Island Blog – After the Facts

Recently I had cause, and pause, to think on how things are and how I feel after the facts; how I notice what was what and then what arose from those facts. Fact was I had a notwell thing, the details of which are quite irrelevant, and it lasted one day. However, the hit of it was like a sandstorm in the desert, or a tropical raincrash in Africa or even, if I look at it as a thing of change and possible loveliness, the birthing of the Monarch butterflies. The timing is the same. It stopped me in my tracks. It levelled me, decided for me, flawed me. All this is good, I tell myself whilst in the thick and the thin of it. It will ‘pass’ and I will not.

However, in this thick and this thin, it is sometimes tricky to see so sensibly. It is all ooh and ow and oh dear and will this take me out kind of nonsense. The day was slow and difficult, the dog un-walked. The only reassuring consistent was the rain, for which I was grateful. If there is a constant to hang onto whilst riding a roller coaster, or when crossing an ocean that refuses to stay flat no matter how loud the pleas, I recommend holding on to it. Later in the day, one that felt as long as a trip to Mars in a balloon, I thinked. I could just say, well I had this thing and now it is gone and I am thankful beyond measure. Or, I could notice the slow rise of my strong goodly health into her rightful place and I could communicate with her. Where did you go my lady? I went down, she replies, and you came with me. Oh, I know that, for sure, I might snap. She smiles kindly. We are sometimes caught by storms, she says. Some storms are stronger than us, but know this; they are short sprinters, not long distance runners, as we are.

I find that reassuring. Now to the next bit. In the re-tell of my crashbang day, I could major on the superlatives. A horrendous day; So much pain; I thought I was going to die. Or I could pish-posh that melodrama and notice how I feel today, this day, the day after the facts. Facts will always come in, will always stun us like a tropical storm, soak us, fry us, fell us. Are we always to be at the whim of the facts, or might we learn how to accept them as they come, welcome or not, and then to notice ourselves within those difficult times, however long or short they are, and, as the shock of them dwindles like a fire without wood, to see ourselves rise up again, thankful and somehow stronger?

Well, how-in-the-hec am I stronger ps and btw? Well, says I, it is all in the eye of the observer. To notice thoughts and feelings, no matter what facts come stomping in like an army of boots and weapons and ghastly days, I will rise from the whatever and into new light, the light of learning, the learning about me, about my resilient strength and ability to accept and to move on, empowered, bizarrely by the facts that sought to bring me down. And this is not just me. Every single soul can do this. I am tired of hearing about awful days, bad years and terrible this and that. Once the facts are broken down, it was nothing so bad. Sob stories make me want to ask So what now? That happened last week, last month, 10 years ago, 20. What are you doing to alter the facts?

It does not mean that I don’t appreciate grief and loss and stories of abuse, neglect and desolation. I really do, but I have met too many people who have survived appalling things and who have decided to rebuild their lives and it changes my thinking. I see one woman, one child, one man, one tribe, one nation, one religious sect who still keep their faith in the light of life, and it alters my thinking. If we are to live life to the full we need to notice and pay attention, not to the facts, beyond being ready for the ‘sudden’, but to the beyond of them, the beyond in which we can relocate our own strength, a strength we may not even know we are brewing.

Island Blog – Friend, Ships and Wide Open

If I was to ask you – how many true friends do you have – might you have pause for thought? Let me help you out with a definition or two…..

A true friend is always wide open. They may not be able, at the very moment of your ‘massive drama’, to speak with you on the phone, or rush over to your place. Perhaps her granny has just fallen into the wheelie bin whilst searching for her missing dentures; perhaps the kids have buried the dog in the sandpit and all she can see is a wiggling mound; or, maybe, she has just burnt the strangled eggs, is late for work, can’t find the kids, the granny or the dog and her partner has gone off with both sets of house keys. But, rest assured, this true friend will be thinking of you all the way through her own massive drama and will make contact the very first moment he or she can. Then when he/she hears of your pain, she will not compare it to hers. She might not even mention it. She will listen, respond without fixing, suggest nothing unless you ask for such, just leaning into your flow of pain, putting her hand in yours and saying – Let’s sail together on this.

