I stood on the edge of the world and magic happened

“Breathe next to me. And I will capture a piece of your soul along with mine.”
Marikit dR. Camba, 

Once, many years ago, I stood on the shore; quiet, desperately sad, with eyes closed, and magic happened. I became one with the ocean. I felt I was the ocean and it was within me. I felt the magnitude of the universe in those seconds. For an instant the whole universe was inside me, I saw it, I felt it, I travelled through it as it travelled simultaneously through me. I was connected to it in a way I had no comprehension of, no prior experience or examples. I did not experience it again. Until recently.

Sitting on the hill of a natural amphitheatre, alone but surrounded by approximately 150 000 people I felt a connection to the hearts of each of them, like I felt with the ocean all those years before. It was New Year’s Eve. I was at Woodford for the annual music festival, six days of music and noise, action, laughter and lots and lots of people. Candles had been distributed throughout the day and at 11:30 they were to be lit, followed by three minutes silence.  The idea of three minutes silence in that place was incomprehensible to me, but I was assured it was a ritual that was adhered to every year.  At 11:30 I passed a spare candle to a man sitting nearby.  He asked how we were meant to light them.  I told him that I believed that was part of the magic.  Within 30 seconds the amphitheatre was alight with the glow of thousands and thousands of candles. And a hush fell over the whole of Woodfordia and I wept.

In the silence, in our quietness we all came together and connected.  It wasn’t like we were holding hands, that’s not the connection, it wasn’t even like an embrace. The sensation began as a ripple then became a gentle, undulating wave that rolled up the front of my body, opened my heart and passed into the depths of me and surrounded me. It was like all those souls were gathered into gentle arms and sent lovingly into the night, into each other. In those three minutes I again touched the inky darkness of the night sky that opened to the universe beyond, and I soared, filled with the souls of those around me.

Advertisements

The powerful persuasiveness of scent

Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived.    
                                                     Helen Killer

It’s a grey Sunday morning. I am content with a pot of chai, soulful music in the background accompanied by the sound of rain falling to earth to quench my parched and neglected gardens. I sit at my desk watching a colourful parrot suck sweetness from the golden Grevillea outside my window and I have the scent of Indian sandalwood incense floating in the air around me.

While in India I picked up a copy of Diane Ackerman’s A natural history of the senses. It’s a tantalisingly rich book. From the very first line I was drawn in and felt myself blissfully sinking into the heady world of sensory delight. Ackerman tackles smell first. She calls it the mute sense because “it is almost impossible to describe how something smells to someone who hasn’t smelled it.”

Reading more about smell last night I was intrigued that the author had a similar experience to one I have had, and I will get to that shortly. Being sensitive, smell has always played a large role in my life, even before I could comprehend and articulate its power.

The smell of my grandmother’s house signalled safety and love to me.  It was a smell I never grew tired of.  Her powdered cheek, camphored linen cupboard and simmering braised steak were olfactory sources of contentment.

The moist, dank smell of undergrowth and dirt on the forest floor combined with the freshness of eucalypt or pine needles is a reassuring, grounding smell.  The spray of the ocean on a light breeze can raise my spirits. Fresh mown grass transports me to summer afternoons of my childhood, when the day was ending, and the mosquitos were just coming out to play.

A particular spray deodorant repulses me.  I return to whole days of morning sickness where that smell permeated the rooms I lived in.  Chemical fragrances burn my eyes, irritate my skin and the lining of my nasal passages. I prefer now natural scents whether in the world or captured and bottled.

Scent enhances our experience of life. The waft of a roast dinner in the oven is a prelude to a satisfying feast.  Inhaling the aroma of a glass of red wine or a good scotch before imbibing, readies the taste buds and enhances the experience. I am sure babies smell so good to make us want to take care of them.  Smell protects us also. Foul, putrid, acrid smells warn us something is not right.  They prompt action, either to remove the offending item, or remove ourselves.

