Tag Archives: David Whyte

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

2021 Meeting the Moment #19

The opportunity turned up as a general invitation and while I prevaricated and swivelled in my chair for perhaps ten seconds longer than my intuition told me and my rational self tried to take control, I did eventually stand up and make my way, with quick steps to the stage.

I took the time to find the note and hummed my way into the first line, finding the tenor and the timing enabling the words to find their way into my mouth.  Just a few lines and some moves to build the inclusive experience for all in my typical signature way, and it was easeful.  Within a few moments spells were broken that had been cast long ago.  How ironic for the moment to be a musical one and how powerful for it to be an improvised one. The basic building block of improv is yes, and.  And this moment was met with yes, and.  

The Spell Caster in this story, finding ways to block and disable opportunities was left without a leg to stand on as I took to the stage.  The old carefully crafted incantations of self-protection designed to effect fear and instil caution were swept away by the mantra “I am enough”. It was very safe to come to the microphone, the musicians and one holding the space had my back, had the audiences as well and in the complementarity of both, was able to find a path to keep the container to hold us all solid and secure.  Deep gratitude to his skills and experience!

The voice in my head as I left the stage was of one my children saying Mum you are living your best life. Over the past few years, I have not known what living any kind of life might be like, let alone a best one. I have flayed around trying to find the right tune, right tone, a harmony, and the odd blues note – yet somehow in these few short minutes on stage I managed to get to the entire next level and make sense of some of the time now past.  Taking my time with the humming into the space such a useful metaphor to take the measure and feel and hear what the music was asking of me, the call to my response.  Then finding the notes and making up my own lyrics, to express what I had learnt, seen through the day, with the backing of a band, not a solo artist or even a solo musical instrument, but multiple players and multiple instruments, a profound reminder I am not alone and there are harmonies and chords to be found in the notes and the spaces between the notes is where the music finds its shape and form.  Then my invitation to the audience to abandon their position and sway with hands in the air, a reflection of asking people to come follow me, knowing they have the capacity and capability to do that and do not need any more sophisticated instruction, just a simple demonstration and then everyone can participate. And finally, the recognition that all have a place, a contribution to the song and leaving the stage, the music goes on and the next person can step up. Just like the geese in formation, another can take their turn in the lead and helping to reduce the wind resistance and taking it in turns conserves energy for the whole flock.

Instead of malevolence there is benevolence – bene volent – well wishing – surely a great way to break a spell!  There were only well wishes being bestowed in the moment at the microphone this week. The realm of generosity, joy and gratitude appeared in the magic of the moment, by invoking the instruction of the poet David Whyte of being half a shade braver. I also took the advice of researcher Brene Brown to let hurtful stuff drop to the floor, and step over it and keep going. “You can’t take criticism and feedback from people who are not being brave with their lives.”  

A spell was broken this week, more stuff dropped on the threshing floor to step over. The stage was that place where the chaff was tossed to the wind and the wheat made ready for the bread of salvation to be baked. A different kind of communion, as fully transformational as any other consumed previously.

Photo by Ali Yılmaz on Unsplash

2021: Meeting the Moment #13

Been having a virtual mythopoetic journey through the Burren and County Clare with a bit of County Mayo on the side these past few weeks with David Whyte and in the very best of company. It has been a much needed counterpoint to the saturation and inescapable conversation of sexual violence that is permeating every corner of the country. The cellular and elemental nature of fear, anxiety, distrust and the unpredictable appearances of trauma and grief are swirling with gusto like the winds of the Atlantic on western edge of Ireland. There is a litany of names in my heart of women who have been violated, and lamentations are completely insufficient. I find myself wanting to blow things up. I think of the muscular power of a woman’s body which can stretch to its limits sometimes tearing, often leaving permanent scars, bruised and sewn up. The rallying cry is enough is enough and so the line drawn in the sand, calls for a new day, new ways, everything is broken. I am reminded of the cycle of domestic violence and the point that comes when leaving is the only option, anything less is complicity and compliance.

