Monthly Archives: February 2015

Out on a limb

Dear Sor Juana,

I am in the northern hemisphere for the beginning of Lent. The season makes more sense on this hemisphere. Early hints of spring: swallows find their way to medieval rooftops and the snow starts to shrink in the distance.

Spring goes out on a limb, stretching into new spaces, not always quite ready to be occupied.

Working to the edge of our discomfort is where growth happens.

Out on a limb

Out on a limb.

Sor Juana, you were in my thoughts while I looked over Assisi, I wondered how you started your Lents? Perhaps you took yourself to the edge of your comfort zone, to find out just how far you needed to go? Francesco and his Friars, ceaselessly tramping around their world joyously proclaiming, working and praying would have had more than the echoes of their voices bouncing off the stones! Building fame through faith and fortitude, was not what his father had in mind for his son – taken to the edge for sure like so many parents past and present! Standing in front of the baptismal font at the family church of San Rufino I took pity on all parents who in good faith welcome a child and then the child belongs the world, and we get taken to our growth edges. As a mother this happens first in our bodies, our hormones, our blood and bones. Then the time comes and we burst with new life. (Perhaps pregnancy is a bit like Lent too. I am in the early stages of my grand mothering apprenticeship and find I am remembering pregnancies and the journey to parenthood most days.)

Going out on a limb is part of any journey. You take a turn in the road, come across an obstacle that needs to be traversed, limbs appear at many junctions and you can go around them, ignore them or go out on them. The uncomfortable places lead you to rely on the generosity of others, wait patiently for the moment to pass, or perhaps be silent to listen and feel explicitly what lesson the limb is inviting you to experience. Staying with the limb and not retreating to a comfortable place is what Lent is about for me, it is where you see the buds appearing, first signs of fruit and nectar being gathered up to make honey.

Biting into harvested fruits and honey is another season and another kind of courage.

Peaking Early, Paying Back

Dear Sor Juana,

This letter is being written in Rome, where the crisp air of late winter is refreshing. From my window I can see the Coloseum, an icon of imperialism being restored, this generation of artisans preserving the building for future generations to catch the audacity of Ancient Rome at its peak.

The city is down on its luck and signs of recession are all around with waste piling up in the laneways and benches covered in cardboard cartons await their tenants to arrive at dusk. Rome peaked early and has been trading on its past ever since.

One imperial regime after another, Roman gods replaced by the Christian God, and judging by the number of selfie sticks I’ve seen so far Narcissus seems to have found a home again in Rome.

The Pieta, Michaelangelo

The Pieta, Michaelangelo

Trading on early success, the beauty of youth and young ideas brings its own burden. The need to keep living up to your past may mean you miss the mark from time to time. There are exceptions of course, and Michaelangelo comes to mind – at 24 created The Pieta and was still creative five decades more. Sor Juana you would have been moved by the limp body frozen in the solid rock, still, forever. How does a young artist know what it is like to be held and to hold unless he has had that intimate and intense experience himself – a love without the boundary of time or place? He was just six years old when his mother died. An early peak experience that perhaps offered an entry to emotion? Deaths of parents present and re-present themselves throughout our lives.

Last time I was in Rome, I was about nine years old, in part a consequence of my father peaking early in his career as a psychologist. We were on a family summer holiday. I have a few fragments of memory that connect me to that time. Jumping off a bus and then trying to jump back on while it was still moving is the main one – it is a defining intense memory of separation and desperation. In my recollection there is a hand from a stranger pulling me up and back into my place to the relief of all. I always feel close to my father when travelling. And I am regularly pulled back into place by strangers. Acts of kindness and compassion are bestowed as I have fallen off the bus many times over the years.

Having peaked early, Rome needs a hand to help it back onto the bus. As a tourist, my humble and modest contribution is just one pair of hands caressing the Italian economy back into the black and giving back to Rome what it paid forward centuries ago.


Each Step

Dear Sor Juana

The year is unfolding and this time next week I will be far from my homeland close the heart of common origins we share as daughters in the Roman tradition. Preparations for this journey have been slower than most and the whole picture is yet to be fully developed although the colours are beginning to come to life.

Preparation is also the journey – a readiness to hold ambiguity, being open to surprises, awe and wonder – along the way is the task of any pilgrim. Each day is part of the journey and fidelity to each walk each day as a pilgrim means I have to take those steps on foot. Being in the open air, under the sky, with the sounds of the cities, towns, and the quiet spaces along the way all around me. Allowing myself to be infused by the aromas of coffee shops, bakeries, blossoms alongside of nicotine, exhaust fumes and smoke from fires. Remaining open is my daily quest.