I had an unusual experience last year related to smell and memory. I had been attending a spiritualist church to reconnect with that part of myself that I had to hide in my marriage.  One night at circle we did flower readings. We each brought along a flower without revealing it to others and put it in a basket. The basket was handed around and we took a flower out and did a reading for the person whose flower it was. Richard (not his real name), got my flower.

Richard was 100 percent accurate in everything he said. He picked up that my heart was racing like crazy. He said it wasn’t a health issue but that it was terribly strong and that he could feel it. He held out his hand and it shook. He was overwhelmed. He hadn’t felt that connection before. He also knew instinctively it was me.  He looked directly across the circle and spoke to me.

My heart had been racing for three days before that meeting. It was so strong my clothing fluttered with its strength. I thought I was going to have a heart attack. Richard wanted to talk to me that night and find out more. In that moment of speaking with him I realised we had met before. I remembered his smell. His breath. I usually remember people’s faces. There was a flicker of visual recognition but so slight I almost missed it. The smell got me and instantly, in my mind’s eye, I saw us at a healing centre. Then he said I should be healing and asked what healing work I did. Turned out we both did the same healing work. We had the same teacher. That’s where I thought we’d met. He had a vague recollection of meeting.  It wasn’t until weeks later we realised our timelines didn’t match up. Was it a future projection or a past life remembering?  I don’t know but the feeling of knowing was strong and convincing.

Then, like the author of my book, I had another experience that turned me away from someone.  Ackerman writes,

“I once started to date a man who was smart, sophisticated, and attractive, but when I kissed him I was put off by a faint, cornlike smell that came from his cheek.  Not cologne or soap.  It was his subtle, natural scent, and I was shocked to discover that it disturbed me viscerally.”

I met a witty, intelligent man who is great fun to hang out with. We share many similar interests with enough differences to make things interesting. We had been out a few times and had a hoot. One day he kissed me and I mentally and energetically recoiled. There was a smell about him I had not previously detected.  Like Ackerman, I knew it was not a layered scent of soap or aftershave.  What was of particular interest to me was how this played out.  Despite all his strengths I did not in my heart feel the connection he felt to me. I didn’t know how to bring it up and so had avoided it.  The smell was a sign to take action.  We had a frank conversation and I was able to convey how much I enjoyed his company and would like to continue as friends without an intimate physical relationship with him.  He agreed, and we have continued to be firm friends.

There are scents I wish I could bottle and sink deeply into as the mood arises; like the smell of India, the scent of ripening stone fruit on the wind in Tanunda or the smell of a lover and our lovemaking that lingers on my body when we part.  Odours and scents have a powerful persuasion over us, they can transport us to a time and place from our past, repel us and draw us in and lull us.  Smell is the mute sense.  It is so very hard to describe and convey to others because of the uniqueness of each smell and also, I think, because of how they make us feel.

Three little clay pots

Mold clay into a bowl.
The empty space makes it useful.   Laozi

Three little unfired clay pots sit on my desk. They are simple, misshapen, chipped little pots but they bring me joy. They have travelled many thousands of kilometres and made it to their new home intact; which is no small feat considering how roughly bags are handled in transit.

This trio of terracotta vessels come from India, a land of contrasts and a land that has captivated my heart and mind.  I drank chia on the streets of Kolkata from these pots, one was a gift from the vendor who served my tea in a similar small pot with this one beneath to save my fingers being burnt by the heat of the fresh, steaming brew.  The taller pair I kept, instead of throwing onto the pile in the street.

Why did I keep something that is the equivalent of a disposable paper cup by western measures? They are reminders of a magical land of heat and dust, of remote villages and bustling cities, of streets thronging with people and noise and the smell of delicious street food during the day and a roaring silence at night.  As a reminder of a land where the constant presence of armed authorities, to the unaccustomed, can feel at first threatening and sinister contrasted with the gentle welcoming nature of individuals who draw you into their home, make you comfortable and make tea. It’s a land of colour, art, spirituality, incredible history and aliveness.

