Monday, August 15, 2011


A few months before she died, my sister wrote in her journal about her 'mischievous' body. She was, until that time, very firmly ensconced in it, and it had served her well. She was a deliciously noisy presence, and had a way of winning over most people who entered her life with her generous and honest ebullience. Her body was her trusty vehicle, always, until inexplicably at 55, it started playing up. Serious mischief.

I'm thinking about this because my body is reminding me of its independent status – I hesitate to call the alteration mischievous; I prefer to think of it that the score is subtly altered, and for reasons beyond my ken or control, new notes are sounding. I’m reminded that this multi-trillion celled organism (thank you Raymond) truly is a miracle. It is me and it is not me. With all the focused will in the world, I’m unable to direct the orchestra.

I’m not talking cacophony here, just some bum notes… but I’m interested to note and name some of my responses. First reaction: mad with my body. Grrrowlll. How dare you! Then, on the weekend, tenderness. A desire to talk softly to her. To take her in my arms and treat her with loving kindness. Dissonance is teaching me some things.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Nga ra o mua

I have just learnt the Maori phrase for the past. (Thank you jb.) It is nga ra o mua. Translated, it means 'what is in front'. I'll say it again... (it messes deliciously with my brain...) the past is in front of me. Of course I get the logic. My left brain can make sense of it. The past is known, has been seen and can be described, so it lies in front. The future (unseen, unknown) is in the dark, and so lies behind. But while I 'get it' in one small corner, the notion tips me over, unseats me. I think the potency is not only that it challenges my own deeply held (culturally forged) assumption that I'm facing and stepping forward into my future; I'm firing up on it also, because in my inner room not governed by logic, this front word mua says something true about what I've been experiencing.

Perhaps it's a feature of being a particular age - but I notice that my past is rising to meet to me at unexpected junctures. Suddenly I'm connecting with a memory. The sounds, the smells, the feelings take on a shape that asks again for a place in me. Marylinn's recent blog spoke of something similar in her experience. In her post she talks about russian dolls as a way to make sense of those layers of life lived. I love this notion of nested selves - and wonder if one of the 'tasks' of this part of our lived life is about learning to embrace each part that's out of kilter - any doll that's needing renestling.

As part of my training, I remember being taken through a visualisation exercise. As group members, we were invited in our own minds to recall ourselves as a child at a particular age; to picture all that I could of me (it was surprisingly not very difficult) - the hair clip, the ankle length white sox, the buckled shiny shoes, the blue and white waisted frock with its lace trimmed collar... Then our trainer asked us take ourselves as adults into the imaginative frame, to draw the child to ourselves in any way that felt appropriate, and to speak a message from our older self - the one who has lived much of this child's future. It was a powerful, and clearly memorable experience for me and for the others with me. Now as I remember it in light of the theme I'm with today, I start to wonder about the bigger babushka that lies ahead (or behind) in my future. What would her words to me be? They're my words; perhaps I'm getting a sense of them already. I'm listening, Pam.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Sharing the load

There's a new move afoot in me. Not visible to the naked eye, but about to be made public(ish) here on my blog. Something has nudged me out of my old moorings, and I'm having an interesting time, playing with new ways to inhabit my own skin. My relationship with my body has always been an on-again off-again affair. Tight as a glove (or a slim pink pump) in my early years when - to the amazement of my family - I even skipped home at seven years old with a silver ballet cup in hand. A few years later I was walking on my hands at will, leaping backward on beams and performing all manner of brave or foolhardy bodily contortions.

After that, well, the body and the being took up a more ambivalent relationship, falling in and out of sync. I'd always held fast to the fantasy that deep down in me there was a wellspring of grace, like a smooth liquid mineral store, just waiting to be released, with the right, um, something. But mostly any flow between me and matter was something that got captured into poems or songs, while the body simply bumbled along. I've had a few goes at connecting us up. There was a period when I greeted all my corporeal bits in a meditative act of gratitude before going to sleep. It was a good thing to do, but for whatever reason, wound down, as other good things begun, have been wont to do. It seems in the end it was a conversation that took place from inside my own head. (I'm reminded of a funny quote from Ken Robinson's tedtalk where he talks about academics who use their bodies to take their heads to meetings...)