I have done some leaving over the years and experienced the full monty patriarchy panic first hand.  While we have our media full of individual experiences of sexual abuse, my mind goes to the systems holding these practices in place. Here is a litany of my own:

  • You can’t enrol in this program, it is a full time load and you are about to have a baby
  • You can’t hold down that job as there is no support for childcare you can afford
  • You can’t come and sit at this table, you are not a man, you are not ordained
  • You can’t take on this responsibility you are married
  • You can’t bring those thoughts and ideas to this place, the leadership will never agree
  • You can’t pray with those words, you can’t sing with those songs, you can’t ritualise with those artefacts
  • You are not credentialed, because only men can get that qualification
  • Your motherhood is a barrier and your husband and children are your first priority
  • You should be home doing the housework
  • You can’t bring your female friends here it is unsafe for them, you are married so you will be safe
  • Your breastfeeding makes us feel uncomfortable
  • Your pain must remain hidden
  • You will probably want to do other things like have another baby, I don’t think this is the right time for you

The structural inequalities behind each of these lines are founded on the bedrock of patriarchy.  Most of them I have addressed head on for myself and for others and some have even had structural shifts and can only be found in the Australian Museum of Misogyny alongside the CDs and lost mixtapes of Julia Gillard’s speech to Tony Abbott. But it is all just window dressing, the deep wounds of power and privilege translate into power hoarding.

First Nations have been fighting this frontier since the first fleet. Colonialism another layer in the prehistoric origins of what has brought us to this moment. There are calls for a Makarrata and in doing so are calling for a non-white power sharing model, privileging country and place, story and culture. In a small way I noticed the shift that happened when I started using the names of places in their first nation language and stopped using colonial names – a small gesture and one which is catching on. It becomes a constant reminder of what was, what is and what could be. To not be welcome in your own country, to be forced to live by another’s foreign rules, under the flag of your oppressor, taken to their beds and stripped of dignity and justice, to have your children taken from you, to be left for dead, to be beaten, falsely accused, loose hope …. a petering away of hope … working a way into allyship and solidarity that strengthens means getting out of the way, going to a table not created by you and waiting to be invited, being patient to wait for the apprenticeship to be offered, to live in the discomfort of the emergence into something new and in the knowledge you are part of the problem and decolonisation starts inside the head, heart on its way to being translated into plans and action. 

So too is this pilgrimage out of patriarchy. Giving up on the messages and the structures that reinforce the messaging of inadequacy, its your fault, personalised and individualised transactions. Rejecting definitions of progress and growth that don’t include those with decision-making power not stepping out of the way is a big piece and a hard one. Think: it’s not all men, its not all white people, mantras.  Well actually it is when you take a systems lens. No justice without peace was a mantra in my youth. Meeting this moment: there is no justice without a reckoning.

2021: Meeting the moment #4

In a week with new tenants in the White House, where Elon Musk offers a $100M prize to develop carbon sequestration (I suggest he plants trees) and where the hospitals in London reached capacity, there are so many moments to meet. The poignancy of the about to be inauguarated gazing into a pool as the sun set, felt like mirror the world had been waiting to see, where stopping and being still and holding the moment with the lightest touch brought us deeper into our truth and took a step down into the place where the light shifts on the water to decorate what had been desecrated.

To stop and to hold in place what must be held is a feeling well known to the infant that needs to be swaddled so tightly so that wriggles are banished and then with a gentle rock sleep arrives. Once rested the child emerges refreshed, ready and able to fully participate once more in the world around them. I thought this moment by the pool was just that – a wrapping up, a solid, unyielding, gathering up of loss and grief, bundled together in a simple and uncompromising grip of full attention. Taking the time to stop is a meme for our times.

