Celebrating Summer Solstice

This weekend is solstice time. For us in the southern hemisphere it is midsummer. The solstice is an astronomical fact, an outcome of the tilt of our planet as we circle our sun. It exists outside of every human culture and nearly all mark it in some way. The millennia of geological pattern that we evolved within doesn’t fade. This will happen for eons to come until the sun or the earth get tired of the dance and one of them retires. I find that deeply comforting. The wheel of the year is a graceful beat inside a larger tempo. I sometimes wonder what it sounds like or feels like to the planets as they swirl and swing and shift along, each feeling the echo of each other’s weight and subtly reflecting all those forces back to each other.

So very beautiful.
Our fleeting human lives can connect into that larger grace and feel that flow. Each season from slumber, to renewal, through completion to fall. Here, this weekend, we find ourselves contemplating completion, fullness, mature power. Count your many blessings my friends and celebrate the harmony of this time. From this point our sun wanes in our sky back towards slumber and the year will begin again next midwinter. But that is then. Now is now.
This time of celebration is for all of us. For everyone under the sun.
line drawing of the sun with a face

Worry knot

Back in July we first talked about provisional living  and making choices.  At that time those concepts lead into a long talk about consumption and debt.

a hand drawn celtic knot in the roundLet’s spiral back to our beginning for a pass at the topic from a different angle.
There’s another powerful way that provisional living and avoiding choices haunt us and that is through worry.

Worry is an old word originally meaning ‘to strangle’ but those edges are now softened by time and use. We modern types resonate with the sharper ‘anxiety’ (maybe we prefer the strong sounding Latin root).  Worry strangles my day when it appears because it has a ravenous appetite for eating up my confidence, contentment and ability to make a decision. Maybe you have felt that.

Have you agonised over a decision, well beyond the rational weight or need of the implications? You probably have spent time chasing down all of the possible consequences of each permutation of action and attempted to double and triple guess what it most likely and how best to juggle the outcomes and payoffs. It can go so long you lose momentum to actually make the step, or the opportunity passes you by. Worse still, you can finally come to realise your health is suffering, you’ve become worried sick.

You’re not alone. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in Australia and both the U.S. and the UK (I stopped looking after that, it was too depressing). That’s a lot of people with a knot in their guts over things that are on their mind.

Some of the things that connect our worry to the earlier discussions is to do with the addiction we have to comparisonitis. We lose touch with enough and drift into judging our situation against what we perceive others to have or to be. This outward focus of our energy and attention is draining, it blocks empathy and kindness (to ourselves as well as to others) and it is guaranteed to help us lose our way.

In worry we get lost in a maze. In comparing ourselves to others, we let go of our own thread and our path and step into a wilderness of subjective judgments based on guesses and hearsay. We do not know what is really going on for anyone else. We can’t know what battles they’re facing, what burdens they carry or what pain they’re hiding. It is too easy with social media to compare your own inner turmoil with the show reel other people promote.

When worry starts to get you into a knot, be kind to yourself and bring your attention back to your own reality. That’s not as easy as it sounds, but there are techniques that are easy to learn. Interestingly enough some of them correspond to spiritual practices and we’ll explore that terrain in the new year.

In the meantime, if you’re in Australia and you would like some help with your worries, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636.

How can I help?
Suggestions are welcome for blog topics for 2015. Comment here or email me directly.

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Your incandescent line

Three Moire of mythology measuring the thread of a life

There’s a lot of lines you need to know about in the world. Probably more than you realise.

