Author Archives: Moira Were AM

About Moira Were AM

Founder @henHousecoop @chooks_SA co-founder @collab_4_good early adopter for Aus @sheEO_world. In Act 3. Live in Sellicks Beach. Daughter, sister, widow, mother, aunt, grandmother, friend,

Meeting the moment 2021 #38

I love driving late in the day when the afternoon sun is falling and I am passing through the farms and vineyards, with the dappled light dances off gum trees. At this time of the year as soon as the sun makes landfall, the air is crisp and cool inviting another layer of clothing.  More dappling – this time on your body with a contrasting jumper or shawl to accompany you into the evening. I know this time as spring.  The changing light heralds transformation at this threshold, where the dappled light holds the glimpse of what is and what was.  I am in this zone and in tune with this season. I feel we are in dappled light. There is emergence and convergence all around me.

I am found myself talking about midwifery, what we are helping bring to life, calling out others to breathe, pant, stop, push, wait, pusher harder, go now, push again, breathe … the new is coming and as in any birth, the last part is the hardest, expert nursing is highly valued and an audience of a few while others pace nearby to hear the news of arrival, is all part of the deal. No one else can birth a babe for you, it is your work, there maybe a call for a surgical intervention, still is visceral, and fruit of your labour comes the new, raw, gasping for breath and usually with a cry in leaving the comfort and safety of an inner world you have hosted. I watch, listen and am encouraged by watching all the new life emerge and grow, but eventually it has to leave its host and be seen by the world. A world which will take time to adjust to the new life arriving. This is true for new ideas, new visions, a new creation of any kind.

I am noticing being in dappled light with lots of new things emerging and leaving the sanctity of interior worlds and there are many new things coming into the light. The word for this phenomena I have found myself using in conversations is convergence. I could have easily used the word, spring.  There are a number of initiatives and projects I have been contributing to at a systems level that have now come into the dappled light, fully formed, and yet still immature. I have found myself mid-wifing for others who are doing the same. Once the new comes into the world, others can shape it and hold it, share it and even sometimes seduce it and possibly even kidnap it and take it away – this is the risk of the new coming into the world. You can’t keep it contained once it emerges. 

This week the Hen House Coop I founded partnered with SuperFierce, an online platform for you to have an independent assessment of your current superannuation arrangements and getting advice back on where you might be able to make some tweaks to get improved investment results. There is a 47% gender retirement gap and this platform is one of the ways you can help close that gap, not just for yourself but for all women with super in Australia. By shifting funds at scale, the super system will start to adapt and respond. Once you have the free advice, from the numbers being run, then you can decide if you want to make the switch. If you do make the switch there is a fee and $100 goes to an amazing game-changing service turning around the lives of women at risk, through the GOGO Foundation and in turn the Hen House Co-op receives 10% of the fee as well to be used in our divestment campaign ReNest. We launched our divesting from patriarchy campaign this week and ReNest and our partnership with SuperFierce is one of the foundational pieces. You don’t need to be female to jump in and join the campaign or switch your super. This is win:win:win. It is dappled light with it new connections, new possibilities and spring. If you are in Australia reading this, and if you are still contributing to a superannuation fund and in particular if you have multiple funds, please do yourself a favour, do the women working with GOGO a favour, do us a favour in the Hen House so we can all continue to disrupt, emerge and converge to create new systems that work for everyone and close the wealth gaps. If you aren’t in this boat, tell someone who is, especially younger women. Did you know on average Australian women across their lifetime earn $2M less than men?  Help us all to shift these conditions, have more of our own money building the wealth for each other. I am at the other end of this equation and with disposable funds to distribute and share into the places I want to see more change to tilt our whole planet into springtime is urgent work. This is a moment to meet and a way you can help do that too.  The ReNest campaign has begun and I hope you can come join us, if not in this initiative in another one … because there will be more!  Let’s drive  through that dappled light and be ready for the crisp evenings as convergence comes and the new light brings the freckled beauty of the new – pied beauty of emergence and convergence.