New paragraph for the new venture - I'm discovering the focus is starting to shift. I'm not sure what the prompt is, but somehow the conscious node has started to move south, and seems perfectly willing to travel about in this body of mine. I'm intrigued to listen out for what parts of my body might be saying. Some parts are bemused; some are humming; others are silent (where did the voice of my shoulders get to?) There's a a realisation, as I head for 60, that this whole organism of mine/me truly is a temporary garment, and it behooves me to get to know it, from the inside out. It's actually quite a relief.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Moving closer

In the flurry and chaos of my work day yesterday, preparing for a workshop, I came across the footage that I've pasted as a link below. I found it deeply moving, watching elephants in the presence of death. I was struck by their solemn and tender response to the remains - the way they step towards the physicality of death, not away from it. Seeing them fondling the bones - the act seemed both sacred and intimate. Some might say I'm anthropomorphosing here, but the sight of them made me weep.
This morning, preparing to leave my warm cave for the chilly Dunedin outdoors, I donned a jacket which I recently picked up from my sister Annie's home, when I visited for her ashes ceremony in March. In the pocket I found her gloves - doubtless last worn by her own, still achingly familiar hands. With the elephants fresh in my memory, I uncurled them from each other, turned them over, touched them with reverence, pulled them onto my fingers, kissed them...

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Body and soul

Motivation for this post springs from reading Marylinn's blog over the weekend. She talks about the longing for lively internal connection (the grace that links us head to toe, and lets us be) alongside the challenge of managing a brain that keeps hanging us out to dry. It's a terrific post, and has set all sorts of thoughts in motion for me. This morning, in the sweet hour of quaker silence, I started thinking about those questions of delivering mercy and compassion to self, burdened as we are, with flawed 'equipment'. I remembered a quote by Irish writer John Odonohue; the exact words elude me, but the notion he expressed was that our soul holds our body, (not the the other way around). I love the idea of such a configuration. It makes sense to me, and steadies me somehow. That mind and body will go about their rock and roll business - sometimes out of kilter, sometimes not, as is their wont. And all the while there's a holding soul, complete, compassion-able, a source - shaped to fit. Albumen to our rollicky, yolky lives.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

sounds of silence

Last year I had a day in silence. I don't do it often. I was with a small group of people in an unfamiliar house. From time to time, when I got bored with my self, or tired of deep sea swimming, I would drift across the room and leaf through a book. This is one of the things I learnt that day: the Indonesian Gamelan tradition believes music takes place as a continuous, sacred expression which is out of our hearing. When the Gamelan orchestra plays, it accesses and channels that music. In other words, the instruments create a conduit to the spiritual world, and while that is open, and they are playing, we are able to listen in. And so, for a time-bound period, celestial music (my term) is in my hearing. This description is simple, and doubtless carries my own cultural warp, but something of the central idea has caught my imagination, my spirit. The music is playing, whether I hear it or not.

Last year, on a noisier occasion, I visited St Martin in the Fields in the heart of London, treated myself to one of their free weekly lunch-time concerts, then visited the crypt next door, where a shop sold quasi-religious items (of the anglican ilk). Tucked among the teatowels, posters and so on, were an array of plaques. The one that took my eye and caught my heart carried a quote from Erasmus: "Bidden or unbidden, god is present". I later read that this quote was inscribed above the door at Carl Jung's home, and he asked that it be carved into the tomb where he is now buried. This quote keeps returning, and delighting me. While god for me now is small gee, and I'm exploring new metaphors for the divine, still I resound with faith in that other 'I am'. I settle with an assurance that bidden or unbidden, sung or unsung, there is presence.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The aforementioned fallen beauty,
base view.
(Thanks clairex)

Hello darkness my old friend

At 21 minutes past 11 on Saturday night, the tipping moment came when our (us southerners') half of the sphere we live on began rolling into shadow. I can't quite get the science of equinox or the big picture visuals, but I do know that days feel quieter, more sombre, even though we are surely only edging our way into the dark by degrees.

Over the past week my own world has likewise dipped gently on its axis. I've felt curiously in a shadow-land, and have been feeling my way into corners where light is dimmed, and shapes are not familiar. The metaphor that's made most sense of this place is soil. I'm aware that most of our fellow flora allow their life to migrate down underground, and I'm wondering if winter's pull works similarly in us.