There’s the line you shouldn’t cross in relationships or conversations, the line in the sand that defines an issue’s boundary, the lines that make the boxes we’re meant to stay within or think outside of (no one seems to be able to make up their mind on that one), lines on the road, lines to queue in and there is the dreaded end of the line.
So many lines! Lines that become bars to hold us in. Are all lines about rules, taboos and forbidden zones?
Thankfully not, there are some good news lines too, although we hear less about them. Think of dropping me a line, a line of reasoning, in the line of duty or your line of sight. Lines can sometimes be threads too, think of fishing lines and life lines from boats.
There’s one more, vitally important line that is good news for you. It is a kind of thread too. Mythologies tell us that it is a thread measured out at your birth by the Moirai.
This is your life. Right now. There is no brighter future, you’re holding your own thread in your hands right now. Together we can share the choices we make, the twists and insights we experience. This line is all there is, it is enough, it is the only thing you truly own and one day it will reach its own end. Until that day, let’s live as if we know it is flowing through our hands.  Cherish the feel of the thread. Imagine it, maybe yours is silky, or rough rope, or high tensile cable.

This is your line and it is unique. It is your portion of life, to do with what you will, to enjoy and to share or destroy as you decide.

You probably prefer that your life’s line is rich in love, in shared experience, in fulfilment. Not a sad, drab or dark line (although we all have these threads), but a line aglow with vigour, with ardour and purpose. An incandescent line, thrumming and intense, joyful and bright.

If you’re searching for connection, throw yourself a life line, and let it be incandescent.

Image credit

A gentle day

Rabbit smoking pipe - illustration by Erik Blegvad

Let’s take a breath together today. Just have some quiet time. We need a gentle day. There’s been a lot going on in the world.

For example, we’ve had some big storms lately. One last week that was a shocker and then one this week that belted us all over again. For once I’m not exaggerating, the government labelled it the worst in a decade. Trees and roofs were torn from their moorings, the public transport system was hammered, streets flooded as more than a month’s rain fell in 30 minutes. Just last night, the storm caused more than $2b AUD of damage. Twelve people were injured, none seriously, although there were wind gusts of up to 140klm/hr that tipped planes and trucks. Like thousands of others, I was inconvenienced in getting home. That’s all. I had to catch a bus that got me as close as possible to home and wait for my Knight in a white charger to come and collect me.

It was scary, tiring, confusing, frustrating and today, like many other people I’m shell shocked. It feels selfish to say that, after all I’m ok. We weren’t hurt. It is just that our safe lives feel like they’re changing. Things we depend up (the weather, public transport etc) are changing and in unexpected ways.

Everything’s ok. Everyone’s ok. All our stuff is ok. The dog is fine. There’s been other stuff happening in other cities, and shootings and riots and blah blah blah you don’t need a list of those horrible things to know exactly what’s weighing on your chest, keeping your heart heavy.

I hope you’re ok.

Whatever you’ve been going through (and there’s always something), you’re probably reeling from it too. Be gentle with yourself. Please. There’s always a push on to pick yourself up and ‘soldier on’. Maybe you’ve got kids to raise, and deadlines that are flashing red, or people expecting you to work far away from where you need to be, maybe there are people depending on you, and of course you have expectations of yourself. So of course you keep going, that’s what we do.

Even when you want nothing more than curling up under something cosy and doing whatever it is that makes you feel ‘taken care of’. Today, if you can, do just that. Or tonight, or in the morning. Take some care of yourself. Give yourself permission to take a little time to digest what’s been going on and reflect on how it played out. It probably didn’t go quite to plan, or maybe you were blindsided. This isn’t even about learning from it and all that grown-up stuff – that’s for later.

Right now is just for accepting what is going on for you. You deserve some space, some quiet.  Taking a bit of time, taking a bit of space, taking a big breath – this is not weakness, this is how we stay connected to our souls inside turmoil. If we are too busy connecting with news and updates and tweets and social media, we struggle to find the place where we connect to our inner self. Without that, we can’t begin to heal.

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Good housekeeping

A woman empties a pail of bathwater and a baby into a stream

We’re caretakers here. We get to enjoy our time and we leave everything behind when it is time to go.

Every human child from today onward that will ever be born, will be born right here on this single planet, Earth. What they will have for their lives and their children, is partly up to us, from what we build, and partly from what we consume that can never be replenished.

What should they expect from us?

