Apparently there is a lot still possible, not sure that the species at the end of their tether would agree, or the last person I spoke to who lost their Dad, or the ache in a heart for a job yet to materialise … it is hard to believe what is still possible, when you find yourself in an impossible or unbelievable situation. The house has burned down, the trees crashing and falling as the flames take flight and find their way to the ground with more prowess than a gold medal Olympic hurdler. To be both still and hold possible in the one sentence, in those circumstances, seems a real stretch. And yet as the poet (David Whyte) says the words still possible and in his mouth the sound of a lilt and an echo to a greater poet (Mary Oliver), I am captivated and musing on what might be still possible in my own life, and indeed for my own species.
Is it still possible to draw down on the carbon? Is it still possible to end patriarchy? Is it sill possible to have a just settlement? Is it still possible to have another slice of chocolate cake (as Crowded House asked of Tammy Baker) ?
What makes something possible in the first place, something that is capable of coming true? When I apply that definition I find I am more hopeful about the carbon scenario than I am about patriarchy and colonialism, even though I see them all inextricably entwined. The root of the word comes from the Latin, be able. When you enable, the door to power opens, and so perhaps there is a clue here about the relationship between possibility and power?
I am noticing shifts all around me lately. Shifts of power, some beautifully and generously gift wrapped and passed on, others reluctantly barely camouflaging ignominy and leaving a taste of bitterness in the transaction. The happy ones come with ease, are in flow, going in the direction of joy and bending the bow with hope and imagination. These are the transformational shifts.
Some things just aren’t possible without a shift in power, and the shift might be inside of you, as I have discovered. Letting an old part of myself wake up again and take her place in the pantheon of Self. This, has required relinquishing power of one part and letting the power of another take up residence again.
I shifted, moving my weight from one side to another, picked up the guitar and played it in public –a small public – in a place originally known as Warri-Pari, and now known as Warriparinga. It means Windy Place by the River and for thousands of years been a place of ceremony for Kaurna. It was a fitting place for me to sing and play guitar in public for the first time in probably 30 years. I was grateful for the laughter and spunk of the occasion in a place where an ancient 500 year old Eucalyptus camaldulensis, River Red Gum lives majestically. This place is where the Tjilbruke dreaming begins, central to Kaurna lore and law. So here I was strumming my guitar and belting out a Patti Smith number, Power to the People and calling on my own spirits to remind me what is still possible. I was definitely able to awaken a yearning to get to the ballot box from the gathered who had been scattered an unable to be together for two years of pandemic separation.
It was windy, the sun was setting, there was water in the creek and the magpies arrived to join in on cue. I loved how all the elements and creation treated me as an ally and the happy crew around me joined in the chorus. Definitely felt a blessing on the purta (seasonal spring winds) and cobwebs being blown away by the time I got to the end of the first verse. Meeting the moment, not a rehearsal for something sometime in the future, but an unfolding in real time of what is possible and still possible.
While having some acupuncture treatment this week I asked what a couple of extra needles were for and was told just to keep up your amazing-ness. While I laughed the placebo effect of those words still makes me smile, something to help with your general everyday amazingness sounds pretty good to me! We are all amazing and to celebrate and support that in one another is the act of beautiful witness. Goes beyond the general everyday act of witness, to see beyond surviving to thriving, beyond grief to see seeds of resurrection, to see beyond happiness to bountiful joy. Noticing the deeply embedded kernels inside all of us being coaxed out by witnesses and our ability to be witnessed is mutuality whole hearted.
When the winds of discomfort are blowing and you are being bustled along like the proverbial tumbleweed in a desert, tossed around and repeating endless circles, getting to a destination that is scenically not any different to where you started – even that can be celebrated as letting go – enabling the elements to hold you until you are able, ready or perhaps better equipped to unravel into something new.
This week, noticing how I witness and am witnessed, is a litany of generosity: the holding, with such gentle kindness, of a chicken for her wings to be clipped, a photo of a calm sea being sent to a friend who is unsettled after missing out on getting an opportunity to move to another job, skipping down a corridor in a silent celebration of news of a friend getting a new job which means her life will change, meandering into a conversation about music and being heard, quietly sitting to listen to a favourite poet with favourite friends, receiving a caution instead of a fine and demerit points for travelling too fast along the road close to home, to hear myself into speech as I was being interviewed for a podcast, to sit in conversation with a lake while waiting to eavesdrop on a regional community, to delight and press send on a contribution to regenerative farmers, walking through a school that will soon be community to 400 families and feeling the excitement and anticipation of the midwifes. There is so much generosity inside us to give and even more to receive. This is the currency of exchange that fills my wellbeing bank and not the least the act of being generous with ourselves.