Pied Beauty 

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory be to God for dappled things –
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                Praise him.

Photo by Peter Burdon on Unsplash

Meeting the moment 2021 #37

Warming rays in the afternoon are coming more frequently as spring settles in and I can truly feel the energy rising like sap in me as well. The wintering has lasted more than a season and what has been dormant is waking up inside of me as surely as the blossoms start to open.

It is hard to believe it is twenty years since the twin towers were felled. We can all remember where we were on that day, and what images are imprinted. We all have our own tales. For me on the other side of the world, I was shocked when I learnt a fellow warrior in the labour movement, Andrew Knox was a victim. He gave me a copy of One Big Union, the story of the beginning of the union movement in Australia which saw shearers begin the Australian Workers Union. I gifted the book years later to the grandson of American farm union leader Cesar Chavez, Anthony Chavez, who I met on his journey accompanying the wonderful spiritual leader Br David Steindl-Rast. They visited Adelaide and we spent a glorious day together in Kangaroo Island. I love how these links are woven together – terrorism and hope – darkness and beauty. The adage, everything is connected, is what holds me together more often than not.  Justice does roll like a river of light through my window now as it always has.

When the twin towers fell, twenty years ago Australia was in the grip of the Tampa affair and now as then, the Taliban are still in the headlines and while we have accepted those who were able to get to Australia, we have others still stuck stateless and in limbo. The inhumanity of the days of the Howard government continues as a shadow over our nation. I am hanging on to a hope that the airlifts from Kabul might provide some cover to enable the government to wipe the slate clean and just let everyone stay who has been here or held in Nauru and elsewhere in detention centres, including a little known one in my own city. It may be complicated, but compassion is easily understood and it would be an easy flick of a pen to right these wrongs.

As the politics of COVID become into sharper focus in domestic policy, putting the Federation at stake with trading fear and vaccination availability added to the arsenal of dividing states against states.  Feels to me, like the way the national game is being played is one side is being pitched as the party of freedom and the other, the party of lockdowns, with vaccination supplies being the bullets. These divisions are familiar. I want everyone to be vaccinated if they can be, and I want the fascist play-book to be put down.  

So little has changed in the past two decades politically in Australia. But I truly believe, and maybe it is the spring in me that is talking, that we are on the cusp of change though whether we like it or not, the climate is speaking and the international community will see to that, given our tardiness. I am looking to Australian women to expect more and step up and vote for more green, more equity, more justice. It is time for change, the season has arrived, this is the moment we are meeting.

I want this springtime to herald a season of compassion and light as we continue to wake up from winter, to the truth, we are all connected. I love seeing the bees, dipping into the cosmos in my garden as this constant reminder.

“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tired into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.”

Martin Luther King Jr

Photo by naoh cova on Unsplash

Meeting the moment 2021 #36

The first north wind for the season blew and swirled her way around the hills, sweeping to the coastline. Forecasting a hot summer as spring had just opened, there was foreboding in conversations all that day and I looked for sparks of bushfires that might be lying in wait. Frozen 2’s song All is Found had it right ” Where the North Wind meets the sea, there’s a mother full of memory.” Everytime there is a north wind, I am high alert, anxious about what might be coming around the corner, top soil being blown away, prepping the bush to be tinder for later in the season. The stormy, reckless behaviour of a north wind makes me nervous. I am not quite sure what might happen in these conditions, I am unsettled by memories of living with someone for four decades who was terribly distressed by north wind days.

I was reminded though this week that sailors look to the winds to catch the power, to navigate their way, and working against the wind and with the wind is dependent on where you want to go, how fast you want to get there and how you use the wind to steer your way … even the north winds. For Kaurna this season brings Wartapukkara north/west winds and tempestuous weather.