Do good housekeepers use everything until it breaks? Is it really ok that we allow our leaders to exist on a three-year re-election cycle that doesn’t respond well to polling on any issue where short term extravagance needed to be weighed against long term (generational).

You get to make a choice on how much you care about what kind of an ecosphere we’re bequeathing to future generations. It is one of the core aspects of what sustainability actually means (remember that the next time you hear a public figure using the word and you’ll immediately be able to fine-tune your bullshit meter) and also one of the basic skills (delaying gratification) needed in order to mature into adulthood.

So what’s in it for you?

Great question.

Answer: Nothing.

No gold star, no pat on the head, no special tax breaks. Nothing.

This is part of our duty if we want to be citizens of this world. The world, and our species, stretch in time both behind us and ahead of us. We are part of a bigger body of life. All the future of our species (and many others who live here too) are asking of those of us alive right now, is that we keep good house. Don’t trash the place, be considerate of the neighbours, enjoy what we can while leaving plenty for others to share. Any reasonable person would consider it common sense.

Our duty exists whether or not there is a brighter future in it for us personally. We may or may not accept it or like it, but that’s how it is. We can stay as children and wait for someone else to clean up for us, or put our shoulders into the task ourselves. Take a breath or two before you react to that idea. Human life isn’t all about progress and sharing doesn’t mean going without completely.

Later on we’ll get into more of what sustainability might mean day to day, but for right now, while we’re thinking about the values and meaningful lives we yearn for, it is timely to remember that liberty is always bonded to responsibility.

Someone who had a very concrete experience of freedom was Victor Frankl. If you’ve not yet read his famous book (Man’s search for meaning) please consider doing so (it is both short and non-academic). Despite the situation it discusses, I can almost guarantee that it will make you feel more positive and think about life’s challenges with a deeper sense of personal resilience. let’s give him the last word today.

Freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.

Image credit.

Sometimes a stumble

Our brave face outward.
Fierce, focussed on horizons and plans of epic proportions,
ready to stride forward, forging success.

Oh but even you are human,
perhaps you stumble. Can you forgive
the foot, the stone, the day?

Pause in the eternal moment here,
between the trip and the echo,
where you explode and reform.
Are you ego, emotion or empathy?

Sometimes a stumble is the biggest challenge of all.

Putting down roots

The tree in the Flammarion engravingI love spending time on Earth. The ephemeral nature of it reminds my soul of the precious fragilities of life. Earth shows us glory and wealth. Earth teaches us that everything has a role to play, that there’s purpose in all things and also that humans suffer most from their own making.

I love the way that all our ancestors that have ever been are right here, still with us. That there’s a little kink in our orientation so that as we spiral and circle and dance around the sun, beautiful repeating patterns are made for us to enjoy.

I mean this, not in some abstract, symbolic way, but in a literal, actual way each day, every year. The physical world of our lives, right here under our feet, is both the source and the destination.

I’m repeating this from last week because this is what is so liberating.

It is freeing to be humbled by the totality of the Earth and accept that the expectations we create, the measures we have chosen, the agreements we’ve made to live our lives the way we do, so many of the things that we crave or expect or demand are all of our own invention. Those things are superfluous. Seek them if you wish, but do so with the knowledge that you’ll be able to breathe anyway, that the sun will come up in the morning, and that the trees will fruit in season.

You have seasons too.

Wishing you were ripe in Spring is very hard to fulfil, creating tension for yourself and those who care about you. Likewise in Autumn to obsess about lost days in youth is so pointless. That’s not to say ‘don’t have them’. Create art with those longings, or seek a higher truth from the impetus to understand, work with what is possible inside the physical limits of our reality. That leaves a lot of room for emotional, spiritual and psychological maneuver, it leaves a lot of room for fun, and for the here and now. Sway with the breeze, drink from the rain, tingle with the fire in your sap. There’s freedom here. There’s liberation in knowing what is real, and what is a wish.

I love spending time on Earth with you. There’s nowhere I would rather be. We’re all in this together.

