Monthly Archives: August 2013

Parkour Pilgrim

I am intrigued how one thing leads to another. I have never bothered much with straight lines, instead I’ve been happy with curved edges, leap frogging over old ways to innovations and skidding across ledges to get to a new place.

The inner journey is never a straight line, it is more like parkour – traversing soul territory in leaps and bounds. The gurus, saints and mystics perhaps are superstar soul parkour practitioners? Overcoming obstacles in their spiritual landscapes using the body, mind and soul in dialogue with their environments to propel themselves forward, using the momentum, the traction from their moves to arrive to their next place safely. Not constrained by their physical surroundings or traditional physical forms they are willing to land on all fours, leverage off inanimate objects and travel on something else that might be moving – the spiritual masters are parkour pilgrims!

The obstacle courses we find ourselves in, or even perhaps create for ourselves, are an invitation to develop our parkour practice. The objects or hurdles in our way are also wonderful invitations to leverage off our own giftedness.

I recently learnt that a practitioner of Parkour is often called a traceur (masculine) or traceuse (feminine) and these terms are from the French verb tracer, which normally means “to trace”, as in “tracing a path”. In extending this idea of the pilgrim as a parkour practitioner, the pilgrim is one who is tracing a path. You are tracing your own path, and while the steps you take might be your own, many follow those who have gone before such as those who walk the Camino, or those who follow a specific prescribed spiritual path. Maybe there are a set of exercises or disciplines that keep you on your path? Or perhaps you use your landscapes to make the path for you, tracing the edges and ledges to make your own map?

What gets in your way, may well be the step up we need to take the next leap. Hildegard I think of you as a spiritual parkour practitioner – making good use of all the inner and outer offers in your landscape. And I’ve been wondering if, maybe, Paul Kelly was singing about Parkour in Leaps and Bounds?

I’m high on the hill
Looking over the bridge
To the M.C.G.
And way up on high
The clock on the silo
Says eleven degrees
I remember I remember
I’m breathing today
The month of May
All the burning leaves
I’m not hearing a sound
My feet don’t even
Touch the ground
I remember I remember
I go leaps and bounds
Down past the river
And across the playing fields
The fields all empty
Only for the burning leaves
I remember I remember
I go leaps and bounds
I remember everything

It is in the re-membering us pilgrims go in leaps and bounds and sometimes your feet don’t even touch the ground! I have had such a week! So many twists and turns and using each one to leverage to drive me further deeper and higher, into a more expansive spiritual landscape that speaks a single word – a uni-verse yet sung by a chorus of animate and inanimate obstacles that are stepping stones for the pilgrimage. Perhaps this is what you had in mind Hildegard with your vision where the universe was revealed to you as “round and shadowy … pointed at the top, like and egg … its outermost layer of a bright fire” (Scivias).

There is certainly a value in being more eggy than spermy as Martha Beck and Lissa Rankin have popularized. So if you are right Hildegard, about the universe as an egg, then perhaps as an aspiring parkour pilgrim, then I might invoke a discipline to trust the universe to come to me. And when it comes to be ready to go along for the ride knowing it might well be in leaps and bounds and not in a straight line.

Served by Soup

Carrot soup was on the menu – a touch of spice and sweetness, vegan and diary free as well. All care was taken to make the choice of carrot soup for the guests that arrived in time for lunch on a winters day with Venus in transit from Melbourne to Adelaide.  Our host had listened, remembered and delivered more warmth than was in the bowls.  She chose very well, witnessed by the “yes please, I would like some more.”

I first met this soup maker in her choice of a coffee shop, then in a foreign land, that had all the familiarity of shared histories; and now in the comfort of her own home.  Another step on this forever pilgrimage, taking another sip from the soup bowl together.

The next day the soup I had was bestowed upon me by a couple sharing their day off with me by the seaside.  It was an honouring of times gone by and a gradual unfolding of what might be ahead with friendship re-kindled.  Chicken (and vegetable) soup for the soul, heralded a conversation alive with the radical spirit and critique we were able to reactivate in a single sip.

