Our humanity is the natural world

To listen is therefore to touch a stethoscope to the skin of a landscape, to hear what stirs below.  George Haskell

Maria Popova’s recent newsletter, Nature and the Serious Business of Joy, resonated strongly with me and I was struck by how shared sentiments can connect us across centuries, borders, gender, time and place. I was delighted to discover Whitman, Thoreau and I share a love of trees. That the work of Michael McCarthy articulates the deep-seated joy I have when in nature.  Nature pulls me. I am drawn to it and feel very at home, embraced, when in the wild places.

Over the years I have realised the pull of nature and my respect and adoration of it can only stem from being of the earth myself and of sharing the same transcendent source as the natural world. Rachel Carson expresses it beautifully:

 “Our origins are of the earth. And so there is in us a deeply seated response to the natural universe, which is part of our humanity.”

Michael McCarthy has walked the same paths as I. He too has felt, numerous times, that sudden and involuntary love of nature that bursts forth with such “a startling intensity, in a burst of emotion which we may not fully understand, and the only word that seems to me to be appropriate for this feeling is joy.”  And yet what is joy? Sadly it seems a term used only by those delusional romantic types (like me), caught up in the fanciful, magical type of thinking that a weary, cynical populace denounces.

McCarthy weighs the precariousness of joy in our modern world: “Joy is not a concept, nor indeed a word, that we are entirely comfortable with, in the present age. The idea seems out of step with a time whose characteristic notes are mordant and mocking, and whose preferred emotion is irony. Joy hints at an unrestrained enthusiasm which may be thought uncool… It reeks of the Romantic movement. Yet it is there. Being unfashionable has no effect on its existence… What it denotes is a happiness with an overtone of something more, which we might term an elevated or, indeed, a spiritual quality.

Nature speaks to so many of us, it awakens our senses and, at times, offers us a glimpse into the extraordinary, yet so few speak of these experiences publicly.  We should extol nature’s virtues loudly. Share the revelations uncovered while in the wilderness. Thoreau recognised nature as an antidote to the diminishing of spirit amid a fast paced, ego-driven society — “In the street and in society I am almost invariably cheap and dissipated, my life is unspeakably mean,”

McCarthy takes Thoreau’s idea further and reminds us of our origins, the roots of our being and our evolution with the earth and our connection to her —

“They are surely very old, these feelings. They are lodged deep in our tissues and emerge to surprise us. For we forget our origins; in our towns and cities, staring into our screens, we need constantly reminding that we have been operators of computers for a single generation and workers in neon-lit offices for three or four, but we were farmers for five hundred generations, and before that hunter-gatherers for perhaps fifty thousand or more, living with the natural world as part of it as we evolved, and the legacy cannot be done away with.”

We are not separate from the natural world, we do not simply walk upon it, we are part of it as it is of us. We belong to the natural world and ought to rekindle our connection to be once again filled with joy, substance and beauty.

“After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, love, and so on — have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear — what remains? Nature remains; to bring out from their torpid recesses, the affinities of a man or woman with the open air, the trees, fields, the changes of seasons — the sun by day and the stars of heaven by night.” Whitman.

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She aches and yet she heals

The most we can do is write – intelligently, creatively, critically, evocatively – about what it is like living in the world at this time.  Oliver Sacks

She aches and yet she heals

A warm bath
Frothing
Bubbles gently exploding
around her tense form
Soothing taught muscles

Honeyed chai
fragrant and sweet
Soothing the inner aches

Billy Hayes, Insomniac City
Propped above
Bringing tears
The exquisite love expressed
wrenches at her anguished heart

Tracy Chapman
Mellifluous, softening the harsh silence
Filling the empty spaces
gently softening the edges of pain

She needs no more
Right now
She is whole
She is complete
She aches and yet she heals
She will not be undone

Get your groove on ―it’s a rush!

Go ahead. Get your thrill on.” ― Gina Greenlee

I swept through the door and sent a message to my friend:

“I’m in love with life, my body and dancing in the dark for making me feel this way.”