David Whyte writes: Every transformation has at its heart the need to ask for the right kind of generosity. The currency of exchange happens in the act of giving and fills my wellbeing bank, and every act of receiving does not make a withdrawal, it feels more like compound interest. I think the prescription for feeling lost or abandoned is to invite yourself into generosity, gift your time, your talents, your energy to another, to a cause, to the environment. When I worked as CEO for Volunteering SA & NT we would always be noticing how quickly people improved their mental and physical health, their sense of belonging and improved their skills once they started volunteering. Going beyond yourself has medicinal properties and helps to create the everyday general amazingness in each other. This is the never ending reminder to me of the call and response, in the last line of this poem by Whyte, to find a way to die of generosity, is to live from the abundance you have inside of you.
This week I was part of an extraordinary event. It felt like many of the lessons I have gained over the years in community engagement, what I know about how we learn and the power of collaboration all came together. As part of the trio that is Collab4Good with Amy Orange and Sarah Gun, I had the job of setting the scene for the day’s activities. But that was an arrogant place to start! The scene was in place, long before I walked into the space. We were at the Old Adelaide Gaol and before I opened my mouth we had been captured by the spiritual wealth and strength of Kaurna ambassador Mickey O’Brien, whose dad Uncle Lewis, Old man of the Sea, was one of my first teachers in the way of Kaurna.
I was acutely aware the day was going to be challenging for some and had already been full of trips and spills for the three of us. We had stumbled through anxieties, misstepped with those we would most not want to do that with, debated and played along with our shared vision and commitment to systems change while holding onto our L plates. The foundation of psychological safety seemed important as I tried to craft some words. I drew on the work of Amy Edmonson and Mark Mortensen to help me frame up what I wanted to say. Once the time arrived for me to say it, foreboding clouds were hanging low in the sky, people had been standing out in the cold for longer than planned and we were all quietly settled by grace, humour and reverence of a smoking ceremony led by Mickey O’Brien. I knew what was lying ahead for people too and didn’t want any more talk to get in the way with something that I knew was going to be transformational. My prepared notes were going to be reduced to their essence and to get movement happening I invited everyone to walk forward in the circle they had formed until they came back to their starting point. A simple technique to hold me to time, keep them warm and to show, not tell, that universal truth so beautifully expressed by TS Eliot.
“We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time.” –from Little Gidding, TS Eliot
Preparing words, rehearsing our lines and then, not always delivering them in the way we thought we would, is a familiar experience. We imagine ourselves speaking truth to power and then go weak at the knees when the opportunity presents, we practice a line and then miss the cue, we are speechless and in awe of beauty or pain where no words are adequate. We write and re-write only to find by the time the words will reach the ears of the intended, the moment has completely passed and our efforts redundant.
So I have gone back over my notes today and done the circuit of arriving back to where I started, I have chosen some of the lines that I did or didn’t deliver on Thursday under those dark clouds, in the courtyard of the Old Adelaide Gaol, where colonial brick walls hold the remains of those sentenced to death by the State and where 80 change makers stood to be in community for a day to embrace their system shifting powers.
We can’t predict though how this will impact on you or on us as a community for this day. We’ve tried to align our values with the program and maybe they aren’t shared by you. This is a carbon neutral event or our best attempt at that so helping us out on that front will be appreciated. As the world looks to leaders in Glasgow elected by shareholders and voters, it is the non-elected leaders who have inspired me – Greta Thunberg, David Attenborough, the child poets, the young indigenous caretakers of the forests in Chad. We too are unelected leaders and within us all have the power to change our own behaviour, influence those around us by our behaviours, attitudes, what we buy, what we don’t buy. Today is all about the impact you are making, can make into the future and how the past, our assumptions, our relationships and the systems we swirl around in are shaped by us and us by them.
In setting the scene, one of the elements in Edmonson and Mortensen framework, I called on what was visible and invisible.
This place has it all – racism, colonisation, patriarchy, homophobia – all the intersections ; and all kinds of links in the chains of impact – housing, families disturbed and disrupted by the State, ill health, poverty, a State going bankrupt over building a Gaol – there are going to be hurdles ahead today – just as there are always when we bring our whole selves, our past, our preferred futures and together we are all responsible for one another’s psychological safety today as well as physical health. You all play a creative and critical role in enabling that for one another. This is not about happy families, it is about feeling safe enough to speak out, hold space for others whose voices find their way to your ear and to your heart, it is about thinking the very best of the other person, they are not here to do you harm
Drawing on the Harvard research, I invited people to step into their leadership and to recognise each other as peers, all with their own lived experience that brings wisdom, power differentials and all kinds of capital.
