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.

Road rage reflection

It can happen to anybody, maybe even you. Road rage. That ugly beast we can become on the road, and the zombie partner that forms it; if you slip into one, you’ll flip into the other. Let’s take a minute for some road rage reflection.

Chariot pile upImagine if, on a weekday morning, you came out of the house to start your daily commute and found this note on your windscreen.

“To the driver of this vehicle,
You have cut me off twice now, both times I don’t think you saw me at all, even though you came so close and put us both in danger. If you cannot recall the incidents with absolute clarity, then any excuse you think you have is invalid.
Driving is a privilege not a right. Please take this opportunity to refresh your knowledge of the road rules and your understanding of courtesy, and take care to apply them both.
Please don’t make it a third time.”

If that note would give you reason to pause and mentally scroll through memories and evaluate your possible guilt or culpability then you could be someone with an opportunity to change your habits and values when behind the wheel.

Perhaps your opportunity is instead in your habits dealing with shop staff, workers from a different team at your job, the staff who operate the public transport you use, the other people buying groceries at the store, fellow pedestrians, it goes on and on. We have so many interactions every day with so many different people who all have their own story in which they are the central character. For each of us, these are habitual interactions because we live in a world brimming over with people. We have become functions to each other, not fellows, not real people. Functions, meatbots.

Do you ever criticise people who seem continually clenched around their gadget screen or asleep at the wheel or pushing others out of the way in queues? I know I have. It doesn’t feel like enough to try breaking the cycle when those other people then take advantage of you for being nice. We’re all afraid of someone taking advantage of us. I wish I had a moment of enlightenment for every time I’ve been told to ‘toughen up’ or ‘get a thicker skin’.

Actually, when people tell me this I feel more hurt (even fundamentally neglected or undervalued). After all, why can’t other people just be nicer? Why am I the one who’s ‘wrong’? The same types of folk who have no compunction about telling others to ‘toughen up’ seem to never be willing to similarly command others to “be less of an arsehole”. Just sayin.

A wise teacher recently told me that every time I complain about others’ behaviours I am a in fact setting myself back significantly. “Oh great” I thought, “wrong again! Wrong for being too soft, wrong for wanting the world to be more pleasant and now wrong for complaining when others are rude or mean.” That little story I just told to myself there, that was the key to figuring out what he really meant by what he said.
Here are his words:

See if you can catch yourself complaining, in either speech or thought, about a situation you find yourself in, what other people do or say, your surroundings, your life situation, even the weather. To complain is always nonacceptance of what is. It invariably carries an unconscious negative charge. When you complain, you make yourself into a victim. When you speak out, you are in your power. So change the situation by taking action or by speaking out if necessary or possible; leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness.
Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment

I did not want to hear that.

I tried to argue with it. The very first way was by making up that little story above – exaggerating how I am always being made to be wrong – a little melodrama with me as the swooning star. I thought about it every way you can. For weeks. But that’s the trouble with hearing something true, once you know it your life truly changes. So it has been for me as I digest this insight. All else is indeed madness. Leave or accept. Act where you can.

In trying to come to terms with this, I stumbled over this little twist on an old favourite “the grass is always greener where you water it”, fresh enough for me to reflect on my own habits of envy, and to remember the “which wolf you feed” story) and these both made a bridge for me into the key idea that through habit I was allowing a self-identification as a victim in all kinds of realms of daily life. Perhaps that’s another part of road rage – there is a desire to take action against an unfairness or wrong action – and yet violent response outside of building and understanding context and consequence is feeding the wrong wolf, watering the weeds.

In a moment of rage we can be lost to our stories and triggered into moving far from our center. It can feel like blacking out, like being possessed. Inside that unconsciousness we are simply reacting, not making choices. If you feel that you’re in a rut in trying to get positive patterns started in your life then look for places in which you’re complaining about something rather than acting to generate the change that you want. Look with honesty in how you’re describing the story of your situation to yourself and ask if you’re truly supporting the person you want to be or simply enduring the habits you used to water. Imagine forgetting what useless, impotent rage feels like. I think that sounds wonderful, let’s try together.