Another day in the week and I was graced with another soup. This time there was the echo of a full winter garden.  The soup was crafted with love, first knitted together in my womb more than thirty years ago. Shared with the originators of the creation; communion.

In the confines of a workplace, a final bowl of soup for the week was heated up in the microwave after being poured from a pre-packaged supermarket purchased container.  It had none of the love of the other bowls sipped with deep affection earlier in the week.  I was however comforted by thinking that it was a moment of east meeting west – the soup was laksa and the packaging meant I could enjoy it easily without a trip to Malaysia.  Thich Nhat Hanh talks about the humble tea bag being a wonderful expression of east meeting west – where the plentiful tea leaves of Asia and held together in single serves for us Europeans to enjoy at our leisure. So with that memory, I breathed in eastern cuisine infused by western packaging and smiled as I breathed out and took my first spoonful.

I have been served by soup this week.

I love that all the ingredients rest together to make a whole that has to be contained in a bowl. I love how soup comes in a bowl and always prefer to drink soup from a bowl rather than a mug. The bowl is my favourite receptacle for eating from.  I love the shape of bowls and how my hands can cup the bowl.  I love the openness of bowls.  Like an open womb I drink from the bowl and take all that I need to sustain me for the next step of the journey.

I have discovered Hildegard that there is an Angel of Light soup on the market that includes the herbs you advised for soup.  I am sure you would have had many a bowl of soup shared with friends, family, travellers and co-workers in the vineyard, barnyard and fields.

When I sit down for the soup of life I want to always be able to say; “Yes please, I do want some more”, regardless of what is being served up and in what shape packaging it comes in.  In my heart, I do know that the great soup maker always makes it with love even when I see it packaged in plastic, blinded by the east/west co-creation it may well be.

Soup has served me well this week.



Vintage Cynicism

I was meeting in a coffee shop this week sharing ideas and experience on volunteering, a church organisation and future thinking.  To dream, plan, conjure and play with others is a delight. Hildegard you would have been so at home there. Two school girls, still in their school uniforms, were auditioning and we gave them a glowing review between bubbles and chai latte.  I am sure I got to sneak preview of what will be a duet to rival my beloved Indigo Girls.

So, an old friend and a new one, chatted to this sound track of delicious young women melodically fusing their voices and their guitars. And while we chatted one of their mother’s looked on and the business owner confirmed they got the gig. We had just witnessed the beginning of their public careers – taking the step from the classroom and bedroom to the front room of a coffee shop. What a privilege to see that step taken – these postulants making it to novice.  The coffee shop, as true a convent, as any of yours Hildegard.  A sacred space for women to listen to one another, plan for the future of a church organisation, fostering young talent and spirituality, breaking bread and sharing wine, communing with one another. Here we were celebrating the threads that bind us invisibly together as women and custodians of the past, present and future.

A transition to the next stage of something not quite revealed was peering out behind all our voices.

There have been a few transitions I’ve witnessed of late. Seeing the aging folk star move to eldership inviting a young guitar technician to share the stage, while we all ached for times gone by grounded in our common knowledge that from little things, big things grow.  The 60s were a very good vintage and the the echo from the past, as well as the sounds of now and the future were alive in the coffee shop too.

Working out how to disappear with grace and gratitude is a daily challenge and a practice and a discipline that I have fallen short of many times. In its place grumpiness worthy of Oscar the Grouch takes hold and my demons dine out!

The contrast of the virginal duet to my deep throat murmurings is stark.

I yearn to recognise all the spaces I am in as knaves and altars of the underground cathedral (a concept offered by the Abbot of Glenstal Abbey) – places where the architecture to sustain is neither Romanesque or Gothic – but a recycled retro fitted coffee shop, that has fair trade products and young women singing like angels, to soothe the soul of a cranky crone.

