In water, the body and soul take on other properties.
Morphing, moving differently, belonging to no one, having everything belong to you. If only for brief transitory periods of time. But if you can find enough of those times, of being nobody, just a tiny moving being, here, now, in this bit of time, in this bit of universe. Where you get to be water immersed in water. Well, wow, that can change a life.
i am nobody
i become for a time
friend for life.
nobody's ... [insert job title here]
all the roles and rules
are out of play
so i become
in the vastness
and minded by
I watched recently how an artist creates a painting. All that was there at first was the faintest of sketches, on a blank canvas. Our biographies are a bit like this. The first lines drawn, the first markers of what makes up a life. But then the layers come. Great swathes of colour, of pattern, of how you capture the light in a very particular way. How our identities are not only distinguishable by our biographies. Their power only extending enough to sketch the faint lines of formation, the contours around which we create ourselves.
The rest is you.
The rest is in the magic of how sunlight becomes sugar. The rest is in the planting of seeds, where human hands are seen as they truly are: earth, planting earth, into earth (John O’Donahue). The rest tells of that which has died away, of where we have had to reallocate resources. The rest is the space which is to come and the image that will remain. For we are forever faced with the reality that permanence is not the ultimate goal.
Rather that we were here.
Artists capture moment after moment across all our collective histories and biographies of When We Have Been Here.
And wonderfully and miraculously we are here now. Poet, Hannah Emerson, captures this in part of her poem ‘Keep Yourself at the Beginning of the Beginning’.
'please try to dive down to the beautiful muck that helps you get that the world was made from the garbage at the bottom of the universe that was boiling over with joy that wanted to become you you you yes yes yes - please try to go to the colours that kiss you great great great person of the light'
May this be how we live here and now. Beyond our sketchy narratives, beyond our biographies, as if being drawn in colours and shapes to kiss our lives over and over.
When facing forward we can trust two things: that the earth will be there to catch us whenever it is we dare to take our next step; and that the road will continue to wind out of sight, until some day we will each return our borrowed stardust to the universe.
I took this photo many moons ago now. In the early lock down days of hastily chopped bobs and buzz cuts, wearing socks with crocs, dressing up as superheroes with wand and capes because, well, one could. 100 % acceptable behaviour in a pandemic when you are 5 and 7. I snapped this shot then because the image took me aback. It still does now. Two little souls, vessels of magic with skin on, standing headstrong towards the wandering path, their minds on the wonder of imagination, shining like the sun which envelopes them, leaving only long shadows behind.
we are magic
with skin on
bodies held together
by so little
and by so much
as we are
in the encompassing
of our souls
The tag on the shower puff read ‘This product is made from natural materials, imperfections may show with use’. Well indeed. Exactly that.
From time to time we could all do with that label on. Reminding others, reminding ourselves. Remembering this is true for those around us. We are all made of natural materials, our imperfections will show with use.
Nevertheless, even with all this considered, there are some times and some people who are all gift. You will know yours. Your places. The people who are all gift to you.
Here’s one of mine. We’ve never even met, being born over 100 years apart. But when words like this come to you, they can be nothing but gift.
So thank you Rainer Maria Rilke, for your Books of Hours and for these words, written in your day, all gift still today:
'She who reconciles the ill-matched threads of her life,
and weaves them gratefully into a single cloth -
it is she who drives the loudmouths from the hall
and clears it for a different celebration
where the one guest is you
in the softness of the evening,
it is you she receives'
‘Ruins are not empty. They are sacred places full of presence'(John O’Donahue: Anam Cara).
If we look we can see ruins everywhere. We see what is being brought to ruin right now. Impending ruin collects again. Adding to the ruins of our past. Rubble piling up in the decimated edges of lives. Or sometimes right in the middle of it, where lives were supposed to be.
Across the world it is possible to visit a whole host of past ruins. A persevered ruin, intentionally cared for and maintained ruin, like say, a castle or a temple. You can see what might once have been from the ruins that remain. You see what was once protected and protective. What was both tended to and taken for granted. These ruins are of great solid structures, like no one could have imagined them falling. We are reminded of how, eventually, everything crumbles.
But there are some ruins, especially the fresh ones, which are emptied by shock. And people flee. And we bear witness to ruin. We have a vague historic sense that someday, the elements of this ruin may be gathered up and rebuilt. But not this day.
This day we look at our own ruins. We have ruins we visit and preserve, in our lands, in our histories, our families, our inner lives. We look upon our ruins. We try to notice through the lens of distance and time, what has become sacred. Our attention to what is present there, may draw us towards those who flee from ruins right now. May we have the courage to visit our ruins from time to time, to sense the fullness of their presence. May this turn us towards the ruin of whatever befalls others now.
the year we wished we could
banish into the loft
post off and
discard to a distant land
how to make sense of a time
where the only gift
the forest whispers
the next year will come
will always, steadily, reliably
wrap around this one
the year contained
in the one ring
where it could not and never
harm the former years
those rings having already
been laid down
the sap coming up from the roots
the leaves transforming light
in the dependable cycle
closure will come slowly
in the encasing of this ring
within the sure and certain hope
of rings to come
in their growth
and with their bark.
I remember telling myself this. Distress can do that to you. Give you falsehoods. Make you forget.
In the end though, I found a way to ‘find my own grit, in my own time’ (a beautiful phrase in Katherine May’s book ‘Wintering’). https://katherine-may.co.uk/. A way, or maybe ways, through this particular winter. Some ways came from within myself but most of the ways came to me from outside, in the beautiful feet of friends.
‘there was a new voice, which you slowly recognised as your own, that kept you company’
This was the make up of the cavalry here in this winter. Here to give reassurance that even though distress may have taken some ground, friends come running through walls to help reclaim lost treasures. Here to remind us that we are not and never alone.
