Apparently there is a lot still possible, not sure that the species at the end of their tether would agree, or the last person I spoke to who lost their Dad, or the ache in a heart for a job yet to materialise … it is hard to believe what is still possible, when you find yourself in an impossible or unbelievable situation. The house has burned down, the trees crashing and falling as the flames take flight and find their way to the ground with more prowess than a gold medal Olympic hurdler. To be both still and hold possible in the one sentence, in those circumstances, seems a real stretch. And yet as the poet (David Whyte) says the words still possible and in his mouth the sound of a lilt and an echo to a greater poet (Mary Oliver), I am captivated and musing on what might be still possible in my own life, and indeed for my own species.
Is it still possible to draw down on the carbon? Is it still possible to end patriarchy? Is it sill possible to have a just settlement? Is it still possible to have another slice of chocolate cake (as Crowded House asked of Tammy Baker) ?
What makes something possible in the first place, something that is capable of coming true? When I apply that definition I find I am more hopeful about the carbon scenario than I am about patriarchy and colonialism, even though I see them all inextricably entwined. The root of the word comes from the Latin, be able. When you enable, the door to power opens, and so perhaps there is a clue here about the relationship between possibility and power?
I am noticing shifts all around me lately. Shifts of power, some beautifully and generously gift wrapped and passed on, others reluctantly barely camouflaging ignominy and leaving a taste of bitterness in the transaction. The happy ones come with ease, are in flow, going in the direction of joy and bending the bow with hope and imagination. These are the transformational shifts.
Some things just aren’t possible without a shift in power, and the shift might be inside of you, as I have discovered. Letting an old part of myself wake up again and take her place in the pantheon of Self. This, has required relinquishing power of one part and letting the power of another take up residence again.
I shifted, moving my weight from one side to another, picked up the guitar and played it in public –a small public – in a place originally known as Warri-Pari, and now known as Warriparinga. It means Windy Place by the River and for thousands of years been a place of ceremony for Kaurna. It was a fitting place for me to sing and play guitar in public for the first time in probably 30 years. I was grateful for the laughter and spunk of the occasion in a place where an ancient 500 year old Eucalyptus camaldulensis, River Red Gum lives majestically. This place is where the Tjilbruke dreaming begins, central to Kaurna lore and law. So here I was strumming my guitar and belting out a Patti Smith number, Power to the People and calling on my own spirits to remind me what is still possible. I was definitely able to awaken a yearning to get to the ballot box from the gathered who had been scattered an unable to be together for two years of pandemic separation.
It was windy, the sun was setting, there was water in the creek and the magpies arrived to join in on cue. I loved how all the elements and creation treated me as an ally and the happy crew around me joined in the chorus. Definitely felt a blessing on the purta (seasonal spring winds) and cobwebs being blown away by the time I got to the end of the first verse. Meeting the moment, not a rehearsal for something sometime in the future, but an unfolding in real time of what is possible and still possible.
While having some acupuncture treatment this week I asked what a couple of extra needles were for and was told just to keep up your amazing-ness. While I laughed the placebo effect of those words still makes me smile, something to help with your general everyday amazingness sounds pretty good to me! We are all amazing and to celebrate and support that in one another is the act of beautiful witness. Goes beyond the general everyday act of witness, to see beyond surviving to thriving, beyond grief to see seeds of resurrection, to see beyond happiness to bountiful joy. Noticing the deeply embedded kernels inside all of us being coaxed out by witnesses and our ability to be witnessed is mutuality whole hearted.
When the winds of discomfort are blowing and you are being bustled along like the proverbial tumbleweed in a desert, tossed around and repeating endless circles, getting to a destination that is scenically not any different to where you started – even that can be celebrated as letting go – enabling the elements to hold you until you are able, ready or perhaps better equipped to unravel into something new.
This week, noticing how I witness and am witnessed, is a litany of generosity: the holding, with such gentle kindness, of a chicken for her wings to be clipped, a photo of a calm sea being sent to a friend who is unsettled after missing out on getting an opportunity to move to another job, skipping down a corridor in a silent celebration of news of a friend getting a new job which means her life will change, meandering into a conversation about music and being heard, quietly sitting to listen to a favourite poet with favourite friends, receiving a caution instead of a fine and demerit points for travelling too fast along the road close to home, to hear myself into speech as I was being interviewed for a podcast, to sit in conversation with a lake while waiting to eavesdrop on a regional community, to delight and press send on a contribution to regenerative farmers, walking through a school that will soon be community to 400 families and feeling the excitement and anticipation of the midwifes. There is so much generosity inside us to give and even more to receive. This is the currency of exchange that fills my wellbeing bank and not the least the act of being generous with ourselves.