These conditions are an early warning signal. They tell us that there is the potential for danger ahead and proper preparation is required to take advantage of this moment. After the winds come the rains, after the anxiety comes the tears, after the memories comes the revisions. I took advantage of this week’s north winds to do some revisioning and to try and stop giving them such a bad rep and instead seeing them as invitational. What if they were inviting me to prepare for a hot summer, for a time of noticing what was being blown away, what was being lost and what was being heralded? What if I paid attention to the work of late winter and early spring for their intrinsic selves and not as a prelude or aftermath of another season?

With the goal of reforming the north winds and changing the status from menacing to memorable, is requiring some re-wiring. Making new code and helping the synapses make connections to take the sting out of old ones, or better still pop the old into a vault that doesn’t get exercised so gets harder to mine. Running interference helps too, so asking the north wind what does it do when it meets the sea might be as good a place to start as any!

The blustery proposition this week has helped me meet a few moments. I took the call and faced it head long as a working out if the tacking motion might be the best course of action. I felt the force of the winds, and did not let them impact on me as a negative, anxiety provoking experience, instead embrace their invitation of preparation for a time in the future when there might be real flames nipping at my heels. I paid some bills, purchased a few new items, including candles to accompany online conversations to honour the light in those I am in a virtual experience with, I organised a health and wellbeing appointments for myself and some of the inanimate elements around me. I opened up a poetry book and read a couple of poems relevant for the moment.

Rewiring has been quite a feature of my life these past few years and getting the north wind into a place where its tempestuousness is tended and befriended may prove to be a rewiring to help me meet more moments in the future. And who knows where an invitation blown from the north might lead. In my memory revisions I am reminded the passengers and crew on the Dawn Treader discovered on their voyage, a strong and pleasant wind that pushed the ship along.

Map of the Voyage of the Dawn Treader

ps given it is Father’s Day I want to give thanks to my Dad for gifting me the Narnia Chronicles when I was 7. I read them over and over. I loved the adventures of Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy and experienced being guided and transformed by Aslan.

Meeting the moment 2021 #35

The scrub today was all green and gold. At the end of a very wet winter, the bush was radiating with shades of sage, jade and emeralds with shocking bursts of beads and clusters of sun kissed yellow of all the acacias, common eutaxia and a few exotics out of place. You know why green and gold are our national colours on a day like this. It’s been months since I have walked through the scrub and along the beach, in this wintering, it’s felt like it’s been close and too far away. I haven’t been able to make my way there through a litany of excuses wrapped in winter blues, which is part of the reason for the attraction of the green and gold.

I was lying on a bed at the end of the week receiving some acupuncture treatment and from the window a towering stringy bark was shedding and layers were caught in branches and suspended vertically waiting for the next southern wind to lift them up and float them to the ground. The tree is probably more than a century old and quite close by are a cluster of red gums lining the route of a mostly now dry creek bed that are definitely pre-settlement. Seeing them through the window, was comforting, reassuring me of their deep roots and unravelling mirroring my treatment experience. The ancient intervention of needles into skin to unblock and call the body to release and relax. Just as the bark unfurls, so do I.  It’s been a week or unfurling and unblocking and it hasn’t all been successful, some of my interventions lacked the precision of needles to pressure points. Although some were well marked and landed.  Another example of the close and too far away phenomena at play.

Healing pathways are many and there were several occasions during the week where the medicine was over a meal. The well worn experience breaking bread, sharing a conversation, have some laughs and sharing advice and stories has healing properties.  I have many meals alone these days in stark contrast to all the years with many around the table, and I miss the end of day of conversation and next instalments of personal soap operas and Quixote-like quests. So the opportunities of having a meal and hearing from peers about what’s going on in their worlds I always say yes too and I definitely am better off from the experience. Stories recounted, may require hushed and conspiratorial tones in public settings and others maybe accompanied by an hilarious roar in the intimacy of a private space. I always leave better from the encounter and a wondering on why I don’t do this more often. Last winter I held a series of dinner parties to bring people to my new location and that served a purpose to connect and give me some roots.