You struggled Juana with arrogance and ahh I know that feeling well (especially in moments where I am sure I am surrounded by feeble minded, lily-livered, fearful creatures who don’t know what courage is!) So to remain open and humble is my prayer this week as I take steps to keep grounded and remind myself that preparing slowly is also a journey.

As Robert Frost said the road less travelled by makes a difference every day, so my road less travelled is inviting me to humility and to slow down. Finding a different way to walk has been very real for me this past week or more as I injured my left foot in play and it is now in constant conversation with the rest of my body at one point reminding time to put my feet up and at other times to walk on through the pain, and in doing both finding new ways to tread at all times carrying the consequences of play that brings pain.  Keep walking and keep playing as the path once walked is behind me and the one ahead calls me to tread differently.



The road in the end taking the path the sun had taken,
into the western sea, and the moon rising behind you
as you stood where ground turned to ocean: no way
to your future now but the way your shadow could take,
walking before you across water, going where shadows go,
no way to make sense of a world that wouldn’t let you pass
except to call an end to the way you had come,
to take out each frayed letter you brought
and light their illumined corners, and to read
them as they drifted through the western light;
to empty your bags; to sort this and to leave that;
to promise what you needed to promise all along,
and to abandon the shoes that had brought you here
right at the water’s edge, not because you had given up
but because now, you would find a different way to tread,
and because, through it all, part of you could still walk on,
no matter how, over the waves.

– David Whyte


Shoe Tree Wanilla


Start Close In

Dear Sor Juana,

Waiting can bring anxiety, excitement, fear, boredom – the space between the now and what is to come is more likely to inspire me with ideas of the future than to be a student of the end game. Dreams, forecasts and the what is possible usually fill me in the waiting. Being able to imagine what is possible is always the first step.

David Whyte’s poem Start Close In  comes to me – to start with the step you don’t want to take, in the ground you know, the ground beneath your own feet. These first steps take you from the waiting to the next place. In my preamble to this poem I say: be still in the waiting and get to know the ground beneath your feet then you can start as truly close in as possible, and from this place, calibrate, settle, still and come to know what it is about that step you don’t want to take … then take it.

Sor Juana, I haven’t been able to take some steps recently to be excited, yet there is a lot to be excited about: new life, new beginnings and new territories to explore.  All dreams-in-waiting, waiting for me to take the first step. Yet I have been holding back, not wanting to get excited, reserving my self and steeling myself in case potential is not realised, or even worse perhaps is realised! How to let go and be, to stand in the space of waiting and then to take the first step towards the future (known and unknown) is not my usual predisposition.  I am mostly comfortable with not knowing what will unfold, and often eager to ride the waves and see where they take me. But recently I’ve noticed I am holding back and even at times holding on.

Coffee with Sor Juana

Coffee with Sor Juana

The call I have heard this week is to step into excitement. I found my response via midwives who came in the guise of coffee, a sixteen week child, the word “adventure” and returning to a familiar place for food and conversation. Each have invited me to take first steps to get excited and I feel renewed.   I like the idea that you too would combine science and imagination, poetry and cooking to fuel and for you the thought process, and the very definition of the self, always returns to and necessitates a body and its sustenance. To be sustained by some basics like a cup of coffee, a hug, a word and the familiarity of happy times took me this week to stillness and then propelled me to take first steps into excitement (perhaps caffeine fuelled). Each first step firmly planted in what had gone before, deep memory, deep knowledge and connections beyond time, beyond space. Where stories of childbirth became instruction for the next generation, where the brew tickled mu adrenal gland into excitement, where adventure became invitation and little hands forecasted a new role on the horizon.

I agree with you Sor Juana, in the body is where the first signs of wisdom and definition of self return are sustained. The top-up from play in my life made the ground fertile and sowed the seeds of excitement my mid wives were able to harvest this week.

Interplay: Adelaide Summer Untensive, January 2015  Photo: Trish Fairley

Interplay: Adelaide Summer Untensive, January 2015  Photo: Trish Fairley


Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way of starting
the conversation.

Start with your own
give up on other
people’s questions,
don’t let them
smother something

To find
another’s voice,
your own voice,
wait until
that voice
becomes a
private ear
to another.

Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don’t follow
someone else’s
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don’t mistake
that other
for your own.

Start close in,
don’t take
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

~David Whyte, River Flow: New and Selected Poems