The rise of the napping resistence movement and the action of a nap as a political act. Nap Ministry founded by Tricia Hersey believe rest is a form of resistance and name sleep deprivation as a racial and social justice issue.  Echoes of Audre Lorde and legacy of Rose Parks can be found in her work and the movement growing about napping as a form of disrupting capitalism. Meeting the moment rarely needs to new technology, but it always needs an examination of power and always begins with a stop. While I cheekily tweeted Elon about his quest for world’s best carbon sequestrian technology to invest in – I said plant trees. I could just have easily said stop what you are doing. For systems to change and new ones to emerge stopping what you are doing is the first act. It is usually the hardest, unable to let go of our addiction to whatever it is that is holding that action in place in our lives, giving us meaning, strengthening a pathway. Making a new path, starts with our own neuronal pathways is an energy intensive challenge. It is maintaining a discipline of repeated actions and thoughts regulating our emotions, and it is up against old patterns that are easy, seductive and so familiar that to not pay attention to them feels like its own kind of infidelity to self.

Stopping giving attention to what harms us and noticing what we are addicted too leads us to what we want to be and who we want to become. We might need to nap along the way, advancing ourselves to the future that becomes us. We might need to find new paths that are still hidden, we might need to follow some unlikely thoughts to make those paths and do deeper into the woods, we will always though have to start with a stop.

Sometimes

by David Whyte

Sometimes
if you move carefully
through the forest

breathing
like the ones
in the old stories

who could cross
a shimmering bed of dry leaves
without a sound,

you come
to a place
whose only task

is to trouble you
with tiny
but frightening requests

conceived out of nowhere
but in this place
beginning to lead everywhere.

Requests to stop what
you are doing right now,
and

to stop what you
are becoming
while you do it,

questions
that can make
or unmake
a life,

questions
that have patiently
waited for you,

questions
that have no right
to go away.

Photo by Jose Aragones on Unsplash

2021: Meeting the Moment

This year’s blog will be all about meeting the moment.

Everyday moments provide extraordinary insights, opportunities and challenges. The grapes ripen on the vine as the sun turns water into wine. The path becomes smoother the more often you walk it and if you take your eyes to the horizon as you walk the future comes focus.

As 2021 begins, our species is looking towards vaccinations, our planet is holding its breath as we reshape and some resist what She is beckoning for – a much lighter touch to our shared living arrangements. Shimmering in the skies, the full moon appeared a few days ago and rose high into the night closing out the year. A year, for many where there has been a deep desire to let go of everything that has been hard or hasn’t quite unfolded as they might have hoped. These past few days as the new year arrives we know seeds sown in the metaphoric times of a new moon will now come into harvest. 2021 may well bring a harvest from the introspection from quarantine, slowing and fasting from systems that were already withering away. We will be meeting moments in the year ahead from seeds sown long ago. How ready we are to meet the moments?

The losses of 2020 have come with silver linings. The origin of this idea of silver linings comes from the 17th century from a poem by John Milton. He wrote the poem for Michaelmas Day, a time of the year in his part of the world, when dark nights and cooler days begin. Where the season calls for some preparation to retreat and to say farewell before a new cycle would begin. In my part of the world Michaelmas Day is when the days get longer and there is the hint of warmth on the breeze forecasting a summer arriving in a few months. A lining is an inner layer and a wonderful invitation for these times. To look under the covers, to find something that matches the garment, yet cut from a different cloth, to help the outer garment fall well, it also reduces the wearing strain of the garment and helps it last longer – so surely a silver lining might be an even more precious contribution to holding us altogether in these times too.

Ironically, John Milton’s silver lining phrase, was written in a form of theatre known as a masque, and indeed masks were worn in these ephemeral productions. Surely a prophecy as we meet this moment.

In order to meet the moments, we will need to be ready and 2020 has been in many ways a time to get ready, a time to notice what we have and what we value most. A hug has become precious, the fragility of democracy has been tested and fascist playbooks have been dusted off shelves. We meet the moment at the dawn of 2021 in the full knowledge that invisible rogue cells can close a border, end a life, decimate a regional economy, pull families apart.