It is also the rhythm of a meal with others that I now value and didn’t at the time of having breakfasts and dinners. I can disrupt the routine of all this now by eating and drinking whenever I like, there is no one to negotiate any piece of the timing, menu or ingredients. The close and too far away phenomenon shows up as liberation, and like all liberations has a shadow inviting the potential to wallow in loneliness and or poor dietary choices. The same lack of discipline that kept me from the green and gold needs to accompany me into making times to eat with family and friends.

Meeting the moment where discourse helps with discernment, stories shape the narrative of our nation and witnessing and listening is healing for all, is going to require me to get some more rhythm around the hearth of mealtimes and listening to the trees for instruction.

Meeting the Moment 2021 #34

Regina had a big heart and her generosity was housebound. I have no memories of her being in any relationships with anyone other than her family members. I don’t know the names of any of her friends. She welcomed family and if anyone of us had someone else with us, she just set another place at the table, and popped the table extender her husband Ken, my grandfather had made. It would increase the size of the table and make it all a little more comfortable for everyone to fit.

Her signature dish was roast lamb and I used to love, love, love, eating the shank that would be cooked through first. When my first born embraced the roast lamb dinners, it felt like the baton had been successfully passed on to the next generation. (She is a vegan now – Charlotte’s Web saw to that).

Regina’s mum was a mid-wife and they lived in a little siding called Ramco, downstream from Waikerie in the Riverland. Apparently the name of the village is derived from an Aboriginal word “Bogorampko”, a mythical tribe supposed to be superior to all natives. My grandmother was able to me tell me stories of her childhood on the river, but the only story that stuck in my memory and had import enough to transcend to adulthood, was the one she told me of her mother helping troubled Aboriginal women labouring unsuccessfully on the banks of the river. It was accompanied by a story of menfolk distributing blankets “to the natives” impregnated with itching powder and pepper. I imagined my great grandmother as valuing life – anyone’s life and possibly seeing her skills as her Christian duty, I’ll never know her reasons. It was important enough for my grandmother to tell me, so I am treating it as inheritance.

My father was his mother’s sun, moon and starts. Her life revolved around him and his achievements she basked in, as reflected graces. He was her only child. I miscarried my first pregnancy and she told me at the time, that she too had a miscarriage. This shared experience transcended our connection to a new level, a relationship as women. It was a bond, I appreciated even more when my first child was born, and I got a glimpse of what it was to be so consumed by love and besotted by a tiny person at the centre of everything.

Being a grandmother is one of my joys. I love learning about Minecraft, imaginary dragons, going on bug detection garden tours, teaching life lessons in the kitchen, celebrating new discoveries and making puppets. There is literally nothing more pleasurable than the tenderness of a cuddle, sharing a laugh about something completely ridiculous, and conspiring acts of piracy on the unsuspecting. I love watching tenderness evolve and empathy being extended to those who need comfort. These acts give me hope.

My grandmother was born in 1906 and it was her 115th birthday this week. Mother’s never forget their children and to see the next generation and remembering those feelings, the legacy and the inheritance, is a wonder-full way to meet the moment of the announcement of new life arriving. In these moments I think of all the generations past and my place in the cycle, what stops and starts with me, and what batons I get to pass on. It’s been quite a while since I cooked a lamb roast.

I made this 6 years ago and the first wearer is going to be a big brother early in 2022. Not sure a bonnet in summer will be needed this time round!

Meeting the Moment 2021 #33

Finally the largest state with the biggest capital city in my country is in a hard lockdown, we nailed the first wave and then didn’t get our act together when we had the chance to get vaccinated and now the first mutated strain is running wild. There will be more strains and Team Virus looks like it is on the winning side and it isn’t half time in the game yet. We have a long way to go and that’s just getting it under control. Then there will be the long term effects on those who get the virus, on those who loose loved ones, on those who loose their livelihoods and are separated from family, friends and their work mates. The long-term effects are physical, psychological, cultural.