Words are cheap so we aren’t going to use many words – the best way to show you are serious about helping to create a safe psychological space is to expose your own vulnerability. Be vulnerable, be humble, be open, leave your logo and your ego at the door. And don’t forget the power of humour – it can bring warm, openness and generosity to relieve a dark and difficult moment. It is sometimes an act of compassion for the person with the big smile and goofy words that break open another part of our hearts and heads. We hope you are among us today to give us a little respite when it is needed.
Knowing we are always rehearsing, always doing something for the first time and recognising mastery comes only after years and years of practice, the invitation to take baby steps was made.
We know that the approach we are taking to learning and impact is beyond programs or policies. We are going to challenges that are risky, culturally curious and may even shake your confidence a bit. That is all OK. Take the baby steps you need to take. There are people here though with big shoes, who through their lived experience taking a baby step into vulnerability is not an option. Be generous with each other as we welcome in others’ disclosures and understand they are all rooted in systems challenges. If you need a few quiet minutes to yourself, take them, if you want to chat with someone about what’s going on for you find someone you can trust here or give a friend a call. Be each other’s friend and be your own best friend.
The temptation to undermine, blame, shame and bring cynicism or negativity to discomfort was met with an invitation to curiosity.
If you have something to share, knead it into something positive that will help stretch the conversation and build more curiosity, find questions that might unlock or unleash something hidden. Impact Chains is not about conforming.
I am often reminded of John O’Donohue to “mind yourself” or the practice of self-compassion and this often means taking a step back and noticing, being watchful, and so the instruction was to lean into those moments.
If you notice the potential of a conversation or moment becoming unsafe, find a way to build more trust. We are in an emergent space and making more space for learning and problem-solving and testing waters is what Impact Chains is all about.
Edmonson’s framework to: set the scene, lead the way, taking baby steps, share positive examples, be watchful, seems a very helpful recipe for psychological safety beyond the walls of the prisons we put ourselves in as well as the very real walls, restraints, language and bias that hold injustice and inequity in place. Plenty of invitation and instruction as I go ahead and the meet the moments I may or may not be prepared for, despite having a map. I am grateful to keep arriving even to the same places, because I am not the same person I was the last time I was there.
I bought a mid-size rosewood Martinez guitar, an amp, a capo, a strap and a lead to get it all connected up on Saturday at the local coast music store. A shop I hadn’t walked into for probably a decade, maybe more, last time was to buy some strings for my husband’s guitar. I haven’t shared a home with a guitar for four years and I haven’t picked up one to play for at least 10 or 12 years. In my teens you would find me playing guitar in my bedroom learning protest songs, folk songs and mostly songs to sing in church, singing along and building set lists for youth group activities and Sunday Mass. When I left home my guitar playing went into hiding, my husband being better than me and gradually I stopped playing altogether.
I made my living during my university years singing at weddings and I wasn’t allowed to play the guitar, percussion was ok and a shaker, triangle and the odd castanet was permissible. It was so much easier to sing four or five songs in an hour or so at a service than toil away serving food or drinks for half the money!
One school holidays our then pre-teen son and his friends were driving me and themselves to distraction so I got a set of books together at different heights, a set of rulers, my old Yamaha folk nylon string guitar from my teens out of hibernation and taught three lads a few chords and rhythms and then said please leave me alone and go and form a band … and they did. Two of the three are still very serious music makers, one of them makes his living from his music and the music of others he producers and records. He moved out of my home more than four decades ago. The third in the trio lost his life to mental health.
This new guitar I hope to share with my grandchildren and maybe teach them a few chords and songs and singalong together. One of the reasons I chose a smaller sized one was to make it easier for the one that is here already and the ones in the future that will be arriving next year. Sharing music has always had a home in all configurations of family I found and find myself in.