This probably narrows the list down somewhat. On reflection, you might think, I wouldn’t go to this person, or that with my massive drama because it will pass and if I tell him/her I will need to follow up once the missing members of my family are re-located, returned to the upright and able, once again, to breathe. Or, perhaps this person might think you weak, or fix you with some cutthroat bright solution which will confirm she knows you’re weak. How long has she thought that about you? It gets worse, this line of thinking. It heads one way only, into the pit of all that you feared, have always feared. And now it’s the truth. You are a lame duck, a pathetic wimp of a woman and nobody likes you anyway. You can see the neon flashing sign above your head. It reads, Loser. So don’t add this one to your dwindling list. Nobody is that desperate.

This true friend might not be the first person who comes to mind. After all, not one of us is immune to self-protection. Most of us keep our true selves very private, considering what we will reveal and how we will reveal it on a moment to moment basis. There are things I have told no-one, not never, and I am sure you are not so different. But when you look at your list, pondering each name and reflecting on past history, shared moments both good and uncomfortable, you will eventually get that list down to about 2, if you are very lucky. And this, my friends, is absolutely normal. We may have hundreds of acquaintances, but the true friend, the one who just sails along with you, keeping a respectful distance when required, one who watches you fly the crests of monster waves as a purple storm approaches, or who keeps her eyes on you as you head towards jag-toothed rocks in some crazy game of Chicken, and who prays for your safe return, well, she’s the truth.

In a perfect world, this would describe a mother or a father, or both. Parents who do not load their own expectations of supreme success onto the soft-boned backs of their young, who do not reward according to achievements; who welcome you home late, under-age drunk, in suggestive clothing or with a biker boyfriend twice your age and with no space left for another tattoo; A loving mum and dad who, when you fail your exams for the third time, or when you tell them you cannot spend another day in this college, university or relationship, no matter how much of a messy split, will welcome you into loving arms and who will stand beside your decisions for all time.

I hope I have been that mum. I suspect we all do, we mums. To be a true friend and a parent is not simple, however. We want for our kids what we didn’t have for ourselves. We know, as they don’t, how tough the world is on colour, creed, race, sexuality, relational splits, career women, traditions, freedom of speech, independency. The labels live on. In fact, they are thriving. Nobody escapes the criticism, the labels, the judgement. But a true friend, one who sails beside you, who sees who you really are will make all the difference in the world. Even if this friend lives miles away she knows you without needing to own you; you don’t have to start from the beginning with her, not ever. She knows that you will fill in gaps if you want to and not if you don’t. She may well challenge you, you can be sure of that. But inside that challenge there is only heart, only love. You can tell her to truck off, as she can tell you to do the same, but she is authentic. You are authentic. Your true friendship is authentic.

Ok, so now we might be down to one. Still lucky.

Island Blog – Confucious

He knew his stuff, this ancient philosopher. His modem operandi was this:-

The philosophy of Confucius, also known as Confucianism, emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice, kindness, and sincerity.

I’m in. However, in this uncertainty, I get muddled, I feel doubt, I feel fear. I am sure that way back in his day, there was plenty of that. How someone rises themselves above all that worldliness beyonds me. I think I am practicing all these goodly things. I know I am. And, then, a call comes in from the council, who need to speak to himself, not me, and to tell this confused man that our shielding has now come to an end, that warm, safe bubble is now burst, and that we can now go shopping (that’ll be me). Now that visitors are about to be let in, to stay in their holiday cottages, and those who will now frequent the local shop, the street, the walks, alarms me. Part of me gets it. I am, after over 3 months of ‘bubble’ more than ready for interaction, conversation, smiles shared, freedom of movement. The other part, the one that keeps me restless at night is the one that knows this is not done. It will flick back, and in the winter, when folk like us are even more vulnerable.

