Island Blog 158 A Missing Mountain

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Yesterday the top of the mountain was missing.  Cloud cover was low, thick as my mother’s whipped egg whites.  I sat watching it, missing, for quite some time; a whole mug of coffee, to be precise and it thinked me of how my eye is drawn to something that was there, always there, and now, is not.  Sometimes, as I scan the morning, spreading out in fingers of light across the grass and down to the sealoch, I know something has changed but, for a while, I can’t say what.  Perhaps the greylags are grazing, blending perfectly into the willow scrub and the stands of wiry old grass, and, then, one of them moves.  All I am aware of is change.  Walking along the Tapselteerie tracks, my attention is drawn uphill, to where the tall pines wave their arms at the sky, their bodies a shining deep red, wet still from the rain last night.  I look and look but they are all there……ah. no. One is missing a rib.

As I walk on, move on into the day, I consider how easy it would have been for me to miss this change or that.  All I have to be is slave to my to-do list, my plan for the day, the caterwaulings of my mind, the pressures I feel I am under to achieve. My alert button is on mute.  Knowing, deep within that I want to stop and notice missing mountains, I keep going.  The mountain will either return or it won’t, isn’t that right?  What is it to me either way when there is shopping to be shopped for, admin to complete, emails to respond to, rooms to be cleaned, washing to be washed?

Well, I’ll tell you what it is to me.  It is something mysterious, something beyond myself and my piddling little life, and it begs consideration.  When life teeters off balance, which it always does just when I think I have it all levelled up nicely, I need the acceptance of mystery to carry me onwards, because that acceptance brings in new game players, hope and faith.  If my life is all about lists and control then I am set up for a fall.  There are books and essays, wisdoms, poems, short stories, plays, documentaries, novels and memoirs all addressing the bizarre human failing to celebrate the unknown, the unfathomable, the unexplainable.  Even if I know there are geese grazing, or tops of mountains lost in cloud, and I study those subjects in intricate detail so that I beome an expert, something will take them a step further without me, for everything is changing all of the time, with or without our involvement.  And yet, and yet, we fight, daily, to control all of life, not just our own.  We justify and explain as much as we possibly can, and those things we just can’t, we dismiss – even if we agree that there has always been ‘imbalance’ in nature, chaos in nature.  We call it the natural world, and behave around it as if it were completely unnatural to us.

And still we long for it.  There is inside every one of us a deep connection to the wild places, to the mysteries of life, to the impossible, the unbelievable. People sigh with green envy just hearing me speak of the view from my window, the wild all around me, but you don’t need to live in the wild to know that it is all around you.  I believe that, although we fight to be in charge, the desire not to be in control of everything is strong.  Besides, if we are really in control of it all, then what a mess we have made, together, or alone, for nobody is really smug about getting everything right.  You can think you love your children without judgement but they will still feel judged at some point.  You can think you are the perfect boss, until someone hands in their notice because you expect too much. You can think all sorts of things for years and be oh so horribly wrong.

Most of us are taught to find our best way to walk through our own lives, to know our enemy, to keep our house in order, and yet overnight, however strong the walls, however well-kempt, that house can be whipped away from us, metaphorically and literally speaking. We can have money in the bank and lose it all.  We can think we are well and find, in one moment, we are far from that. When we root ourselves in what we can control, can organise into a perfect order, we are looking at the wrong things. I hear people tell me they have no choice about their lives, and I always challenge that, for it is not the truth.  We all have the choice, nobody controls that but our own selves.

My question is what have we done to ensure personal inner strength, in order to cope with disaster?  Have we read good books, watched mountains re-appear, paid attention to what our loved ones don’t say? Have we watched a whole sunset, or just taken a quick look and said ‘Oh Wow’ and gone back to the email telling Mr Whatnot just what we’d like to do with him? I am not saying we should loaf about waiting for mountains to disappear or for suns to set, but I am saying that we don’t give the mystery and wonder of these sights the time they deserve.  What happens when really watching, really engaging with nature working her magic, is that it changes my thinking.  It lifts my thoughts beyond my piddling little lists and into a greater mindfulness. If I spend time each day watching, noticing, stopping the car, walking down a country lane, I will begin to feel differently about the balance of important/not important inside my life.  If I really stop to really watch a pair of cherry-breasted bullfinches in scatterwood, or really listen to the sound of the wind making music in the branches of an old beech tree, or stop to chat with an old man on a bench, then trust me, I will be a much gentler person on my return to my ordinary, explainable, controllable day.

I think we need to pay serious attention, and right now, because  balance, as the hapless world teaches it, is not balance at all.

Island Blog 146 Travelling Light

suitcaseAs I pack my bag for the trip to the Reader Room on Skye, I meet all sorts of thought tangles. What to take, what not to take and in which suitcase. The big stripey one or the smaller spotty one? Both have noisy wheels and both weigh too much empty. I won’t need much, will I? Just jeans and tops, a warm jumper, walking boots, books, notes, wash things, face paint, a frock for the night, leggings. The smaller spotty one will do. Until it won’t.

