Transformation

I don’t know about you, but I have come to be very cautious around the word ‘transformation’. It makes me nervous. It comes loaded with power and assumption and disappointment. To me one of life’s greatest cons is that something can be transformed instantly, like the adverts or slogans or mission statements say.

And yet I cannot deny transformation. Seasons demonstrate a continual, slow transformation, from one state of being to another.  Nature does this without signing up to the belief that one state is better than another, merely that it happens.

There is a wonderful book called ‘Hope for the Flowers’ which describes, mainly with pictures, two caterpillars who end up climbing a tower made from lots of other climbing caterpillars. They end up treading on other caterpillars to reach the top and once there, above the clouds, all they see is lots of other caterpillar towers. On seeing this one caterpillar climbs back down and finds themselves in a chrysalis, later emerging a winged butterfly.

It is a beautiful book about transformation of body and of heart. Turns out we need transformation, to find another way, to make a small or radical change. More important still is the location of this transformation. I have been in places where the prevailing message is that one person can transform another, indeed we are made to believe it is our responsibility to do so. At best this overestimates our capabilities. At worst it is a kind of arrogance.

No one else actually transforms the caterpillar into the butterfly. The environment of the chrysalis, the succumbing to the time and place that leads to change. Only the caterpillar can do that.

My youth work training offered me this piece of advice ‘the best you can hope for is small victories’. I’m not even sure if victories is the most helpful word, resonating as it does, of one conquering another. Nevertheless I found some truth in it, because I only saw those children and young people for a tiny fraction of their life. I could only offer limited time and space to show them care and worth and value, and hope against hope that they would understand. But so many other messages were coming at them in their lived experience, in their environment. Their time and their space was full of other more destructive  things. The window of influence was tiny. In my work now as a mental health chaplain it is the same. The offer of time and space seems too little, and at times nothing much seems to change. Not that I am responsible for anything more than carving out a bit of time and space where a person is safe, harm free, accepted and held so they can find their own chrysalis.

The Compassion Project in Frome is about this https://www.compassionate-communitiesuk.co.uk/projects. About making connections and drawing out the innate compassion within each of us. It harnesses this for the transformation of lives and communities, one tiny influence at a time.

I attended a mental health training day where a speaker explained the physiology of the brain from a tiny baby to a teenager. It was utterly fascinating and at the same time disturbing about how much damage can be done. In relation to this he spoke about a concept he called ‘the biology of hope’. The idea that very slowly, with each positive encounter with a fellow human, our brains can mold and shift and forge a new path. I have never forgotten this phrase ‘the biology of hope’. A chaplain friend told me a story of a baby who came in to the hospital without family to care for him. She went and held him and sang to him and played for weeks and weeks. And then he went on elsewhere. And she wondered whether there was any point to what she had done, given his age and his circumstance. From my very depths I said yes there was. Because for those weeks he experienced a world that was good and was kind and was loving. His world up to then had left him without hope, a world without tender touch or loving gaze or fed tummy and a world with raised voices and physical pain. Her arms and voice had transformed the world for him, showed the possibility of goodness.

Folk can end up feeling disappointed when they did not transform someone else’s life. As if it was even their place to do so. What awful pressure and expectation to live with. Better I think to consider that transformation can only take place within each person, it is their own biology of hope. We may aid transformation by creating an environment which is patient and safe and nurturing, but that is all. That baby has gone on to be a toddler and child and will be an adult. My friends actions will not have transformed everything for him. But she transformed that bit of his life, contributed to his biology of hope. We are the make up of many transformations, some positive, some negative, some fleeting, some long lasting and deeply significant. We live alongside as humans together, we are not unchanged by one another, standing as we do shoulder to shoulder. And so we humbly sign up to the idea of the biology of hope, for the tender, unfurling, transformation of us all.

Image by enriquelopezgarre from Pixabay

Life is dappled

Life is dappled 
don't you know

Not all bright field 
Not all pitch black
Not all twilight
Not all dawn 

Life is dappled
don't you know 

Not all sunset
Not all dusk 
Not all half light 
Not all starlight 

Life is dappled 
don't you know 

More like
puddles of sunbeams strewn across the path 
More like 
mottled patches of shade upon the earth 
More like 
shadows cast, that lengthen towards the night 
More like 
shafts of golden rays that quicken the heart 

Life is dappled 
don't you know 

R.S. Thomas wrote a poem called ‘The Bright Field’. In this he writes the line, ‘life is not hurrying onto a receding future, nor hankering after an imagined past’. I often need to repeat this to myself.