So Hildegard, I will recognise the underground cathedral in I am in, when I find the seductive siren Cynicism calling me. There, I will find more of the spirit of joy and not have a stale taste from the bad mouthing I had been up to this week.

John O’Donohue, it is fabled, blessed his penitents to go and sin beautifully. I have a smile on my face when I recall this story re-told by his friend David Whyte, and so by way of confession and penance, a poem.

Vintage Cynicism

She calls out to you.

You are captured by her spell;
You are in her grip.
No matter how much you try,
Cynicism has arrived at your door.

The daughter of distrust,
Doing a strip tease to your soul.

Your better self, unable to resist the temptation.
You indulge.
You revel.
You bathe in it;
A bath of thought bubbles appear.

Cynicism dances and prances around you:
Flaunting herself.
No chance of getting this geni back in the bottle tonight.

Gingers, Goodwood Rd

Gingers, Goodwood Rd

Making an Adjustment

I have been spending time and money these past two weeks for people to touch me – massage therapist and chiropractor mainly.  I somehow managed to hurt the lower part of my back. The general sense is that sitting down for long periods of time, like at a desk and in the car, and my back aren’t very compatible.  While I have been in other people’s hands has been lovely to subject myself to their healing power, it has also given me cause to think what I am saying to myself.

My counsellor self is asking me: What is giving me a back ache? Is there something pushing me forward? Maybe someone is a pain in the back?  After I reflect on these questions I find another one – is my body readjusting to a new posture and my old body doesn’t like it and is trying to adjust accordingly?  Is what I have left behind trying to align me and I need some extra help for the adjustment to be complete? Do I want to put myself in someone else’s hands?  So many questions!

Maybe my body doesn’t want to adjust back to travelling in the car or sitting down at work and this is the message it is sending me?

Years ago, a friend of mine, who was living with us at the time, enlisted my help to assist his mother leave his father. His mother had suffered many years of abuse. Once the move was over, a few months later, I was sitting with her having a cuppa and she said to me how a pain she had at the top of her spine and around the base of her skull for a number of years had completely gone.  I exclaimed: “Well that was because Mick was a pain in the neck and he isn’t in your life any more.”  She laughed and was delighted with the explanation.  I have been thinking about that moment, and what it can teach me now. This pain in my lower back, where I can hear several vertebrae crunch against each other, where my core muscles aren’t strong enough at the moment to hold them in place well enough, where my daily stretches test the limits of some muscles and verge on self-harm.  Just like making an adjustment to a financial ledger, so my spine is reminding me I have dues to pay as a result of carrying myself in a certain way that has lead me to be turning up to receive treatment from those with the healing hands.

Adjusting to an additional piece of information may even cause you to look at everything in a completely new way. Whether it is discovering that Pluto is no longer a planet, or your favourite Dr Who isn’t the sexual orientation you thought, or your bank is no longer providing the service you need (all revelations to people around me this week) – adjustments occur.  The healing hands of the therapist brings news to the bones, muscles and sinews as their turn, just as the injured body has brought news to its host.

This week Hildegard I read some beautiful words from two of your fellow Benedictines. Separated by centuries  your common love of community, bees and honey dripped off the page, bringing an adjustment to my life.

The first adjustment was via facebook where my friend Dan had caught up with Br David in Edinburgh at Global TED.  Br David graced us with his company and we shared bee hives in Kangaroo Island and he opened a glorious retreat day by inviting us all to hum. The retreatants formed a swarm and the room resonated with the gentle industry of sound to bring us all to stillness.

The second came via Glenstal Abbey. In the words of the Abbott, Mark Patrick Henderman:

Monasteries should act as beehives of the invisible making honey which can be tasted, out of otherwise unavailable nectar hidden in flowers designed to conceal it. Monasteries are breweries distilling wisdom from many sources, searching out new perspectives: ways of hearing, seeing, touching invisible life at every level.

(Underground Cathedrals, 2010, Columba Press, p.192).

