Monthly Archives: November 2013

Mind the Gap

The space between the platform and the train has an attribution all of its own. The London Underground station address system reminds us with a regularity (that has the danger of becoming too familiar) to mind the gap.

What happens in that moment when we do mind the gap? When we contemplate what the gap is all about between being stationary to being on the move?  Or from being on the move to being stationary?  What is there to mind?

 Mind – a place of contemplation, thought, attention

The – definitive article

Gap – a space where we can fall, be injured, disappear, tear apart.

Can I thoughtfully pay attention to a definitive identified space so that I won’t be seduced or captured by it? By definition if I do mind the gap, then, my mindfulness will lead me safely to my next destination.

Like many a pilgrim I haven’t always obeyed the instruction to mind the gap. I have sometime been seduced and fallen into the space, or danced dangerously close to the edge teetering on the immoveable platform playfully testing both the gap and the platform to see where I might fall.  I have also landed heavily in the gap while jumping off a train, scurrying to get a steady foothold so the gap would not claim me.

The gap holds its own secrets of darkness. The automated digital voice brings a comfort all of its own and when I hear it when I am London I often treat it like the bell for mediation calling us to stillness and back to mindfulness.

Thich Nhat Hanh first encouraged me to look for the signs in everyday life to bring me to mindfulness. One recording of his on driving in traffic is still a practice, and that is to treat the stop sign as an invitation to breathe and the sound of a bell on a train or a tram as the bell to call us back to mindfulness. So too is the message and the announcement to mind the gap.  Be mindful of falling into the abyss between being still and moving – alight the train to the next station in life with care and definition. Stand attentive to make the move and not be distracted by the gap in time and space that one might have to traverse to get to the station or back on the train.  Mind the gap could well be a mantra all of its own for the modern city pilgrim commuter!

The break in the continuity of the journey is what the gap announces – there will be a break in transmission is what happens when you are in the gap. The pause gives a moment of respite and has its own value and with it perhaps a practice.  A practice to honour the gap that we cross over from stillness to motion and back again – a continuous call and response of its own.

I reflect on the gaps I cross and the bridges I make when I step over gaps uniting in a single step two sides of a single journey. The generation gap is one that I find myself trying to bridge on a daily basis. The gap between the rich and poor, housed and homeless, fed and hungry, settled and seeking refuge – there are so many gaps that I feel called to be attentive too, even if I don’t have the capacity to bridge them, I hope I will be able to mind the gap and bring them to my attention.

I do want to mind the gap and to be mindful of the gaps I just jump over each day with ease; often with scant attention, just jumping on the next train, to the next station barely taking time to be still on the platform.

What if we had no gaps to mind ?   Hildegard I think the most ancient of baptismal rites provides some instruction here – in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, woman or man no more.  In this scenario there is a world of equality and unity, where there is no gap to mind because the void has been filled.  A reflection on that conundrum might be something for another time!

For now,  I  invoke the  mind the gap mantra and in doing so, reflect on the relationship between action and contemplation.

Mind the Gap

Mind the Gap


Call and Response

The basic form of any interaction is call and response.  It takes centre stage in performances that begin in the cradle where the child smiles and we goo and gah back … or is it the other way around. Over the years the call and response might get a bit more sophisticated and spicy when you add in gender, sexuality and music.

There is an eternal question of whether we find our own vocation or it finds us – the master arriving for the student when the student can receive the master … and so the same call/ response pattern continues. So it is with our spirituality – does your practice find you? or  do you find your practice? Who has the call? Who is the respondent?

I sense Hildegard that the more I am open the more it is likely that I can receive and hear the call rather than make the call and have a response back from the UniVerse. One voice and a chorus response reminds me of what happens on twitter one message being re-tweeted to hundreds and sometimes thousands of others. Such a wild way of thinking about call and response in my time.