David Whyte writes: Every transformation has at its heart the need to ask for the right kind of generosity. The currency of exchange happens in the act of giving and fills my wellbeing bank, and every act of receiving does not make a withdrawal, it feels more like compound interest. I think the prescription for feeling lost or abandoned is to invite yourself into generosity, gift your time, your talents, your energy to another, to a cause, to the environment. When I worked as CEO for Volunteering SA & NT we would always be noticing how quickly people improved their mental and physical health, their sense of belonging and improved their skills once they started volunteering. Going beyond yourself has medicinal properties and helps to create the everyday general amazingness in each other. This is the never ending reminder to me of the call and response, in the last line of this poem by Whyte, to find a way to die of generosity, is to live from the abundance you have inside of you.
This week I was part of an extraordinary event. It felt like many of the lessons I have gained over the years in community engagement, what I know about how we learn and the power of collaboration all came together. As part of the trio that is Collab4Good with Amy Orange and Sarah Gun, I had the job of setting the scene for the day’s activities. But that was an arrogant place to start! The scene was in place, long before I walked into the space. We were at the Old Adelaide Gaol and before I opened my mouth we had been captured by the spiritual wealth and strength of Kaurna ambassador Mickey O’Brien, whose dad Uncle Lewis, Old man of the Sea, was one of my first teachers in the way of Kaurna.
I was acutely aware the day was going to be challenging for some and had already been full of trips and spills for the three of us. We had stumbled through anxieties, misstepped with those we would most not want to do that with, debated and played along with our shared vision and commitment to systems change while holding onto our L plates. The foundation of psychological safety seemed important as I tried to craft some words. I drew on the work of Amy Edmonson and Mark Mortensen to help me frame up what I wanted to say. Once the time arrived for me to say it, foreboding clouds were hanging low in the sky, people had been standing out in the cold for longer than planned and we were all quietly settled by grace, humour and reverence of a smoking ceremony led by Mickey O’Brien. I knew what was lying ahead for people too and didn’t want any more talk to get in the way with something that I knew was going to be transformational. My prepared notes were going to be reduced to their essence and to get movement happening I invited everyone to walk forward in the circle they had formed until they came back to their starting point. A simple technique to hold me to time, keep them warm and to show, not tell, that universal truth so beautifully expressed by TS Eliot.
“We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time.” –from Little Gidding, TS Eliot
Preparing words, rehearsing our lines and then, not always delivering them in the way we thought we would, is a familiar experience. We imagine ourselves speaking truth to power and then go weak at the knees when the opportunity presents, we practice a line and then miss the cue, we are speechless and in awe of beauty or pain where no words are adequate. We write and re-write only to find by the time the words will reach the ears of the intended, the moment has completely passed and our efforts redundant.
So I have gone back over my notes today and done the circuit of arriving back to where I started, I have chosen some of the lines that I did or didn’t deliver on Thursday under those dark clouds, in the courtyard of the Old Adelaide Gaol, where colonial brick walls hold the remains of those sentenced to death by the State and where 80 change makers stood to be in community for a day to embrace their system shifting powers.
We can’t predict though how this will impact on you or on us as a community for this day. We’ve tried to align our values with the program and maybe they aren’t shared by you. This is a carbon neutral event or our best attempt at that so helping us out on that front will be appreciated. As the world looks to leaders in Glasgow elected by shareholders and voters, it is the non-elected leaders who have inspired me – Greta Thunberg, David Attenborough, the child poets, the young indigenous caretakers of the forests in Chad. We too are unelected leaders and within us all have the power to change our own behaviour, influence those around us by our behaviours, attitudes, what we buy, what we don’t buy. Today is all about the impact you are making, can make into the future and how the past, our assumptions, our relationships and the systems we swirl around in are shaped by us and us by them.
In setting the scene, one of the elements in Edmonson and Mortensen framework, I called on what was visible and invisible.