These pots are also a reminder of the simple and elegant beauty of life and the richness of human interactions. Someone in that massive country made these pots by hand, they were transported, sold and stacked and eventually passed across the well-stocked counter of the chai wallah’s stall.  An Aussie girl stood in a muddy lane, surrounded by early morning chia drinking men, and numerous homeless dogs at her feet, to enjoy the relative quiet before the hustle and bustle. The simple elegance of these pots, the curious looks, the numerous conversations asking where I was from and how long I would be in India, the shared appreciation of the flavours of a hot milk chai and being warmly included in a long-standing Kolkata morning routine is why I brought them home. This simple elegance of welcoming a stranger to share a daily ritual, warmed my heart.

So, three simple, misshapen, chipped, little clay pots sit on my desk and I smile as I look at them. I arrived home only an hour or so ago from my travels and was overjoyed these tiny earthen vessels survived the journey that I had to write of my joy.

Being alone is like wandering in a murky twilight. It’s also the best way to heal.

The capacity to be alone is the capacity to love. 

―Osho

I wrote recently of wanting to explore the wild woman within. For some, that was a strange and unfamiliar term.  Simply put, it’s about defining, redefining and getting clear on what matters most to me, who I am as an individual, as a woman. What I didn’t mention in that previous post was that part of the impetus for this exploration has been the startling realisation that humans are so conditioned to be partnered, that many, having experienced a relationship break up,  don’t allow themselves time heal before seeking a new replacement partner. They ignore their emotions, bottle things up and expect a new partner to step in and replace the previous one.  Then there are those who can’t leave a relationship without seeking a soft landing and lining up the next person before leaving their current partner. The ramifications of these behaviours, without healing and without time out before forming a new relationship, means that we end up bleeding all over someone who hasn’t hurt us. It might not happen immediately, but it will happen.

I’ve been surprised by the number of people I have met who are afraid to be alone.  Two men,  both had 19-year marriages that ended, each re-partnered very quickly with another woman. One, had a child with his new partner. Which he said was an unfortunate mistake as he already had four children and she a child of her own.  I say unfortunate, not because he does not love his child, but he knew, and it proved to be true, that sadly this relationship was not destined to last. The other man had been with his new partner for several months and had recently broken up.  He was so heartbroken over this relationship that he was selling his house to move away from the memories of their time together.  He so desperately missed the little things; reading newspapers together on a Sunday, cooking meals together, calling someone at the end of the day, that he was actively searching for another partner to fill the empty spaces.

I too initially missed those same things: weekend breakfasts on the deck,  making my beloved a cup of tea, sharing the highlights and low points of a day. I have since come to the realisation that being alone after a long (22 years) relationship has ended is a good opportunity find out who I am as an individual, outside the confines of a partnership. I have realised too that many behaviours happen in a context and once the context is removed so are the behaviours.  This ’empty’ and undefined space was initially alarming to me but gradually I came to see it for the liberating opportunity it is and became excited to explore, with a clean slate, how I might interact and react in situations now.

Back to my friend who was selling his house. Having turned 50 a few months earlier his dream was to live for 6 weeks in New York, renting an apartment, frequenting cafes and generally just enjoying the vibe of that great big, fascinating metropolis.  When I asked when he was planning to go he claimed it was too late, the year was coming to an end.  It wasn’t even August. Then he said it would be winter soon and that wouldn’t be any good. I thought it would be fabulous, the icy streets of New York, skating in Central Park, surely this would be just as fun as a summer sojourn? Enquiring into this further it was revealed that he didn’t want to go alone and wanted a partner to go with.  Having travelled on my own I know there are times when you just want to share experiences with someone but putting a dream on hold because there is no one to go with and not wanting to be alone. Come on! That’s no good.