Artist Meg Wroe has helped me by painting numerous images about this poem https://megwroe.com/bright-field. Stopping and looking at her art situates me in this present moment.

Bright field by Meg Wroe

When I read ‘The Bright Field’ and dwell on its’ images, it makes me think of my life as a film reel. When I view my life like this I am reminded that the field is always there. I try and notice where the sun has broken through and illuminated things for a while. I tell myself that when it is pitch dark, that it does not stay this way. The field is just beyond the trees. So I look out for shadows forming out of the darkness, I know then that light is on its’ way. The dawn has broken upon the field, is coming to brighten things for a while, to illuminate the treasure that is found here. Life will be dappled again.

Header image by Pexels from Pixabay

Walk out of the photograph

You know how a photograph captures a particular moment? Back in the days of print-only photos this was especially true as photos were fewer and farther between. Nowadays we can take thousands of photos. One of my closest friends has over 20,000 photos on her phone. I mean, really?! The glorious and multi talented author Alexander McCall Smith wrote a book, ‘Pianos and Flowers’, which follows the narrative of choosing a photo and forming a story from this. What an excellent literary idea to share with us all. In one of these stories there is a picture of several people in groups, couples, and alone on a lawn in front of a stately home. Captured timelessly in black and white. He notes that one couple are pictured stopping and looking at a statue on the lawn, ‘and then walk out of the picture, into the rest of their lives’. Reading this stopped me in my tracks. The realisation that at any given moment a snapshot is taken of where we are and who we are with and what is of foremost concern for us. And then, very shortly after, we walk out of that picture, and into the rest of our lives. Sculpture artist Daisy Bomans creations remind me of this http://daisyboman.artists-oftheworld.com/ That we do not live static lives, we are always in some kind of motion, even if this is internal.

Daisy Boman | Take Chances (2016) | Artmarket Gallery

We are emerging from a time frame when the snapshot seems to be on repeat, or at least like a film reel running in perpetual slow motion.

This moment for you, where you find yourself – it is not framed in. There will be a time when you walk out of this photo, this snapshot, this picture, into the rest of your life. There may be some bits you may cherish and wish to take with you. There may be some you cannot continue to carry, characters who will be missing from future frames. We cannot remember all our moments, though they all change us. But if you pick any given one from your life, a frame that you wish to cherish forever, or a frame you wish never took place, it is as true for that frame as for any other, ‘This isn’t everything you are’ (Snow Patrol). There are more photos to be taken. More steps to take. Because everything changes, even the dependable tide. The tide which to me seems like such a very constant, rhythm. Even the tide changes, day by day, travelling a little more or less farther, every day changing when it will arrive and leave. If the tide is allowed to change, if the tide is allowed a little wiggle room, well then, so are we, even as we pass from this picture into the rest of our lives.

Has the tide heard of the moon?

Is the tide aware of its' own movement in and out?
Does it remember every shore it has covered before?
Or does it always discover the shore anew? 
Does the tide know, as it crashes and furls 
That it follows a pattern greater than its' own ebb and flow? 
Has the tide heard of the moon?
This far away pull that daily shifts the time and reach
Of the otherwise dependable, predictable tide? 
Has the tide ever noticed in the dark of the night
a shimmering silver light casting a path over its' waves 
The reflection of the face of her distant cousin
on which so much depends, 
though the tide is unaware. 

Image by reginasphotos from Pixabay

Header Image by Igor Ovsyannykov from Pixabay

This and that

I find myself thinking and writing about this and that. Specifically swimming and running. Of course this is not only about swimming and running, or indeed about any form of exercise. As you read what ‘swimming’ and ‘running’ mean for you, I imagine what you think of and picture will be unique to you. I have an inkling though, that you will know for yourself, what is ‘this’ and what is ‘that’.

