The shapes we thought we knew

The shapes we thought we knew

cannot hold us anymore

The lines too straight

angles too pointy

squares too boxy

We must draw circles instead

spheres of endless possibility

I wonder what shape is framing this experience for you?

It seems to me that straight lines do not always adequately capture or describe the human experience. The grand illusion that things move perpetually along to the next  in a linear fashion, with a clear view back and forth. The difficulty with this image is that it only allows motion forwards and backwards along a track, restricting our movement somewhat.

Perhaps you think of a triangle. A very sturdy and reliable shape, reassuring us that if we build in fixed supportive structures and frameworks, these bolsters will keep us safe and secure. The difficulty with a triangle is all the sharp pointy edges and tight angles involved in maintaining control.

A square might better explain things for you. The reliable square. You know what you are getting with a square. They make excellent boxes, they are highly replicable, fitting together rather well. Everyone belongs if they stay in their box.

And we could talk about prisms which refract light, or stars which are both edgy and bright, or hearts, because when all is said and done love changes everything.

But I’m drawn to the circle.

I’ve been learning about shapes, 2D and 3D with my 5 year old daughter, trying to find various shapes around our house. This got me thinking of all the different types of circle or sphere I could bring to mind. The smallest I got to was a cell, of a plant, animal or a human. Circles hem us in in a particular way, we are enclosed softly, fluidly. Circles in nature tend to have a ‘partially permeable membrane’ which serves to keep in what is beneficial and life giving, and keep out what is detrimental and life draining. In Celtic Spirituality there is a kind of prayer about this called ‘Caim’. You form circle shape around you, and ask for peace to be kept within and fear kept out, or hope kept in and despair kept out. You pray as you desire.

The largest circle I could think of was a planet, let’s say Jupiter, or Saturn with all its’ concentric rings. It seems like a pretty important shape for life. The Slow Travel Movement recommends exploring a new area in gently expanding concentric circles, rather than dashing from here to there, like the highlights were the only thing that mattered on a journey.

We’ve been a little like circles recently, each on our own small island. Marooned. Sending messages in bottles and in advanced Morse code. We may get to travel a little more now. I wonder what shape we will take to do this? The dimension of a circle means we have a lot of surface area available to make connections. A little like the picture featured by the artist Wassily Kandinsky, called Several Circles created in 1926. It shows how circles (and us) move between, across, over, under, around and about, overlapping with one another, through life.

Nature and circles, travel and circles, art and circles, and finally music and circles.  Music which takes you from nothing, to a great arch of sound, all the way round to home again. The circle shaped ‘oooo’ sound. Like the sound you make when you see a rainbow, the half circle, whose beginnings and ends are so mysterious, which only appear when the weather is jumbled and confused. The forming circle, that tells us that what is incomplete, is in fact, completely beautiful.

The shapes we thought we knew

cannot hold us anymore

The lines too straight

angles too pointy

squares too boxy

We must draw circles instead

spheres of endless possibility

You’re welcome

When someone says ‘thanks’ to you, what do you say?

‘It’s no bother’

‘Don’t mention it’

‘My pleasure’

I think I default to ‘You’re welcome’. In that phrase, when it is genuinely offered, I think I am saying:

You are welcome here, to have had this space and place, you are welcome to this time.

Folk often say ‘thank you’ when receiving some kind of gift. Gifts can be many things, welcome gifts, quirky gifts, spot-on gifts, surprising gifts. Gifts can be anything really, except that to which you feel entitled. That is called something else.

The ‘thank you’ says you thought of me, you noticed I am here. You are here too. Thank you.

‘You are so welcome’ says exactly that,

you

are

welcome.

You are so welcome here on earth, you are welcome to be you, accepted as you.

It feels like we are so ready to have a chance to welcome each other, to extend hospitality. Perhaps we are missing this. There has been so much generosity of spirit, giving and deep felt gratitude, but not many chances to say ‘You’re welcome’.

There is something about hosting another in your home, of being hospitable, an opening up. You trust your guests not to critique the standard of your home or what current state it is in. You may come to my house the day after I’ve cleaned it. You may come when cleaning is overdue. Pot luck really.