This week I had contact with a friend who has had her first baby, she is sad the baby and her grandparents are still unable to meet each other. They will never get to cuddle and experience that newborn smell and tenderness. Another group of people I was with online, in lockdown in cities all around the country shared stories of isolation and its impact on them. As mob, one said a family member had been mainly travelling between cities for work and community connection as a diabetic a police officer had offered to bring insulin in an esky as they were now the wrong side of the border and staying in their car. Hearing family news over zoom or the phone, what you were hoping to share in person, just doesn’t cut it and the separation can feel as like being on the moon rather than a state or even suburb away.

All this in the foothills, of a far more devastating report that landed from the IPCC this past week. There is no time to lose. Waiting for governments to act is foolish. Much of what might be possible is going to be in the hands of investors and business. Investors can drive more change and their leadership is going to be critical. The pandemic is part of it, and as awful as it is, it is a distraction from this bigger crisis.

Where I live in Southern Australia, the IPCC is expecting and has the data and modelled the expected scenario that will deliver rainfall decrease, increase in agricultural and ecological droughts, increase in aridity, The mathematical equations are ranked with high confidence. This is where the investors come in, they can leverage their responsibilities and economic imperatives to do what they can to slow and stave off the worst impacts of climate change.

When I was making cylindrical pots from recycled toilet rolls with my grandson this weekend, filling them with soil and planting beans I had a strong sense of passing on not a joy of gardening but possibly a life skill he is going to need in his adult hood. Food security is an ever expanding concern as more and more Australians are experiencing limitations and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food. I know in my early social work days visiting the homes of the aged and infirmed there were people living on bananas and fresh air and the occasional tin of cat food. That was back in the 1980s and while some of the food choices were due to mental health and low income the fundamental systems problem was these people had been functioning for so long out of the health and social service systems, they were unable to find their way back. The systems hadn’t noticed they were missing. This is my fear with climate mitigation, management and adaptation – that there will be more and more people falling through the gaps – unable to untangle their way through an elite group.

The unsophisticated sharing table at a community workshop I was involved in delivering during the week will one day be a shining light of generosity and sign of wealth that the produce from a household garden has enough to be shared. This is something I hope my grandson will be able to be radical in abundance, and an aspiration for action to others. The household garden may well become the most powerful protection and community building asset in his generation. Then, there are the lessons to learn from the land from Aboriginal peoples in native foods … learning about the landscape and what is in season, what can be stored and when to harvest … are all lessons waiting to be discovered … and we need to get a hurry on. As the photo shows below the pandemic is on the wall, but it is the foreground that food and the future await

Sharing Table, City of Onkaparinga, Food Systems Mapping Workshop, 10 August 2021

Meeting the Moment 2021 #32

We are having a wet winter, in this place which is the driest state on the driest continent. There are early signs of spring and a blossoming almond tree in the front garden of a house down the street was home to a very noisy mob of yellow tail black cockatoos during in the week. Snails and caterpillars are feasting on some of the brassica in the winter harvest square, and I am so pleased to have creatures and bugs munching and sharing the produce with me. I picked the cauliflower yesterday and made cauliflower soup for my dinner. It is so satisfying to eat the homegrown vegetables and even more enjoyable to share with others. I have set up some new garden beds, had more soil delivered and began a mini nursery to get seedlings established early for spring planting. Living more seasonally is beginning to take shape.

We are also in the season of the SALA Festival – SA living artists – and there are plenty who are well and truly alive with their insights and interpretations of our landscape, the faces and shapes and scenes. Through the eyes and talents of the artist we all get a little more expansive in what we can see and feel and perhaps even be transformed or transfixed by an image to take us to a new idea, new emotion or tap into an old memory. I was caught between happy and sad memories in a gallery this week, of places much longed for and missed, places which had been the source of great joy and now hold dark thoughts attached to new knowledge. Art is evocative.

I love the whimsy that a Michael Leunig cartoon holds as it rips into your heart strings and the solid majesty of ancient gums in a Hans Heysen. The twinkling stars and luminous moon in a Van Gogh draws me closer to cosmic mystery, while the gentle wet and wintry haunting headlights in Clarice Beckett’s Motor Lights instantly has me in Melbourne.

