eyes on any twitch of movement, any sign of life. She will get you, this grandmother, when you from behind her, wobble, and she will be merciless in her judgement. You moved. You are out.

I walk today with a lovely young friend. It is a chance meet, she thinks, but I see her coming and make myself visible, asking to join her, if she wants. She does. We wander through the bowed leaves of the Summer flushtrees, over the scatter rocks of basalt shoreline, both solid and wobbly beneath our feet. She moves like Artemis, I like, well, Grandmother. We talk of this and that, cabbages and kings, of life and…..oh, Covid. We both wonder what the world will talk about without such a highborn deity as a source of idle conversation, for it is just that, an invisible power, a controlling force with the ability to kill at random. Before Covid, it was Weather and, to be honest, at least Covid has something individualistic to offer whereas Weather is the same for all of us, no matter who experiences it.

I am aware, very much so, of something this day. Of being very alone. Funny, that even in a warm and friendly village of warm friendly folk, feeling alone can rise strong as whiplash. It thinks me. Alone, Mrs Sensible tells me, her in her ironed apron (who irons aprons??) and her wisdoms that line up for timed release like clay pigeons, is nothing to fear. Good, I say, because she takes no argument, even though I would love her to ask me a question on my feelings of aloneness. She doesn’t, so I will tell you. It is the prospect of days ahead; the point of those days ahead; the fears, doubts and stultifying freeze of my turnaround. I know I want it, but what does it look like and, btw, is it for me……is it too late……can I still spin….whip whip and focus on the point? What is the point?

I suspect these are understandable questions. I suspect that many in a similar situation to my own will be/are asking them. What would I say to you if we were to meet? I would reassure. I would, even in sublime ignorance of pretty much all of your life, just sit with you and absolutely NOT say that you have a point, when you just told me you don’t. I would absolutely NOT say there is a wonderful future ahead when you just told me you cannot see it. I would NOT say that you need to get out more, connect more, take up a hobby or work on your whipspin. I would NOT.

So what would I say? Maybe nothing much. Maybe I would offer to make tea, pour wine, tell you how pretty you look in that dress, or how I have always thought your eyes sparkle like the sea in sunshine when you laugh, or that I remember that delicious chickpea curry you made last century when we were young and believed that we would take over the world. Yes. That is what I would say. And in meeting you at the place in which you sit/stand/turn or wobble right now, perhaps you will feel less alone, just for now and maybe that ‘just for now’ will follow you back home and you will sense it there as you walk. Perhaps you will pause, eyes on the road ahead and yet intrigued. Perhaps the dancer in you will smile, pause, and whip around for a quick glimpse and maybe that quick glimpse will tell you there is a friend behind you all the way.

And that friend is your own turnaround self.

Island Blog – Love, Belonging and Happiness

I have been thinking lately of what it is we all long for in our lives. It isn’t an abundance of money, even if we think it is. It isn’t a bigger house or a motorbike or a puppy. It isn’t a holiday in the sun or new clothes or to win Britain’s Got Talent. What we all long for above all else is to be loved, to belong, to find in another/others all that confirms we really really matter, not for what we do, but for who we really are. In other words, to be happy and truly, deeply so.

We learn from childhood to design ourselves in a way that is acceptable to others, to parents, friends, siblings or teachers. We want to fit in. We long to fit in. It is a primal need. And, yet, in designing ourselves according to others’ ideas of who we are, we lose ourselves. We all do it. If the way we want to be conflicts with their ideal, and if we are strongly convinced of our own way of being, we will come up against the rocks. We will be labelled naughty, bad, impossible, awkward and Trouble. It is mighty exhausting to live this way and not many of us keep it up for long. After all, who wants to be sent to their room over and over again until they come to their senses? In other words until we conform and submit, and we carry that need for acceptance on and on throughout our lives unless we notice, see and call a halt.