It is the same when we meet each other. You may get my top 10%, or the worst 10% of me. If at all possible this is why it is best to withhold judgement of perfect strangers and their behaviour. You may see them at their best and envy them. Or at their worst and scorn them. I don’t imagine any of us wish to be met with either of those things.

My 7 year old son has this t-shirt which says ‘The Dude’ – he asked about this and after my explanation he said ‘but I’m just a regular guy’. That made me smile, ‘regular guy’ – where did he pick up a phrase like that?! But this is all of us I guess, regular guy, regular gal.

And in the end all we have to offer is our gifts, what we are best and shiny at, as well as our regular selves, (and our lesser selves too). We offer all that into the bit of the world we find ourselves in, to our lives and relationships and interactions and interruptions.

Some might turn to us and say ‘thank you’ for all that.

And we might say

‘You are so welcome’

‘You are welcome’

‘Welcome’

Buttercup and the bee

There is a host and a guest

in each of us

Like the buttercup

and the bee.

Sometimes we’re the host

We get the beers in

Make some brownies

We are gracious,

open,

and generous.

There is security in this.

There is a host and a guest

in each of us

Like the buttercup

and the bee.

Sometimes we’re the guest

We come tentatively,

wonder what kind of welcome

we will receive

Can I be me?

Am I OK to be here?

Am I Ok to be?

Am I ok?

There is a host and a guest

in each of us

Like the buttercup

and the bee.

Being a perpetual guest

is hard

Being a perpetual host

can harden you

There is a host and a guest

in each of us

Like the buttercup

and the bee.

As I meet you

and you meet me

We come as host

We come as guest

In the welcome of each other

Together, may we be.

I miss you

Technology holds its own wonderment and I offer gratitude for that all it captures and communicates. We have depended on it for years, especially to connect with those we know who live abroad. We certainly would be in a different place without it.

However, although it is marvellous, technology captures and communicates only fraction, a fragment of who we are. This may explain why even when I’ve chatted and laughed with a group of my closest friends online I feel both more, and less, connected with them.

We have so little of each other now. This is a line which has been repeating over and over in my head. I heard it in a poem by Danusha Laméris and it gave words to what I have been feeling, and what I’ve heard others try to express. We have so little of each other now.

This applies almost exclusively, unless you live with others in your home, then, you may have had too much of them!

But, for everyone else, we have so little of each other. We live our roles as sister, brother, auntie, cousin, volunteer, co-worker, friend, from too far away.

Now and again in my work I put on PPE. When dressed like this I feel it again.

We have hands, in plastic gloves. We have smiles, behind masks. We have our eyes, ‘the window to the soul’. So much depends on what we can communicate through our eyes, our so often, tired eyes. Tired soul too perhaps.

We are separated by pixels and screens and visors at checkouts and digital audio and necessary protective equipment. Humans must stay 2 metres apart at all times. For weeks on end.

We have so little of each other now.

So this is just a little note to say, I miss the smell and touch and sound of you. I miss being in the same room with you, I miss your reassuring presence. I miss all you communicate without saying a word. I miss the most of you that technology cannot deliver. Don’t get me wrong, I’m so grateful to have any part of you, 5%, 15%. But I want you to remember there is so much more to you than your typed comments, your digitised voice, your pixelated face. When I see you on my screen I remember wherever you are you are fully there, 100%, all your body, mind and soul. Your facial expressions and mannerisms. Your glorious, spirited, quirky, self. I miss you, all  the pieces and parts of you, that make up the whole of you. So though you can’t have a space on my sofa, I want you to know you take up so much room in my heart.

In my life and work I have been with children, young people and adults who always need to communicate differently, in creative and personalised ways. Those who care for them find endless, innovative, meaningful ways to enable communication, and I don’t mean moving from a powerpoint to zoom. I mean music, or sensory objects, or colourful light, or hearing and touching nature. Deep listening, attentive watching, being alongside, absolutely cherishing the company of one another.