You could have written these same words Hildegard.  I am so pleased that I also have a recording of some of your songs sung in Glenstal Abbey and I will listen out to the sweet  voices oozing out of the speakers next time I play Vox de Nube.  This is my kind of adjustment!

Blossom on Giles Rd, WIllunga Almond Blossom Festival 2013

Invisible Bees: Blossom on Giles Rd, WIllunga Almond Blossom Festival 2013

Mid-Life Vespers

When I drive home from the city in the early evening at this time of the year, the sun is setting in my rear vision window; and the hills in front of me have a pink, purple and golden halo. It is the perfect setting for vespers, as the “remains of the day” are gathered up, before night sets in. I fell in love with vespers when I was in Rudesheim.  When I was in Rudesheim it was summer and a full moon, so I had the benefit of a long period of vespers.

Mid-life and vespers were made for each other.

Vespers is this time of life. There is the promise of the day ending and rest setting in, the evening filled with stars and stories from the day and the potential of a new day dawning to recast the sails for the next voyage.

The prayer of this hour begins :

Deus, in adiutorium meum intende. Domine, ad adiuvandum me festina. Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. Sicut erat in principio, et nunc et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen. 

O God, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be world without end.  Amen

Mid-life is definitely a time when assistance is called for and there is an urgency to get help when you need to … there are less days ahead than behind … time is running out so let’s get on with it!  Although I don’t agree with the concept that as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be.  Certainly my body isn’t as it was in the beginning and I hope that with some effort and a few treatments here and there will be improvement.  And as for, world without end, I am comforted by this thought of the world carrying on without making any contribution, spinning around in space, doing very well, thank you very much without me.

This reminds me that this is a time where we are apprenticing our disappearance as David Whyte puts it; vespers is perhaps an apprenticeship to the evening?

The vision in my rear view mirror is equally the last act of the day and the first act of the night; the drive each time is both review and forecast.

The afternoon light is often so beautiful at this time of the year. It is easy to see what inspires painters to capture the vineyards, the coastline and the rolling hills of the Fleurieu peninsula that find the paint on canvas revealed in the various galleries and art shows that proliferate around the area.

I am captured by the light too; but it isn’t on a canvas where the image is too often two-dimensional. Instead for me, Hildegard, the light is all surrounding, glowing and flowing,  and the in-between spaces offer a glimpse of liminal time and a deep invitation to rest, even wallow, in vespers. I like to travel with the setting sun and hurriedly get home before our Star meets the horizon so that I can receive all the rays of light available to me, before it disappears and the glory of the night sky is fully revealed.  I think this is what vespers is all about and what mid-life might be all about too: to keep up with the rays of light and come to rest in peace to receive what the night has to offer.

While I was in Rudesheim I wrote a poem about vespers, so it is a few years old and I have dusted it off and done a few revisions. I have shared a version, with a few people at a local poetry gathering when the sun was setting over the southern ocean at the end of summer.

Now I share it here, Hildegard, to help me own this vesper season to bring together the rear vision mirror and the horizon.

Vespers Lamentation

It is twilight.

I am gathering up all the colours of the day;
And giving thanks for what has been.

Golden beams of light soaking into the horizon;
Inviting me to soak in that light.

All the warmth,
And the energy
From Her rays.

This is the gift of the twilight.

I cannot delay the setting of the Sun.
She will go down.
She will set.
In the morning peak out;
To begin her flight across the sky.

I cannot hold Her back.
I am at Her mercy.
I am indebted to Her light
And Her shadow.

Oh Sun,
Don’t banish me to darkness.
I don’t want to be free from You.
It is only in Your light that I can see.
It is only in Your warmth that I can feel.
It is only in Your energy that I am whole.

Twilight gives way to the night.
And I must accept this time of twilight,
And the dark that follows.
But first,
Gratitude for twilight.
Receive it.
Celebrate twilight.

The dark comes when twilight is over
And it is not over.

Twilight is here.

And the call is: to be here too.