It has been hot, hot, hot this week, plenty of sparks flying when the temperature reaches 46C. The afterglow of the heat in the sunsets has been spectacular and a reminder of the eternal dance between heaven and earth. We are in a season where bushfires are a sniff on the north wind long before they arrive and so far they have not taken their February Dragon form, as Colin Thiele once wrote.
This has been one of those ordinary weeks full of extraordinary moments. Leigh Sales latest book An Ordinary Day takes a practical examination with her usual curiosity of how your life can change in an instant. You get up in the morning, stretch, do your ablutions, get dressed, have some breakfast … it is an ordinary day … and by the next time you head to sleep you are not the same as you were woke up. We have all had those days – grief, joy, new job, lost a job, become a wife, become a parent, become a widow. Maybe you have become a hostage, been in a car accident, won the lottery … ordinary people changed forever. This is the human condition as the Buddhists remind us – suffering, death, impermanence. Everything will pass. All the more reason to savour those moments full of spark and energy and build as fuel for the times when there might be little in the tank, and for resilience when a withdrawal is needed.
So far this year I have woken up more times in other people’s houses than I have in my own, the equation will balance out in no time at all. Waking up in new places is a metaphor all of its own, and when those moments come to shake us all about and rip us from moorings or rise us to new heights, we do get woken up again and again. I am noticing there is a theme emerging about paying attention. Thanks Mary Oliver once again, and to miksang practice and Thich Nhat Hanh and Br David Stendl-Rast and Pema Chodron … and all the others over the years who have reminded me to pay attention. I can see times when I have not been awake, have turned away, not wanted to look, not wanted to pay attention, moved too quickly to the next moment. Being in the moment is one of those universal truths to co-operate with the foundations of impermanence and embrace the invitation to pay attention. Each little spark has the potential to be something bigger like a bushfire – and with it to be destructive, cleansing impurities, turning sand to glass, healing the earth, bringing ancient seeds to life.
I went to sleep last night after one of those days. A day of joy and filling up. A day of harvest and recognition. A day putting fuel into the reserve resilience tank to draw on into the future. A day where simplicity and complexity and mixed emotions combined. A day where the evidence of collaboration, secret squirrels and bureaucracy, contrived a gift. I received an Australian Honour. It is an AM – Australia Medal and for those who don’t know about these things – it is prestigious. I discovered the nomination had been put in nearly two years ago and with the efforts of a band of friends, colleagues, peers and family providing all the details and evidence required by the process hosted by the Governor-General’s office. Many of the contributions have been invisible and to have them out in the open with this shorthand of two letters to tell that story is very touching and I do feel honoured.
I could give a litany of actions public, private and some in-between – just as we all could – that are in the service of others. That is really the point – we spark off each other. Someone else’s need is another’s gift and more often than not, the gift of time, talent and/ or energy transmitted is helping the giver as much, if not more, than the receiver. That has been true for me anyhow. I have learnt new things, discovered new opportunities, found ways to work around problems, created and amplified, had fun and generally been well and truly rewarded by seeing something come to fruition or a person blossom and bloom.
This relationship between service and paying attention is so brilliantly reflected in the arts. How often do we get to see with new eyes through a creative paying attention? So it was very fitting that I ended up at the close of play yesterday with the sun setting behind me while I sat on a butterfly chair, created by a local woman (Anna Small) who could see wings. One of the conversations I had during the week, one of those moments to carry me through a lifetime, was an invitation to see this time as encased in a cocoon, liquified and not yet fully formed into a new creature. At this moment encased in a silk, protein, hard purse hosting the changes hidden inside, first spun by the old being before the new one forms. This spark of insight to see the old form having first spun the protective coating to enable the new to form is so obvious once I pay attention. I am exploring what branch my chrysalis is hanging from and how delicate the wings will be when they unfurl wet and perhaps still a little bit gooey. What was hidden on the inside, is woven around and then voila – something new that was already there!
After the winter, there is spring, after the chrysalis, there are wings. Now in this moment, and coming soon, are dangerous and noble things, calling for lightness, improbability, boldness and bravery. Sparks. Will. Fly.
…..Extract from Starlings in Winter by Mary Oliver
I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard, I want
to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.
Mary Oliver, from Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays, 2003