But how to relocate a self, hewed by many into a shape that has no connection with who we are is indeed a big challenge. We may have walked under clouds for decades, behaving as we ought and as we should, all grey and soggy and with no idea why we ever let it happen at all. We may well have imposed the same on our own children and that is a sobering thought. The key, I believe, is to notice what we do in order to please others, whilst displeasing ourselves. We give, teeth gritted. Well, how about not giving that way? How about saying, gently and firmly, No, I cannot do that today/now/for you? Would that be so very hard? Yes, it would, the first time, but not thereafter, as the words come more easily. You notice how your shoulders come down and your back tension is less; your teeth no longer grit, your stomach is calm and you feel you are honouring yourself for once as those soggy grey clouds lift and the sun streaks through like honey drizzle on porridge. You begin to find out that, contrary to your entrenched belief, you rather like yourself. You don’t waste a moment beating yourself up, well maybe once or twice, for letting this all happen as you begin to re-design your own wonderful self. You are wonderful just as you are right now and the only person who will take some persuading of this is you.

You may not have a clue as to the road ahead, may not even see it through the fog, but, trust me, a way will show itself once that decision to be who you are settles within. You just know you will not longer live through other people and their opinions, through the currently acceptable shape and form of being someone who ‘fits in’. That sister who talks over you, so certain is she of how it should be done; that parent who wants everything to be as it always was and who will loudly and powerfully berate your resistance; that friend who expects you to give as they give. If none of these roles sit easy with you then Do Something to effect a change.

We only have one life. How about really living it? Therein, my friends, lies happiness, one that will, in time, light up not only your own self but will bring surprising joys once everyone gets the hang of you and comes to admire your courage. Which they will. And it all begins with you and with me.

Island Blog – Snow Angels

This very day I set sail, winds permitting, for the mainland. Destination the French Alps. I travel with family, kiddies and adults and am away for a week. In theory I will don ski boots and give the slopes a chance to delight and excite me, but my last efforts at maintaining the vertical in such conditions warn me that I may not continue with my lessons. Back in the day when I was a tricky teenager I really hated ski lessons. In fact, I only had one and that was enough. I am a walker by nature, taking my time, gathering no speed and certainly not at the mercy of those long Turkish slippers. In walking, I control myself.

It thinks me. Although I am not interested in gathering unnecessary speed either grounded or in elevated position, such as on the back of a horse, or inside a car, or, even, on skis, I always like to give something my best shot before saying this is not for me. It is the same with anything I do in life. To say ‘this is not for me’ without experiential knowledge of that to which I say No, is just plain foolish. How can I possibly know from the outside of anything? Of course, there are many things in this life, in any life, to which saying No is just not an option. But there are ways around that too.

Say I am stuck in a job I dislike, that doesn’t float my boat. I may dread stepping into another day of this arduous drudgery, among these people who aren’t of my tribe, who don’t respect and value my work, and yet it seems I have no choice if the bread is to be earned. There are two ways to change how this goes. Either I tell myself that these people do not define me, that I know my work is of value and that I wholly respect myself, leading me to research new work and to give in my notice, or I take a good look at my perception of the situation and work on changing it. I know, from experience that this is entirely possible when giving in notice is a million miles from possible.

Snow is both cold and exciting. If I don’t continue with my lessons there is a vast array of alternative pleasures. I could walk over it, listening to the scrunch of it beneath my feet, look back on my footprints alongside all the others of those who have walked this way before me. I could consider their lives, their size and weight, their choice of boot. I could look up to where the mountains point into the sky, imagine the cold up there, wonder who climbed so high and how it might have changed their view on life. I could see the flowers in Springtime, now sleeping beneath their winter blanket, careless of the weight of human trudge. I could hear the laughter, ride on the chairlift, laugh and play with snowballs, breathe in the ice and feel it freeze my face. I could watch the skiers and marvel at their skill, my heart in my mouth as they hurtle down the breast of this huge majestic mountain. I could even see Hannibal and his elephants and wonder at his courage.