My walls have art from the desert and the coast – dot paintings on canvas, paintings on bark and pieces of iron. I have had to learn about this art even though it is from the land I live on, unlike the art of settler stock or European masters. I have a lot to still learn. Like the cauliflower in the garden, these images are now ripe for the picking as I am more ready to learn and understand how to go towards them. Being in the landscapes in which they were created really brings them to life for me, in much the same way as the SALA exhibitions do – familiar places and colours.  Another seasonal gift to be out in these landscapes.

The caterpillar transforms into a butterfly, is a familiar motif for these seasonal changes, and in each caterpillar everything the next season needs is already in the last. Integrating seems to be the message of meeting the moment this week. To bring together with integrity what is being held from one season to the next whether it be in the garden, on the walls, or in the complement of memories. I had a fulsome conversation about integrity and perhaps that is the essence of great art; it is honest, wholesome, sound, it passes our probity test. And that is what moves us and holds us.

The humble cauliflower’s uncompromising integrity at being its best cauliflower self, as an art installation in my winter garden, was transformational.

Before it was soup

Meeting the Moment #31 2021

I am revisiting a David Whyte question geared to all, and especially leaders, about courageous conversations which start with stopping the conversation you are currently having. This is the act of giving up the conversation that is taking your energy and paralysing you from taking the step you need to take, the one Whyte nominates as as the first step. the one closest to you. It is a favourite poem of mine and one I return to when I really don’t want to do something and find myself procrastinating or worse prevaricating. The instruction to start with the solid ground you have beneath your feet, for me is to return to what has sustained me before, to trust the firm foundations of my life, however fragile they might be, and to stop listening to what others, ghosts, phantoms included, might be conjuring up or camouflaging as my own questions.

There are a lot of conversations I thought I was in, and ones I have tried to hang onto longer than they required. Wanting to stay in a conversation that had been stopped for me in particular. I have a laundry list of conversations I thought I was in while I was still longing for them to continue; conversations I wanted to keep going with, but in fact I was talking to myself.

I think the first time I was really conscious of this phenomena was when I miscarried in my 20s. I was following a path, love, marriage, baby carriage and then that was abruptly halted. I felt dreadly alone and an anonymous patient in a big, sterile, hospital system and finding my way home in a beat up HG Holden with my completely bewildered husband. I bled for months on and off.

I have enough examples of this phenomena now over four more decades to fill a library. The chapters would include jobs I worked in and left or had closed on me, another would be on political life, institutional conflicts, another on marriage, another on motherhood, and one on grief and death. There would be some references to me halting conversations that were out of sync or step with what was required set in board rooms, performance reviews, terminations of employment, reports to police or other authorities, leaving friendships and setting limits.

We are in the middle of a conversation as a country, and indeed a whole world, with a virus. One that has the capacity to mutate, ability to close down nations, interrupt democracy, write new paragraphs in a fascist playbook, unleash fear and anxiety, disrupt movement, redraw maps. When we say we don’t want to be in the conversation and turn away from the virus, and turn towards each other with compassion, kindness, civility I am deeply encouraged. When we make the virus the baddie in this narrative, I feel more at ease. I delight in our chief medical officer telling everyone this is the weekend to tidy your sock drawer or clean out the shed, and our police commissioner wryly say leaving home to commit a crime is not one of the five reasons to leave your home. These responses are relational and human. Yet tonight I saw our largest capital city looking like a police state, helicopters in the air, every available person with a blue uniform being called to be on duty, all the trained dogs and horses on patrol, military back up for peace keeping and health protection on station platforms and in the public squares. New South Wales a police state, remnants of its colonial origins as a penal colony and my parochial ‘free settler’ version of myself as a South Australian kicks into gear.

The first step to take, for me, is to realise the ground I am on, in this democracy, has not been democratic for all, it is stolen, unceded land and I have to plant myself firmly in that conversation before I get too holier than thou.