I encouraged him to make plans, take his leave and go.  No, no. He simply couldn’t be alone.  I shared all the incredible overseas adventures I had been on alone and how enriching it was. Seeing I was getting nowhere I suggested he go for three weeks on his own and then invite a friend or his daughters to come over and spend the following three weeks. No. He simply could not conceive of being alone.

Gobsmacked, I challenged this mindset further. I truly believe that we owe it to our next partners (if indeed there is to be another partner) to have spent time alone. To unravel the coils of relationship, to sever ties with old partners, to wrestle with the hurts, the disappointments, the annoyances and the habits formed. Surely, he could see how destructive moving into a new relationship would be when he was pining over a lost love? As it turns out, he wasn’t interested in growth or healing.  He wanted to fill a gaping space and fill it quickly.

I share theses stories, not to be unkind or judgemental. They provided me with an insight and a lesson for myself.  I do find it very sad however, that the drive to be attached is so strong that sense and reason seem to get lost.  Yet, I get it. We are designed to be coupled but I fear there are so many recently separated men and women who so desperately want to feel whole again that they jump into the next relationship, only to see it crumble too.  Or, worse still, destroy the person they partner with. I felt the ache, I felt the intense desire to be partnered, I felt the hollow emptiness not only of living alone but knowing no one would walk through the door again. The desire to share, to talk, to embrace and connect was strong.  I felt it. There was an urgency to it. It is a physical ache; a deep longing and it cries out to be sated. But the longer I allowed myself to feel that discomfort the more I realised how much I was healing. And the more I was healing the more I realised I needed to do this for myself otherwise I would repeat the same patterns, that old behaviours would continue and that I would accept the same behaviour in a new partner and nothing would change; simply a new face and an old story. I realised a great merit and freedom in being alone.  Sadly, so many fear it and actively avoid pain, close themselves off to the roiling emotions and stuff it all down.

Relationship breakups hurt. You suffer grief and loss, similar to a death. There’s regret and sadness, for me there was humiliation, embarrassment and a sense of failure, but the best thing to do is feel it all.  Feel the fear, the shame, the hurt, the anger, the need for revenge, the emptiness and the numbness.  Then gear up again for the anger and despair to come flooding back in. Because they creep back in when least expected.

We live in a world where we don’t like the unsanitary, the messy, the inconvenient.  We shy away from discomfort and do our best to soften any blows that come our way.  Let me tell you, this is one time you need to get down and dirty, feel the pain in every iteration. Cry, scream, howl at the moon. Punch. Scream some more if you have to. Flail about. Curl up unbathed and rock. You need to feel the pain, you need to grieve the loss, you need to move through it and emerge, shaken but finally upright with your face to the sun once more.

It’s not easy. It bloody hard.  It’s scary. It’s like wandering in a murky twilight without a torch, hoping to find your way.  Then, when you emerge, connect again with others.  In fact, it’s good to get out and talk with people. It’s good to spend time with others. For me, spending time with male and female friends, having coffee, dinner, going places has been delightful.  It is lovely to listen to someone and be truly present because I have no expectations of them.  I have rebuilt some confidence conversing with men from diverse backgrounds and enjoying their company. Do I want a serious relationship? Hell no.  It’s too early.  It’s time to explore the wonders of the world, my inner strengths and to get really clear on my boundaries, my values, my-self.

To be alone is to heal. We owe it ourselves and to the cultivation of genuine and authentic relationships to be alone. So, I settle in to learn the lessons of aloneness; to figure out what inspires me, to create new dreams and I am grateful for the opportunity.

“The capacity to be alone is the capacity to love. It may look paradoxical to you, but it’s not. It is an existential truth: only those people who are capable of being alone are capable of love, of sharing, of going into the deepest core of another person–without possessing the other, without becoming dependent on the other, without reducing the other to a thing, and without becoming addicted to the other. They allow the other absolute freedom, because they know that if the other leaves, they will be as happy as they are now. Their happiness cannot be taken by the other, because it is not given by the other.”

Osho

Finding True North, reconnecting with the Wild Woman: what would it be like to know your true identity?