All this reminds me to cherish what we love most about each other, no matter what the limitation and restrictions on how we can communicate. There is a song called Fall On Me sung by the father and son duo of Andrea and Matteo Bocelli. They sing ‘Fall on me, with open arms. Fall on me with all your light’. May this be our song to each other. Because we may feel like we are freefalling through time and space. We may be lacking open arms to catch us. All we are left with is light. From wherever we are, we radiate out beacons of light to those we love. And we rest and are restored, in the rays light which come to fall on us from those who love us.

We have so little of each other now, but may we still fall on each other with all our light.

Different kinds of quiet

Silence is golden, so they say. It can undoubtedly have a certain shimmer to it. There is this glorious little book called ‘The Quiet Book’, which shows lots of different kinds of quiet. ‘Right before you yell ‘Surprise’ quiet’, or ‘Thinking of a reason you were drawing on the wall, quiet’. Quiet can feel very different depending on what has just happened, or what is about to be. There is the quiet after an argument, and there is the quiet before the redemptive phrase.

Truth be told my house is not often very quiet. Outside, on a walk though, it really is. There is a sort of stillness in the air that is somehow less frantic, less frenetic, like something has lifted and given us a bit more room. A whole layer of spaciousness has been opened up we didn’t even know was there. Of course sometimes I ignore it, sometimes I fill it completely, other times I sense it’s ethereal glow, illuminating and amplifying all that beauty.

Your home may be quieter. You may have enough windows of quiet time in your day to offer one to a prolonged time of intentional silence or meditation. If so, then I say hooray and well done and thank you for this stillness which you offer up on behalf of all of us.

It may be, like me, you can only do this occasionally. For now it may be enough to pause, remember to breathe, pay attention and take three conscious glorious breaths. I would encourage you to try this as often as you possibly can, and so slowly, gently, cumulatively, we might absorb, assimilate and marinade in the silence that is always there.

It may help us to notice that a lot of things which are beautiful, are silently so. I’m sure you can name some, like the stars and flowers and gemstones. You may be delicately aware as you dwell in silence, however briefly, of a shift within that is almost imperceptible. Except you may find yourself being a little extra kind. Or a touch more peaceful or patient, or creative. You may be able to take a slightly more open stance towards the world.

So you, even though you may barely perceive it, and those who benefit from your fragile, tentative shifts of the heart, utter an inaudible ‘thank you’ to and into the silence.

The silence that dwells within

may be the loudest silence of them all.

The tummy, the chest, the heart

always engaging in their necessary rhythms,

energising, breathing, beating.

That space next to me,

Just outside of me

But that is kind of still, me,

Because to for you to be in it

I have to have welcomed you in.

That safety zone

Where, if we wish to connect with another

we need to cross this quietly held

extension of ourselves.

The global hush

The temperate skies

The empty roads

And green traffic lights.

The machines have ceased

And so our global quiet grows

Turns out it was there all along

A little stifled in places,

In others it has been ever thus.

This silence has always been,

It was at the beginning,

It is here now, holding us

from beneath, like arms

And it will be there too, waiting

at the end of all things.

Holes

Martin Luther once said ‘even if I knew that tomorrow the world was going to go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree’.

This could be perceived as an act which is foolish, profound, absurd, symbolic, mockable, hopeful and essential. Lots of things are like this, all mixed up and contradictory but still essential.

A very long time ago myself and a group of friends spent a day digging a hole on a beach in France – just for the sake of it, taking turns to see how deep we could go. It was funny and pointless and bonding all at the same time. It would have been more straightforward to have found one already dug. But that would be no story at all.

I have spent a lot of time at home with my young kids and as such read a lot of kids books. One of these is a Mr Men book in which Mr Silly goes out to a hardware store because he has a tree to plant and wishes to buy a hole to put it in. He is of course told they are all out of holes, but they could offer him a spade.

What a disappointment.

I wish it were possible to buy a hole. This way I would not need to work out where to put all the mounds of dirt I dig up when I set out with my spade.

It would be a lot easier to say ‘I have a tree to plant’ and there would be a purchasable hole to put it in. Job done.

Hardware stores and life in general do not have holes available.

It is not much compensation that instead they have spades and pamphlets of advice on what you might do with what you dig up.

