Monthly Archives: January 2022

2022: Visibility and Invisibility #5

I started some notes for this blog and then I watched Ash Barty win the Australian Open. Seeing Evonne Goolagong give her the trophy, and Cathy Freeman in the stands taking photos of them both, I sobbed even more than I had already for Ash’s win. The Aboriginal Flag flying in the background and the MC starting with a greeting in language … felt like Australia grew up a little bit in Melbourne last night. Knowing the Victorian government are working on treaties, another sign of encouragement in our decolonisation journey.

There are brutal facts we need to confront. And as Jim Collins, author of the business classic, From Good to Great said, if we do not confront brutal facts, they will confront us. There are plenty of facts that we do not want to see, they are not invisible, we just turn away from them and pretend we can’t see them. Making facts visible is one of the jobs of the prophet and the activist. To call out the facts, to name them clearly, honestly, making them accessible to others so they can be understood, acted on, talked about; this is work that takes us to the edge of our discomfort. Getting to that edge will plunge us into grief, it may even paralyse us for a while, but if we do not get to this edge, we cannot dig deep enough to find the courage to confront the brutal facts. Brutality is a heavy, dull instrument, thick and devoid of empathy and sentiment, it makes the facts uncomplicated, unnuanced. I think this is why it is so hard to face brutal facts, we want them softer, with some honey, not like an uncooked lump of meat, like roadkill we cannot look away from. It is the work though to face them, fair and square and then methodically, like a puzzle and with the same precision that Ash has in her game, to step by step, using all the moves we know and a few more innovative ones, step up onto the court and deal with each truth, blow by blow.

I watched Ash look at the facts of her game in the eye, she did not shy away, they were visible for the world to see, and she loved each one of them, so they became her fuel not her hurdles.  She stayed the course with fierce competition from her champion opponent. And so often we do not give whatever is on our back the respect it deserves – what if we all respected what was standing between us and our resolve with the same sincerity Ash worked on the court?  I am taking so much inspiration from her game and commitment, and the mindset of love and support and not being alone on that court, but a village all around her, never letting her out of their sight. We all need a village like that for the challenges we face and to get the wins we need and champion the changes we want to see and be in the world.

My village is being rebuilt, the white ants and other pests are nearly all gone, although I still have some brutal facts to face in my personal life and am working on that. I see so many around me, doing the same, making new villages to sustain themselves, new ways of being in community, new forms of family and the impact of the pandemic is a big driver of those changes. I am truly touched and grateful to those who love and support me. What has felt like an insatiable thirst, is beginning to be quenched.

Many are searching for meaning and direction and looking to daily COVID announcements, press statements by medical officers, political leaders, researchers.  Others are going to historians to read the litany of pandemics from the plague, smallpox (only disease to be eradicated by vaccination), measles, TB, malaria to name a few, to show us the interconnectedness of politics in their management. But how about the reason they might occur in the first place, what would it take to eliminate pandemics?  Apart from disease surveillance, it is vital we look to the health impacts of climate change, how deforestation, displacement, higher temperatures, warmer oceans are all making their contribution.  These are visible and way back in the olden days of 2016 the UN Frontiers report introduced to me zoonotic diseases, diseases that jump from animals to humans account for 60% of all human infectious diseases (1 minute video). (Feeling like this might be another fact stacking up to go vegan.) We have our most senior elected representatives making announcements about the Great Barrier Reef, koala management and support for business impacted by closures … yet the brutal fact of the connection between all these half (at best) measures and the root causes of loss of habitat and degradation is trivialised.

It is time to face facts, we are in the last set, there are four championship points up for grabs, and our lives depend on it. I have a new grandchild arriving in the next 24 hours and I intend to be holding my racket ready to serve. There will be nothing invisible about that.

Community Mandala under construction at Impact Chains

2022: Visibility and Invisibility #4

Behind every sacred encounter is the potential of the invisible becoming visible. Staying invisible brings a deeper sanctity to the moment. When I was at school, there was a tendency in our rituals to explain everything, I used to call it sledge hammer theology, nothing was left to chance or the imagination. A lack of explanation enables mystery and surprise to take their own course, just as a dozen different people will interpret a piece of art with no reference to the artist’s description or knowledge of the artist’s intention, we can all discover for ourselves what might lie hidden for one person is visible to another.