A couple of weeks ago I went to an open mic night in my local community hall. All the performers were men in and around my vintage, save for a couple of blokes, cousins, about thirty years younger – who were very good. There was a lot of recreation of times gone by in the songs chosen and performed, there was even more musical masturbation between the males gathered. I went home and turned to my keyboard, again hardly having a day out in years, although I got it serviced and working again when COVID hit so my grandson could experience making music with headphones on. He quite likes it but I had hardly touched the keys. I found myself, not unlike the men I had been listening too, going back to songs of my teens and twenties and discovered I was angry. I couldn’t quite believe it was 2021 and there were no women playing to an audience. I couldn’t get my head around that fact until I remembered the old adage – you can’t be if you can’t see it. I resolved then and there to get a guitar. My old Yamaha had long gone!
I went on line first and then to the music store. I was in the shop for about 15 minutes, there were two other customers that came in during that time, a young man and a young woman, they both got served while I wandered around with absolutely no attention being given to me. Then when I realised I was the only customer I said to the two male staff: do either of you want to help me? The younger long haired one of the two probably in his late 30s was thrilled to help out. He hadn’t noticed me come in or wander around … it is not a big shop. The invisibility of the older female consumer writ large. He was very helpful and asked me some relevant questions as I revealed I did know something about musical instruments. I don’t like shopping and I knew what I wanted so it wasn’t going to be long exchange. He settled into a friendly banter and then as the sales were being racked up in the till the other counter staff person joined in and we had a talk about sales and customer behaviour during COVID and it was all very pleasant. They did absolutely no push selling and it was me that asked to see the leads, the strap, where there capos were and if the guitar came with a soft case. There is no way they would get a customer service award, but that isn’t really the point of this tale.
I came home and discovered new features on a guitar. I wanted this one to have steel strings, and it did, and also have a pick up (in built microphone) and it did and also an inbuilt tuner, which was the single reason above all other reasons I was not encouraged to pick up the guitar once I married at 19. I wasn’t great at tuning guitars, but now this technological innovation, means I can turn the keys and the tuner goes bright green when the string is in tune. This is an improvement I can truly celebrate.
So I played two tunes, a protest song by Pat Humphries covered by Holly Near, Keep on Moving Forward and a Pete Seeger one Put my Name Down. I had a little weep and a big smile emerged. I have no one to say to me the guitar is out of tune, no one to say, give it to me I can do better than that, I have no one to listen to me playing – and that all feels rather good. A very satisfying way to meet the moment.
Gaslighting takes so many forms and there are many stories to tell, including my own, not the least the gaslighting from the grave that still creeps in when I least expect it. Muscle memory enabled my fingers to find the shapes on the frets, now it is up to the rest of my body to catch up and find its way out on the floor of an open mic session – it is coming soon. Getting a girl band together, as I don’t need to be alone for this and it will be more fun. We are dreaming up what might be in the set list. I am going to be advocating we learn Kate Miller-Heidke’s You’ve Underestimated me dude to honour all those underestimated.
You’ve underestimated me dude – Kate Miller-Heidke
I guess you think you’re pretty hot I guess you think you’re quite the catch Nothing gives you pause for thought You don’t have the time for that Depressingly familiar now The patronizing turn of phrase The leery looking up and down The constant use of bad cliches I get that uh-oh feeling crawling up my spine It’s kicking and screaming when you drag me back in time
You’ve underestimated me, dude And I love that about you It means you’re gonna lose Go on and condescend to me, dude On your way into the bin You’re gonna be so confused You’ve underestimated me, dude
And the tide is turning And the tide is turning, turning, turning on you
So kind of you to talk to me So generous to give the floor You’re looking down your nose at me I’m very small, after all You’re nodding so indulgently You didn’t hear a thing I said I guess I’ll bat my eyelashes And you can pat me on the head I get that uh-oh feeling crawling up my spine I don’t want your number, I don’t want your time
You’ve underestimated me, dude I kind of love that about you Cause it means you’re gonna lose Go on and condescend to me, dude On your way into the bin You’re gonna be so confused You’ve underestimated me, dude
And the tide is turning And the tide is turning, turning, turning on you
You’ve underestimated me, dude And I’m almost sorry for you Cause the tide is turning
There hasn’t been a minute to waste, there is urgency in the air, in the water and in the sky … something is rising up and it won’t wait for me to any more ready. That is how I have felt this week, where convergence was the word of the week a few weeks ago, this week it has been arrival, crossing of thresholds and thrills and spills of excitement and energy oozing out of pores. I’ve tripped over myself (metaphorically) in the rush of it all accidentally causing a few little upsets. A couple of folks around me said it is overwhelming how much is going on … but I don’t feel overwhelmed … it is more like an delicious feast and the exhaustion of having had too much to eat that you can’t move. A veritable cornucopia of abundance. And the fitting conclusion to this season were chickens being collected and making a home in their new coop in my backyard!