My whole life I have swum. I have made my way to whatever local pool I lived by as often as I possibly could. Swimming comes naturally, I am well rehearsed, I know the patterns my body and nervous system follow over and over, I have refined techniques for endurance, speed, efficiency. I float, glide and am held by the water. I have missed this. I have missed exchanges with other swimmers and having them alongside, like we all know the greatest secret. COVID 19 meant there was no swimming, for over 3 months. Then, finally I drove nearly an hour for an outdoor swim in a marine lake. It was glorious. It wasn’t even a nice day, grey, wet and windy, the water chilly and not in a refreshing way.  I climbed in and swam and swam and gazed at the sky and breathed deeply and embraced the wonder of swimming ‘out of lane’ in the lake, for as long as possible. I remember being a little nervous before, joking that I might sink because I was out of practice. Though of course this was not the case, rather it was total flow and part of me was restored and healed in the water. I was put back together and emerged more intact and revived than before. A great big part of me had been missing and now it was back. I can live off consolation like that for ages. This swimming lark is a life love, something I can progress in, commit to, challenge myself. I dream of my next swim and long for when I can go again freely. Swimming is my ‘this’ and it confirmed in me what my other ‘this’ is. I know for other folk swimming is definitely a ‘that’ because you have to get all wet and cold, and if they have to swim they would prefer lanes so at least they know where they are and can feel safer.   

Running is like that for me. It is my ‘that’. It is also reminds me of another ‘that’ in my life.

Running for me is unfamiliar and in many ways has been unappealing. Lockdown had other plans. So I’ve learnt how to run, I’ve tried hard. I’ve got better. I can make it round a route and I can see why others love it. Parts are fun, especially on a good-weather-but-not-too-hot day, being in the great outdoors, inhaling passing flies. So running has fulfilled a function for me, I had some transferable fitness (to a degree). But running has different demands on my body and my mental endurance. I do not leap out of bed wanting to go or look forward to when I can next get out there. I have managed a certain distance and I will not be attempting any further. Now lockdown is easing I will keep what I’ve learnt about running, I will keep up my new found skills. But I know I am only part-soothed by it, it is not what makes my heart sing. I can do it, just about, and I applaud those who do it much better and love it. But for me running is a ‘that’. It reminds me of my other ‘that’.

Life is made up of this and that

Give a bit of this

Take a bit of that

In out in out

Shake it all about

You can’t have this

Without some of that

I love this

Not so sure about that

Life is made up of this and that

Give a bit of this

Take a bit of that

In out in out

Shake it all about

You do this

I’ll do that.

Swap.

I’ll do this

You do that

Life is made up of this and that

Give a bit of this

Take a bit of that

In out in out

Shake it all about

I’m very good at this

And not so good at that

I’m drawn to this

I’d rather leave that

Life is made up of this and that

Give a bit of this

Take a bit of that

In out in out

Shake it all about

You love your this

Which might be my that

I’ll bring my this

You drag along your that

That and this

This and that

In out in out

Shake it all about

Seems to me that maybe life needs both, some of this, a little bit of that. There will always be a ‘that’ which demands some time and attention and energy. I expect you know what that is. So may we identify ways to get enough of ‘this’. Times, places and people where we can put down that, take up this and shout out loud ‘Look at this! I love this! I was made for this!’.

Image by Comfreak from Pixabay

There she goes

Notice the snail,

her patterned back,

her identity which

grows with her.

That she cannot take off,

for wherever she goes

there she is.

Her home, her shell

is her.

All swirls and colours.

Little by little

she travels far.

Feeling her way,

unable to see much at all.

Retreating into herself

at the threat of danger.

Then inching onwards,

carrying all she has become,

unquestionably,

unashamedly,

wherever she may go.

And in the end

we remember her,

by her shiny, meandering trails

and the legacy of her

patterned,

beautiful,

now uninhabited,

shell.

I noticed a snail and it made me think of jobs. Like whatever job you turn up to, you bring yourself. Like a snail cannot travel anywhere without its’ shell.

With jobs come job descriptions. But you read a job description and you don’t get a you.

You get words, tasks, achievements and attitudes.

You are much more than that. You bring all of you, wherever you go.

You make the words alive, give them a face, a voice, a laugh.

Wherever you go, there you are. This is so beneficial to the rest of us, to have you be you, to have you embody these many job descriptions we get over our life time. To bring us life by being your glorious self.

So may you follow your tentative path, be proud of your swirly trail, grow your unique shell and determine to travel ever onwards.

Image by Pitsch from Pixabay

Dream a little dream

In the well known book ‘The BFG’ by Roald Dahl, the BFG character, (who creates and delivers dreams), says that ‘dreams is very mystical things’, like they are enshrouded in some kind of mysterious mist.

This has been my exact experience.

