Slow reading, slow living

Life is better when there are chunks of time available for being slow. Not dumb or behind, but slow in a way that allows for a deep connection. A lot of the time my partner sees me making a deep connection with our couch, but I swear to you that there’s more going on than napping. A slow read lets my mind enjoy the other connections the line on the page inspires. It lets me pause to savour an unusual word, an image, a personal response.

It is tempting right now to draw a metaphor about value, to question the ideas of “efficiency” in comparison to what we know about the experience of slow, deep, contemplative periods, but actually you can already see where I’d go with that idea.

Instead, let’s touch on how the pantomime of busyness that is so popular, that escalates our misery and turns the idea of slow into a 1984-type thought crime. I’m talking about people who spend more time telling you about what they’re going to do than getting their head down and doing anything. And who then get promoted above you (hahaha, no really).

How did we get to a point where talking about how busy we are (and I know that we are busy, but you know in this way we’re referring to the self-aggrandising version. Imagine the scenario of the  heroic narrative over the bbq salads that seeks to one-up your busy with their *epic* level busy. It’s a game many are willing to play and why not? Being busy is culturally rewarded it is celebrated, it is a visible thing in a world of invisible work.

To be slow, rather than fast, is to be a failure of a kind. In this age, to be slow is said as a curse, a negative judgement of diminished of capacity, of relevance. Those are powerful stigmas against being slow. It is a shame because this simple summary level idea of what slow might be, is putting people off deliberating or consulting before making a decision. It puts pressure on people to say yes to more activities or responsibilities. It makes it hard to justify reading for fun or watching a sunset or those delicious afternoon naps.

Did you just think “I wish I had time for a nap”? Maybe you also followed that with “I’m too busy for a nap”. Any example I give will be likely to trigger someone and that’s partly because of this weird culture we have right now.

Could you try it? Could a slow day here and there be for you? Binging on a bucket of books or afternoon naps, date night out of the house – could any of these ideas tempt you? Don’t wait for life to slow down for you. Don’t wait for an empty chunk of hours to fall in your lap.

I invite you to make some slow time for yourself this week. Get deeply involved in that time with whatever you like, reconnect or dream and imagine. Just do it nice and slowly.

Celebrating Beltane down under

Gundestrup Cauldron, showing Celtic horned god Cernunnos with torc, Denmark, c100 BC. (Photo by CM Dixon/Print Collector/Getty Images)
Gundestrup Cauldron, showing Celtic horned god Cernunnos with torc, Denmark, c100 BC. (Photo by CM Dixon/Print Collector/Getty Images)

It is Beltane here in the Southern Hemisphere and sometimes it is hard to see how Australians celebrate this wild time of exploding fertility and the fullness of spring, but we do. You won’t see may poles in many places (unless it is a re-enactment group), and you won’t see Beltane mentioned openly or officially, but we celebrate it. You can’t help but feel the sap rise inside you at this time of year, the urge to connect, renew and (if you still have it in you) ‘fertilise your fields’. Yes, I’m being a little coy about sex there, you’ll see why in a little bit.

Beltane is a sexy time of year. We don’t really go in for dancing naked around a fire – we’re a bit too “occupational safety” minded for that kind of thing, plus we’re touchy about setting off fires, but the partying and fertility rites are here to stay and well out in the open.

Increasingly Australians are deciding to celebrate Halloween. It can be confusing to those of us who honour the wheel of the year and downright frustrating too. However, I’ve realised that there’s a nuance that I’ve been missing. Aussies don’t have many shared rituals – as a multicultural nation of people with diverse and or largely (officially) secular backgrounds, we have a magpie habit of comfortably picking only what we like from things and using it to suit our needs. I think the reason we’re appropriating Halloween is simply because it is a well timed excuse for a dress-up party, right at that time of year when we feel like getting sexy. It is also popular because it is suitable for kids to participate, unlike our major, national event, The Melbourne Cup.

That’s right, “The race that stops a nation” is confusing as a national ritual until you realise that it a default, secular, authorised outlet for Beltane celebrations and energy. All around the country, on a single day, all the normal rules are off. You’re expected to gamble, you’re allowed/ encouraged to drink booze (even at work!), you’re expected to leave your normal inhibitions at home in a box for the day. Punters and partiers dress up and then get really drunk on enormous amounts of alcohol. They have a great time. Loads of people have fun. The horses, not so much. There’s plenty of passed out people, or staggering, puking people and (here’s why I was being coy earlier) eyewitness reports of couples ‘fertilising their fields’ on the track and in the car park by the end of the day. Of course, none of this is mandatory. Some people are able just to enjoy a special lunch. My point is not *gasp* people getting messy, it is that this is a normal working day. A Tuesday.

There is nothing special about this race compared to any of the other major race days throughout the spring carnival. Over time, it was this race that grew, that got a little momentum and here we are with something to hang our Beltane on. Don’t go in for horse racing? No worries, hook into the “Halloween” excuse for a party. Don’t like monsters? Have a BBQ, celebrate your wedding anniversary or one of your friend’s birthdays (November is so conveniently located months after the Australia Day and Valentine’s Day rituals to supply an endless number of birthdays to enjoy.

