Monthly Archives: May 2019

Sparks will fly #21 #music

The poet sings like a lark surrounded by virtuosos who know how to get the best out of each and every inch of their instruments, in a space designed for the singular purpose for sound to reach our ears and soak into our bodies – this was a musical nourishment to savour. One indeed to take to the grave, as I instructed my youngest to include You’ve underestimated me dude in the set to be played at my funeral. Energetically, the pulse of life, with all it highs and lows, swirled around us in raptures. I bow down to your talent and your willingness to share them with us all:

Kate Miller-Heidke | vocals / piano
Keir Nuttall | guitar
Iain Grandage | cello / piano
Jessica Hitchcock | backing vocal

You know sparks will fly when the shock of greying luxurious hair on the cellist arrives just before the first words of introduction are spoken. The ancestors were already in place and the next generation eagerly was taking up their invitation to join the appreciation society. David Whyte says: Poetry is language against which you have no defenses. The quartet raged a triumphant victory march and reached into the cracks and chasms of my heart and soul, my sword and my shield were rendered helpless, I was left defenceless.

I am being instructed through a set of exercises which is calling me to examine some of those cracks and chasms. It is not all comfortable. As this day dawns I am wondering how perhaps there is another way in to be opened, music and poetry has served me well in the practice to keep being broken open, they can creep into me with the open-heart surgery and exam of life seems to require!

In a recent speech I made, I shared a couple of snippets of time when I was literally under threat of death – a knife being pulled on me and a gun pointed at me. There have been a few other times death has come knocking. As a child suffering from asthma where breath in the body was scarce, in traffic there have been a few near misses, running behind a bus as a ten year old on the streets of London. And, I have had a death threat too during anti-racist campaigning. Coming close to death is an invitation to live more fully. It is also to unpack how these near-death experiences can continue to work their way into the future and not be relegated to the past, as if somehow they already processed, packed up and neatly put away. Music calls these experiences out into the open for review.

The emotional labour is never really over and comes repackaged and repurposed … and often for me this is through music or poetry. When a song moves you it has tapped into memory, or maybe into possibility or fantasy. There were many such moments last night. The cello becomes your spiritual director, the shaker becomes the metronome of your heart beat and the highest notes crescendo to match your higher self as the heavy darker tones of chords thumping on strings and keys takes you down as far as the notes will go … and then some. Rumi says: If all the harps in the world were burned down, still inside the heart there will be hidden music playing. It is this hidden music which is being examined but I can’t get to it without the live music on the outside. And it is in between sets that the reflection takes place, in the quiet, when instruments are lying in state, when the cup of tea is getting cold, when the chairs are empty, when the leads are relaxed. I am in between sets when I reflect, everything is still on stage, there is gratitude and expectation of more.

Remaining open is the way sparks will fly and the door is always ajar when I can hear the music.


Between sets, Ukaria 25 May 2019

Sparks will Fly #20 #yellow

A letter to my grandson in 2035

Dear Archie,

Just before your 4th birthday, Australia had a big election. A lot of us thought it was going to be around climate change and for a lot of us it was.  But not everyone can see into the future easily, and lots of people are scared of change. Being able to adapt to change is so important. I am so proud of you when you notice you are struggling and can’t always get your own way, so you take yourself off and cool down and then come back and join in again with the conversation and the play.  Being able to self-regulate and learn you can’t always get your own way was a fabulous skill and gift your Mum and Dad taught you. You are not scared of your own feelings when they bubble up and you get to know what they mean for you.

I am sorry my generation have left you with so much to deal with Archie.  I ran out of puff more than once. I am so grateful for all those young students who took the streets long before they were old enough to vote, and by the time they got to vote, they were able to turn things around …. I just don’t know if they were able to do enough in time for you.