Dreams are different from ideas somehow. A dream is like an idea which is just out of reach, something not yet realised, that has yet to become a reality. Because of this dreams are fragile and easily broken. A plus side to this is that dreams are adaptable, malleable, they take surprising twists and turns. I remember watching the film Inception, which is very intense but marvellous, all about inserting an idea within layers of dreams. In my life I can identify what the inception is for me, where my dreams stem from, even though their path may be hidden and unforeseeable. This helps when some dreams never make it. It doesn’t mean the inception wasn’t valid or important. The inception is what draws you on, helps you find a new way, to dream a new dream.

The opposite of this drawing movement, is some kind of external driving force which intends to bend and chisel you and your dreams to meet their need. I recommend avoiding this driving motion at all costs.

Poet David Whyte has some wisdom to offer here. He has this poem called Start Close In. The first lines go like this:

‘Start close in

Don’t take the second step

Or the third

Start close in’

I read this as; start close to the inception of your dream, for there you may find what is the next courageous step you can take.

Like the kid who tells you they want to be an astronaut one day. This is the BIG DREAM. The BIG DREAM that makes a lot of assumptions.

The fulfilment of these assumptions will determine whether they are one of the few kids who manages to attain this BIG DREAM. This will depend partly on them and their ability, but also on their health, and the advantages given or withheld, doors opened or closed.

But we don’t tell them this.

Because the path towards the BIG DREAM is full of smaller dreams which slowly draws the dreamer on and onwards. We somehow, in this pursuit of a BIG DREAM, end up gathering a motely crew, our collection of smaller but necessary dreams which we carry with us. Some of these dreams are intact and shiny. They sit along side a similar number of shattered dreams which rattle about in the bottom our suitcase. Those who manage to reach their BIG DREAM some day, endure a lot of hardships on the way, but perhaps are also the recipients of a dash of serendipity.

Right now I am left wondering what dreams matter at this time? The message from society at large seems to be to dream big and do something significant. Put an inspirational quote on a mug  and crack on. Like we all have to make our lives count. And there is of course something to be said for that. But all this significance can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you find yourself in a place where your dreams appear tiny or simple from the outside, but seem insurmountable to you. And yet this is the only dream that matters.

For it turns out that all dreams matter, no matter what their size. We need to ‘tread softly’ as we walk together, for we tread on one anothers’ dreams, like some kind of sacred ground (W.B. Yeats). Sometimes my kids wake me in the night right out of a dream. The dream is rudely interrupted and I cannot get it back. I would not wish to interrupt anothers’ dream with my misunderstanding and poor judgement of how important that dream is.

The chances are that as we get older we are able to realise, establish and fulfil some dreams. We therefore may find ourselves sitting on the ‘hoped for’ dreams of others. Like we have two or three friends on whom we can depend, or our teenager is at home and free from psychotic episodes. Or our partner is well enough to speak again and hopes to restart work at the local café, or we finally have enough finances to relieve that dead knot in our stomach. May we have sensitive ears to hear the dreams of others which often come like a prayer, as sung by Slow Moving Millie ‘please please please, let me get what I want, Lord knows it would be the first time’.

Any BIG DREAM is only possible on the assumption and maintenance of lots of other dreams. If we take the sporting arena as an example I can imagine there have been athletes we have never heard of because they almost made it. But then their Dad got cancer or their best friend had a breakdown, or their partner lost their job and they could not make ends meet. And so this dream was over. But another one began. The one where they put another first, the one where they followed their heart to its core, to where ‘everything became a you, and nothing was an it’ (W.H. Auden).

I was once given a note which said ‘Do not give up on your dreams because of the time it will take to accomplish them. The time will pass anyway’. I am reminded then to give dreams a bit of room, not to over -control and direct them. Like the grasses in the fields which have been allowed to keep on growing increasingly tall and wild. Growing, not because they had targets to attain, but that when left awhile they grew anyway, so much so that when you lay down, you are lost in them. Perhaps there is occasion to embrace all we are faced with for the fathomless mystery that it is, so time and healing can be unshackled in the mist and our dreams can grow anyway.

And so as we gently tread on each others dreams and try and navigate our own, may we adopt David Whyte’s wisdom and ‘start close in’. May we muster enough courage for our next step towards the inception of the dream that draws us on.

A poem to the kid astronaut

‘You may get to drive a rocket to reach the moon, 

or

You may collect broken fragments of dreams,

like stardust.