This week, mosquitos have been feasting on me. I do not see them until I have an inflamed bump and the histamines in my body are racing around and send me loud, irritating, soreness and itching. I cannot see the mozzie’s saliva that has set this all off and while I am not worried about malaria or dengue fever, I am in awe of the way this little insect can completely distract me from anything else. I have recalled, more than once, this week, the quote attributed to the Dalai Lama: If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.

You are never too small to make a difference, and this has taken on new meaning in my life, in the arrival of a very prem granddaughter. She was born as 2021 ended and her mother and father describe the experience as “crash landing into parenthood”.  She achieved a milestone this week by weighing in at 1kg. Every hour she reaches her potential, and I am reflecting regularly on what if we all reached our potential every hour what an amazing contribution, we would all be making to the world.  The sanctity of life overwhelming me once again in this precious soul.  All life is sacred and all of life is sacred, although the mosquitos are constantly under threat from my deadly intentions towards them.

There is no time to put off what we can be, and bring, to the world. There is the exchange of our breath with the breath of others, the saliva of the mosquito insisting to be noticed, the dawn arriving consistently to invite us to live to the fullest, day after day.  As the poet John O’Donoghue writes, we are invited to new frontiers on a landscape not yet mapped by us but waiting for us to take the walk and risk ourselves in it. 

I place on the altar of dawn:
The quiet loyalty of breath,
The tent of thought where I shelter,
Waves of desire I am shore to
And all beauty drawn to the eye

May my mind come alive today
To the invisible geography
That invites me to new frontiers,
To break the dead shell of yesterdays,
To risk being disturbed and changed.

May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone my dream no longer
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fear no more

John O’Donohue

On the Feast of the Epiphany, when the kings come bearing gifts, we receive a photo of her. I keep returning to the photo, I draw strength and get lessons. She is already giving us instruction on tenacity, trust, vulnerability, and hope. I meditate on her image and long for the day we will be in the same place, and we can reach out to each other.

My day is stilled by coming back to her image. I can recognise her father’s nose on her face and her mother’s hair on her head. Her eyes are open, but not yet ready to see.I’m intuiting her stare as a glare, alongside a canula worthy of an ant on life support. Her mother’s fingernail covering a quarter of her chest. There are contraptions about her, leading to and from her, not visible in the photo. I can see a yellow wire, a positive jumper lead, monitoring her teeny heart which is doing its absolute best to pump blood around the growing body, enabling more neurones to grow each day. Behind those eyes, more synapses are forming, patterning love mediated by machines. There are doses of carefully curated, medicinally dispensed connections, offering mutual healing to parents and child. There is no gold, frankincense or myrrh, there is the more precious treasure, skin-to-skin contact.

You are never too small to make a difference, and you can be visible or invisible to make that difference. I am trusting my, invisible to her, invocations, incantations, candles, prayers, and devotions, are contributing in some way to holding her, while my arms can’t.

Dawn over Sellicks

2022: Visibility and invisibility #3

Behind the scenes, invisible to me, some kind of decision-matrix and discernment process is being applied to determine if I am successful on getting into a tour later in the year. The invisibility of the process is such a good reminder of how we are all often subject to processes completely out of our sight and control. We may well turn up offering the best version of ourselves, or perhaps trying on a little of the chameleon so we might blend in better and be chosen, and still not make someone else’s cut. This usually has absolutely nothing to do with us – maybe there are just too many people like me and the one thing that might help me stand out from the crowd is shared by a dozen others?  The judgement may not make sense to us, but we are not in the judging role. I have also put myself into a pool for consideration for a co-writing learning project and that team is looking for an international crew to reflect who is on the planet – so I guess I will be in the mix with other Australians, white middle class tertiary educated women, and expect they might only need one of those – so me missing out will be a population variable, and not personal. They don’t know me and are not making a decision based on whether they like me, trust me, care about me.