I wrote a piece to frame up a finance session for this week’s Australian SheEO Summit and it is one of the reasons I am feeling full to the brim. I am seriously worn out so am going to take the liberty of sharing it as my blog this week on Fast, Fabulous, Feminist, Finance. (If you want to watch the whole session and see how participants played with the themes check out the recording here).
I framed up the session, and in doing so, inadvertently framed my entire week! It was indeed fast, fabulous, feminist and even had finance thrown in with a surprise little tax return due to me taking serious hold of my finances this past year, tracking down little amounts in out of the way superannuation funds, making a few investments based on my own decisions, and not the decisions of someone in a board room I have no idea about, and seeing the launch of my friends Regen Farmers Mutual equity crowdfunding campaign come to life to boot!
Here is what I said:
My job is to set a frame for our session today. This isn’t a rigid picture frame, although there are some inside and outside pieces. This isn’t a single still image that turns up on the last miro board you used, although there is clarity about the boundaries. This frame is a way of seeing the world, and for this session we are seeing it through the power of 4. The power of amplification, the exponential power of combined energy, skills, talents and networks. Our 4 – Fast, Fabulous, Feminist, Finance.
Lets start with the fast – we are running to the future so we can meet Riane Eisler who is already there – this place has a new caring economic paradigm, an earth sustaining future, nurtured by partnership, where we take instruction from nature and a fair share is the norm. This future is regenerative, like the SheEO perpetual fund, finance flows fast – there aren’t long delays waiting for others to authorise and validate your business, your self, your contribution – you can ask and give in a single experience. It’s fast because we have high trust. Someone said recently that in SheEO the due diligence is done, so when you arrive into the community, you can get straight on with it. Fast is when we can quickly get the changes in place, the systems to respond and new systems to emerge.
Now we come to Fabulous – and aren’t we all fabulous ! Fabulous means of great value, no basis in reality, mythic, extraordinary – and that is what we are. Let’s never forget that. Turn to another woman on this call or in the room you are in and tell them they are fabulous. I want to coin a collective noun for who we are when we gather – we are a fabulous of activators !
Next in our quartet is Feminist. The fundamental principle of feminism is the Personal is Political. Everything is connected – we know this to be true, and we also know that what happens to us at the micro level is a reflection of something at the macro level – the systems level. What gets noticed, gets reinforced and valued, this tagline underscores the connection between our personal experiences and the larger economic, social and cultural structures. As the great feminist poet Audre Lorde wrote: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” This is not separate from a financial agenda – it is deeply interwoven with our wellbeing. Nikola Tesla talked about a future that was female – where feminine principles were embedded in systems. Together let’s #femthefuture.
And finally, finance – did you know the word finance comes from the Old French finer ‘make an end, settle a debt’, from fin ‘end’ (see fine2)? The original sense was ‘payment of a debt, compensation, or ransom’; later ‘taxation, revenue” To settle a debt! Well there are debts to settle – colonial debts and just settlements to come as the largest wealth transfer in history is around the corner. Women are poised to inherit a large share of the $30 trillion that will be passed down from the last generation.
For those of you who have been following the Finance stream on SheEO.World you will know some of us have been reading and talking about David Graeber’s work Debt – the first 5000 years.
This is deep work we are doing in SheEO to turn around thinking from scarcity to abundance. SheEO is heralding a jubilee – and we are the ones to bring this to life, working on the worlds to-do list, shaping the conditions for new partnerships and collaborations, building a finance world that is fast, fabulous and feminist.
I am saturated with inspiration by Toni Cade Bambarayou who says: The role of the artist is to make the revolution irresistible. This is the way I want to meet as many moments as I can, and this week has afforded me so many. I intend to keep finding more and grabbing more opportunistically, making them and curating them for irresistibility – the activator as artist.
According to a couple of dictionaries, the opposite of resentment is contentment. I have been reflecting a lot on resentment, how it has showed up and shows up in my life. Yet right now I am quite content, so interesting that now I can make space for resentment to be examined as well. The origins of the word resentment hark back to French, to go back, back, to send feelings back. I have often resented doing the heavy emotional labour in all kinds of relationships. I so appreciate anyone in my life these days who makes the first move, sets a date for a meeting for me, creates an invitation – that always feels like a gift. When my husband got sick, I was resentful that I had my life interrupted by illness and the disruption continued for more than a decade, as the consequences of his life extended beyond his death. I resented having to shift my life course and the ramifications in every area of my life – it was cellular resentment – there are still knots in my body finding their way out. My hunch is now I have some contentment and space, I can more fully own the resentment that still lives inside of me, and I am getting to know it better.