Meeting the moment by feeling the silkiness of a silver lining and coming to recognising it as adding protection, warmth, comfort and style to our outer-selves, might serve us very well as we start the year. In meeting the moment we will be fulfilling the promises of those who have left legacies and succession plans for us to step up and take our part. We will be accepting invitations and our inheritance to pathways for just settlements. In my country I expect this to be a public discourse for treaties, for a national conversation about what it means to broker climate justice and I also predict there will be moments as a nation we will have to meet with our neighbours in the region and have a heart-to-heart that goes beyond crayfish and coal.

Inner and Outer layers: Pre-COVID19 somewhere in Portugal on the way to Santiago de Compostela – getting ready to be ready as David Whyte says.

Year of activism #49

In the spaces between being awake and being asleep, fully present and day dreaming, fully rested and alert, there are tiny insights to catch like butterflies in a net. I have written about this before and I find the season at the end of the calendar year a time where there is a lot of these spaces. Some people are turning off and tuning out and others are gearing up for what might be waiting around the corner – the ongoing pandemic, bushfire preparations, aching of separation of the holiday season. Counting our blessings may be more ritualised this year for some and the losses of the year crippling for others. It is in these spaces, the activists wholeheartedness, intuition and imagination are tapped. Glimpses of transformational possibilities dawn.

A few times over the years in this space I have referred to David Whyte’s poem What to Remember when Waking (here, here, here), and I find it as good an instruction manual for any activist as the Marshall Ganz, Stacey Abrams, Gandhi playbooks on mobilising and movement building. This poem is about visibility and invisibility, what you hold close, what you notice, the outstretched and always accessible invitation to contribute, not ask for permission to be fully yourself to bring all you can muster to any given situation, to receive the invitation as a gift in waiting for others to receive. That gift needs to be carefully chosen, appreciated by you so you can give it away with all the joy and detachment any gift giving genuinely requires for it to be fully received. (A hint for those who are sharing in this season of love and light.)

What requires our immediate attention in these times and then leading with that in our activism is often the way I answer those people who ask me – but what can I do? And then ask yourself – and what invitations are coming my way? What gifts are ready to be given? I am forever grateful to the poets, the songwriters, painters and prophets who find their imaginations translated onto pages, imagines, sounds, as they guide me, energise me, soothe me when I am weary. Forever grateful to all the creatives who have generously unlocked their gifts and then released their art into the wild.

Remembering is the act of joining past and present, to put back into place something that is required to hold what has been for a reckoning with the present, and potentially restitution in the future. It is a central theme for any activist to not go back to when injustices still needed to be righted, and to be inspired by those acts that did right them in the first place. In the areas of activism that I find myself contributing too, the act of remembering and calling on the leaders who made the path is so important. I am reading Obama’s A Promised Land and I am struck how often he recalls the heroes and heroines who have gone before civil right activists, children, family members, legislators, founding fathers and mothers, to call them into the moment when history is being made. This has been a lifetime practice of mine too, not to just make sure I don’t forget who has gone before and made possibilities and potentialities for me and my generation, but to re-member, to bring those witnesses into real time, to savour and celebrate the moment and to take care in the moment. So to follow Whyte’s instruction to remember when waking, is to bring in the dream world, your yet to be fully formed unconscious thoughts, the deepest and darkest messages to your truest self.

What to Remember When Waking

by David Whyte

In that first hardly noticed moment in which you wake,
coming back to this life from the other
more secret, moveable and frighteningly honest world
where everything began,
there is a small opening into the new day
which closes the moment you begin your plans.

What you can plan is too small for you to live.
What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough
for the vitality hidden in your sleep.

To be human is to become visible
while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.
To remember the other world in this world
is to live in your true inheritance.

You are not a troubled guest on this earth,
you are not an accident amidst other accidents
you were invited from another and greater night
than the one from which you have just emerged.

Now, looking through the slanting light of the morning window
toward the mountain presence of everything that can be
what urgency calls you to your one love?
What shape waits in the seed of you
to grow and spread its branches
against a future sky?