There are invisible processes like this all around us, and they are contrasted with the transparent ones, like applying for a job where all the features are listed and often the decision-making frameworks are clearly visible which has its own selection process built in. We can sometimes rail against a decision as if we have the right to influence the outcome, I suspect though, even when the process is visible, there are still some invisible ingredients lurking there. I was listening to a friend talk about a process for a role she recently applied for and despite all the experience, relevance and talent lining up she didn’t get an interview. I doubt if this had anything to do with her or her capability, there must have been other factors, invisible to her at play. This is not an uncommon experience and while incredibly annoying at times, it is worth remembering, these judgements often have absolutely nothing to do with us.

Extrapolating this out, becoming visible so the right people see you at the right time is often magical and completely unexpected because their criteria has been invisible to you all along. I was asked to speak at an event last year and it was a complete mystery to me why I had been asked, I felt I didn’t meet any criteria they might apply to such a choice. If it had been an open process of putting in an expression of interest I wouldn’t have considered applying, as to me, the criteria I was holding in my mind wouldn’t have chosen me for such an event. When I got the invitation, I was humbled and grateful and took it as a gift, and wanted to make the most of the opportunity and believe I did.  It also gave me latitude to expand into the space I was given to go beyond my own boundaries. The whole experience has been very instructive to keep showing up and being myself, and when the moment comes, to be ready, to say yes to the invitation in the most fulsome way I can. The mystery and generosity of the invitation started in deep invisibility. So many opportunities have a long gestation and their invisibility is part of the perplexing nature of both missing out on opportunities that seem obvious, as well as the ones that come packaged as surprises.

The new overnight sensation is usually someone who has been toiling away artistically for decades. We don’t all have decades to wait for that moment to arrive, and it is can heartbreaking at worst, and annoying at best, but waiting is a feature of invisibility. You can sometimes be invisible in the waiting, blending into the scenery, hiding yourself in plain view or just fading in to the landscape.

It takes effort to be invisible and perhaps even more effort than what it takes to be visible. Finding the moments to make the most of your visibility may go a long way to serve your aspirations and be noticed and invited. You never know who is watching and the invisible job interview (or other opportunity) you might be seeking may well be just around the corner, or have already happened and invisible to you. So whether I get the chance to be selected or not for the tour or the writing gig, I know it may not have much to do with me, and that something else may already have started calling me and will be emerging from the dark.

The invitation to a new day, the world’s best example of a new opportunity, goes something like this:

Put on the mind of morning
To feel the rush of light
Spread slowly inside
The color and stillness
Of a found word.

– John O’Donohue – extract from For Light, in Bless the Space between Us.

Photo by Christian Bass on Unsplash

2022: Visibility and Invisibility #2

Under a spiky juniper bush, between rocks and a little sand a tiny skin recently shed was discovered as I pottered in the garden, tidying up after an escapee hen who had taken the idea of free-range to the next level.  Probably the first time the creature, clearly a snake, had shed its skin and while not visible to me, I was fairly confident if something as small and slim as this moult, a larger adult version was likely to also be about. The residue left behind of something now invisible perhaps a warning, perhaps an invitation to caution, perhaps a crumb to a trail of more curiosity?  I collected the gossamer phantom remains and reserved them to show a younger member of the family, who when presented with this information wanted to know where its owner was likely to be living. That is an excellent question.

 When we leave something behind, we no longer need and shed the skin that we have grown out of where exactly are we now living? Moving to a new frontier to continue to transform away from public view is a kind of retreat many of us find useful as we disappear into our own landscape to test out new skin. The great resignation that seems to be a worldwide phenomenon is making visible what has been in many hearts, meaningless work, a lack of purpose and what David Graeber coined in 2018 “bullshit jobs” where he argued the existence of meaningless employment and the psychological destruction that inevitably follows. 

The veil has dropped for many and not just in employment, in relationships, in cultural institutions, bringing a more potent energy to the signs of climate justice, health justice, racial justice. The retreats being taken to ‘down tools’, go on sabbatical, take an early retirement, embrace a shorter week are showing up all around me and like the skin shed by the invisible snake in the rocks in my garden, something bigger is brewing and growing out of sight.  We shed our skin because it doesn’t fit any more, we have outgrown what has been holding us in, and in shedding the old, like a snake, the very act takes the parasites en route. The fragile, translucent quality of the experience means many will miss the transformation taking place, and then, what has been emerging invisibly becomes visible, sometimes to others, before you can see it yourself.