I was part of a panel this week where I was asked to talk about complexity. I gave the example of perfume, the intense distillation, where many notes can be found in a single drop. Resentment has this quality too, layers of different emotions fused and infused and just a drop enough to fill the whole body. It goes beyond the singularity of disappointment, it is deeper than anger, wider than fear and there is often a splash of disgust. To dispel resentment and send it back to where it came from, seems to involve forgiveness and making peace with the past.
I am noticing resentment and resistance are intertwined. I am noticing this in others – so it is probably true for me! There are those who resent working long and difficult hours, also resisting giving space to what is important to them; a person who resents taking on a role to host and hold, is also resisting the opportunity to trust; another who resents dealing with a work issue is also resisting the invitation to turn away. You can always say no, re-sign (instead of resist), or embrace another form of resistance, rest. Consider resting into the intimacy of self-compassion, being empathic to the other, even taking a step towards leaning into gratitude for what the resentment is gifting to you.
Resentment serves as a protective mechanism to guide us in who we can trust as it only comes to life where there has been a hurt or an injury and the feeling comes back again. Psychology explains resentment is designed to protect us from being harmed by someone who has the power to harm us again, and this is why it is highest to those who are closest to us in our social sphere.
This week I am meeting a moment of resentment as invitational. The invitation is to explore what trust has been broken, what protections might need to be put in place, what feelings might need to go back to where they came from. Wallowing in resentment might be needed as a first step towards contentment.
This week I was invited to talk about ageism and share with a global audience. It was a moment worth meeting. I appreciated the opportunity to reflect on my internalised ageism, how it started and how I am finding a way to keep it in check.
For decades I was often the youngest person in the room, sometimes the only woman … and then one day I noticed, as if by osmosis, I had somehow morphed into being the oldest. Like many women my working life was interrupted by children and child rearing and then a few weeks before turning fifty I began what I thought was going to be a sprint caring for a dying husband, however became a marathon and at almost a decade it ended and I deemed it an ultra marathon. I stepped away from formal leadership, or as one colleague, in what I considered ungracious, announced to the world – oh yes, you faded away from view. While this set of circumstances were not particularly age related, by the time I felt I was back in some meaningful way to the workforce, I was eligible for a Seniors Card.
What had happened? Many people may not recognise what I felt had happened – I had made myself invisible. I didn’t want any attention drawn to myself, I was becoming smaller, I was reducing the space I was taking up in the world, almost apologising for being here, feeling like I was a nuisance asking for help and not quite knowing if I did ask for help whether it would be seen as an act of someone feeble or helpless. I felt like I was disappearing and a disappearance linked to changes associated with growing older, no children at home, being widowed.
Conspiracy theories, lies and fake news about ageing had seeped in. My social feeds had incontinence pad messages, retirement home real estate ads and sudoku puzzles to stave off memory loss. I was enabling my own evaporation. It was not good! While these feelings may not have been visible on the outside, I was certainly feeling it on the inside. I had already been subject to significant gas lighting over a long period of time, and perhaps those foundations provided fertile soil for internalised ageism to take root?
As I headed into my 60th birthday, I started to look around me and see how others were approaching this time of life. I fell in love with 2 ideas – one was Jane Fonda calling the period beyond 60 as Act 3 and the second was from Brazilian researcher, Alexandre Kalache – who talks about the gift of all these extra years for our generation and what we might do to cherish them and use them to transform the future. I had been fortunate enough to have had a day hanging out with Prof Kalache while he was in Adelaide on a Thinkers-in-Residence program and he was providing content to develop a series of short videos as part of a community statewide consultation on ageing I was involved in. Amnesia had set in, I hadn’t thought about his work and its own meaning in my life until I took those moments to reflect on arriving at a new decade.
I checked myself on what biases I was holding and where they were being reinforced around me. I took stock. I stopped myself in my tracks and got back to the core of myself, which I think is ageless.
I am now actively moving into these years mindfully embracing eldership – as someone who brings a harvest of wisdom, someone who knows what it means to walk into fires and cyclically rise from flames like a phoenix, and someone who embraces her Celtic heritage of the crone – the third woman of the trinity, matching maiden and mother, now as crone venerated for her experience; where wit is another word for wisdom and hag is for holy. I want to recover these words and reclaim them for our times and for this time in my life. I want to meet these moments with wit, wisdom and holiness and deep gratitude for being able to keep contributing to the future, through my actions each day.