Is it waiting in the fertile sea?
In the trees beyond the house?
In the life you can imagine for yourself?
In the open and lovely white page on the writing desk?

from The House of Belonging, Many Rivers Press

Sunrise at Sellicks Beach, South Australia – Watawali – Kaurna 10 Dec 2020

Year of activism #41

The Federal budget failed to pay attention to the 51% of the population who are women. There was significant neglect of the way our community runs on the unfettered labour and love of those who stay home, undertake caring roles, hold families and communities together with their extra shifts of volunteering, home help, home nursing and child care. There was neglect or at best scant attention to an economy which can’t be fully functional without the all the efforts that as Marilyn Waring first coined more than a generation ago that “counts for nothing”. I am enraged by a Federal Government who gives lip service to female founders and then after almost a year no money has been distributed, partly because of the shock they got, when four times as many women applied for grants than they anticipated.  I give sincere thanks to all those who toil silently and consistently for program reform and legislative review … but … and it sticks in my throat to add this but … it is not the best use of our time and talents.  We need to turn our attention away from trying to get a system to work for women, and we need to turn even further away from trying to get women to fit into a system that no longer works for them.  I sat in on a webinar on the gender pay gap in the UK this week that provided undeniable evidence that women undertaking leadership courses to get ahead, get a promotion or be more visible in their work place as leaders, had not yielded any increase in salary to women.  In the words of the host, former Australian PM, Julia Gillard, on hearing this evidence, she calmly and clearly stated: “it is not women who need to be fixed, it is the system.”

The politics of grief is never far away, knowing I will and am continuing to have to give up or at a minimum, shift, power in places where my participation is privileged. As we embrace, the apprenticeship of our disappearance, as David Whyte would call it, I am moved to consider how my eldership is unfolding.

While walking today the Pioneer Women’s Trail (a 26km walk through the Adelaide Hills that commemorates early settlers who were women and girls taking their produce to market) I soaked in the history of the walk and the lack of story along the way of the First Nations women who were there before occupation. I was buoyed by the hosts of the event acknowledging country and elders past, present and emerging and touched at the simplicity and humility in which is was delivered by the volunteer safety officer.  I noted there was very little diversity amongst the hundreds of walkers  and wonder how that might be addressed in the future, and the potential for more signage along the way to tell stories to frame decolonization of the landscape, introduced species of flora and fauna and not the least the introduction of the settlers. A large, elderly koala made an appearance at the top of one of the inclines and seemed to take in the sights of us, as we took in the sight of him, for a moment the continuous occupation of the eucalyptus over generations of koalas gave me heart for a time past and a time to come.  There were patches where the January bushfires were clearly still tattooed on the slopes and fire tracks delineating where successful crews had held back flames and saved habitat. There were plenty of new shoots and lots of native orchids, butterflies and creatures coming out to play in the spring time. The bellow of the river frogs and a promise from signs that we might see a few splashes from the river rats – Rakali – the only freshwater amphibious mammal other than the platypus in Australia.  (I heard the frogs but didn’t spot any of the endangered rakali.) I wanted to grieve for what has been lost in our story and our connection to these places along the way and I wonder how we can make and take time to honour what has been lost and what is under threat of being lost. While I eaves dropped on conversations along the trail, not once did I hear anyone talking about the environment. Chatter seemed full of family, caring responsibilities, work commitments, juggling life across generations and expectations. Without the planet though, all these things will be moot and until can mourn for what we have lost, celebrate what we have, we may not be able to resist and preserve, rehabilitate and restore. There are rituals waiting to be made and old and new stories to be written and sung into being. Those who have and make space and time to reflect are on their eldership pathway. I think a new generation of activists embracing their eldership is emerging.  They are the ones who have known generational pain, grief and can hold the space for sorrows to be shared, and healed. I am imagining rituals where we mourn what was not done in a Federal budget, loss of habitat and the lack of equity in our world. I am imagining lamentations that go deep and call us to action.  Going for a walk is as good a place to start as any.