Hawken’s Blessed Unrest names and claims what so many of us are a part of, invisible and indivisible threads woven together by a common vision of a world that comes into being because of our collective, if sometimes dis-organised arrangements.

We gather in time and space, on line and off line, in the crevices and crannies of cyber space portals, making our mark and making a difference.  Unfettered by sovereign boundaries we say yes to our common values and there is what Hawken names as a collective genius at work birthing an alternative narrative to a doom and gloom future.

When I was CEO of Volunteering South Australia and Northern Territory one of the key points I regularly made in the public domain, was that when we vote we have a say for the type of government we want every three or four years, but every time we volunteer, we are voting with our hands and hearts on the kind of community and environment we want to live in and create.  I am limited in the number of hours I can volunteer in a face-to-face way these days, and after serving on community boards and committees for more than three decades, I am looking for ways to mentor the next generation. I am looking for ways to volunteer, where I can make use of the time I have, and the platforms I have to bring about the future that I envision.

In song, the call and response is a pattern of successive phrases taken in turns and where the first singer or musician makes the call and it is echoed by the second and so the conversation continues in lyric and tune.  The sophistication of verse and chorus is just another example of this pattern.  I send out a tweet and then there is a response from the twittersphere. Sometimes I respond to other tweets and I became the respondent to the call – the power of the re-tweet – a loud echo to the single 140 characters or less call.

This past two weeks I gave myself a virtual volunteering quest. I didn’t subject myself to any screening procedures, sign on with a not for profit, undertake training to do the voluntary task or be invited. I gate crashed my way into a virtual volunteering role.  I have always supported anything I can to bring recognition of Aboriginal people and to right the wrongs of colonialisation.  I haven’t done a lot, but I have contributed to actions and discourse over the years and maybe that account is for another blog.  You may recall my recent entry about identity, well I thought the best thing I could do is see if there was anything in the Recognise campaign I could help with.  On investigation and my usual online trawling exercise I saw that a film Vote Yes was being finalised and seeking crowdfunding for the last $20,000.  So I hopped on line and on board to see what I could do essentially through my twitter account (although I did use facebook, email and LinkedIn as well).

Each day for a couple weeks I have been tweeting about the film, shamelessly asking people to chip in and lend a hand with a donation, not out of charity, but as an act of solidarity and to inform the twitter sphere of the issue of constitutional reform to see Aboriginal peoples recognised in the Australian Constitution.

(I was nearly 9 years old when Aboriginal people got the vote in 1967. I celebrated when the Australian government said Sorry to the stolen generations in 2008 and was in the company of some very fine Aboriginal leaders that day.  I have been fortunate to have had instruction and patience from many Aboriginal people in my personal and working life. I am deeply grateful to their grace and what they have shared with me. I have a lot to learn.)

I have sent tweets to people as diverse as Lady Gaga, Fr Bob, Margaret Attwood, Malcolm Fraser and David Suzuki. I was amazed at who retweeted and who didn’t (for the record only Lady Gaga of the group above didn’t retweet).  I added to my knowledge of Aboriginal leaders and groups. I wasn’t afraid to be bold and ask for help and surprisingly celebrity /well known strangers did help out (please note Magda Subanzski and Rob Oakshott).

It has taught me a lesson once again that an invitation to help out is often valued and accepted – people respond to the call – but the call (the ask, the invite) – needs to be made.

So was I called and then made a response? Or did I make the call for others to respond too? Was it a mix of both? Was my gatecrashing welcome or just another sign of colonisation, this time of air space.  I was kindly welcomed and thanked and generously entertained by the custodians of the project who appreciated my enthusiasm for the greater good. Its the least I could do and the most I could do – to call and respond and respond to the call.

In my heart I know there is a dance going on – one where the caller and the responder share the lead and where the dance is on a wonderful tapestry where threads are woven together and sometimes the carpet itself takes flight and leads us to new horizons.