We are all midwifing the future and I am glad to have stepped back from the kerb of palliative care in the present. Those wonderful students and their friends and allies marching for climate justice on Friday inspire and encourage me. This is no time to be fading away.
I’m in mountain country this weekend, far from familiar surroundings, a national park, World Heritage site where the golden wings of the bower bird are in the air and also woven into the carpets underfoot.
Being a long way from home, I get a perspective from the tree tops and the rolling mist, reminding me of the good fortune of being able to travel safely to another part of the country. The birdlife is generous and the rainforest holds the story of Gondwanaland long before dinosaurs and the Yuggera Ugarapul, Danggan Balun and Githabul people called it home. The place known as Woonoongoora doesn’t need an interpretative sign to tell us it is precious, sacred. I feel very privileged to be able to spend time in the forest on my 63rd birthday – a microdot of time in this 180 million years of landscape. I found myself reciting Mary Oliver’s When I am among the trees, to myself as I wandered along a trail towards a tree top walkway.
I gazed meditatively at glow worms lighting up a river bank, and green tree parrots flying with crimson rosellas, heard the squawk of a baby tawny owl, saw ancient lichen seemingly floating in mid air and orchids 10 metres high embedded in fern encrusted black booyong trees, bandicoot hotels in the folds of trunks and then there are the brush box who have been carbon dated at 1,500 years old. It is a lesson in complexity, co-existance and ecosystems. If you are ever trying to teach about ecosystems – such a misused term in many a start up community – I encourage a walk in a park – the more ancient the better!
The metaphor of taking a path to a waterfall, is not lost on me, an occasional stumble and I was paying very careful attention to where I was placing my foot, should I find myself on a slippery surface. I got to the spectacular view of a waterfall, at this slowest and driest time of the year and it is still falling, making rainbows in the sunlight, and finding its way to the floor of the forest.
This year has been easier than the last four or five, and there have been less stumbles, still moments to catch my breath and look at the view to see how far I have come, not despite, but because of, weeping making landfall. It seems to be a practice of detachment and pleasing myself more. I am a beginner. Being in the forest reminds me that this kind of growth is slow and takes serious time. I am particularly taking instruction from the way the fig tree clings to the booyong and uses it as a prop without taking anything from the booyong along the way to the clouds. It has really got me thinking about what props I have around me to help me grow towards the light and which ones I might need to cling to with more confidence and certainty.
I am meeting this moment bowing in gratitude to all those people and landscapes who have propped me up along the way these past 63 years, and taking a blessing from the trees mediated by Oliver: … and you too have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.
When I am Among the Trees
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It's simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”
When the veil drops what was always there is now visible for everyone to see. The moment presents often as inconvenient truth telling. Sometimes it is a moment of waking up and realising the baton has been passed and it has been delivered into your hands. What do you do with it? A hot potato you want to quickly throw to another? Perhaps it is so precious and beautiful you want to hold it longingly and lovingly. Maybe it is a painful trauma digging deeply into your heart, and holding it is an act of self-harm. When the veil drops, it stops you in your tracks.
The history of the veil stems back to ancient Rome where apparently the veil was used as a disguise. Behind the veil, evil spirits wouldn’t recognise the bride and therefore would be unable to upset her happiness. In the Christian tradition the veil in the temple is torn in two from top to bottom at the time of Jesus’ death, with the cosmic force of an earthquake, making the end of one era and entry into another. There is nothing left to the imagination when the veil falls, and all the fantasies, pretences, illusions are over. You can’t look away.
I have been struck on how re-writing of history and re-wiring of messaging in gaslighting ways are used as everyday veil coverings by contemporary brides trying to ward off bad spirits like transparency, scrutiny and half-truths. There have been some good, bad and ugly versions this week. A Premier resigning as a veil dropped to enable investigation, the underbelly of this being another veil dropping about a lover who was happy to throw her under a metaphorical bus. I don’t share any of her politics, but I am deeply annoyed by the set of standards she is being held to account to which she should be, but men not being subjected to the same examination. Establishing a national Anti Corruption Commission would enable some more veil dropping moments.
The veil dropping by climate activist Greta Thunberg in Milan this week with her blah, blah, blah speech left me speechless. No going back after hearing her speak.