... the path to heaven doesn’t lie

down in flat miles. It’s in the

imagination with which you perceive this world and the

gestures in which you honor it. – from The Swan by Mary Oliver

Pioneers Women’s Trail 18 October 2020


                                                                                              

Year of activism #28

A walk along the Onkaparinga River reveals lagoons that have sprung to life again with the winter rains and the pelicans are holding court on the dead branches drowned by a combination of drought, salt rising and water. There is a convocation in progress and some kind of initiation ceremony going on it seems, while a few ducks play to hide and seek in the reeds like toddlers at an adult party. It’s the last Saturday in the school holidays and a few families seem to be making the most of the last afternoon sun, as well as cyclists and dog owners, who are working their way around the tracks. There is one family a long way from home, with an adult child who has a significant intellectual difficulty, and they have found a large dead branch of a gum tree that they are carrying with them holding it up to his ears so he can hear the rustling, then brushing across his face to feel the crackling and over his head to notice the different patterns of light and dark. I am struck by the care of his slightly older companions, more sibling age, than parents, who are enjoying the moments as much as he is, for all the same reasons with the added joy of his joy. There is so much in this little nativity, and all the while the convocation continues, the ducks take up the meaning of their name and the reeds dance in the wind.

These are the scenes built on activism.  Before we could walk around this park, an engineer designed the setting to help the natural landscape shine through and be restored, and before that environmentalists and their friends made the case to elected representatives this was a place for nature to be visible and take its rightful place in the landscape, and before that, long, long before that, it was a place where the Aboriginal people gathered food, played and lived on the banks of the river. It was a place where children were conceived and where the dreaming stories of women were held close and shared, where the ancient river found it’s way to the sea and where the ibis flew in the skies and arrived to herald a new season. I am grateful for this inheritance and I have done nothing to receive it, I just turned up and it was all there for me to enjoy and partake in the harvest of others.  This is the gift of the activist, to have the fruits of their combined efforts available for later generations to receive and accept the invitation to continue the legacy.  Activists don’t always see the fruits immediately though, sometimes it takes a number of seasons before the ibis comes back.

The family in the park, invisible to those early conservationists, is gathering up the fruits of their vision and labour, and through their love, is opening up the park in ways that perhaps were never envisaged by those pioneers making this space for pelicans and the public.  I am struck that our efforts and activism, in whatever it is that calls us, holds the seeds for these fruits and while we may not be around for the harvest, only if the seeds are sown there is the possibility for a harvest. 

During the week I listened with friends to David Whyte’s poem Twice Blessed. All our efforts are on the verge between who we are and who we are becoming, and this is true for our activism as well, we can look, lift our gaze, seek to understand, see our reflection and the ripples on the water go far beyond our selves into a future not yet revealed and open the mystery of what might come from our passing this way.

So that I stopped
there
and looked
into the waters
seeing not only
my reflected face
but the great sky
that framed
my lonely figure
and after a moment
I lifted my hands
and then my eyes
and I allowed myself
to be astonished
by the great
everywhere
calling to me
like an old
and unspoken
invitation,
made new
by the sun
and the spring,
and the cloud
and the light,
like something
both
calling to me
and radiating
from where I stood,
as if I could
understand
everything
I had been given
and everything ever
taken from me,
as if I could be
everything I have ever
learned
and everything
I could ever know,
as if I knew
both the way I had come
and, secretly,
the way
underneath
I was still
promised to go,
brought together,
like this, with the
unyielding ground
and the symmetry
of the moving sky,
caught in still waters.

Someone I have been,
and someone
I am just,
about to become,
something I am
and will be forever,
the sheer generosity
of being loved
through loving:
the miracle reflection
of a twice blessed life.

Twice Blessed, David Whyte from his collection The Bell and the Blackbird.

Onkaparinga Conservation Park

Year of activism #6

There is loss and grief in the life of any activist.  The feelings that you haven’t done enough, the expectations that are met (mostly of yourself over others), the fraud you seem to be by not completely walking the talk … the litany goes on.