Travelling light is a dream of mine, almost a passion. I want to be light and flexible, easy to move along please, to glide through doorways, over metal bridges without needing CPR on the other side. I want to fit into that space the huge-suitcased lumberers leave between themselves and the dangerous side of the pavement or platform. To scurry, hurtle, dash with momentum and forward thrust. I want to be at my destination before half of these goodly folk have reached the ticket barrier. I catch earlier trains that way, denying myself the takeaway coffee, the creamy bun. I don’t push or shove. I am perfectly respectful of the Overladen, but my constantly working mind maps out the fast route and my feet take me on. I don’t mind queuing at all and must be the only Brit who doesn’t. I just factor it into my dash to wherever I’m going, and speed up where necessary when momentum is paused.

Travelling light, I tell myself, is a state of mind, a decision. Taking too many changes of clothing, just in case, comes from a place of fear. Will I have the ‘right’ thing to wear? Will I be too cold or too hot? Have I the right shoes? All of this is dithering and arrives me laden, out of breath, hot, bothered, and with a load of unnecessary vestments, not one of which gets beyond crumpling itself in the dark depths of my suitcase. But we all do this dithering, if we’re honest.

When I first decided to travel light, it was to a funeral in Yorkshire. I just needed the gear for the church, and mufti. We said bye bye to the kids, minder, collies and cats and left Tapselteerie. It was coming into York that we discovered we had left the cases in the front hall. As our life had always been lived by making good decisions quickly in the face of adversity, we dived into a dress shop and bought this and this and that, then shoes, and arrived at the funeral with the labels still attached. Nobody cared. It was enough that we had made the journey.

The second time was when I went South for a different occasion, on my own. This time, I did have my lightly packed suitcase with me, too heavy even when empty, and handed it over to the nice Easy Jet steward at check-in. I arrived, my case did not. Mum and I dashed to Sainsbury’s, picked this and this and yes, shoes, and off I went to my date. Nobody cared. It was enough that I had made the journey. My case arrived home ahead of me, minus a handle, rendering it completely pointless.

It has happened since, the careful planning, folding, fitting into a small space, all that I think I might need, in case of shipwrecks, strandings, sudden invitations to a military ball, a funeral, a heatwave in October, that my luggage has abandoned me. I have always found a laugh in it, after my initial fish wife impression. I have borrowed clothes I would never buy, applied make-up all wrong for my small pale face, shared toothpaste, boots and even underwear, but, most of all, I was given the chance to find my sense of humour and to lean on it as my support. In the absence of things, I found people, and people can rise over things every time. It’s boundless, the human spirit, warm and strong and constant. Their handles don’t fall off, and in the main, they do what they say they’ll do, and much, much more.

But we forget don’t we, as we live out our lives as islands.  We think we must have everything we need with us, just in case.  We imagine, with horror, the disaster of being cold, or hot, or lost, or stranded, of our train/ferry/plane being late or worse, cancelled, and yet, in all of those circumstances I have found human warmth and friendship.  I have found team spirit, good attitude and kindness.  In times of trouble, we look to each other.  Sometimes we might consider doing that every day, troubled or not.  It might make us less fearful.  We might engage in sharing ourselves with others until it’s easy to do, natural, uncomplicated.  All of us are alone, but we can travel side by side.

Now I’m going back to fret about packing, about the ferry being cancelled due to gale force 22, the bus breaking down on the way north, and, finally, me arriving on the wrong day.

Island Blog 123 Freedom is all in the mind

 

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My favourite word is Freedom, and I have no doubt written about it before now in my blogs. I have also changed my thinking about it over the years, of all it encompasses, of where and how it is grounded, where it finds settlement, sinks its big old flag and stakes its claim.

It has zip to do with place or time, with Mr or Mrs Right, with money or lack of it, new sofas, kitchens, bathrooms, or even the four stone walls that surround me, and everything to do with that airy fairy head of mine, and yours, although I won’t presume to know the percentage of airy, or fair,y in your head.  We are taught, or do we just learn……..that the acquisition of a good education, of a good grounding in common sense or many worldy belongings should be our main aim as we walk through our life; that, if we haven’t succeeded in surrounding ourselves with all those things expected of us, that we ourselves expect of us, by a certain age, we are idlers, bad planners, twits.  The odd thing, though, is that not one single one of us finds fulfillment or deep happiness in any Things and yet, still we seek them out, stack them up, protect them with a ferocious zeal, and then plan our next move to gather more in and more.  In doing so, we imagine this Freedom thingy will come too, eventually.  The more we own, the free-er we will become.

In a word, this is pants, because Freedom, real Freedom is all in the mind, all of it and it always was and ever will be till the sand runs out.  I have read many tales on this, tales told by people who own nothing, who are locked up and enslaved, and they speak of Freedom. And yet, how can they?  Just look at their lives lived, the restraints and fences that locked them behind another’s barricade!  They were never free, were they?