Shedding what is no longer alive in us, the dead cells cast away to enable new life to come forth, shiny, immature, now visible, is quite an overture. It doesn’t come as easily to me as it does to the snake who routinely has the process built into its biology. This process is both an act of dying and rebirth with the precious liminal space between these two movements. It happens when we are fully aware of a new role like parenthood, widowhood, new job, or loss of a job. It happens when we don’t notice our thoughts, feelings and experiences evolving, gaining depth, and meaning and we realise old friends no longer share the same values. It happens when we journey through a season in tact, but not quite the same as we were when the season started. It happens invisibly and becomes visible in an empty, turned outside sock, no longer able to contain what is emerging new and asking ourselves: Where are we living? What cells are alive in us, what ones are dead? What is longing to be shed?

2022: Visibility and Invisibility #1

Photo by Andrew Bui on Unsplash

2022 has begun and the theme for this year is invisibility and visibility. These are concepts which have pre-occupied me for years and they have taken on more potency in recent time. I will be exploring this theme and these concepts, like other years, in how they turn up in my everyday life.  I am struck about their relationship to one another and the idea that not all invisibility is inherently bad, not all visibility inherently good. There is also room for the dappled light when things may shift from invisibility to visibility and visa versa. In these spaces, often liminal spaces, where the potential for transformation happens, the place where we are in-between, and the emergent is finding its way to visibility, and navigation instruments are required to the new. We may look up to the skies for guidance and pathways, we may find the tools within ourselves, perhaps the universe, introduces us to a new set of steps in the dance, somehow, somewhere, we do find a way to the other side which has been patiently waiting for us to get there.

The visible world is the first shoreline of the invisible world.

John O’Donohue, In an interview with Krista Tippett, On Being

In my view, one of the biggest reasons we haven’t quite grasped what COVID19 is all about for our species is because of its invisibility. We can’t see the virus as so don’t recognise it like any other natural disaster. If it was a fire coming towards us, a rising tide at our doorstep or a devasting wind blowing topsoil or roofs into the sky, we might understand it better. It is also one of the reasons in my view why climate change has taken so long to hit home, we are like frogs in the warm water as it gets hotter ending up boiling rather than jumping out early while we had a chance.

Getting a spiritual grasp on invisibility and the sacred space it occupies in our transcendent life, will perhaps, become a bridge, and help us appreciate what we can’t see. We have plenty of experience of the invisible coming to life, shape shifting and taking form in our emotions – love, fear, hate. Seeing ourselves as connected to one another, with the capacity to impact on each other’s worlds and outcomes has a lot to offer us as we find our way through understanding both visibility and invisibility.  We don’t have to see everything to have a way of knowing.  There is a difference between hidden and invisible too – hidden is when something has been removed out of sight, while invisible, is that it can’t be seen. There is a lot of effort that has to go into hiding and it feels like something that must be orchestrated, while invisibility has dimensions not of this world, it is the form of the unknown.

I was witness to a wedding on New Year’s Day, joining virtually, I was struck by the way love in all its glorious invisibility was made visible. How it came into view through the words of witnesses, the look of the newly weds as they gazed into each other’s eyes, fumbled with rings, held steady as they declared their vows.  No longer invisible, love had come to town. This witness however was invisible choosing to follow via a You Tube live stream. I chose this method over others, to be like one of the cloud of witnesses invisible and watchful with love. The mysterious and mystical opportunities for invisibility are not wilful acts to avoid being seen or to run from transparency, but instead, are an intentional practice to find ways to mimic nature where what is unseen and seen invite us to a deeper resonance with creation. 

.. the beauty of the earth is a constant play of light and dark, visible and invisible.

John O’Donohue Beauty: The Invisible Embrace

How we too play with the light and dark, in our human condition calls us to imagine, and reimagine how we show up in the world, how we accept invitations to be visible and invisible and exploring those invitations with visibility and invisibility in mind, is full of delicious opportunities.