I was reminded this week of Teddy Roosevelt’s quote: Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. And that is more than enough.  It’s not too different to Mother (now St) Teresa of Calcutta’s mantra: Bloom where you are planted. When I was young mother I held onto these instructions and took up the mantel of trying to be a household that had at its centre the notions of justice and peace (and the truth that there can be no peace without justice). I had plenty to guide me, especially once the children were in kindy – the local kindergarten was a school for us all – we all learnt about community there. I also had my Catholic social teaching to draw on and the local library which is where I found the McGinnis book Parenting for Justice and Peace, it was the only parenting book I ever really had. It was the crucible of my activism and set many of the foundations for the decades ahead.

This weekend has been filled to the brim with responses to the bushfires. I was involved in a fundraiser at Mt Compass where the locals through their Supper Club and the generosity of singers and musicians raised funds and had an entertaining evening. The choir I belong to belted out tunes and enjoyed having the opportunity to make a contribution. With my pals at Collab4Good we hosted a Heal and Hustle day with activators who shared lessons and provided spaces for reflection and learning starting with an expose of where unexpressed loss and grief comes from and how its suppression through the centuries via colonisation has led to destruction of our Mother Earth.  It was quite a day.

I am truly tired to the bone. It is time to rest, to put down the lyre and sob on the banks of the river. To feel the loss. To be sad. To bleed. To grieve.   I am hearing despair in many voices, and anger and frustration is just below the surface in so many people I meet and they are falling away from hope. I hear them clinging on to despair, for fear if they let go of despair then the abyss will appear.

David Whyte writes: Despair is a necessary and seasonal state of repair, a temporary healing absence, an internal physiological and psychological winter when our previous forms of participation in the world take a rest; it is a loss of horizon.  I am developing an understanding of the necessity of despair as an activist. In the northern hemisphere it is seasonally connected to winter as Whyte figures, I think the season of despair in Australia, is summer. Our horizon has been lost in the smoke and in places where day felt like night and where the land and the sea and the sky all fused into one … and no horizon to be seen.  The externalities finding their way into our lungs at our most cellular level.  We are exhausted by the heat and horror. It turns us inwards just so we can catch our breath and dig deep to refuel – but we cross over into despair before we can find our way back. It is a way for us to have some respite. We become separated from hope when we are in despair, we have reached a rock bottom and so the only way left is up. In fact the word despair comes from the Latin to come down from hope.  Maybe it is the moment of a reality check, that calls you to humility about what you can and can’t do, or perhaps the moment that holds your hand gently and reassuringly that you are not alone.

My experience of despair is it can be very bleak, and it needs to befriended and understood as loss, then grief and it needs to be treated as a season, and like any season will evolve and take shape over time as something new. It is not resilience or recovery that despair calls for, it is renewal.

Just like the child who grows into an adult and the reminders I had in my parenting, there are many seasons and moments of despair in parenting. And there are days when it feels like four seasons in one day!  This revelation might be a takeaway for an activist too.

 

 

Sparks will fly #43 #openness

The quest to stay open to all possibilities is closely related to detachment.  There is an old poem of David Whyte’s The Opening of Eyes that comes to mind that life is the opening of eyes long closed.

I think it is about seeing what there is in front of you. Without all your own luggage, assumptions, expectations, by seeing this as they are – raw, beautiful, exotic, simple, clean, complex – whatever they are. This takes practice.  I am re-entering worlds I have been absent from while on holidays and am noticing things I hadn’t before. I was listening to the recording of a meeting and heard things I hadn’t heard before, like the tone of a person who was fearful although clearly being assertive, the literal meaning as a place to hide for safety, the spaces and time it took for someone else to find the right about of compassion to move a conversation to its next level of maturity. This is one of the things I love about improv, it is immediate, call and response and takes only what is on offer,  nothing more and nothing less. You let go of anything you thought you might be able to use and go with the offering. It is a way of accepting and facing the facts. It is the act of being open to invitations and recognising them as such, then saying yes.