I was once told off at the Broken Spoke Dance Hall in Austin, Texas for not responding to the music a Texan Two-Step properly and dancing in an appropriate way. I may know the tunes dear Hildegard, but there are new dances to be danced and songs to be sung.  I will always strain to hear the call and prepare to be able to respond. I will also try and remain open to the call and when I need to be the call for others to respond remind myself that like you, I am trying to live like a feather that is blown about by the UniVersal breath.  Call and response is the foundation of reflection and action and reflection comes first in that binary equation.


The Backstory

Every story has a backstory, every forest an undergrowth, every river formed by an avalanche of drops of rain. I am intrigued by how far back the narrative reaches before the story comes into view for the world to see. I want to share a backstory of mine with you Hildegard.

Several weeks ago Dr Anne Summers, a prominent elder in the realm of Australian feminism hosted two conversations with Australia’s first female Prime Minister Julia Gillard. During the lead up to the events the hosts invited those unable to be there to send through questions that might be used in conversation. Having an insatiable appetite for social media, conversation and prophesy I sent my question via twitter as requested: It’s 2050 what does Australia look like? Among the hundreds of questions tweeted in, two were chosen and mine was one of them – I was suitably chuffed! The answer was well constructed and thoughtful (you can see it on You Tube my question is at 54:41), and the backstory deserves a mention.

In the front row of the audience was the first woman Premier of Victoria, Hon Joan Kirner who had been a great support to me when I ran for Parliament and it was heart warming for me to know she heard my name after more than a decade. I received several tweets that night from women in the audience letting me know my question was asked – each woman has a different backstory that intersects with mine, politics for one, community engagement for another and another a twittersphere only connection. One of the features of the conversation that had transpired was around the issues of misogyny and sexism and its role in politics. My backstory here was very real as well. When I campaigned with four children in school, I was subject to vilification by some saying I should be home with them and a whispering campaign was mounted in church and community groups that leaked its way into talk back radio and impacted on my campaigning. I advised the local political apparatchiks of the issue and they didn’t really see the problem and very little was done. I forecasted this was the tip of the iceberg and the level of organisation we were seeing around the issue would grow and indeed it did. In addition the cloak that was thrown over the abuse was done in the name of God (a God who bore no resemblance to the one embodied by Jesus). The political wing even gave itself a name Family First, and in good time the candidate opposing me left his party and joined Family First where he remains a member of Parliament (another backstory for another day).

I love social media and its capacity to influence and organise at the micro and macro level in real time. My skills and experience in these media, set me apart from many others in my age group who use some of the platforms like Facebook to mainly keep in touch with younger family members (and I definitely do that as well).  Tools like twitter, facebook and instagram, are charged with dynamic properties for advocates and activists like me. So it is then that the Melbourne Town Hall, and now embedded in You Tube, my question of less than 140 characters was asked by a leading light and answered by a former Prime Minister. The accessibility of these tools in the hands of ordinary everyday people like me are ground-breaking. The Arab Spring will go down in history as the first twitter fed revolution. Without filters and editorial, questions can be posed, thoughts shared and amplified.

When I finally got around to watch the You Tube of the event last weekend, and saw Anne Summers peer into her mobile device to read my tweet I enjoyed seeing the next chapter unfold, knowing that without a back story no question can be formed or asked.

Just as we see the light breaking through at the end of a lane, so  my little tweet connected me back to the story that had taken me along that lane in the first place and by being asked got a whole new audience to consider what the future might be like.

Every tweet has a backstory as real and as true as any other kind of narrative.

And there are backstories down every lane as se hace camino al andar (you make the way as you go, Antonio Machado, Spanish poet).