How ever you prefer it, enjoy your Beltane this weekend.

I love and hate a sunburnt country

Dorothea MacKellarI have been lucky enough to travel to the other side of the world and visit the ‘home country’ (as it was still being called when I was little). I’d always aspired to this cultural ‘homecoming’  in an unconscious way due to a steady childhood diet of English culture, books, stories, myths, music and television. Badges, foxes and the Queen imbued the world that was valued, but not the world that I inhabited. The world I lived in had bushfires, snakes and Christmas in summers so hot you could burst your skin if you got badly sunburnt. It was confusing.
So I went to England to see the Queen, her Tower, and the Thames. I went to Bath and Stonehenge too as well as Stratford on Avon. It was gorgeous and charming. Every day I was excited to see visit and touch another sacred idea of home. The more I saw, the more I wanted to consume. Tintagel, Cornwall, the Lakes District, Portsmouth, Sussex, Sherwood Forrest all the places and names and stories, I wanted to bring them all to life inside of me, and yet … I was homesick.

I didn’t understand the food, the humour, even the greetings. Oak trees were a revelation to me, but the colours all looked too bright and even soft. It was only in England that I began to truly understand what it is to be Australian, to yearn for a big sky. As is so often the case, a writer had been there before me, and put my feelings so well into their own words.

The love of field and coppice,
Of green and shaded lanes.
Of ordered woods and gardens
Is running in your veins,
Strong love of grey-blue distance
Brown streams and soft dim skies
I know but cannot share it,
My love is otherwise.

Those are the words of Dorothea Mackellar OBE, the opening stanza of her famous poem. Like me, she was a third generation Australian, grown up with stories of the “home countries” and indeed she wrote this poem while visiting England and feeling homesick (source).

I didn’t know this stanza at the time, but I have often reflected on it since. There are in fact six stunning stanzas to this beautiful poem, which it is not currently in vogue to love, as I unashamedly do. But I also hate it, as I sometimes hate the way our country is so very hard to live with. I’m watching the footage on the television of the State of Victoria burning, and I’m feeling terror flood my body. I can hear the popping of the oils in the gums and smell the heavy smoke rushing ahead of the roaring fire front. I feel for the people fleeing their houses, with pets and livestock if they have the time, treasured photos and documents, or just their lives if the wind makes an unexpected push. Next week it could be our neighbours, or Queensland. People wonder at our humour when the farmers of the west can say, “Not much here to burn since the four years of drought.”

I can’t laugh. Grief overtakes me. Floods may come soon after, or the rains may not come for years yet, as El Nino grows in strength here and sends La Nina to Argentina.

Sometimes I hear city people say “Why do they live there if they know it is a bushfire zone?” and it is a reasonable question for all those millions of Australians who’ve always lived in suburbs or the cities. But not for those who love those ‘far horizons’ that you get in the bush. If you’ve lived in the country, then the odds are that the country lives on in you. We’ve made these nests of humans along the coasts where cyclones and storms might be the seasonal threats and when they pass through the locals shrug and say “It is just part of life, part of living here.” They would never leave either. They love the ‘jewel-sea’. Why does this love hurt? It is love, we all chose to stay – far though we may roam.

Sunburnt and happy

Australians like to travel, we all have stories to flesh out and names to bring to life in the far distant lands. We are the long-haul hard-core travellers. It is long hours to even our nearest neighbours. Nearly all of us come back here, gratefully, to this place with the contradictions that form us and the skies we miss and the beaches for endless holidays. We boast of our sunburn and deadly animals, much as we work hard to avoid them all at any cost. Sometimes I think the bush ballads are too honest now for our desire to be sophisticated and urbane. I am torn between the unendurable summers and their suffering and the longing I have when I’m gone. I envy Dorothea the clarity of her vision, and the resilience of her spirit in facing a lifetime without air-conditioning!

I’m a long way from resolving my passionate confusion over this country and even my relationship with this poem. I will grieve for our brothers and sisters in Victoria who face such hardship this week, and support them when the times comes to rebuild as we all know and trust that we will do for each other here. Because one thing is always true in Australia, this is not a land tamed by humans, it is not domesticated. Slowly, every generation, it seeps into our souls ever further and we are trained to live with it, we are the ones who must learn her long and secret ways. We are stubborn, but she is eternal. I may well spend many years trying to hear that gum-soft whisperof her love. For now we shall leave the last words to Dorothea (listen to her recite the poem).

An opal-hearted country,
A wilful, lavish land –
All you who have not loved her,
You will not understand –
Though earth holds many splendours,
Wherever I may die,
I know to what brown country
My homing thoughts will fly.
Image source.