I was on a high—giddy with the tantalising buzz of having spent an hour dancing in a darkened room with a bunch of strangers.  Usually sensitive to loud music I revelled in the noise that created a space in my head—a space where there was no thinking, no ruminating, no space for anything but the rhythm and the beat.  Once lost in the music my body began moving. Tightly sprung, rigidly held muscles loosened and I began to dance. No plan, no style, no care or thought or partner just moment. Just dancing in the dark.

What’s more, there was no self-consciousness because all the lights were out and while I could just make out the silhouette of the people nearby I couldn’t make out features or anything distinct. Everyone just did their own thing, anonymously, uninhibited and carefree.

For an hour I let it all go. Jumped, jived, swayed, shimmied, bopped and boogied. It is the best $8 I’ve ever spent. What a rush.

Needless to say, I can’t sleep and so, my friend, I share my excitement with you.

Do you have a No Lights No Lycra or Dancing in the Dark night near you? It’s definitely worth investigating if you do. I haven’t felt this alive in, well, almost forever.  Yippee!

 

 

Today I wept for women

“Women are going to form a chain, a greater sisterhood than the world has ever known.”
― Nellie L. McClung

“Because there’’s one thing stronger than magic: sisterhood.”
― Robin Benway,

“There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
― Madeleine K. Albright

I sat in a weaving circle today and wept with joy for the sacred space that was created. I wept with understanding and acknowledgement of the simple but powerful message taught. I wept too for the lack of such an ancient practice in my life and the desire to seek and create opportunities for more.

Women’s circles have been the basis of many cultures and traditions around the world and throughout history. For centuries women came together, in circle, to share and learn and support each other. It is a place for finding out about the world and your own nature. In circle women are united as equals for a common purpose.  Today’s purpose was to learn to weave.

Our vibrant and wise teacher, Hannah Gutchen taught us a lightning weave. Using a strip of coconut palm we wove and folded each leaf over and behind the spine to create a stunning pattern. One leaf began as the leader, the other the follower. Then the roles reversed so the follower became the leader and the leader the follower and this became the gentle flow of creating our lightening pattern.  We quickly learnt the traditional way of utilising both hands throughout the weaving process so no hand was dominant or favoured but both used equally.  On establishing the circle Hannah told us we were all leaders and followers.  We all had responsibility for watching out for the women either side of us, to work together and ensure no one was left behind.

The idea that one does not nor, perhaps, should not always be a leader or a follower was suggested and we pondered the wisdom in that. Ideas flowed and were shared unself-consciously.  The conversation, like our weaving, took on a rhythm of its own. I was quite struck by the ease with which we slipped into it.

What an honour it was to sit with a group of women and develop so quickly a bond where each works with the other and checks in on the other.  Where conversation and support were so freely and generously given. It got me thinking about the incredible power women have to heal and nurture. I lament that many of us have lost sight of the power of sisterhood.  Too often I observe women competing with each other and disregarding each other through selfish choices. Imagine what could be achieved if women sat beside each other and built each other up instead of tearing each other down. Imagine what could be achieved if women united and honoured each other rather than taking from each other. Imagine if we could heal our individual wounds by taking up ancient practices. Imagine if we re-established practices where we helped each other reignite our dimmed inner lights ― how bright the combined luminosity would be.

I believe if we regained the ability to sit and talk and use metaphor as was taught in today’s weaving circle we would connect with each other better as well as reconnect with nature on a different level. If we could come together as communities rather than consumers we could make a difference and save this planet and ourselves in the process.

A year of inspiration: Inspired by First Nations artists Hannah Gutchen and Maryann Talia Pau and the One Million Stars to End Domestic Violence project.

Samoan-Australian artist and practising weaver Maryann Talia Pau is the founder of the One Million Stars to End Violence project and co-founder of the Pacific Women’s Weaving Circle. Hannah Gutchen, is a Torres Strait Islander traditional weaver and artist currently practising in Brisbane. Gutchen has been passed down sacred knowledge of creative practices that inspire self-expression, self-healing, sharing culture and connecting stories.