So if we ever go looking for each other, I imagine we are less likely to find one another resting under the boughs of some well established tree, and more likely to find ourselves digging. Hot, sweaty, with muddy, blistered hands and complaining of an aching back. We may be surrounded in a lot of mess.

I hope we will be kind enough to offer each other a drink of water.

and be grateful for this kindness,

because the world is going to pieces,

and we have trees,

and they need planting.

We need to talk about home

We need to talk about home. By which I mean not walls, those these are good. Not our stuff, though that is lovely too. I mean more that sense of at -one-ness, the comfort, the safety, of being understood and accepted. The coming home. Being home.

You may know folk for whom this is not true right now. Perhaps you have felt this too. I think we sense this so keenly because we know what it is to feel at home, and so we are acutely aware when this is absent. The mole in Charlie Mackesys’ book says, ‘I think everyone is just trying to get home’. I agree with mole.

I wonder how we can help each other out with this?

I wonder whether what Saint Ignatius calls ‘consolation’ is this feeling of being at home, of belonging.

Now consolation, and home, can be found in a particular place. There is a phrase in Celtic spirituality which refers to places which soothe us, as ‘thin places’, where the soul feels right at home. Now, I reckon that if it can be true for places then it can be true for people too.

I am pretty sure there are ‘thin people’. Those who console your soul, who make you feel at home, even if you have been up-ended and are on foreign territory. They embody for us a ready kindness, which is good, for things will not be as they were before. A physical home can be unreliable, but finding home in the company of another, well, you can depend on something like that.

They say that we are all just walking each other home

They say that home is where the heart is

But, what if you have a broken home

Or a broken heart?

Then we will have to try to get home by another way

That may mean walking you home in the dead of night

In the dark,

If so,

All you need to do is take the hand that’s offered

And hold on tight

to the one who has dared

to bring the comfort of the home of their hearts,

to those who find themselves

far from home.

The Rage

There is something that is pulsating through the air. Every so often it feels like it passes right through my heart. I like refer to this as The Rage.

The Rage is strong and fierce and it takes me unawares.

I wonder if The Rage has found you too?

I wish it was socially acceptable to express the essence of The Rage like a child does when they are mad or sad and let you know in a colossal scream or shout.  

This feels like an entirely appropriate response to where we find ourselves right now.

A friend of mine said when The Rage came upon her once, she was in a deserted woods and she bellowed into the void.

Quite right too, to voice such guttural outrage at this present moment. For there are too many right now for whom life is slowly becoming unbearable. There are too many for whom the only thing which is certain, is that tomorrow will be worse than today.

I am reminded of  a song called ‘Speechless’ sung by Naomi Scott, that names the terror of the rising tide and societal norms, about who belongs where, and whose voices get to be heard. She stares this down, singing, ‘I won’t live unspoken…all I know is I won’t go speechless’.

So if you feel The Rage please speak it out. You too may need to find a deserted place and let out a guttural cry. Or maybe what is drawn out in you is shown in music, or in art, or in dance, or a community act, that which cannot be expressed in words.

Expose the sheer audacity of it all.

Show us any light we cannot see.

Give us courage for our next step.

Mary Oliver writes a poem called Lead, which speaks entirely to the tragedy of now.

She says,

I tell you this
to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again
to the rest of the world.’

I wonder, when The Rage does visit, this may be why.

In which case, we may need each other more than ever.

A poem about The Rage…

The Rage burns

It may be able to turn

Something deep within

A stuck something

A presumed something

A complacent something.

The Rage is full

Of grief and anger

and wild hope

and desperate longing

The Rage is here

Is to be welcomed

Is just as valid and valuable

as sadness or joy or peace

The Rage belongs here

at this time

In the world

In our lives

In our hearts.

If it ever visits you

Do not be afraid of it.

It may be here to break open something

Which cannot go unspoken.

With thanks for Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

As yet untrod

There is an art gallery where I live and once I spotted a painting of distant purple hills and trees. It had the caption

‘As yet untrod’.

I was so taken by this that I bought a postcard print of this, framed it in an Ikea frame and have it on my bedroom wall.

As yet untrod.