Oh yes, they were.  And all because they refused to allow the fences or the bars define their state of mind.  They chose, in the face of extraordinary and unbelievable constraints, dished up daily for years, for a whole life, perhaps, not to see the mud, but to see the stars.  Most of us, so I am told, live lives of quiet desperation, trapped in some way, or many ways, and we have no real tangible understanding of these lives lived in circumstances only ever described to us on the news or in newspapers.  We ordinary folk, living however we live, may not imagine that Freedom is in our grasp.  After all, aren’t we tied in to our work, doing a job that demands most of our allotted daylight hours, and don’t we have partners, children, homes, all of which require our devotion to varying degrees?  By the time all those calls on our so called Freedom have been met to a good standard, what is left for us?

Well it all is, because Freedom is not limited unless we limit it.  I know that it is considered selfish to take for ourselves when we ought to be giving everything to others, but I don’t agree with that concept, if, indeed, it ever was a real concept in the first place.  We learn to love our neighbour as ourself.  This meant nothing to me for many years, as I most definitely did not love anything about myself.  So what does it mean?  It means I must give to myself all that I give so readily to another, and that means an equal share of Freedom, not freedom from whatever my life requires of me, but Freedom to myself.  Freedom to think, to love, to create, to consider my actions and their consequences.  I may live inside another’s boundaries, but that person cannot control my thoughts, my times of reflection, my understanding, the passions that keep my heart beating, my hopes, my dreams…..in short, my self.  No-one else can control these, and these together make me, and I am unique.  I don’t need to step on anyone else to do this, nor put another soul down, for life is not a race, but a journey.  Although we may sail alongside each other, we all sail alone.

So, when I feel controlled or constrained or forced or entrapped by another, let me understand this.  I have chosen this domination and therefore I can bring to bear the same power to change it.  And I don’t need to say one word out loud.  All that squealing and whining, all those ‘how could you’s’ just tell me that it is now I who try to dominate, to change another’s way of being, to make them more like me, and this is merely a power struggle, one nobody ever wins.

If I want to be free, I just decide I am (and read good books on the subject) and get on with my day, my life. If I find chores dull and demanding, I can either sigh and moan or sing and laugh.  There is fun, even in washing dishes and I can work up a great percussive concerto all by myself, my arms sud deep, my mind entirely my own.  And my first step is to understand, and then decide, to believe that there is enough Freedom going, ad infinitum, to free every living soul.

Who out there can tell me I am wrong?

Freedom.  It’s a way of being.

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 87 Dancing on the Edge

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Today I am dancing.

Yesterday my almost new microwave stopped waving back and I was momentarily arrested in my dance moves.  Things should work, I said to myself, however cheap they might be, and this little machine was cheap.  But, if something is created, and packaged and marketed, it should make no difference at all how much or how little it costs me.  You get what you pay for was a comment from someone and I thought about that a bit, and then found my retort.

Piffle.

If I, in good faith, agree to a contract, which is what I do when I purchase a thing from another person or company or whatever…. inside that contract, written or not written is a promise.  If I find a bargain, for want of a better word and buy it, am I risking disaster because it IS a bargain?  I don’t think so.

Anyway, I contacted the seller who was extremely apologetic and who has already organised a replacement.  So, they didn’t expect it to fail, this little, cheap microwave, now did they?  And nor did I.

Moving on from things, to people………

In every area of my life, I make contracts with other people.  It may be that I agreed to sell raffle tickets for the local agricultural show, or that I said I would pop in this week.  I might have a pheasant called Robin who expects me to throw him grain of a morning, or a cousin who needs to hear my voice as she faces illness and fear.  I can’t be everywhere at once, but I can be somewhere and I can organise myself quite easily to complete my contracts if I take my eyes off myself and point them out into the world.

I have said, in the past, I don’t have time.  Now I wouldn’t allow those words out of my mouth, because it is nonsense.  We all have the same 24 hours in a day.  What I am really saying there is that I am too self-absorbed to take stock and reorganise myself.

When I was young, I danced every Saturday at a local dance school.  Ballet, Modern, Character, Ballroom.  I gained certificates, although heaven knows where they are now.  It doesn’t matter.  I know they once existed and that, apart from the bits I didn’t like, I loved to dance.  As I moved through my life, my footwork got a bit rusty, but what I realised is that I can still dance in other ways.  I can dance through a Saturday changeover, or when baking a cake, or when talking to a seller about a faulty microwave.  Instead of dragging myself along, I can rise on my mental toes and hear the drumbeat of my heart as I move through the ordinary.  Once I begin, my own voice lightens up, my laugh begins to rise and sparkle, and my eyes see only good things.  And, as we all know, Good is always brighter and stronger than Bad.

Once I have practised this a bit, feeling, possibly, a tad foolish at first, I will find it more and more natural, until one day I find myself dancing on the edge of ordinariness with a wild music playing in my heart.  Still feeding Robin the pheasant, still baking cakes, still making a call, or selling raffle tickets, but there is a difference and it is nothing to do with circumstances, and everything to do with the dance in me.

Years ago I had a dream that I would walk by a Waterstone’s window and see my book presented there.  I hadn’t written a single word, nor chosen a story.  Today that dream is in my hands.  Today is the launch of the paperback of Island Wife, my story which will now be sold in big shops and small shops, ferries and visitor centres, both here and abroad, and you know the best thing about all of it?

That through reading my story, someone else may catch a glimpse of themself, and be inspired to put on their own dancing shoes.