Ten days ago, and again two weeks prior, I took part in two ceremonies at two special sites where my sister Annie's ashes were poured (poured?!) into the soil. My unconscious is hard at work in dreams (including one where my own after-death bones were crushed) as I try to process this, existentially and emotionally. My conscious mind is wandering about, wondering how and where to articulate what this means for me, and for us. (We together diaried our shared journey through the final year of her life seven years ago. Surely there are words for this page of our story.)

Meanwhile, the darkness, and the deep dirt, have also become rich in meaning over these past days. A picture I keep returning to is the image of a fallen tree, which I passed by on a beach walk with two dear friends last weekend. It was a big tree; it had a wide-girthed, sturdy trunk. Its root system was beautiful - strong plump outward-reaching arms, some of which wound and interwound in a circular formation around its base, like a hug. Meanwhile the roots that went down, the ones designed to hold and nourish the tree, were thin and short - a spindly apology. I can't help thinking what a fine tree it would have looked when upright, with its fat roots bulging above the ground.

And so, in the middle of the night and adrift, I stopped tipping my chin up for air, but went down instead. What are my roots? What's going to hold me when the wind or the axe strikes hard? I can almost say I liked going down; being there with them.
Hello winter. Welcome.

Friday, February 25, 2011


I feel like I've come to the end of a marathon. Not bursting through the ribbon (whatever that might feel like...) but knowing the finish line's in sight, taking my time in these last yards to slow down, slump a little, and entrust myself back to my own body. Right now that means giving myself permission to be in bed (at an unspecified godly hour), with a 'to do' list that's so pared back, its a hieroglyph. Even I can't work out what it means.
The reasons for the past busyness are multiple. I remind myself that at some level, all have been chosen. I am glorying in the recent decisions to take back my power, or rather to use it to make decisions that create space for the part of me that is 'being'. Occasionally I'm tempted to dream about the creative pursuits that I would love to follow up on. Then I'm aware that again I'm 'doing'. I have an image of me as rider and ridden; now bridled, I'm gently pulling - slower pam, slower... good girl. (Pat to the flanks.) Fetlocks - all four - can feel there's grass underfoot. Settling. Settled.
This slowing into more space and time, carries a sense of inhabiting a bigger envelope. A bigger place to breathe into. One of the clear night-thought whispers last night was: tend your body. Not a command. Almost a promise. My physical body, yet somehow more than this body, which time will reveal.
And (my hope) - all with gentleness. Tenderly.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


It struck me again, as I was placing walnuts on my scrummy breakfast this morning, how dazzled I am by the relationship between cause and effect. I'm not sure if it's a brain structure issue, but for as far back as I can remember, I have struggled making the link that says 'this so then that'. My most recent reminder was the wow response I had when I was told my cholesterol, which had been out on all counts some months earlier (too little of the good and too much of the bad), had rectified itself. The surprise was not that it had altered (such magical shifts are the stuff of life) but that my GP was clearly convinced that changes I had made (like walnuts on my muesli and irregular morning walks) had done it. I felt like a three year old. So I did this!? All by myself? What a good girl! But not far under my skin there remains a membrane of disbelief. Two and two makes what? The answer's logical, but I can't 'get it'. I like to think that this awareness has bubbled into my consciousness because my syndrome is on the move. I wonder: if I could swallow and digest and feed my blood with this one truth, that everything, everything I do has impact, what would I choose? how would I live?

Sunday, January 16, 2011


It's 8.01 on sunday morning. I've fluttered to my blog text box on a whim, on a wing feather caught in a light breeze. Appropriately, all I can hear are the tiny, sweet and varied songs of birds; many birds, who must be dotted through trees here and in neighbouring properties. Astonishingly (to me in this moment) I almost never hear this bird song. My morning ears are flapped in, attuned to the clamour and chat of my own head.
It happened again this morning, until I arrived here. "Do this, do that, slice that part of that day this week to such and such task. Get a pencil/ add this to the list. Oh, and don't go to quaker meeting at 10.30. Use this time to think more, to make plans."

Alongside this urgent nonsense, the small birds continue to sing.

And I remember again, that above all, (below all) I want to listen, to abide in the quiet. To exercise the gentle discipline that says hush, I have things to notdo.