But setting that aside, I am deeply disturbed about how we stop the conversation of individual rights and responsibilities over our shared rights and responsibilities. It is the I vs We conversation we need to stop. And one I need to stop myself being in. There is only really ever we. Being able to stay curious, open and gentle with the other starts with me. We are all seeking to belong; all seeking solid ground; all seeking to feel safe. We are all walking into unknown territory, into dark woods where the sunlight finds its way between branches, into uncertainty, where the pathways that were once assured no longer serve us, and new ones are not yet worn. These are the courageous conversations to have with one another, and we start with the conversation we need to have with ourselves. Where we hear ourselves into being bolder, more vulnerable, braver, more exposed to each others fears and anxieties by being in touch with our own. Taking a step towards empathy might be our saving grace and perhaps, the only real protection in a pandemic … to say nothing of the climate crisis ….

Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
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 to begin
the conversation.

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

To hear
another’s voice,
follow
your own voice,
wait until
that voice

becomes an
intimate
private ear
that can
really listen
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
thing
close in,

the step
you don’t want to take.

You can hear and watch David Whyte reciting Start Close In here.

Photo by Kevin Wolf on Unsplash

Meeting the Moment 2021 #30

A couple of weeks after I was married (I was 19) I went to see for coloured girls when the rainbow is enuf – a series of poems and dance unique award-winning tale of the African-American woman’s journey in America by Ntozake Shange. It was the 1978 Adelaide Festival of the Arts. A few years earlier the Aboriginal Flag had flown for the first time in the square, next door to my high school,  right near the theatre this show was being performed in. I was learning and soaking up stories about being black, being an outsider, slavery and liberation. I knew more about slavery in North America, the slave trade out of England than I did about what was in my own country. As that decade rolled on into the next the apartheid movement and all the injustices took hold of me as well, and I grew in my understanding of the lack of a just settlement in Australia, mainly driven by the investigations and leadership of the Australian Catholic Bishops and the Australian Council of Churches, who I also worked for on and off throughout the 1980s and between campaigns there were children. Organising was what happened in schools, union halls, church buildings and in the columns of community news-sheets. When the bi-centennial came in 1988 I learnt more and had a few key people take me under their wing with practical, theological and ethical considerations to keep me curious, engaged, active. Foundations were laid, never fully or completely taken up, but enough there to hold the seeds in place and odd ones germinated from time to time as necessary.  It was not an intellectual exercise. I adorned the walls of the kitchen with healing bush foods, made and bought clothes with the messages, flags and materials to draw attention to the issues, read stories about justice and held up liberation leaders as role models. There was a fair bit of righteousness going on.  During this time I brought unwanted attention to my family from an ultra-right wing group who threw bricks through the windows of my children’s bedroom, damaged the car, wrote racist graffiti on the window of an overseas student who was boarding with us, had our phone bugged, children followed home from kindergarten, appeared in the press and on television to amplify the stories, gave evidence to a commission …. it was a heady period and there were times I felt courageous, and times I felt terrified for myself and for my family.  It all came together in front of the Adelaide Catholic Cathedral one day when I was abused walking out the front with an Aboriginal leader and fellow member of the Archdiocese Justice and Peace Commission, as we headed off to give evidence of our experience of vilification to a Human Rights Commissioner. A woman well known for her conservative religious beliefs abused me as we walked past the doors of the Cathedral. The irony of the moment left my friend and I in shock. We didn’t speak about it, we just kept walking.  I wasn’t 30 and so young in my activism but already felt I had a life time of experience.  Adelaide is hardly a hotbed of revolution, although we have been home to a lot of firsts in human rights and democratic practices.

The winds and rain and hail these past few days falling around me have brought me inside. In reflection, I have been struck by how little I look back, I try to be a pilgrim, to keep walking towards the light and finding each footing to have its own quality and character to guide the next step to be taken. All the steps of the past are the ones that have got me here, they are all worthy of mention from time to time, to remind myself of where I have walked, who has walked with me, who I have walked with, when I have rested, who I have rested with.