We got matching yellow hats that day.
From Wilko’s I think, plus a hand towel each.
Oh, and we dropped by a charity shop,
‘There must be a couple here somewhere?’ -
emerging exuberant with our finds!
One over-sized, simply enormous, fluffy jumper that will swamp her perfectly.
A dreadful pink towelled dressing gown for me.
No one has been more thrilled with an ad hoc purchase -
because now we were ready.
We had swimsuits already destined for a chlorine pool.
But we had stopped by the sea.
That was our only mistake...
Because once feet are on sand,
once eyes lock on that expanse,
once two hearts collude to go in…
And yes, it was November.
And yes, it was the North Sea.
And yes, just over the harbour wall the sea was tumultuous,
a giant storm just 24hrs away.
The wind whipped up waves and brought them crashing in crescendo,
heaving all the way along the harbour wall.
Sending waterfalls cascading into our safe harbour -
great tears of letting go.
Our harbour: for those stolen minutes,
That wall: holding the raging water;
and our raging tyrants at bay.
Two yellow hats,
striding purposefully into the deep.
while water ascends,
rides up to our
Where we are brilliantly
Before the rub down and the tea,
before the frozen toes and shivers,
before the bacon sandwich and dirty chips.
After the surging,
after the break,
after the froth...
Hung sea mist,
suspended in the wind like dust,
hanging on the light already there,
casting our own streak of rainbow.
Making a private promise, on this side of the tumultuous sea -
that we are safe within our friendship walls.
Or at least a few lines from it. Almost against my better reasoning I put it on.
‘Would you dance, if I asked you to dance?’
Only tears came in response. Because, ‘No, dancing was impossible’. I could not even take a breath, no matter dance. So squashed was my spirit. I knew then as sincerely as I have known anything, that something had to shift, but I could not see a way. So that song became a kind of prayer, ‘Save my soul tonight’, ‘Get me out from under here’.
Fast forward about a month and I could go on no longer. The day my mind was so full, fuzzy and discombobulated. The day there was no more energy to summons. The day my body, which to its credit, had been alarming at me all year, now screamed ‘ENOUGH’.
Back one summer we had gone to the Forbidden Corner, (https://www.theforbiddencorner.co.uk), a quirky extensive place of oddities, eccentrics and nudity. My kids like, ‘everything here is creepy!’ and, ‘why are all these statues naked?!’ Scattered around are lost grandparents utterly baffled, asking into the abyss the rhetorical question, ‘what’s the theme here?’, as they lose their grandchild once again round a corner and down a rabbit hole.
In one section, access to which involves leaping across stepping stones, avoiding water shoots and navigating dark tunnels, leads eventually to an underground room of doors. Some lead to yet more tunnels and doors, some lead to nowhere. Each path brings you out in another part of the maze. Our kids, eager to track down all the items on the map, and me with my fear of missing out, tried all of them. We think. But we’re not sure. No one can ever be sure. We went round this one section 7 times. Then having ran out of snacks, water, energy and ideas, we agreed to pause and to find some lemonade.
Once we had done this.
Once we were outside the maze.
We all agreed not to go round again.
What was an unfathomable mystery would have to remain so. We tried all the ways we knew and we were done. We had some marks on a map of where we had been. We had photos of our perplexed faces. We had stories to tell. We had each other, and lemonade. And that was enough.
I thought of that summers day on the day I had truly had enough. I had gone round 7 times 7. I had tried all the doors, walked all the lonely tunnels, felt baffled, lost and confused. I was stuck in a rabbit hole and it was stifling. There was no dancing and no lemonade. I birthed my way out, my mind, soul and body all in agreement – we would not be going round again.
What takes up space in our homes? In our lives? In our time? How do we know when we have run out of space? Or when a little space makes itself known?
From time to time I run out of space and I only realise when a little has been clawed back, when I catch myself singing out loud. I know then that my soul is a little freer than it was before. But is a warning sign too, because I have missed myself singing. Not that I can sing well at all, but that I am horrified that I allowed so much be be squeezed out that I forgot to find time or space to sing.
One way round this is to make sure there is a kind of shrine to music in my home, like a keyboard or a radio, or playlists. This shrine is joined by a few others. Pointers to what is valued most of all. Shrines to house plants and nature. Shrines to art and crafting. Shrines to play. Shrines to books and reading and the imagination. Shrines to comfort and warmth and fire. Shrines to pets and their fun, companionship and care. Shrines to sleep and rest. Shrines to food and creating and sharing. There have been times too when there have been shrines to nappies and blenders and tupperware. Now replaced with shrines to bikes and muddy boots and odd socks and scraps of important but discarded paper.
There are times when I neglect my shrines. I walk past them, I assume they will always be there. This is why I have chosen forgiving house plants. They recover well. We are built for recovery too. Like one of the orchid plants I stripped bare, leaving just a derelict, abandoned twig. I’d been told though to put it with some friends, with 3 other orchid plants in various stages of bloom. So I obeyed and there it stayed on the windowsill in the kitchen, absolutely barren for months, till one day I flicked on the kettle and through my bleary morning eyes I saw it – a tiny leaf. ‘It lives!’. It had been living all along of course, even when it hadn’t looked like it. But I watered and fed it anyway. I let air in through the window anyway. I placed it in the light anyway. I gave it friends. And that morning it gave back to me, a tiny leaf. A shrine to the living. To keep me steady. To remind me that the earth keeps turning. That we are here to nourish each other, to give and receive life, over and over. To be fed and watered and to feed and water. To breath in and out. To hold each other up to the light. To rejoice when we come into bloom.