Image Credit

You are already home

We’ve come to the core, possibly the most important element that there is in reconnecting to your own soul, your own freedom. It is a bit counter-intuitive, because initially it will seem like it has basically nothing to do with you personally, but if you can stick with it is a big one. There’s nothing bigger in our world. Literally.

Earthrise photo taken by Bill Anders of Apollo 8 1968It is, of course, the Earth.

Our precious planet is so vast and accommodating, perfectly suited to us and so amazingly varied but even that sentence shows a human point of view. We are just one of the multitudes of creatures who belong here (and only here), we consider it ours, but we belong to it. We were born of this world, not just on it. I find this endlessly wonderful but I understand if you’re asking ‘What’s in it for me?’

Imagine you knew, deeply and without question where your loyalties always fell? Wouldn’t that make things clear? What if there was a really simple equation that could always inform your decision making at a fundamental level?

The Earth is a single, finite planet. For all the rah-rah of astronomy in the almost infinite reach of the space we’ve been able to explore through our amazing technologies we’ve found maybe a dozen that maybe might do the trick. If we could get to them, which we can’t (the best candidates are between 20 and 1200 light years away). And I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty leery about signing up for a one-way ticket to even a hotel no one has reviewed, let alone a planet no one is confident can support weeds or insects.

What you can get from this is that the Earth is special. We all enjoy a nice Sci-Fi, just remember that the Fi part stands for fiction. The reality is that we are lucky lucky lucky to have this planet. More than lucky, without this planet nothing about us makes sense. We’re formed by this gravity, we’re formed of this chemical mix, and we find only a small range of temperatures and chemicals safe. So how does this help you? YOU BELONG HERE. The needs of the planet are your needs.

Pretty simple.

Anything that damages the planet is not in our interests as a species. Economy, culture, sport, fossil fuels, wildlife, tourism, smartphones, all of it, everything you can imagine is a fully-owned subsidiary of planet Earth. Look at that amazing photograph. Taken on Christmas Eve, 1968 by Bill Anders as the lunar orbit brought the NASA ship into sight of the Earth.

“For the first time in history, humankind looked at Earth and saw not a jigsaw puzzle of states and countries on an uninspiring flat map – but rather a whole planet uninterrupted by boundaries, a fragile sphere of dazzling beauty floating alone in a dangerous void. There was a home worthy of careful stewardship.”

What a lovely line there at the end, “worthy of careful stewardship”. I think that’s a much more graceful way to explain sustainability. No matter how many ways we describe the intricate interdependencies of related ecosystems, that single image sums it up so perfectly – there is nowhere else. It is all there, in that one ball. We are all in this together. Sustainability isn’t an ‘ism’ we should be into because it is cool or underground or a way to achieve carbon emissions, it is because it is the unarguable reality of a closed system. There’s nowhere to throw anything ‘away’ when you look down on the blue-green sphere.

To an individual human the Earth is so huge, so humbling. Our technology gives the impression that we’ve shrunk it, that we’ve tamed it and controlled it and put it to use for our betterment. Try walking somewhere. Try growing your own food. Try to swim to that island you can see. It is hard. We’ve created a tension between our physical and technical relationships to the Earth. They are out of synch. If you get back in touch with your personal, physical reality to the Earth, it can be so freeing. You know, deep into the core of yourself, that you are one of the stewards of the Earth. We all are, we’re born into that relationship. You know that there’s nowhere ‘away’ for (for example) nuclear waste to go – we simply bequeath that problem it to generations on from ours.

You and I, we’re part of this world. Our bodies come from the alchemy of our ancestors and the Earth. Physically and spiritually we are of this place. It is miraculous and obvious and comforting. In the words of Marshall McLuhan  “There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew.”

I find that incredibly liberating because it reminds me that everything else is a form of consensus reality. I can choose if I participate or not. When you start with what is real – the planet and the gifts of air and water, when you live from those as your basis, the relative value of everything else is easier to gauge.