Several things have come up lately that have me pondering what it would be like to know my true identity. What would it look like to strip back the rules and routines, the stories and habits, the over civilisation and learnt behaviours, the false fronts and the polite masks? What would it be like to know and be the ‘wild woman’ within?

The spark:

If you’ve read Women who run with the wolves by Clarrisa Pinkola Estes you’ve probably already guessed the book has sparked this curiosity. Every sentence spoke to me. The ideas expressed were truths I’d always known. It was like coming home to my grandmother’s kitchen, a safe place of love and nurturing. Women who run with the wolves explores the idea that in every woman there is a wild and natural creature, a powerful force, filled with good instincts, passionate creativity, and ageless knowing. She is Wild Woman. Dr Estes uses myths and stories to illustrate how women’s vitality can be restored through reconnecting with the Wild Woman archetype.

The kindling:

I remember a time when it was taboo to talk about female sexuality and sexual desires. It struck me last week that if it was taboo, in polite circles, to talk of female sexuality and sexual desire it was most unspeakable to discuss the sexuality and desire of older women. The lid is being lifted on these topics and women are beginning to share their inner most desires, laugh at failed escapades, lament lost lovers and discuss things polite ladies ought not.

I sat in a circle of women and listened to a 70-year-old woman talk about an emerging sensuality in her mid-sixties. She spoke unashamedly about being dry, going to the doctor for assistance and with the help of estrogen cream became juicy again and engaged in very sensuous sexual relationships.

As I looked around the table, many women were smiling. Those of us close to or enjoying middle age were encouraged that menopause did not mark the end of gorgeous physical connections. One young woman in her early twenties, however, was aghast. She was polite but clearly uncomfortable, a slight revolution and mocking were evident on her gorgeous face.  “Baby girl, I thought, you are so vibrant and fresh you don’t yet know how things change.”  Other young women were like acolytes, sitting at the feet of a master. They drank in her words and were reverent.

More kindling:

There is a tendency in women, as we get older, to contain ourselves more and more. Part of the over civilisation I mentioned earlier, I guess. A friend showed me a video of her toddler niece joyfully dancing in church. I asked, “when do we become so self-conscious that we lose that freedom?”  We agreed it may be around two, possibly three. We forget so easily that wonderful liberating freedom to move our bodies, to express ourselves so openly. We close up when we are told to behave. When we are told not to shine too brightly. When we begin to sense we make others uncomfortable. Be a good girl, we are told.

Years ago, my friend and coach Adam, told me I had to stop being the good girl. I didn’t understand because I didn’t see it. I didn’t think I was being the good girl. My body knew it. Eventually, it got sick. It rebelled. My mind got lost, my emotions unravelled, and sleep became elusive. For years.

The fuel:

I’m at a turning point. Alone after 22 years I’m discovering many false faces. There are so many routines, so many beliefs about myself, so many behaviours that I constructed to survive a reality I co-created, to align with the expectations of others over a lifetime.  The thing is, these habits, beliefs and patterns are no longer necessary, and they no longer serve me. Oh, I could keep the stories going, for sure. But I’ve seen the opportunity to let them go and see them for what they are. Just stories. But when you take away the stories, the habitual behaviours, the conditioning you start to wonder, “hang on, who was I before all this shit clung to me?”

I have shared this realisation with a friend over several months and she  has added the fuel to the kindling of my current contemplations. My friend has very lovingly encouraged me to take time out and to ‘go feral’ (sounds dreadful, doesn’t it?) and to reconnect with the wild woman inside me. She sees it. She knows it’s been leashed, restricted and stifled.