 

 

 

Stepping out on opening night

Every moment of one’s existence one is growing into more or retreating into less.         Norman Mailer

In this world you’re either growing or you’re dying so get into motion and grow. Lou Holtz

Julia Cameron talks of artists dates. This was a practice of mine some time ago and I fell off the wagon. Due to a recent change in circumstances I have felt isolated, alone and needing connection. I’ve identified activities and events to attend, I’ve flooded my calendar with them in fact but when the time arises I find it hard to get dressed and step out the door. It’s so much easier to stay at home and hide from the world.

Scrolling through social media I noticed a friend was interested in an event. Looking into it I discovered it was an opening of an indigenous art exhibition at a gallery I follow. I popped it in my calendar thinking it could be a nice opportunity to get out and be around people.

An hour before the event I was already seeing myself curled up on the couch with a book and cup of tea. I was making plenty of excuses not to go. Noticing this self-defeating pattern of behaviour I messaged my friend and asked if she was going. She was unwell. She did however encourage me by reminding me of the artist date concept. After a little delay I threw caution to the wind  (oh yes, risk taking needs to become a bigger part of my life from now on. Minimal as those risks might be in the short-term) and got dressed (yep, big decisions here too. Could easily have derailed the whole thing right in the wardrobe. To cut the crap and the debate in my head I selected a simple dress and sandals. No fuss – simple and easy) and headed out.

A lightness instantly descended upon me, or is that the heaviness lifted? Either works and perhaps are synchronistically synonymous in this instance.  Parking a short distance away and walking toward the gallery, passing Friday night revellers I felt a freedom and a confidence in having made the decision to step out of the house, out of my funk and into life. Choosing action over inaction and movement instead of ‘stuckness’ felt great.

The exhibition was intimate. The works pure and innocent with captivating colours and symbolism. Compared to other crowded opening nights it was an event attended by a small number of art enthusiasts passionate about indigenous art. I wasn’t exactly surrounded by people and I didn’t connect in any overt way with anyone but it was nice to share the space and see the appreciation for the works in the demeanour of others. It was a shared experience.

My excursion wasn’t a long one but gosh it was liberating. Some readers may think that odd because going out on a Friday night is such a normal thing to do and going to a gallery opening isn’t exactly skydiving. When the fabric of your life has been slashed and your self-esteem and sense of self-worth have been demolished by the cruel acts of another and tragic circumstances it’s hard to stand up straight let alone step out into the light.

I know this is just a small step to recovering and rediscovering life. I am looking forward to many more opening nights and opening myself to new and exciting opportunities.

 

A year of inspiration: inspired by my friend Catherine and the need to step out and into the light and explore life from a new perspective.

Shibori to soothe the soul

“Go wide, explore and learn new things. Something will surely have a kick for you”
― Mustafa Saifuddin

“Happiness is achieved when you stop waiting for your life to begin and start making the most of the moment you are in.”
― Germany Kent

Shibori, a form of Japanese cloth dyeing, dates from the 8th century.  A variety of techniques produce some stunning designs on fabric.

I recently attended a short Shibori inspired workshop and walked away with two, once snow-white, beautifully patterned pillowcases in varying shades of blue.  Traditional Shibori dye is indigo but due to the cost of indigo and the smell (the workshop was in a shopping centre believe it or not), we used instead a commercial blue dye.  Having visited an indigo dye facility in China many years ago I can vouch for the smell being quite pungent and permeating.

Traditionally, particular Shibori techniques were used with different types of fabric and the pattern one wanted to achieve.  The fabric can be bound, stitched, folded, twisted or compressed before the dyeing process.

One of the techniques in the workshop was similar to tye-dyeing, where sections of cloth are gathered and bound using either rubber bands, twine or string.  The pattern differs dependent on where and how tightly the binding is tied.  The tighter the binding the whiter the fabric underneath.  This is most similar to Kanoko Shibori.

Pleating and folding the fabric before binding produces not the nice circular patterns of Kanoko Shibori but patterns more in line with Kumo Shibori. I concertina folded my pillowcases, one lengthwise, the other along the short edge. I used a combination of pegs and string to bind.