Image credit.

Ten years living with ulcerative colitis

Janine Prince March 2015This week marks ten years living with ulcerative colitis. Not an anniversary to celebrate. No. However a moment worth marking nonetheless and I’d like to bear witness to my experience. My intention is to do so as a recognition of all the other people who are living with a chronic illness or for those who might find these words when they are first diagnosed, and search (as I did at the time) for some hint that life goes on.
I haven’t learned enough in life yet, but I have learned that my burden is not the heaviest nor the only burden being carried. So many people suffer every day, and that’s the normal part of their day. Many of them are brave, they are courageous, generous, loving and all those things that people are and to me they seem to be saints because they do all of that without ever asking for pity or a special deal for their own personal situation.
I’ve never been like that. I grew up a self-centred, petulant and ego-driven individual who coasted through life enjoying good health and generally easy successes. If something didn’t go my way, I threw a tantrum. I was bad mannered and basically, if you’ll excuse the expression, a pain in the arse.

The fall

Like many people I was misdiagnosed in the early stages and also like many people, the arrival of this condition was extreme. I won’t bore you or try to shock you with the tedious and grotesque details, but if you are interested, by all means read about ulcerative colitis on Wikipedia and be warned, it isn’t pleasant and there are pictures. The first months were a traumatic roller-coaster of denial, endless specialist visits and a cocktail of anger, fatigue, loneliness and humiliation.
Anyone who has a chronic illness has probably had a similar experience in the broad sense. It is something that undermines your sense of identity, worth and optimism. I came to my knees and the landing was hard. Nothing was fair, and no amount of tantrums would change the physical facts. I kept fighting, and I kept not getting anywhere. Chronic illness does not have any obligation to get better or ease up or otherwise change itself just because your life is falling apart.

I can’t go on

For me, it got a bit worse psychologically even while my physical symptoms began to stabilise. Due to the large blood loss sustained on a daily basis, I had a lovey delicate pallor that was visually appealing. I didn’t have anything bandaged, or in a cast, or visible bruising – I looked pretty good. Inside I was in constant pain (no suggestion at that time from any specialist that I seek or simply be given some support for this, other than more drugs) and questioning if this might be a good time to make an informed decision to exist the great stage. Not only was I not confident that the daily regime of drugs would ever restore me to functional operation, but I felt that I had lost my place in the world. Who would ever want someone this broken?

I’ll go on

Thankfully, I didn’t have the energy or the requisite escape-velocity of self-loathing to finalise the exit at that time and urgent practical matters took my mind off the subject in the long, dark nights. If you’re in the first year or so of having been diagnosed with a chronic illness, please get support as soon as possible for managing your physical and emotional pain. Much as you may think it, you’re not currently in a position to make an “informed decision” about what to do with yourself. In hindsight, I can see it was my ego throwing a pretty big tantrum. A bluff I wouldn’t wish on anybody to call.
The sun rose in the east, arced through the sky and set again to the west. The tides of the moon and the wheel of the year swung around me while my bubble of self-protection and self-pity got cramped and ever lonelier. People have different experiences. I was slowly to learn that I was one of the lucky ones. For a long time I kept a list of illness I was grateful I didn’t have and it got longer as I began to listen to other people’s stories. The burdens I was unequal to carrying slowly lightened as I was able to return to work and also to listen with empathy to what others were carrying. It was still unfair, and so little in life was, that the bleakness never wavered. Days trudged by and the game became one of fighting boredom. I was still fighting, still not winning, still pushing people away as much as begging for closeness. It was a life, but it felt hollow. The fight had been to stop the illness from taking over, from changing things, from taking the freedom of choice away. Laugh if you like, it had done that from the moment it appeared, would I ever come to my senses and stop fighting something that had already won?