This place has it all – racism, colonisation, patriarchy, homophobia – all the intersections ; and all kinds of links in the chains of impact – housing, families disturbed and disrupted by the State, ill health, poverty, a State going bankrupt over building a Gaol – there are going to be hurdles ahead today – just as there are always when we bring our whole selves, our past, our preferred futures and together we are all responsible for one another’s psychological safety today as well as physical health. You all play a creative and critical role in enabling that for one another. This is not about happy families, it is about feeling safe enough to speak out, hold space for others whose voices find their way to your ear and to your heart, it is about thinking the very best of the other person, they are not here to do you harm
Drawing on the Harvard research, I invited people to step into their leadership and to recognise each other as peers, all with their own lived experience that brings wisdom, power differentials and all kinds of capital.
Words are cheap so we aren’t going to use many words – the best way to show you are serious about helping to create a safe psychological space is to expose your own vulnerability. Be vulnerable, be humble, be open, leave your logo and your ego at the door. And don’t forget the power of humour – it can bring warm, openness and generosity to relieve a dark and difficult moment. It is sometimes an act of compassion for the person with the big smile and goofy words that break open another part of our hearts and heads. We hope you are among us today to give us a little respite when it is needed.
Knowing we are always rehearsing, always doing something for the first time and recognising mastery comes only after years and years of practice, the invitation to take baby steps was made.
We know that the approach we are taking to learning and impact is beyond programs or policies. We are going to challenges that are risky, culturally curious and may even shake your confidence a bit. That is all OK. Take the baby steps you need to take. There are people here though with big shoes, who through their lived experience taking a baby step into vulnerability is not an option. Be generous with each other as we welcome in others’ disclosures and understand they are all rooted in systems challenges. If you need a few quiet minutes to yourself, take them, if you want to chat with someone about what’s going on for you find someone you can trust here or give a friend a call. Be each other’s friend and be your own best friend.
The temptation to undermine, blame, shame and bring cynicism or negativity to discomfort was met with an invitation to curiosity.
If you have something to share, knead it into something positive that will help stretch the conversation and build more curiosity, find questions that might unlock or unleash something hidden. Impact Chains is not about conforming.
I am often reminded of John O’Donohue to “mind yourself” or the practice of self-compassion and this often means taking a step back and noticing, being watchful, and so the instruction was to lean into those moments.
If you notice the potential of a conversation or moment becoming unsafe, find a way to build more trust. We are in an emergent space and making more space for learning and problem-solving and testing waters is what Impact Chains is all about.
Edmonson’s framework to: set the scene, lead the way, taking baby steps, share positive examples, be watchful, seems a very helpful recipe for psychological safety beyond the walls of the prisons we put ourselves in as well as the very real walls, restraints, language and bias that hold injustice and inequity in place. Plenty of invitation and instruction as I go ahead and the meet the moments I may or may not be prepared for, despite having a map. I am grateful to keep arriving even to the same places, because I am not the same person I was the last time I was there.
I bought a mid-size rosewood Martinez guitar, an amp, a capo, a strap and a lead to get it all connected up on Saturday at the local coast music store. A shop I hadn’t walked into for probably a decade, maybe more, last time was to buy some strings for my husband’s guitar. I haven’t shared a home with a guitar for four years and I haven’t picked up one to play for at least 10 or 12 years. In my teens you would find me playing guitar in my bedroom learning protest songs, folk songs and mostly songs to sing in church, singing along and building set lists for youth group activities and Sunday Mass. When I left home my guitar playing went into hiding, my husband being better than me and gradually I stopped playing altogether.
I made my living during my university years singing at weddings and I wasn’t allowed to play the guitar, percussion was ok and a shaker, triangle and the odd castanet was permissible. It was so much easier to sing four or five songs in an hour or so at a service than toil away serving food or drinks for half the money!
One school holidays our then pre-teen son and his friends were driving me and themselves to distraction so I got a set of books together at different heights, a set of rulers, my old Yamaha folk nylon string guitar from my teens out of hibernation and taught three lads a few chords and rhythms and then said please leave me alone and go and form a band … and they did. Two of the three are still very serious music makers, one of them makes his living from his music and the music of others he producers and records. He moved out of my home more than four decades ago. The third in the trio lost his life to mental health.
This new guitar I hope to share with my grandchildren and maybe teach them a few chords and songs and singalong together. One of the reasons I chose a smaller sized one was to make it easier for the one that is here already and the ones in the future that will be arriving next year. Sharing music has always had a home in all configurations of family I found and find myself in.