You may get to travel great distances,

or

You may be drawn to travel

the most important journey of all,

inwards,

to the inception of dreams

that reside in your heart.

Image by Quang Nguyen vinh from Pixabay

Note to self

I am new to writing, to me it is like holding a baby. Tiny and unpredictable, endearing and with lots of needs. But still I remind myself that babies of all species have their part to play.

I am used to what I am good at not being seen much at all. Chaplaincy is a very personal encounter. Writing however it is a lot more public. This scares me. But as I have spoken with my spiritual director and done some soul thinking, I able to see how I am enriched and given injection of hope, life, comfort and vitality through the brave expression of someone else’s creativity. I can see how I love to celebrate others who have gifts which they have chosen not to keep hidden, but to share. And so, I took a deep breath and have begun.

And it feels like beginning, like holding something delicate and saying to the person next to me – would you like to hold this a while?  And they might pause and with a sigh say, ‘that feels better’, and they might think of someone to pass it on to, whose hands need to hold something like this. For a bit. For now. And that is all that is asked of me. I wrote this ‘note to self’ to remind me of that.

As I look about me at those who create through music, poetry, painting, dance, sculpture, writing, I see the life of artists who do not know what they will create next. Creating something grounds you in this present moment, this next note, next brush stroke, next phrase. In that moment all else suspends, like time is hovering behind you, and from that vacuum comes life and gift. Expression which is an unstoppable force. G.K. Chesterton talks about this, ‘at the back of our brains, so to speak, there was a forgotten blaze or burst of astonishment at our own existence. The object of the artistic and spiritual life was to dig for this submerged sunrise of wonder’.  In digging for this wonder, before us lie projects and creations we cannot foresee. When I watch the unfolding of anothers’ life it strikes me how one event seemed like the pinnacle, and then later on, there was something else just as wonderful. It is not inconsequential that in between there continue to be tedious tasks and trying relationships to navigate. There will continue to be waste because we cannot create without mess. Artists of all kinds do not opt out of life. Instead, they illuminate, comment on and draw attention to the unseen dimensions of our shared humanity on this good earth. Changing the world with one splash of paint,  or guitar  strum at a time.  

In many ways it does not matter what others think, for reviews and opinions will be both over and under generous. Rudyard Kipling knew this, he reminds us to meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same’.

Poet Wendell Berry spoke about this in a different way:

‘stay away from anything than obscures the place it is in’.

This is wisdom indeed.

For me it helps to remind myself that I am happiest not when words I have written are being read, but when I am absorbed in writing them.  Nature is like this, the tiny delicate flower, the wind, the sun setting. Each are exactly themselves. The sun will be beautiful whether or not I stop to notice it, but when I do, I hope I will be thankful enough to invite others to take a look too.

Creativity seems to be incongruent with control. Control has its place, but I often question what ‘being in control’ actually offers and gives that is of benefit. All we can really do, given that we generally overestimate our powers, is to do the next right thing. I read once in a Celtic Prayer book, a quote from George MacDonald saying, that whatever I am doing now, if I do it as best I can, that is the best possible preparation for what I will be asked to do next.

Creative and artistic expression can only be possible when I am authentic to all of myself. I can’t nip and tuck myself, or photoshop me into a better me than I can attain or maintain. Those who I see who are most glorious, are unashamedly themselves. The causes they fight for, they do so because it is woven into their very being. Their art and their passion unite and so it is no wonder it makes our hearts burn within us to be exposed to this.

John O Donohue describes it like this, ‘It takes an awful lot of living with the powerless to really understand what it is like to be powerless, to have your voice, thoughts, ideas and concerns count for very little. We, who have been given much, whose voices can be heard, have a great duty and responsibility to make our voices heard with absolute integrity for those who are powerless’. There are lots of unheard voices, many who are powerless. The greatest artists I have come across make their art form count, they create for far beyond themselves. I will need to remind myself of this, because it is highly likely that one day someone will tell me (and it will not be the first time) of how I am inadequate. I must remind myself that words are powerful tools and I have set out with the intention to offer words of consolation. May I never, therefore, respond to desolation with desolation. For writing and life are a creative process which no one understands but, as Susan Howatch puts it, in the end with both writing and life, ‘nothing is wasted, nothing is without significance and nothing ceases to be precious to me‘ (see Rob Bell’s book/DVD ‘Drops Like Stars’).