I bought this two years ago and at the same time came across music and art all with a similar theme and forged this poem out of it all.

There is a path that lies as yet untrod

And it calls me.

There is a path which is only made by walking

And no one knows how far it goes

There is a path with no dead ends

And I am safely surrounded on every side

There is a road less travelled

And a voice saying ‘this is the way, walk in it’

There are mountains, valleys, deserts and oceans

And it is deep but I never fell

and it is high but the view is better up here

There is a door where no ones’ been before

And it feels like home

There is a tightrope to the great unknown

And it comes with a breathtaking view

There is the path of unlikeliness

And I will see rare beasts

and have unique adventures

And I am unashamedly myself.

On this path.

This sounded so hopeful to me.

The reality of putting one foot in front of the other on this path of unlikeliness has actually been blistering hard work.

And I have felt ashamed of myself.

Some of the rare beasts I would have much preferred if they stayed in their caves. I don’t really want any more character building adventures. As poet Mary Oliver says ‘the night is already wild enough and the road full of fallen branches and stones’.

The path is made by walking. Well, you know what? I am tired of walking.

I would like to follow some lines that have been trod before. This would be fine, a few cairns on the way that tell you, ‘someone has been this way before’. The view I can see seems not to have been tamed at all. It seems kind of wild. The kind of wild my crazy friend who says to me ‘I just want to go out in the hills by myself in a Bivvy and spend the night under the stars’. She lives in Scotland and is a bit of a fruitcake. I say to her ‘That sounds nutty but intriguing. I would like to do that on my own too… with you there’.

I have yet to spend a night on a damp hillside with nothing but some grandiose sleeping bag and a dear friend.

I may yet.

The problem with the wilderness is that it is, well, a bit wild. Unpredictable, untameable. I was never good at orienteering. I always got lost, failed to see the markers.

I do believe though that the journey is sacred. Whatever the terrain beneath our feet. There are no dead ends. There are enormous bogs or bramble bushes or fallen trees. But no dead ends.

There is a path, actually that is not true, there are paths, before me and before you. And they are as yet untrod. Dear fellow pilgrim I may need you on mine, may you meet travelling companions on yours.

Not all that is good is seen

You may have a job which is a job, and is largely functional. You may have a role which isn’t a job. Your role or job may fulfil sense of vocation for you. Or you may have a vocation which is pursued in any free time you have available. Whatever the case may be, as far as I can make out a person’s vocation is not a hierarchical matter. It simply cannot be. What we have seen in recent days and weeks are that things are not always as they seem. One job or role is not inferior to another. As far as I can see each job and vocation sits in parallel to others. As far as I can tell we are recognising that we are on a level playing field, we can look each other in the eye from here, and cheer one another on, which is as it should be.

And, strangely, we are applauding those who normally don’t get to receive applause or accolade. And yet, there remain groups of the ‘un-applauded’. Those who never receive any actual applause for what they are glorious at. Not many folk do. It is all the more important then, that we nurture what is good in each of us, what must prevail because it is woven in our very soul.

We need reminding of our unique gloriousness, because for one reason or another we may find ourselves, or others, at our lowest ebb. Not the best version of ourselves. We may watch all our patience and goodness fly out of the nearest window. That person when we were at our best, seems smudgy and dim. And so, even though our vocation matters, (and we may have more than one),  it is very good to remember that none of this depends solely on any one of us. This only works and slowly gets better if it entirely depends on all of us.

This may be in the form of the NHS where 98% of the work is unseen by almost everyone, accept maybe a handful of colleagues and those who are cared for. The vocational home of the healthcare assistant, the nurse, the porter, the housekeeper, the cook, the doctor, the chaplain, is to offer their care and concern, energy and expertise for those at their lowest ebb. 

These times, also see folk at their lowest ebb because isolation is keeping us safe, but also making some things harder.

So there are those right now whose vocational home is to look out for those struggling with their mental health. And there are those whose vocational home is to stand up and fight for those who experience domestic abuse. And there are those whose vocational home is to support and advocate for individuals with learning disabilities and their families.

You may never hear of them,

because not all that is good is seen.