I have had my fair share of veils being torn in two, once you have heard you can’t unhear, once you have seen, you can’t unsee. I explained to someone inviting me to speak at an event this week, that to do so, would be toxic to me, it would be trauma inducing. I am no longer willing to wear a veil that others want to put on me. I don’t need to do their work for them, or legitimise their worldview by turning up, however authentic or earnest it might be. I don’t share their vision. My image was used in a government document I discovered this week, no attribution to me, no request for its use as I didn’t own the image. I don’t disagree with the essence of the content, but I have not been asked to endorse it, and by default, use of my image, gives the impression I am endorsing it. The content lacks the depth of analysis and meaning and has no financial commitment attached to it – surely a sign of veil wearing.
If you are a metaphoric bride heading to the altar, take off the veil before you get to the sacred table and have a good hard, clear look at what you are signing up for. If you are looking at a bride, use your extra senses to see through the veil, or better still help her to take it off, or ask her to pull it back to reveal the beauty of her truth.
The veil’s removal, often needs holy, youthful innocence to point it out. Greta certainly did that this week! As the lyric in John Legends’ If You’re Out There goes – the future started yesterday and we are already late. I was encouraged this with and stopped in my tracks with Eastern Kuku Yalanji people being recognised as the traditional owners and custodians of the world’s oldest living rainforest. The veil dropping required to get to this result was epic. The Daintree Rainforest is estimated to be 180 million years old and is an UNESCO World Heritage site. How wonderful for this veil of colonisation to have been dropped – hope there are many more to come.
Convergence seems to be my word of the moment. Various elements, ideas, opportunities and people seem to be coming together in planned and unplanned ways. I look to the natural world to guide meaning and in biology, convergence is the tendency of unrelated animals and plants to evolve superficially similar characteristics under similar environmental conditions. It is not unlike dog owners starting to look like their dogs, or partners that have been together for ages finishing each others sentences.
At my centre I am a social worker, a community developer, someone who likes to create the conditions for change to be self-organised, transformational. It is a moment of grace and humility when I start to notice convergence in the places, spaces and people I have been around. It is the practice of call and response and the inevitable harmonies that come when we all sing together – it is not unison and that is the beauty and the blessing.
A project I have been mid-wifing, which has a longer gestation than an elephant, is coming down the birth canal and definitely converging with a number of other initiatives. A complex set of circumstances has now made this timing probably more suitable than if it had come together earlier. Another convergence is a set of ideas competing for attention, now dancing together, and in fact if they were a dance it would probably be accompanied by a bush band, and caller, asking everyone to change partners at the next rotation and all of a sudden the pattern emerges and the whole room can see what is possible. Partnership is definitely a feature of convergence. On yet another plane, a number of friends have had a very tough week and in their sorrows, disappointments, betrayals they have all found solace in the convergence around the leadership parts of themselves. As witness to this phenomena, I too am able to converge some of the free floating radicals inside of me, giving me a booster shot to protect me from some of those same forces.
The convergence of the natural and unnatural worlds – fruit of the vine and work of human hands – is how my religious tradition puts it. That line being of my favourites since I was very young, embodies the convergence and cooperation of nature and humans explicitly pointing to the moment where they come together to make something more than the sum of their parts, with qualities that give a nod to their sources. What if we didn’t talk about nature as if we were separate from it, but rather a part of it – a complete convergence?
I visited an art exhibition this weekend where one of the artists, Anastasia La Fey, used her study of the zen philosopher Dogen and applied walking practice, to see walking as a means of observational movement along a landscape rather than the directional movement across it. This too speaks to me of convergence and a coming home. It is the separation experience I believe at the root of climate inaction. Another converging moment, occured on Friday night at a local library to hear from eight scientists about their fields. We heard from a diverse group of scientists about, among other things, worms, light as a diagnostic tool, machine learning and cancer treatments, and one of the speakers, Dr Sheryn Pitman told us of the gender gap in ecological literacy. Males, middle-age groups, the most highly educated, those with science-related educational backgrounds, those working in environment-related fields, those who grew up in small town environments rather than in large towns or cities and in those who had spent more than 10 years in SA were the most ecologically literate. She hypothesised that, the now middle aged men in the study, when young lads, were more likely to go exploring through creeks and mudflats, climbing trees and dissecting creatures, while their female peers were more likely to be closer to the domesticity of the home. If that hypothesis holds true then perhaps we can expect more action on climate change as policy makers tap into the inner child of those sitting at board tables and in parliamentary chambers. Now that would be a convergence!
“The whole moon and the entire sky are reflected in one dewdrop on the grass.” – Dōgen.