Image by Annie Spratt from Pixabay

Cocoons of safety

Tiny nostrils

breathing in

sweet sweat

Bound tightly

by bright colours

to a warm, capable back

Hearing her melodic hum

calming anxious cries

Held and cradled

in a place both soft

and strong

Perfectly safe in

her cocoon of care

We have heard the phrase ‘stay safe’ a lot. I don’t remember it being part of everyday greetings or written at the end of emails until this time. It has made me ponder about safety, about the times I have been utterly safe, about what this felt like, what was there, what wasn’t. I wonder too on how to offer safety to others, especially when those who are meant to protect cause harm. True safety is about so much more though, than the absence of harm or prejudice. For us to truly ‘dwell in safety’ means careful attention to what is present, for us and for those we offer safety to.

In cocoons of safety we can heal and grow at the same time, we are reminded of who we really are. Of course we can’t spend our whole lives here because we are built for risk and adventure too. But at some points in our lives, a cocoon of safety is exactly where we need to be. The cocoon is where we return to, to rest in a place both soft and strong, both tender and dependable. We often turn up bruised, damaged, broken, heavy laden. We put down our bags. We take a real and metaphorical drink of cold water, melt into fresh sheets, are fed and tended to. Demands on us are alleviated, even just for a little while. It could be a few hours, or a few days. Sometimes it needs to be even longer. We enter the cocoon one way and we emerge another. As we repeat this pattern again and again in our lives we come to trust it. To venture forth and eventually needing to find a place of recuperation, of tender loving care. And we are changed again by this. The cocoon could be somewhere we know and with people who are familiar. Or it could be a place of retreat where the invitation to all who come is ‘please, dwell here a while’. This idea of dwelling is significant because not only do we need physical safety but psychological safety, emotional safety and spiritual safety as well.  Or else we are not wholly safe. We can only truly dwell where we are wholly safe. Sometimes it becomes the case on our life journey that our safe place or safe person are no longer available and we are lost and unable to settle, we become drained, flitting about until we can move no longer. This is one of the reasons why we need the kindness of strangers, angels who visits us unawares. They visit and gather us to ourselves and surprise us with cocoons of care, in ways which we may not expect, but which tend to us all the same.

Now, we know that for much of our life we are not wholly safe. We encounter physical threat, emotional pain, psychological manipulation, spiritual distress. We may be unable to access a tangible cocoon of care. At times like these may we find ways to visit by imagination an image that comes to mind and feels safe to us, if just for a few moments. To remind ourselves that what truly matters is always held safely, like a lamb gathered and held close to the heart. And so we need not fear, for our lives and souls forever belong and dwell in safety, in the mysterious unseen. Which means we may trust that, when the time comes, we will one day emerge brighter and freer than ever before. And we will fly.

Header image by GLady from Pixabay

Begin again

Tomorrow we will begin again,

New dew will form at the break of dawn

on grass that is ever so slightly taller

The first light will waken anew,

lifting open an awestruck eye

to the beauty it beholds

And the earth will be new, again

Our bodies

being healed and restored

as we slept,

will stir us into wakefulness

We will breathe our first breath

into the opening of the day

And we will be new, again

Our souls will remember

that we are damaged,

precious

and not alone

We may come to accept

that wholeness arrives

not with resolution and fanfare

But with hearts humble enough

to forever begin

And all will be new

again, tomorrow.

In 1999 Poet Brendan Kennelly published a poem called ‘Begin’ he writes ‘something that will not acknowledge conclusion, insists that we forever begin’. In 2012 songwriter Taylor Swift wrote a song called ‘Begin Again’. She sings of the contrast between being repeatedly broken and the joy in finding that despite this, when exposed to love and acceptance you cannot help but begin to live and love again. Both of these artists, different though they may to be one another, have captured something which has taken hold in my heart and I cannot shift. The insight that for life to continue we need to keep on beginning. Over and over.

Tricky this, because in general we do not welcome disruption or interruption, forcing us as they often do onto unchartered territory. At the very least entailing reforming opinions and redressing judgements. It can be hard to begin again, to draw a line between this and that. We knew ‘this’, ‘this’ is familiar. ‘That’, on the other hand, is generally the great unknown.

We are currently experiencing one big long disruption and interruption. An enormous line engraved in the sand. Making us reset priorities of time and relationships, recalibrating our inner and outer resources. Treating our success syndrome. Hoping our ‘love first’ kindness syndrome may be our prognosis instead.