Meantime, I walk. I find wild honeysuckle in the woods, cascading over a dying and fallen tree like it was all disco lights and smelling like a peach garden. I notice wild mint, new clover, hear the twitter of tits working a tree. I notice my footfall, one step, then the next. I know what I going back to. Confusion about headphones, connections, calls (from the council) where nothing was clear and certainly not lucidly communicated to me. What happened today? The council woman wanted to talk with him. I get the political correctness of that, but he has no clue about how life is run in this home. Not now. So why didn’t she speak with me?

I know that everyone is doing their best in these times. Me included. But this burst of the secure shielding bubble, when I know this is not going away, not for many months, confounds me.

Confucious said it all. In a perfect world, this is exactly how we should live. Actually, even in an imperfect world. But, you know, you other carers out there, this decision to hold to such magnificent principles is just not humanly possible day after day, hour after hour, minute by minute and thought by thought. I’m saying this because I am daily confounded, daily dealing with the ‘right’ decision, the best way to act.

It is exhausting. I’m waving.

Island Blog – Translation

Geese woke me this morning. It seems they are quite unable to go anywhere at all without engaging in a loud conversation, as if, their vocal chords are wired to their wings. It’s 4 am, I said, but they ignored me, honking on as they skimmed past my open window to land with effortless grace on the water. It’s all but flat, the water, and the far shore reflection of striated rocks, adorned like bridesmaids in butter yellow lichen, shivers – a slight surface rebellion, probably the translation of a tidal undertow. It makes the rocks look like they’re shimmy shimmy shaking. Perhaps they are. What goes on beneath the surface is only a guess, for me, but the body of water understands itself and knows from long experience how to communicate.

I eat breakfast, change bed sheets, clean up, ready for a new day, and all the while, my thoughts flow along, mostly unchecked by me. Sometimes a hand goes up. We need more blue milk. Or, I must water those little seedlings. Those thoughts alert me, ask for immediate action, or they might float off into the, now clean, ether to become part of a cloud and thus lost to me. Weetabix without milk is a crunchy thought, dry, not the same at all. Seedlings will flop and die of thirst. So, I must make a note of both and right now. Other thoughts circle a bit before they flee and I bring my brain to bear, make it listen, make it follow through. Sometimes that’s a mistake. By employing my logic I can see a seedling thought die of boredom. This thought doesn’t want to be fixed, arrested and imprisoned by me. It just wants to stay as a thought and the only reason it circled at all was to say Hallo and to hear Hallo back. Hallo, I say, and off it goes.

In these times of slowdown-lockdown #not meltdown, thoughts are busy. I suspect thoughts are busy in everyone’s head. All of a sudden there is time for them, space to circle and float without being batted away like bluebottles. It serves us well to allow this space to widen, to deepen, until we can learn, not to organise our thoughts, but to conjoin with them, for they are ours, they are us. The translation of these thoughts might, in the busy past, have been misleading. Reacting immediately, without due process, to a thought can lead us to making poor decisions. We don’t need to do that now. Now, we can spend time with them, get to understand the craziness inside our minds, see that every thought is there because of who we are, because of what we do, or what we did. This way we teach ourselves to reconnect with the whole body and it feels good.

Although you will never know all my thoughts, as I will never know all of yours, we will both be able to see a person who has reconnected with their undertow. It probably takes a lifetime. All the great thinkers who understood the power of this reconnection, of creating a synergistic relationship with their own thoughts, are ancient by the time they ‘get it’. Right now we have this gift, this opportunity, to consider understanding our own selves a bit better. If we can allow our thoughts just to be thoughts, to say Hallo when they circle awhile, they will flow at ease, no matter what.

The geese are diddling about on the field now, chattering incessantly, picking at the grass, preparing for young. Later, when the chicks are ready to swim, they will lead their young across the sea-loch, on a day when the water is a mirror, when it looks like they are paddling through the sky, when the undertow is at peace. I will watch them and I will smile as thoughts float through my head like will o the wisps.

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.