Rough seas leave me stormwrecked

stormwreckedEvans used to say “Rough seas make for seasoned sailors” and give a little whistle when the new crew went that grey-green and ran for the head. He was forever telling others to look on the bright side of scurvy, no rum and being stormwrecked a long way out to sea. I almost wish he’d made it through just so I  could see how he’d whistle now.

But Evans is long gone, he went in the first days, back when our world became stillness. Those weeks of glazed water and silent sails that weakened us all. Nothing has gone right since we took on the new cargo. Clouds hang low on the horizon even now that we’re on our knees, clinging onto what’s left of the mast and muttering a prayer to anyone we think will listen.

Once we cheered when the first breeze returned. By the time we realised the breeze was a wind sent from the depths of never and would build into a storm beyond reckoning it was too late to attempt reason. My map was torn away in the very beginnings of that tempest two, was it three days ago? We’ve since drifted, flung, catapulted far from any course even an albatross might remember. The cargo moans. Low in the water we hang, and slosh in the heavy weather and low in bowels of each us we feel rough water coming, rough water churning.

Even my first mate, ever stalwart and steady, this week deserted his post and wouldn’t meet my eye. Dry rations, silence where there should be warmth and nothing but the cold cold comforts of frail hope in long dark.

Then came the depths of the storm and even our shadows fled.

All was elemental. Screams and silence merged. The promise of the sun was a myth to tortured, stormwrecked souls. Was it eternal, that storm? Are we in it, even now, as a feeble sunrise denies the horror? Is it death and we will live forever in the tides of destruction and despair visited upon us by the impersonal wrath of an unleashed ocean? The cargo is reclaimed.

The depths have their own harmony that cannot be gainsaid by any Queen or Emperor yet they insist on the hubristic attempts, leaving ants like soaking in rough seas stormwrecked, broken and lost. Remember me, if you can, I am lost at sea.

(image credit)

Winter solstice – waiting on a sign

waiting-for-a-signHave you been waiting for a sign about what is coming next? The solstice is around the corner and it is a great reminder that what you’re asking for is being answered. The earth has turned in a circle of the year and we spiral through the rhythms of our lives. Here in the south the sun is about to be reborn – it is a time of renewal. The sign you’re waiting for is already up and all you need to do now is see it.

Not as easy as it sounds

What we can get stuck in is a rut of things being literal. We expect the world to put up a billboard for us and to advertise directly in a way we can’t miss. After all we’re busy! We’ve got a lot of emails to read and stuff to do. It is not like we’re sitting around with time on our hands, no way, we’re multitasking our way to the end of every week trying to keep a dozen things on the go. As people say these days “Aint nobody got time for that!”.

But wait – there’s less

You have all the time there is – a lifetime – but how easy is it to get that confused with jobs and roles and the expectations of the world. House prices and debt repayments and whoa Christmas is on the way! It all rushes up and around us. Take a moment here. The sun comes up every day. Let it be your sign. Let the sun’s tides be a cue to do a little less, take a little time, wait a little longer. There’s a time later on for blazing away. Now is a time for looking around and taking in what is waiting for you.

Is there something you’re asking for? Look and listen now for the answers that are being suggested. This is it. Life is here now.

Share your sunrise smile

share your sunrise smileLast week talked about the bliss of being and how it is part of you wherever and whenever you are. Do you want a tip for how to connect with it? Like so many things in the world you have to give something up to get something else. This is radical, you’re going to love it, you need to share your sunrise smile. With strangers, whenever you can. Flagrantly, extravagantly, abundantly.

Feel the sunrise

Although sometimes you have a tough week the world doesn’t stop and wait while we pull ourselves back together but the mundane miracle is the each day really is a new day. Our habit is to carry the burden of yesterday forward into today and we open our eyes to the world already heavy with the weight of the past. Imagine that instead each morning your mind was clear like the sand washed smooth by the tide and you could smile radiantly with your whole being. Incandescent with joy, innocence, bliss. That is a sunrise smile, the expression that everyone who knows you and cares for you loves to see on your face. It is the smile that gives strangers a tingle and makes just about everyone smile in return. It is your expression it is your treasure and you must give it away every day.

The gift that keeps on giving

Of course it is also a magical smile in two important ways.
Firstly, like all smiles, it multiplies. The more you share, the more you get back. This is nearly always true. I work in a building with a lot of lawyers, they don’t seem to like people smiling during business hours. Tough crowd.
Secondly, and here’s the unexpected win, it makes you feel *amazing*. If you practice and reach into the place inside you where the sunrise lives, you’re shunting away the built-up grunge from yesterday and you’re not rushing forward into what might happen later, you’re holding a golden moment of utter “now-ness” right there in your heart and it just bursts right through to your face. Wow. Try it. It feels weird to begin with. Practice on your dog or a favourite tree.
It gets easier, and apart from the delight you get in having lots more people smiling at you more of the time, you’re also experiencing connection with your own bliss of being. Wins all round.
Share your sunrise smile as much as you can and live today from your bliss.

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