The phrase ‘begin again’ may make something burn within you, a radical kind of yearning. To begin again, to upcycle something that is already established, or perhaps it is about to be. Beginnings like these are voyages, and so I remind myself of what Mary Poppins says ‘you are about to go on an adventure, don’t ruin it with too many questions’. Beginnings are exactly that, a beginning, it is likely not to look as it has before. We are unable to see very far ahead and certainly not beyond the horizon.  Antoine de Saint-Exupery also knew this. He says,  ‘If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea’. We stand on the shore, about to embark. The sea can be trusted, it knows well the patterns of beginnings, journeys and renewal.

Sometimes we begin again, not because we are forced to, but because we have been stuck somewhere and we have found ourselves utterly misunderstood, underappreciated, misrepresented and underestimated. There comes a time when stating our bottom line and shaking the dust from our feet is exactly the right move. To say enough is enough and being brave enough to begin again, because as hard as it is to do this, to stay is harder still.

Other times we may find ourselves looking at the idea of beginning again as unbearable because of great and searing loss. When we meet this, may our small, tentative, unwelcome beginnings be gentle and saturated with love. May the compassionate heart of nature be inclined towards us as we trust her healing touch, seen in the patterns of the earth, to tenderly renew our souls.

In the light of all this, I wonder if the idea of renewal, that everyday we get the chance to begin again at being us, is more hopeful than dreadful. Our cells renew themselves over and over. The seasons come and renew the earth. This summers flowers will not be last years. They belong to this years’ growth. Next year they will be renewed again. There is a hopefulness about this. The kind of hope I like to think of as Sister Stan describes it, ‘what is left when the bottom falls out of optimism’. A hopefulness that prevails because to begin again, stirs within us the possibility that as the sun rises again tomorrow it may dawn on a brave new world.

Image by LoganArt from Pixabay

Canopy of kindness

There is this canopy above us all which holds, contains and is lit up by, a multitude of stars.

There are many things which may come to mind when gazing at stars in the night sky. I wonder what it makes you think of?

Sometimes we might feel like we wish to rewrite the stars. Like this picture a friend sent me on a postcard, to make dot to dot and create our own constellations. I wonder what constellations we would mark out in our imaginations, in our lives? What images we would draw between the stars? Who might you find next to you, flying their celestial kite along with yours?

Picture from a card gifted to me. Big Bear, Little Bear by Kristiana Parn

Sometimes we have been made to believe that the only star that matters is the ‘star of the show’ or the ‘rising star’. But then the night sky would look a little bereft. A little empty and sparse. Like a lot of things were missing. This is because night sky needs all of us to be here. To, ‘take our place in the family of things’ (thanks Mary Oliver for that glorious phrase), ‘take our place in the family of things’. Occupying our space is easier when we remember that stars are not picky or demanding. They teach us something about being, about kindness. Kindness is not picky or demanding either. Kindness and stars are not exclusive about where their light shines, they are universal givers. Beamed out freely. And so kindness and light fall all over, wherever, whatever, however. They can be stumbled across in the most unlikely of places.

Such kindness can be up close. A bit like the sun, our own star which gives us warmth, as well as light. The sun is a star which teaches us that much of the time, we do not have to look far away for kindness. Sometimes kindness can be given, and found, exactly here, to the left and right of us. Here a fellow star will be. Here a fellow star we will be. Even if it starts with our own reflection in the mirror. A little self-kindness, to reflect a little light back our way.

Other times stars are far away in time, place and space. Stars and people who shine their kindness brightly into the world through their art or music or stories or courageous acts (thank you to the likes of Positive News Magazine, https://www.positive.news/, for examples of this). Their kindness, and ours, are visible in the night sky, even from far away. Kindness and light never know how far they will reach, kindness and light may manage to cover great distances, across space, between hearts. They will likely never receive thanks, in the same way that we can never thank the stars. But we are grateful they are there, like I am here, you are here, shining both near and far, taking our place as part of the canopy of kindness, which covers us all.

Let me dwell under a canopy of kindness

haunches on haybales

of straw and compacted comfort

Music strumming

the anticipation of dancing

light flickering

feet tapping on the

criss-crossed mat

While drinks are poured

and glasses raised

to evenings like these

Which come like a cool

gentle breeze

blowing away the stifled air

of my over – constricted life.

Front Image by beate bachmann from Pixabay