The serpent

The trouble was, chronic illness is so easy to see as an enemy. For years I thought of it as a great coiled serpent where my bowel should be. A serpent that in some nightmares ate me whole from the feet up. My powerful enemy could bring me to my knees at any time it cared to flex and coil, raise and strike. My feeble body was a warzone of drugs, fear and fatigue.

What if it is all ok?

Thankfully there are a lot of wise and giving people in the world, some of whom planted seeds of wisdom and compassion in my stony skull. I still had some long dark nights where I wondered if all this effort was for nothing, yet at the same time I slowly began to understand the incredible power of helping other people. I began to see a third way between the fantasies of freedom and total annihilation. The endless confrontations with nightmares opened my other eyes to the shadows I held within. Most importantly, I accepted that sometimes the pain was horrible and I stopped trying to anticipate that or wish it away. I held a rock and took it one breath at a time. I checked in every few breaths, maybe changed the rock to the other hand. Breathe. Right now. This is what is happening. Time helped the reality replace the fantasy. I could live in the cracks. Maybe I could bloom where I was planted too. What if I was ok enough?

It is what it is

There’s no snake now, no enemy, no answer either. I have a thing, like you might, or someone you know does. I manage it as best I can and sometimes I can’t. Sometimes I forget I have it, other times, well, I still have that rock to hold. My road in the last ten years has been hard work, and followed a river of tears. Along the way I’ve changed and (hopefully) grown. I wish you all the best on your journey, just remember, we’re all in this together.

Of course, your mileage may vary.

Ask and accept

hands askingSuch a simple act, asking, a transaction we take for granted … until we need it. Then it is hard to ask for help and even harder to accept it. When we need it most, our life is contracted and fearful and we shy from asking for help. Partly because we feel alone and partly because we believe we’re meant to do it alone. Somehow it is ‘cheating’ if you get help or you’ll diminish your eventual standing as a hero.

The Hero’s journey

Our culture venerates heroes. The cult of the individual, of the “self-made man” and “supermom” those who seem to have endless amounts of time and energy to be focused, ‘together’ and successful. They battle uneven odds, villains, entropy and all manner of hurdles to win out at the end. Those stereotypes make it hard for normal people like us to feel adequate, to feel ok about wanting someone to help us. We want to be a hero. We want to be Sam or Frodo, off doing deeds that bards will sing about when in fact we’re at home in Hobbitton dealing with overdue bills, an infestation in the crop and illness in the family.

Part of the bigger picture is that it is too easy to slip into thinking in binary. This kind of “win or die” sloganeering that suits the need marketing firms have for dramatic impact is not helpful for general living or for remembering the infinity of possibilities that are available to us. The pervasiveness of hero-based entertainment distracts from our emotional development in respecting our connections and relationships. That is fairly fancy-pants way of saying that when we want deeper, honest, trusting and intimate relationships, we’re ready to learn more about dealing with conflict and about asking for help. Here’s a tip for advanced players – they’re the same thing.

Fighting for your life

When our world contracts to difficulty and we tighten up around the hurt, we’re likely to feel very alone. That perspective is defensive in nature, it is a way of protecting what little we have left and our claim on what was taken away. We aren’t open to a lot of possibilities, normally we attach or even fixate to a single outcome “I want it back the way it was” and moving through that is a hard road. Some people can never find their way out of that grief and anger.

Maybe it isn’t you, maybe you’re standing by someone’s side as they face a dreadful outcome. Maybe you feel useless, or rejected, or attacked as the person you most want to help lashes out at those closest with blind pain or fury. We’ve all been both of those people at one time or another. Did you find the courage to love them through that time, understanding that their actions at that time were a symptom only? Were you able to accept the unknowing of that time and stay committed to standing by them, no matter what? I bet you did. You’re probably thinking that was a no-brainer. Maybe in hindsight you wish you’d done more or been stronger. Rarely do we consider what transformations might happen if we are softer.