The preparation of the fabric was quite quick.  First it needed to be dampened.  Then bound in the desired manner before being submerged in dye.  After a twenty-minute wait, an unbinding and quick rinse the patterns were revealed. I’m quite pleased with the effect.  My final products are by no means works of art but the process was fun.  I got to spend an hour and a half with a group of men and women from diverse backgrounds, we chatted and laughed and sipped coffees, iced chocolates and tea and nibbled on fruit and cheese.

This simple act of creating something, time spent with strangers and stepping out of routine buoyed my spirit and gave my mind a break. The act of making patterns on fabric is a great analogy for the act of reimagining and recreating the patterns of my life. A process I have just recently begun.

A year of inspiration: Inspired by the need to give my brain a break and the necessity to recreate the pattern of my life.

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

WENDELL BERRY

Suddenly

“Sometimes life takes you into a dark place where you feel it’s impossible to breathe. You think you’ve been buried, but don’t give up, because if truth be told, you’ve actually been planted.”
― Karen Gibbs

I suddenly found myself unable to breathe.  My heart ached from the pain of the news just delivered. I’ve been crippled by it, weighed down and tormented by it for a month now. It’s like no pain I’ve ever felt. It feels like my heart is expanding beyond its borders, about to explode and yet, it feels gripped, pinched and constricted, tight and throbbing. I look down and can see it frantic through the fabric of my dress.

My heart may well be broken. It aches so.

And yet, in the midst of the pain,  I realise there may exist that silver lining they speak of. I glimpse the opportunity to restart and rejuvenate, to renew. I try to focus on the opportunities that lay ahead and of the freedom to grow and expand and to revel in life again.

Suddenly, I realise I’ve been planted and breathe a little easier.

Change can be uncomfortable

“Every success story is a tale of constant adaption, revision and change.” ~ Richard Branson

Several years ago I moved house after being in the same house for 17 years.
I chose to move but it was a hard move to make. The house I was leaving was the first house I had owned. My son grew up there. My beloved and I celebrated our marriage there and over time we renovated it and made it comfortable.

I cried for weeks as I was packing up, moving into the new place and cleaning the old ready for new owners.

At first it was difficult to adjust to my new surroundings. I had to stop and think how to get to the places I frequented after using the same routes for 17 years. I had to find a new supermarket. I kept reaching for the third draw in the kitchen, which was no longer there. In short, there was an adjustment period.

The change was uncomfortable because I didn’t think I could be as happy or as comfortable in a new house as I had been in the old. I had to change some habits and routines to suit my new environment. I underestimated how good the move could be. The new house was lighter and brighter, it had a yard and I could start a vegetable garden for the first time. While I had to shop at a different supermarket, I was familiar with the one in the suburb, not too far away, and it was a very good supermarket. So that was a big bonus.

The travel stumped me for a while and each time I jumped in the car I had to really think about how I would get to where I was going. I soon realised I had better access to many destinations from my new home.  So I stopped using the old ways to get around. But even through this I realised much stayed the same. I was still travelling in my own car, I was still using the road system, a GPS could help me navigate if I really needed it. I just had to build some new habits and tweak others.

The curious and intriguing thing about change is that it isn’t change itself that is so hard, it’s the thought that we have are expected to change that causes discomfort. When I reflect on all the difficult changes I have encountered in life I’ve made it through. It comes almost as a revelation with hindsight that it wasn’t really as hard as initially thought. I guess it is part of the human spirit to endure.

Change can feel uncomfortable for a while but it’s good to remember that often times much of what you do now will remain the same. Look for the familiar structures, the commonalities, the shared routines. You might use slightly different paths to get back to a sense of comfort though you may well draw on many familiar strategies too.

Like my move, I overestimated how good what I had was and underestimated how good living somewhere else could be. Similarly too, when going through changed work conditions, physical, emotional or social change it’s to be expected there will be a pinch. We become comfortable in our routines and the familiarity of our surroundings, so it’s to be expected that there will be some discomfort for a while.

It helps to reflect on our own habits, practices and routines to consider what we will stop doing, start doing and keep doing to negotiate ourselves through the discomfort of change, to emerge confident and operational on the other side.

A year of inspiration: Inspired by Queensland teachers preparing for a new curriculum and assessment system in the senior phase of learning.