I now have the chance to awaken the wild woman and to discover who and what she is, how she thinks feels and interacts with others. It’s time to go beyond fear. I have felt her calling, in the distance, for ever so long. Perhaps that’s why I wake so suddenly from sleep and lay helplessly alert, sure my name has been called, in an empty room. I have been denying and ignoring a part of myself that needs to emerge. I have no idea what I will find. I’m a little apprehensive and I’m not entirely sure how to go about it but I’m also freaking excited.  And maybe, in the end, I won’t look a whole lot different to the way I look now, but maybe, just maybe, a little bit of the unruly and wild will keep the fire going, make my cells dance, allow my light to shine and with it create a freedom to live unrestrained, untethered and joyfully.

 

Yearning for place

“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul”
― John Muir

“Going to the woods is going home.”
― John Muir

“What’s the hurry to move in?” my friend asked when I declined an invitation for an outing the evening after I was to take possession of my new house?

Indeed. There was no real, or should I say logical, hurry to move in or be moving at night. I could go out for a few hours, surely. I wrestled with my heart and relented. However, the reason I so badly wanted to be in my empty house was that I have been experiencing a pain at being unattached to place.  I don’t mean to a dwelling, I mean to a patch of land, to a place I feel called to be.

When looking for a new home my number one criterion was that it be near the forest.  You see, I was drawn to stay close to that forest. A forest I have come to love and feel at home in.  It’s a place I find magical, where animals dare approach, where I meditate and escape the world.  When nothing became available I considered other suburbs with forests. I planned to inspect a number of homes for sale in those areas but, when I felt into it, those other forests were not my forest. Not my place. I didn’t feel drawn to be there. It’s not logical, you’re right. A forest is a forest, right? Well, no. This is not about logic it’s about feeling and about intuition and about what I can only call magic.

I am drawn to nature. I love to wander on the beach, in forested areas and the wild places, away from civilisation. I feel an intricate link with the natural world and connected to a power greater than myself when in nature. I feel at home in nature,so much more than I do when in cites and around people.  I have a real sense of the energy of “my forest”.  It’s like I can read the history of that place and I feel welcome there. It restores me to connect with the trees and the rocks and the bush. My new backyard feels like an extension of that forest. I can see the tree tops of it from my back deck.

So, when my friend asked me out and I really had no rational reason to be sitting in an empty house or moving boxes out of a storage shed into an empty house at night, this was the real reason. I was longing to be home. Longing to connect with my own sacred space and to set down roots.  You can’t reason with emotion, with the sacred and mystical.

I know I can live anywhere but to thrive anywhere? Perhaps not. I feel a fundamental pull to this particular spot. At first, I thought it was habit. In fact, the very same friend who asked me out had me consider if I was just in my comfort zone there.  That question took me by surprise and my hackles raised slightly at first.  However, living in temporary accommodation, before settlement, I examined that question closely.   Staying for a time by the river, a place I used to live, I wondered if I’d made the right decision to stay near the forest.  The river was so lovely, the sunsets stunning, the silky texture of the water, alluring. In my gut though, I knew that while I could appreciate the river and its beauty, I really didn’t feel connected there.  Then, living in a funky and vibrant inner-city suburb for a month, I began to question myself again.  I was enjoying the hubbub and the eclectic crowd but the throb of disconnection and being unattached returned.

I can’t explain the draw to the place I’ve chosen as home; except to say, that since I was a child I have felt the energy of places. From a very young age I’ve felt strongly uncomfortable or completely at ease in some buildings and environments.  When travelling I have been reduced to tears when stepping onto battlefields and I’ve vomited as a result of heavy and overwhelming energies of some places. This connection to “my forest” is instinctual and I am so looking forward to seeing what transpires when, in a few days, I set down roots and return home.

What happens when you find yourself in the Bardo?

Honor the space between no longer and not yet. — Nancy Levin

Loosely speaking, “Bardo” is the state of existence between two lives on earth, after death and before one’s next birth. It is a state between death and rebirth but not a purgatory as a Christian perspective might suggest.

This Tibetan word, with its provocative connotation, means a transition or a gap between the completion of one situation and the onset of another. Barmeans “in between,” and domeans “suspended” or “thrown.”