Lane at Glenstal Abbey

Lane at Glenstal Abbey

Identity and Recognition

I have recently been in some conversations about our identity – what does it mean to be an Australian? Are we ready to claim our sovereignty and be a republic? Beginning with these questions uncovered some deeper feelings and thoughts. I began to muse on what actually makes us visibly Australian to non-Australians and how we notice one another when we are away from home or in a group at home with other nationalities around us.   I thought about you Hildegard, how people identified you, in a habit, in a cloister, as a Benedictine and whether being German (or rather what is known as Germany now) was part of your identity and how others identified with you? Our national identity seeps into our pores, I was told once that it is in the drinking water and comes through air conditioning ducts; like a scene from a Doctor Who episode.  The cultural capital that somehow makes up this identity is deposited in varying amounts in each of us as we are captured by the landscape and find our stories waiting for us there or fused onto the songline that calls us home.

When I am away from my homeland of Australia I can hear an Aussie accent in a crowded room or on a busy street.  I notice the songs of Aussie music on the radio and get chuffed when I see an Aussie movie on an airline choice list.  There is something inside of me that connects and bonds me with an invisible umbilical cord to my motherland.  I don’t think I am particularly patriotic and I am scared of what nationalism can do, I’ve never had a t-shirt with the flag emblazoned on the front or back and I don’t know all the verses of the national anthem.  I do however love to see the red, red sand of the outback and the smell of the eucalypts after the rain, and hear the warbles of the magpies and laughter of the kookaburras, the taste of vegemite on toast and the feel of my ugg boots on cold winter’s morning – as the song goes these are some of my favourite things.  How does my sense of self as an Australian then morph into a national songline and form a shared Australian identity?  When so many Australians were not born here and most of us can’t claim custodianship of the land – we are not from the first nations.  My ancestors came here leaving behind Ireland, Scotland, England, Greece – they came for greener pastures and the promise for the future they envisioned for their next generations. Bequeathing to me a legacy and inheritance that they probably wouldn’t have been able to imagine, such was their poverty and for some persecution.  I wonder how much of an idea they had about what the exchange was all about – in their gain, Aboriginal peoples were moved off their lands, became ill, were persecuted, died.  Whether I like it or not, it is possible for me to live where I live because of theft, ill gotten gains.  Sometime back more nearly two hundred years ago (Willunga will be 175 years old as a village next year) a group of white men came along and started creating a village. The name of my town is Willunga, which means place of trees in Kaurna, and I am pleased it has retained its language, which somehow means to me that it was always known by this name and therefore was a place where people met and came often – to rest by the trees, drink from the spring-fed stream and enjoy the fruits of the land and catch up on news from those who stopped and passed by.  This is pretty much what still happens to day although it is very rare to see an Aboriginal person in the main street.

I love where I live and I love the identity and sense of place that I can ascribe to myself to say I live in Willunga, I am an Australian.  In doing so, though it is based on a terrible hurt and destruction of others who also gave this place a name and were claimed by the space in generations past.

I went to conversations about sovereignty and recognition of the same to be enshrined in our constitution and to separate from our British colonial past by becoming a Republic and it is still something I want to support – but first things first – we must acknowledge Aboriginal peoples in the Constitution before any other changes are made.

Back in 1967 when more than 90% of Australians voted to enable Aboriginal people to have the vote it was obviously a time when it was clear this was a certain and necessary step in how we saw ourselves as a nation, with the amount of mean-ness and small minded-ness rife in my land right now, I don’t know if that size of a vote would be achieved -but I really hope it would be.  Division and disunity forecasts death. And so I think that unity is somehow connected to national identity as well and when we all face the future looking the same way into our hearts and at the horizon together the spirit of our land and the sense of ourselves as a nation might have the chance to gel and form a shared identity.

To that end Hildegard, I will talk and tweet, listen and share what I can over these next months to the Australian identity that can be shaped and informed by our deepest songline and by those who first heard the music in the land and who continue to sing it with dignity and remind us of how we can address the injustices of the past by embracing the future constructively. One important step is to recognise Australian Aboriginal peoples in the Constitution – after all sovereignty starts there.  Once that is sorted and the dreaming track is walked together and we have, as Australians, righted a wrong then we will be ready to be a sovereign nation, grown up enough to be a republic.