Nor may you hear the names of those who collect our recycling, and those who drive our food and fuel to where it is needed. Or those scientists who are working on a vaccine. Or those creatively reworking their business for such a time as this. Or those volunteering and diversifying their skills to do what they can.

Or the earth. The earth that has begged for our attention. The earth which is at its lowest ebb but still supports the fields that grow crops to feed us.

You may have had a chance to physically walk the earth more than usual, to breath it in, the smells, the sounds. You may have tangibly touched the earth, dug in the soil and planted some seeds. You may have noticed how it is messy and rough and loving and dependable. The earth and the plants and bugs and animals who live on it, they know what their vocational home is and they are true to it.

They remind us that not all that is good is seen.

That not all growth and life happens above ground.

You may never hear of them.

But being heard of or known is not what having a vocation is about. Making a contribution to the whole is what matters, doing what makes your heart sing. So this may be tending to the earth in your garden, or the birds, or the farmer working the land. Or it may be the carer of the person with dementia, or the single parent who is home educating, or the teacher of key workers children.

You may also find that this virus has caused you to be locked out of your vocational home, unable to work as you did. You may be trying to figure out what are the roots and the deep meaning of your vocation and creatively exploring how this transcribes into these times, and beyond.

Whoever you are, your voice is necessary, it is yours and yours only to sing.

So, though we may never hear your name,

may we hear your song,

and those you sing it for.

Keep the earth below my feet, let me learn from where I have been. Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn’ (Mumford and Sons ‘Below My Feet).

The adjacent possible

There is a theory called the adjacent possible. I am so drawn to this idea. I have carried around a tiny door handle in my purse to remind me of this adjacent possible for nearly two years. It is important to believe in I think because, in my life at least, a lot of good things have almost happened. As I write it I can almost hear you cry ‘well that’s a defeatist thing to say’. Perhaps it is, perhaps it isn’t.

I have a school friend who tells me that you only need one thing to change in your life to change everything. I have found this to be true, a new job or new home, or new partnership impacts on every aspect of your life. You can apply to 100’s of jobs but you only need one to come through for you.

And the good things that almost happen, well sometimes people are responsible for that, them and their narrow choices that constrict your life. And sometimes the good things that could have happened don’t, because of structural inequality. My same friend insightfully points out that if you start a family then all of a sudden your job choices are reduced to part-time, set days, close to nursery, and as such tend to be non-managerial and less well paid. She is very pragmatic about this. The pool of potentiality has shrunk. There is a season to be lived out here with less choices in the work arena because of one choice in the family arena. Others do not have a choice about why they have a shrunken pool of possibility and watch lots of good things almost happen because of racism or homophobia, or discrimination against disability. Name your prejudice. The impact of the coronavirus may have shrunk your pool of possibility and had other devastating direct or indirect impact upon your life.

We have found ourselves as a collective society in the school of unlearning (to borrow a phrase from Charlie Mackesy). Where the certainties have become uncertain and the known has become unknown.

And things will never be as they were before.

There is a wrenching to this kind of experience which we feel both within ourselves and without of ourselves. It reminds me of the words of Cynthia Occelli, “For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.”

We did not ask for this, we do not tend to welcome disruption. It has come to us wholly uninvited and we have been deeply disrupted as individuals and groups and a whole humanity. Because of this there is a deep need for a belief and hope in the adjacent possible, that realms of possibility are not far away but adjacent – right here, to the left field. It is likely to be something that draws you towards itself, rather than something you are driven towards. Perhaps this is a shift that is taking place, about which inner movements of our hearts we listen to. The adjacent possible makes me think of what John O Donohue calls ‘The Secret Elsewhere’ where silently, deeply, tenderly, other possible paths are being sketched out. It may be we are collectively being asked to consider adjacent possible ways of being. So as you sift through what good things of life are in your sphere of possibility and you listen to the wind of your soul, you will find, either because of you, or because of circumstance, or because of others, that it is not that, not that, not that, not that….But This.

This, whatever ‘this’ is for you, manoeuvres  you out of one realm and into the adjacent possible. Into what may have been barely in your peripheral vision.

May it be yours.

May it be good.