Postscript

I wrote this post before receiving some wrenching news that will change my life in  inconceivable ways and I feel much of what I wrote above is trite in the face of the changes I am about to undertake. I am currently in a mire of pain, despair, confusion, anger, sadness, loss and desperation. At times, when the tears stop and the ache in my heart lifts, ever so slightly, I can see the promise of new opportunities but first I must walk through the hellish pit of despair dragging the weight of sorrow and suffering to reach acceptance to emerge. My intention with this post was not to trivialize anyones great pain due to major life changes. I hope this experience of mine helps to make me more aware and compassionate in the future. I have too many words and not enough to share with you where I am at right now. I hope to gather myself enough to find something worth expressing soon.

“Some changes look negative on the surface but you will soon realise space is being created in your life for something new to emerge.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

 

Drawing from the moon ― two rituals to get you back to flow

“The moon does not fight. It attacks no one. It does not worry. It does not try to crush others. It keeps to its course, but by its very nature, it gently influences. What other body could pull an entire ocean from shore to shore? The moon is faithful to its nature and its power is never diminished.”
― Ming-Dao Deng  

Getting in tune with the moon is a long forgotten ritual often relegated to the strange ceremonies of pagans or ‘weird spiritual’ people. Judge not too soon, I beseech you. Being aware of the phases of the moon and how they can help us get in tune with ourselves is a lovely ritual to begin or re-establish. No, it doesn’t require you to bathe naked in the moonlight though, as I’ve said before, you are welcome to if you please. I understand it’s quite lovely. Being a little body image shy I prefer a more subtle approach.

Reading about upcoming phases of the moon and lunar events can reap rewards for even the most practical minded people. Often significant moon phases pose an opportunity to focus on an area of life you’d like to clear, enhance or move into. These special times are prime opportunities to set new goals with no special props required, no incense, no crystals, all that is necessary is to create a space to contemplate or write your new plan/path.

Two rituals I have used in the past include meditating on the moon and treasure mapping, sometimes known as vision boarding.

The meditation requires you to look at the moon and meditate to relax the mind. You can focus on your breath. If you can’t go outside or the moon is clouded in, see yourself bathed in silvery white light. In the mediation you can plant the seeds of intention by focusing on one or two key things. When you feel ready to end your meditation it is nice to complete the ritual with a small ‘thank you’, ‘amen’, ‘this or something better’. Put your trust in the universe and see how things unwind.

To create a treasure map during celestial events is a fulfilling experience also. You’ll need a piece of cardboard or a scrap-book, some old magazines, scissors and glue. Center yourself before you begin, flip through the magazines and identify images and words that stand out for you or that represent what you want to see I your life. Don’t think, just feel what’s right. Format your images and words on your cardboard or scrap-book page so they appeal to you, glue them in and you have a nice visual representation of your goal. Again, I like to round out this exercise with some words such as ‘Blessed be’, ‘so it is’, ‘thank you’ or ‘amen’.

Last month, on January 31, we were privileged to experience a rare event with the rising of an exceptionally rare ‘super blue blood moon’ that hasn’t been seen in the Western Hemisphere since 1866.

The energy from the moon was amplified. Full moons always make me jittery, emotional and sensitive whereas a new moon is soothing to me. So this moon was a cracker involving three lunar events, each significant on their own, but combined are truly remarkable. A super, blue, blood moon.

A super moon occurs when the moon is closest to Earth in its orbit  and appears 14 per cent larger and 30 per cent brighter and it is so pretty. While the moon doesn’t actually change colour and become blue, a blue moon refers to the second full moon in a month. Then we have the eclipse which marks the moon’s movement into Earth’s shadow. It is referred to as a blood moon because of it’s rusty colour during the transition.

Moon events like this one are rare but any of the phases of the moon offer a lovely time to take advantage of this gift from nature. If you don’t believe in the idea of moon rituals, simply stepping outside and appreciating that beautiful glowing orb in the night sky can raise the spirits.

Wherever you live you can readily access a list of new and full and eclipses for the year ahead. Try Moonmessages.com

A year of inspiration. Inspired by Yasmin Boland