In the opening of my eyes, that has happened to me in the past couple of years, I am knocked off my feet, astonished at all the signs I missed along the way, because I held on so tightly to my worldview. There were facts and evidence everywhere for decades, that I explained away based on my assumptions, beliefs and attachments.  There was even medical evidence that I thought must have been a clinical error. I am speechless when I see I was like a sealed impenetrable  vault. It is like the person who keep looking for a cure despite all the evidence before them. I have deep wounds from my inability to not see that facts as they unfolded over decades.

Living in the now is the only way to really live and to remain open to possibilities also requires you to go to the desert like Moses, notice the burning bush alive with all the sparks of instruction for leadership, cleansing without destroying, appearing in something familiar like a bush. Moses wasn’t daunted by the sight, he was curious, he stepped closer to get the message, to understand better and to hear what was being asked of him. He was open. Instead of holding onto what we all know bushes that burn will be razed to the ground, bushes don’t speak, God doesn’t appear to give us a bespoke message – he ignored all that he would have known – and received what was right before his eyes. Maybe it was the afternoon light glowing through the bush that made it look like it was burning?  Whatever it was it must have taken an incredible capacity to be open to the scene, to the message and to the invitation.

I can’t help reflecting on those who might be on the autism spectrum and just see things as they are and state them obviously, I feel I am learning that from Greta Thunberg who has told us she has Asperger’s and sees it as her superpower. Her capacity to tell us all without fear or favour of the climate emergency we are in and we are at the beginning of a time of mass extinction. So many of us are holding on to our assumptions, our arrogance even, maybe even our love for the life we have that we can’t see the facts. I usually see this as the complete opposite of openness, yet being able to have a reality check seems a reasonable foundation for curiosity and creativity.

On Friday night, I hung out with a couple of friends, one a decade younger and another a decade again younger, they took me on as an accidental apprentice for a few hours, coaxing and cajoling me to take more steps towards an open door. I have a lot of learning and this kind of life coaching ahead of me. I can see the door, and I know it is there. I have more steps to take to open it. Their love and generosity were overwhelming. What was simple and easy and very well integrated into their lives was a long way from mine. A complete novice. I need more guides and more practice. Detaching is never easy.

The preparation for this evening began in my sub-conscious over the past couple of weeks, with a series of dreams all about letting go, and calling out to a void to find nothing coming back to me. The void must exist first and then in the relief of this blackness, light arrives to you can tell the difference between the black and the white.

The two-tone prints on the wall of the room I am sleeping in while house-sitting is a constant reminder of this phenomena. You can tell what there by what is not. One such print is of a vase of waratah’s and in the way the bush is burning and in the spirit of the Celts who are in my deep DNA, Felicity Urquhart sang a dreamtime story about how the waratah became red. Wonga the pigeon lost her mate and gave up calling for him and fell with a broken heart onto the white waratah and her blood made it red for immemorial. I am not taking this course, I am however taking from the story of transformation, first the act of giving up because you can’t find what you are looking for, it isn’t there anymore, then perhaps the lesson of lying down to rest and letting the heart open as fully and completely draining away the life force that held it together, and then the transformation for others to enjoy, celebrate and see in their landscape an opening of beauty.

From these serendipitous threads being woven around me this past week or so, I am trying to take a facts and invitations, not as the remaining pages of a book waiting to be read, or of memories passing, but more as steps towards throwing more shoes away. Small steps of being astonished and curious and knowing that when I fall to the ground, it is solid beneath me and shoes aren’t needed to tread lightly on this earth. Sparks will fly, and like the burning bush, I will not be consumed by the fire.

 

The Opening of Eyes

That day I saw beneath dark clouds
the passing light over the water
and I heard the voice of the world speak out,
I knew then, as I had before
life is no passing memory of what has been
nor the remaining pages in a great book
waiting to be read.

It is the opening of eyes long closed.
seen for the silence they hold.
It is the heart after years
of secret conversing
speaking out loud in the clear air.
It is the vision of far off things

It is Moses in the desert
fallen to his knees before the lit bush.
It is the man throwing away his shoes
as if to enter heaven
and finding himself astonished,
opened at last,
fallen in love with solid ground.

— David Whyte

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Photo by Ethan on Unsplash