In ordinary times, as the West Coast rain rains and rains without ceasing, it is hard to imagine that in a few hours I will be in a very different landscape. I have my writing pad, my books, my waterproof kit and, most important of all, I have me. How this holiday goes for me is down to me, no matter how many others I may share it with. In order to really ‘see’ it all, I must clear my misperceptions and step out naked, obviously not literally or I may not get home at all, and be as a child, ready for any mystery to open out before me. It is no different at home, just much harder to believe in, but it is the key to life and I have proved it over and over again. The drudge is inside a mind, not out there, as is my definition of myself, my love and respect of self, my childlike sense of mystery ahead. And, although it could be hard to make a snow angel from rain, I will give it my best shot when I get home.

Island Blog – Into the Mirror

Last night I dreamed the strangest of dreams. Everything is acceptable, believable, in dreams. The craziest happenings are, well, just normal. I had driven miles to a place in the middle of nowhere, a place of one house at a time and hundreds of miles apart. In between, vast cornfields. Poppies and other wildflowers grew at the edge of one such field, although I never found the responding edge. Chances are it was a three day drive away, so huge was this crop of golden stems. Man food. I considered those who were here before, the wildflowers, the great trees, the wildlife, all working together in a synergy we have never successfully simulated.

I parked at the end of a track but could see the guest house nestled in a halo of man-planted, fast growing shrubbery and whiskery trees. I was extremely tired and considered, for a while, sleeping in my car. But the longing to lie down between crisp cotton sheets overtook such thought and propelled me towards the door and check-in.

My room had no walls. Not one. It seemed quite normal to me. Furniture, a desk, a cupboard with hangers, a chest of drawers and a chair created the illusion of a contained space. There was even a door in a frame, attached to nothing. I lay awake a while staring out at the cornfield, watching it vanish as the dark intensified. Then I slept and deeply.

I awoke to the sound of the door opening. A manservant (I knew him by his dress and his demeanour) came in with a silver coffee pot to fill my cup. I asked him the time and when he told me it was 9 am I was astonished. I never sleep beyond 6. I rose, dressed and headed out for a cornfield walk. A man walked by on stilts and I greeted him, watching him lope through the corn in long easy strides. Two children played with a stuffed giraffe. I heard their laughter before I saw them. This giraffe was a fully grown male, or had been, once and it was lying on its side. The children jumped over his neck, a skipping game of their own devise. The girl, breathless, sank down to wrap her arms around the long neck, her little fingers scratching over the glass eye. I watched them a while. All still perfectly normal.

On my return, I found a woman entirely dressed in pink in a warm motherly sort of way, sitting at a trestle table upon which sat pots and bowls of red jelly and a round mirror on a stand. She tipped jelly from one container to another, studied her work and noted her findings down in a little book. I stopped to greet her, thinking she was my hostess but she assured me she was not. I lingered awhile watching her work. She was lost in it until she suddenly came back to me and smiled, turning the mirror around until I saw me looking back.

It thinks me; not what it all meant because dream divination is not my skill, nor my interest, but more, why the mirror? I know that at the end of every road is a mirror. I read it once, heard it said often. The mirror shows me, me. It also shows what is behind me, the places I have been, my part in a created past, my past, my creation. How I felt, how I feel when catching sight of my reflected self is always a surprise. I look like that? Seriously? From behind these eyes of mine I see ahead. I see you but I don’t see me and when I do, it takes me a few seconds to acknowledge my own face. It brings me back to me and a lot of questions. Am I happy with myself, proud of my achievements? Am I kind and compassionate, strong and vulnerable, humble and yet ready to fight for my beliefs, for others, for justice? Only when I have made answer, settled my initial fright, can I turn back to looking out.

I remember one counsellor (been to hundreds) suggesting mirror work. Back then I could barely look myself in the eye, turning hurriedly from a snap reflection in a shop window. Now I get it. The mirror is vital as a reminder that life is not someone else’s problem, but my own. The walking out, of Me, matters. Not just to others but much more so to myself. All the great and good know this, taught it and still do. All religions hold loving self as a basic truth, a first step, the very heartbeat of life. Until we can look long and steady into that mirror, sorting out all those failings that make us turn away, we will live only half a life. We will snap back into our shame and blame as great pretenders. We will arrive at the final day and wonder what happened.