So take your shoes off and feel some dirt beneath your feet. Look up at the stars and the moon tonight and be glad for your beautiful blue bubble that holds you tight as you do.

NaNo-riffic writing fun

NaNoWriMo participant banner 2014It is November and so the Nanowrimo is upon us. Praise be!

I love this crazy, silly fun and free festival that over the years is helping me learn how to write. This is my 8th or 9th year now (? I’ve lost count)  and maybe it has taken that long to learn how to participate, but finally I enjoy this personal challenge more than nearly anything else. I did a beginner triathlon – not as hard. Rode a bicycle 100klms in a day – sure it needed a lot of snickers but it was done in a day. Writing 50 000 words in a month – you need to really turn up for that. Of course here in Week One it does seem like fun, you’re a lot less likely to hear many participants extolling the joys around week 3 when everyone’s stamina and plot seem to run out at the same time.

That’s a thing I’ve learnt, Nano has its own rhythms and as a writer you’ll need a different strategy for each week. The organisers understand this and the support structure is incredible. If ever you have considered that you’d like to write a novel or a play or the story of your Great Grandmother, now is the time to start. Jump in to the idea that you can do a lot more than you imagine. Join the groups where people share their dark moments and their wins. Strangers will cheer for you as you meet your own goals and people who are also writing will understand the tears and joys you’re having. Writers don’t generally stride around in big groups banging drums and cheering everyone having a go – during November it is different – there’s somewhere just for you. I love seeing those posts coming through – people dancing for joy in their lounge rooms or bedrooms saying things like “I never thought I’d make it, but I DID!” and your own heart swells for them.  Then you have a draft. A whole draft. Imagine that, it is dizzyingly exciting.

Editing and rewriting, well that’s for another time. Right now you just need to hit today’s word count target and then tomorrow’s. And then the next day, and the day after. Etcetera etcetera, etcetera. See you in December.

 

Enough water

There’s a wonderful song that goes “Will there be enough water when my ship comes in? And when I set sail will there be enough wind?” (by The Dead Weather if you’re interested) and that two-line koan slips in and out of focus often for me as the bigger questions of life pose themselves to us. It has come to reveal both an anxiety and a truth at the base of our modern worry.

CRUSOE SETS SAIL ON HIS EVENTFUL VOYAGE

We ebb and flow in life. There are tides to our lives, to our internal feelings, to dreams and to the energy we have for others. At least half of our bodies are water. More than half. You don’t need to try to connect to the energy and power of water – you’re a fish swimming in it already. You just carry it around inside you. Miraculous. Yet somehow, we aren’t sure that we’re making the right choices. As though there’s some answer somewhere we should know. It can be hard to try something new because we don’t know that we’ll be successful. We have slipped into the illusion that it is possible to know, to control, to be right. Life is more fluid than that.

Physics tells us we’re living in an ocean of motion. All our atoms are buzzing so fast we can ignore that they’re mostly gap. The same way we ignore that our solid bodies are mostly gappy water. Maybe you’re having a weird day because you’re all quantumly entangled in someone else’s bizniz. Couldn’t say.

What we can say is that your emotional and intuitive self is certainly there talking to your busy, conscious self. Mostly, that conscious chatterbox self is the one asking the questions and putting off adventures until it feel sure everything’s under control, meanwhile your sloppy water bits are vibing away trying to get the message across , ‘Of course there’s enough water, it’s the ocean! Get into it, get underway, you are the boat, you are the waves!’ and chatterbox drowns it all out with doubts, or shopping or and getting distracted by shiny things. That’s how it tends to go in our house.

It doesn’t have to be that way. It costs nothing but a little bit of effort to tune into your own currents. Your depths are there, inviting you to swim into them. There are some weirdarse creatures in there for sure, but you know, that’s part of what makes it an adventure, right? Overall, it is magnificent, it is glorious, it is another world, and it is already yours.

You can set sail. Listen to your waters. There is enough wind for you to follow.

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