As your 16th birthday approaches, I am so grateful for all those lovely paintings you made for me when you were little, they help me keep seeing the world through your eyes. You did one for me once when you were three you called Black and Yellow Australia. You could see the sun rising and the night falling.  It really helped me through some tough days after the 2019 election and a few more between then and now in 2035.

All I could see when I was sad for my country was two worlds – old over young, coal over climate, Presidential over team, known over unknown, comfort over risk, little over big, negative over positive, no policies over policies, men over women. I thought about your painting and realised black and yellow is not black and white – things are more complex than that. Yellow is the colour of hope, the colour of joy and happiness. It is also the colour associated with being a coward and often the colour for not being well, a bit jaundice giving you information that there might be something wrong with your liver, gall bladder or pancreas. Yellow is a paradox.

I did get more active on climate and helped out some of the students in the strikes for climate change, I cheered madly with the lovely Greta got a Nobel Prize and was so inspired when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest US President ever. So I know it wasn’t all lost, but I felt pretty sad and a bit hopeless the day after the 2019 election.

I knew then, as a I know now, hope is not a substitute for action. And if you do want something to happen about what matters to you, you have to put your shoulder to the wheel, join with others and mobilise.  And the lesson I learnt and hope you learnt too is: Don’t give up, get organised.  Let sparks fly and glow with the yellow light shining on and through you.



Sparks will fly #18 #humiliation

The different between embarrassment and humiliation has been a topic of discussion this week.  Embarrassment being an inside job and humiliation being an experience of power and something that cuts a lot deeper than embarrassment. Humiliation is often covered up and put in the corner, but it can be complete with outing and public scrutiny. The never ending dance includes familiar friends of shame and guilt.  Shame is also an inside job, and you feel completely alone and guilt focusses on behaviour and can often be shared. There is no end to opportunities to experience these emotions and see them play out everyday!  On the weekend, I was at a friends birthday party and some of the in-real-life Dad jokes caused embarrassment to the children of the father in question, but there was no guilt or shame to be seen.

Exploring these themes with aplomb is Brene Brown and her work around shame is bringing a revolution to emotional growth. Empathy, resilience and self-compassion seem to be the holy trinity inoculation and anti-dote to these other emotions, and breaking them down to be clear about what is yours and what belongs to the other.

If your heart can be big enough to hold the hurt, it might also be that strengthened by generosity, be big enough to hold the healing.  Matching the healing to size of the hurt, seems to be one of those equations of life that isn’t easily addressed.  Lots of little hurts can amalgamate in all kinds of ways, being swept under the carpet, stored behind closed doors, hidden under a bed … look at all those metaphors which imply darkness, out of sight and mediated by a solid object.  I think that is what we do to ourselves as well as our hearts harden and become impenetrable when we don’t let the hurts ooze out and act like the vulnerable human beings we are when we are betrayed and lost.

Coming out into the light, being exposed to the elements, it is inevitable we will be weathered. The innocence, power, creativity and splendour of the elements best described by John O’Donohue are at our disposal constantly being revealed in the landscapes around us and as the earth and the rivers are worn down and the wind wildly blows about us, as it does in Western Ireland, or for us in Australia how the sun beats down on us, the elements are irresistible. We are caught in their flow and our attempts to manage them with air conditioners, sunblock, umbrellas or even dams, doesn’t stop them being there. There are lessons we can transfer from the elements to our human condition. We can put up barriers, use devices, create and use psychological gymnastics but those emotions are with us and we need to work with them, not against them, to find our way out into the light and good weather of good health.

We are elemental beings where the great forces of air, earth, wind of course fire find themselves a home in our emotional selves and in our bodies.  Humiliation is in the earth from which the very word derives and has us digging deep to get through it.  Perhaps it is by working with the other elements to blow it away, give it space to breathe and let the sparks fly? Maybe then that it can be relieved of its duty to call us closer to knowing our worth and understanding humiliation as a by-product of institutional injustices. When that realisation comes to the fore … sparks will fly.



Photo by Mahkeo on Unsplash