The pilgrim way is one step at a time and when I look back over my shoulder, I can see that there has been a path followed and yet the one over the hill that meets the horizon, remains invisible, melting into the sky. I can confidently keep walking knowing that each step is preparing me for the next.  Of late the backpack has been very heavy and even though it might grow in size and shape, it might also be lighter, such is the paradox of the pilgrim. Come night, the remains of the day, like the sand or pebbles from the road, can be shook from the shoes, rest arrives and silence stills the body and the mind as the inner journey prepares the next steps to be taken.  

I have been quoting Toni Cade Bambara this week who said  ‘As a culture worker who belongs to an oppressed people, my job is to make revolution irresistible.’  That is the work, to make the revolution irresistible. We need all the poets, pilgrims, designers, brand experts, lyricists, writers, musicians and artists. Having time and space to rest into the creative is a gift of these wild and windy days and nights. My response has been to make marmalade. Bitter sweet, citrus fruits, hot, steaming, bubbling and frothing, needing sterilised jars to hold the golden coloured jam, sealed in anticipation for spreading on hot toast. And that feels all just right to meet this moment and I hope deliciously irresistable.

Dark and Light Marmalade – Mandarins, Lemons, Grapefruit July 2021

Meeting the moment 2021 #29

The power was off for nearly sixteen hours and the winds were raging, I was having a Dorothy moment, thinking I might end up in Kansas. It was one of those moments with the windows rattling, the banging of loose tin, something unknown and metallic hitting against a nearby fence and in the distance a crash of a branch. By mid afternoon men in hi-vis and big white trucks were wandering up and down the street and around the corner matching their knowledge to the ferocity of what had been the night before and its impact on 67 households (according to the app). These are the moments I remember to be grateful for power, hot water, wi-fi, heating … I take so much of this for granted in my first world comfort zone.  

A storm like this, only a few years back, had me driving my dying husband around in the car with his ventilator plugged in so it could recharge via the car’s auxiliary power outlet. We went up and down roads and through vineyards and over hills, until the power at home went back on.  We had dispensation to be a priority customer given his reliance on oxygen, but we didn’t get the supply immediately and also up until then didn’t have tanks on hand to compensate.  (We got them after that and never had to use them.)  I am grateful I don’t have to live through all those moments again.  Stormy conditions are not always equitable. Some of us have more resources than others, more jackets to put on, better quality umbrellas, back up powerpacks. I have come to consider the non-physical versions of these, resilience tools.

The breath is what distinguishes something as being alive or dead. The raging storm lets me know well I am alive, all creation is alive.

In the storm, the air finds its voice mixed with the staccato of hail, the rumble of thunder, the crescendo of waves of rain crashing like waves on the beach. Then the quiet arrives, not quite silence, as birds find ways to harmonise with the new post-storm atomic score. You take time to clean up debris, replace and restore what is out of place or is not in any shape to be able to be retained. The path of the storm has left a clearing where, there is now, more light.

I have been haunted by the past and some very tricky personalities presenting themselves this week. I felt darkness descending and shadows forming, not of my making and not at my invitation. In true Celt fashion, a triptych of deeptime sensory discomfort. The storm blew in to deliver lessons. The electricity lines being down seemed to draw a line, cut off supply and blew away the bad spirits. The elements have guided me and delivered the high, fierce and dangerous winds required to shift the predatory shadows circling me. 

The invitation to live in this space between and with the elements, is something I am learning more about, thanks to continuing to delve into my Celtic roots especially through the works of John O’Donohue and guidance of Norin Ni Riain. I am learning to take instruction from the elements, to live more in tune to the seasons, the turn of the sun, the tidal power of the moon and the dance steps of planets and stars. It is not lost on me, this relationship between wind and breath, and the feminine word for spirit (ruah) in the Judeo-Christian tradition. It feels quite pointed and poignant, as I meet the moment of this week, reflecting on the symphonic elemental natural world as my spiritual guide.

Photo by Anandu Vinod on Unsplash