A couple of weeks ago I went to an open mic night in my local community hall. All the performers were men in and around my vintage, save for a couple of blokes, cousins, about thirty years younger – who were very good. There was a lot of recreation of times gone by in the songs chosen and performed, there was even more musical masturbation between the males gathered. I went home and turned to my keyboard, again hardly having a day out in years, although I got it serviced and working again when COVID hit so my grandson could experience making music with headphones on. He quite likes it but I had hardly touched the keys. I found myself, not unlike the men I had been listening too, going back to songs of my teens and twenties and discovered I was angry. I couldn’t quite believe it was 2021 and there were no women playing to an audience. I couldn’t get my head around that fact until I remembered the old adage – you can’t be if you can’t see it. I resolved then and there to get a guitar. My old Yamaha had long gone!
I went on line first and then to the music store. I was in the shop for about 15 minutes, there were two other customers that came in during that time, a young man and a young woman, they both got served while I wandered around with absolutely no attention being given to me. Then when I realised I was the only customer I said to the two male staff: do either of you want to help me? The younger long haired one of the two probably in his late 30s was thrilled to help out. He hadn’t noticed me come in or wander around … it is not a big shop. The invisibility of the older female consumer writ large. He was very helpful and asked me some relevant questions as I revealed I did know something about musical instruments. I don’t like shopping and I knew what I wanted so it wasn’t going to be long exchange. He settled into a friendly banter and then as the sales were being racked up in the till the other counter staff person joined in and we had a talk about sales and customer behaviour during COVID and it was all very pleasant. They did absolutely no push selling and it was me that asked to see the leads, the strap, where there capos were and if the guitar came with a soft case. There is no way they would get a customer service award, but that isn’t really the point of this tale.
I came home and discovered new features on a guitar. I wanted this one to have steel strings, and it did, and also have a pick up (in built microphone) and it did and also an inbuilt tuner, which was the single reason above all other reasons I was not encouraged to pick up the guitar once I married at 19. I wasn’t great at tuning guitars, but now this technological innovation, means I can turn the keys and the tuner goes bright green when the string is in tune. This is an improvement I can truly celebrate.
So I played two tunes, a protest song by Pat Humphries covered by Holly Near, Keep on Moving Forward and a Pete Seeger one Put my Name Down. I had a little weep and a big smile emerged. I have no one to say to me the guitar is out of tune, no one to say, give it to me I can do better than that, I have no one to listen to me playing – and that all feels rather good. A very satisfying way to meet the moment.
Gaslighting takes so many forms and there are many stories to tell, including my own, not the least the gaslighting from the grave that still creeps in when I least expect it. Muscle memory enabled my fingers to find the shapes on the frets, now it is up to the rest of my body to catch up and find its way out on the floor of an open mic session – it is coming soon. Getting a girl band together, as I don’t need to be alone for this and it will be more fun. We are dreaming up what might be in the set list. I am going to be advocating we learn Kate Miller-Heidke’s You’ve Underestimated me dude to honour all those underestimated.
You’ve underestimated me dude – Kate Miller-Heidke
I guess you think you’re pretty hot I guess you think you’re quite the catch Nothing gives you pause for thought You don’t have the time for that Depressingly familiar now The patronizing turn of phrase The leery looking up and down The constant use of bad cliches I get that uh-oh feeling crawling up my spine It’s kicking and screaming when you drag me back in time
You’ve underestimated me, dude And I love that about you It means you’re gonna lose Go on and condescend to me, dude On your way into the bin You’re gonna be so confused You’ve underestimated me, dude
And the tide is turning And the tide is turning, turning, turning on you
So kind of you to talk to me So generous to give the floor You’re looking down your nose at me I’m very small, after all You’re nodding so indulgently You didn’t hear a thing I said I guess I’ll bat my eyelashes And you can pat me on the head I get that uh-oh feeling crawling up my spine I don’t want your number, I don’t want your time
You’ve underestimated me, dude I kind of love that about you Cause it means you’re gonna lose Go on and condescend to me, dude On your way into the bin You’re gonna be so confused You’ve underestimated me, dude
And the tide is turning And the tide is turning, turning, turning on you
You’ve underestimated me, dude And I’m almost sorry for you Cause the tide is turning