On listening to an interview by Richard Fidler with George Saunders, author of Lincoln in the Bardo, I realised I was in the Bardo.  I feel like I’m in suspended animation, in a period of time between my usual or known way of life and what is to come.  Don’t get me wrong, my life isn’t on hold.  It’s not like I’m waiting for the perfect conditions to continue but a lot has happened recently, and I find myself in an in-between place — a place without solid roots, a place of itinerancy and it’s a curious place to be.  At first, being adrift rocked me. There were moments of shock, panic and grief. After several weeks, I find I like this place of not belonging, of having no ties or roots. I belong in no place and yet every place.  I have the chance to see life from a different perspective, with fresh eyes and a respect I have not exercised before.

If the Bardo describes a state between reincarnation on earth, after death, it’s a stunning analogy for my life. After 22 years of a certain way of life having spectacularly ended and being without a home, and working toward finding a new one, I find I have the opportunity for a reincarnation of sorts. There is much to learn about who I am. So much of who we are is a response to our circumstances, relationships and the situations we experience.  Strip all that away and who are we?  On a number of occasions in recent months I’ve been asked questions that begin —  “How do you behave when faced with…”.  I can only respond with —  “I used to react like…. but now, given all the reasons I behaved that way no longer exist, I don’t know.”

Rather than face this obscurity and lack of certainty with stark terror, it’s a wonderful time of contemplation and inner reflection*, of spiritual and personal growth as well as transformation.

Being in the Bardo isn’t as dire as might be expected. It’s liberating, consolidating and a unique opportunity that I am, now that I can articulate it, grateful to be experiencing. There is part of me that longs to linger and I need to remind myself it’s a transitional time and place and that a rebirth must ultimately follow. With that vision in mind, I approach with excitement and anticipation.

 

*Interestingly my computer auto corrected reflection and it read perfection. We might never reach inner perfection but gee, it’s a gorgeous concept and a beautiful perspective to contemplate. Thanks autocorrect, for once I’m impressed.

Life is a trapeze

Maude Banvard, The Catch, Brockton Fair, Massachusetts, 1907

Life is a trapeze.
It may be scary to jump off
but if you let go,
take a risk and trust,
you can revel in the heady excitement
of the leap
and learn to fly.

Shannyn Steel

This image captivated me this week.  When I saw it I drew a deep breath and sat up entranced.  It crept back into my thoughts constantly. I wasn’t sure why it enthralled me so until I sat down just now to write about it.

The image is a beautiful metaphor for so many aspects of life.

Jumping off – you can’t begin anything until you take that leap of faith.  We all know the adage that reminds us that if we don’t jump, we can’t fly.  If you haven’t jumped, and you are pushed, take it as a sign you should have jumped and embrace this new chance to fly.

Letting go – jumping off requires letting go. You can’t grab hold of the next bar until you let go of the one you are holding.  Who knows what’s next but a friend of mine regularly reminds me to choose the exciting nerve-wracking option (can’t get any more nerve-wracking than trapeze. Well, there’s skydiving I guess).

Transitions –  all transitions require jumping off and letting go. It’s in that space in-between that we reassemble and redefine ourselves, so we can fully embrace the next opportunity.

Living a happy and fulfilled life – do something that scares you every day , or so say today’s life coaches.  Jumping, letting go, choosing the nerve-wracking option will cover that objective pretty much. Living a happy and fulfilled life is also, for me,  about not tying happiness to a person or things but to goals.

Then there is vulnerability, trust and risk. You can’t gain anything without an element of risk, sometimes you have to put yourself out there and be vulnerable to attract the good in life and even when trust has been broken, you can’t live life without it. To get the best out of people you have to expect the best and offer your best. It’s a simple, elegant yet uneasy equation but one that will pay off.

I am sure there are many more elements to be captured from this stunning image. I’m not sure I’ve exhausted every reason this photograph delights me. I shall continue to ponder its magic and messages. In the meantime, take a leap of faith – see where you land. I will be, you can be sure.

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.