I want to meet that last mirror with a long hard look, no secrets, no shame. I want to see the miles and miles of my past just as it was and know I did more than okay. And then, to move on.

Island Blog – Dot Dot or Dash

Last night we had a thunderstorm. Huge flashes of greenish light illuminated the darkness in my room turning the furniture into eerie monsters. The thunder didn’t bother with clapping. It roared like a god in a filthy temper. And the show went on, and on, and on. I could have been at a rock concert. Sleep gave in and curled up without me and I turned to my book for solace, two books actually, one on meditation, the other on Forgetting Self. Each time the lightning flashed I startled, counted, held my breath as the storm rolled around the Blue Mountains then deafened me with an explosion of thunder so as to make me ask myself what would happen if the sky really did fall down. I don’t remember when it grew calm again but by then it was already light and the day was rising into life.

Sipping strong coffee the storm thinks me. Not just the thunder and the lightning but my part in the performance. I was there. I heard it, saw it, thought about it, tossed and turned inside it, sighed at it and read to distract myself whilst it made its attention seeking journey across my night. I watched the way ordinary becomes extraordinary, the eerie furniture in greenish light, noticed how the flash-shadows menaced my thinking, felt the anticipation, acknowledged my insignificance beneath such life/death power. This its what Life does. That’s what I thought. Life lives on and Life is everything, everyone and everywhere. And I am not everything, nor everyone, nor everywhere. I am a small dot in a vast and endless tapestry of colour and form, shape and design, texture and flow. My world is piddling in this everywhere-ness, just a blip, just a dot and yet I can believe, in my arrogance, that my world is of tantamount importance. More important than yours, for instance, with a more considered layout and healthier stuff in my fridge; my Christmas tree is bigger and better decorated; my children more polite; my floors cleaner, my day more organised, my diary up to date and my appliances all charged.

What foolish nonsense is this! Even writing it down I smirk at such thinking and yet such thinking thinks me at times because in creating a warm wrap of ‘smug’ I feel safe in this everywhere and everyone world. Unless I decide to unthink the thinks. To change them.

I have used my time here in the African bush for much unthinking. With my piddling world many thousands of miles away it has been possible to look back, forward and at each moment and it has been a splendid journey. In ordinary life I/we tend to run through the trivia, listing it, dealing with it, sorting out the bits that don’t fit, dashing through the to-do list in order to arrive. Why is that? Is it because we feel we must get through everything in order to win a prize? Where is this prize anyway? I’ve never won it and that’s for sure. All I achieved was over-tiredness and a mouth full of scratchy nips. Did I seek pity from those I scratchy nipped? When I was too busy ‘Sorry, Thingy, I’m too busy to chat just now, got to dash’, to give of my time (so much more precious than yours by the way) and way too behind on the day’s to-do list to listen to your story down the phone line (I’ll call you back……yeah, right!) did I consider you for one single moment? I don’t think so. Although we say, particularly at Christmas, that we will give more time/of ourself to our family, friends, neighbours and strangers, we mostly unthink that once the gloom of January sets in. We get all emotional about change but once a year. Sounds ridiculous to me. How can anyone change but once a year? I’m changing every day, don’t know about you. I believe that life is change and the whole flipping point of being a dot on the tapestry of Life is to make a difference to the whole. Without the dot that is I, the dot that is you, this line would merge with that line. We dots are important, critical in fact, as long as we think beyond our piddlingness and pay attention to our dotting process. We could be a big dot. We might even be a scatter of dots, depending on how wide our loving arms can reach, on what kindnesses we proffer and how often we proffer them. Inconvenient? Absolutely. Interruptus? Of Coursicus. Infuriating? Oh yes. But, the inside feeling that comes from knowing we showed kindness, respect and affection to whoever disturbed our extremely valuable time will leave a glow inside that no outward success can ever bring.

And that is the Prize.