Softly does it

If we can soften (sweeten, gentle, trust, surrender – whatever is the word that makes sense for you) in that time of need we can use a different type of power to create possibility and transform our relationship to need.
Imagine you are looking for a chance to help someone every day, that you decided to do this for your own needs or atonement – in that instance you’re actively looking for someone who needs some help. It might be some spare change, or directions on a busy street corner that you can give. It might be listening over lunch to someone’s problem and remembering that there’s an ombudsman who handles appeals or using your personal network to find accommodation for a friend out of town during a medical emergency, or that as your friend’s house floods on the night of her big birthday party you offer to host the party at your place so that guests who are arriving from all corners of the state and city can still gather to celebrate. Those last three are all real, by the way, and from the last week or so. There are some truly wonderful people out in the world (and the ombudsman reclaimed a lost $9 000 so this is not just hand-waving).
But why softness? And what does this have to do with conflict? For a moment think back to the last time someone was unexpectedly nice or kind to you. Did you just feel your shoulders drop a little or your breath deepen a bit? Think of someone who has been endlessly kind to you, and supportive – can you glimpse that warm and fuzzy feeling then? If you can visualise that feeling, feel it, magnify it, this glowing sensation is compassion, it is a type of love.

Not sex love and not alone

Now that you’re a grown-up, you’ve begun to realise that there are all different types of love. Not just lust and adoration, other types too (the love as a friend or as a parent for example). When you can feel that love for strangers (and it is possible) or from an outside source, you’re experiencing divine love. You can learn it if you like (search for “compassion meditation”) it is not hard to get a handle on. One of the amazing side effects of doing simple compassion exercises is the immediate shift in your perception of being alone. Within the concept of divine love, or universal spirit, or cosmic unity (once again play around until you find the words that work for you), how can there possibly be such a thing as ‘alone’? There isn’t. We are, literally and figuratively, all in this together.
Even at a practical, basic, functional level you’re not doing it alone. Someone grew the food you eat and someone else drove it to the store. There’s lots of someones keeping the internet running, making your clothes, building the trains and plumbing and selling you a ticket at the cinema to see the films that other people made. In every area of our life we are part of a vast and interconnected web of people. Don’t be confused by all this talk about economies. Money is an agreement between people – it is the people who really matter. We are fundamentally interdependent and our culture’s veneration of heroes and of ‘individualism’ is an epic case of ego. Like so often with the ego, it leads you towards a less useful place to be in (thanks for nothing ego!).

Gentle hands

Sometimes it is only when you get knocked badly and your knees slam into the ground that you surrender enough ego to open up to grace. You don’t have to make it that hard for yourself, but if you do, try something different and soften up to ask and accept.

Holding a space for someone else (some with whom you may be in conflict) to not be ‘wrong’ in their actions or behaviours means there’s an opportunity for both of you to grown through the experience. It us a challenge to the ego and it does take a high-quality energy but the results are wonderful, they’re transformative. Try it. Call out bad behaviour or bear witness to your own conflict from a position of compassion that gives both of you respect.

When you are in the other position, or being tight and needful, remember that you are part of a whole that includes the possibility of expansion, inclusion and grace. Sometimes it is only when you get knocked badly and your knees slam into the ground that you surrender enough ego to open up to grace. You don’t have to make it that hard for yourself, but if you do, try something different and soften up to ask for help and accept that which is given.

We are all in this together.

Eclipse gravity

Today is a day of power.

Eclipse
1851 07 28 Berkowski” by Berkowski. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Ok yes, most days are powerful days if you’re on your game and ready to embody your intentions with skill, but today is a different day, special in and of itself. There is a special gravity to this eclipse.
This day of total eclipse, a new moon at the omega of the zodiac, tipping right into the equinox is a rare conjunction of patterns. It creates an off inflection for extra agency in your personal choice about perspective.

Stick with this

Before we leap off a precipice of hand-waving, the reason it is valuable to share this is because you and I can both look at the facts of the natural world and see these patterns. That is objective. What we think about them and what meaning we might take from them is subjective and that means we can have an interesting conversation.
The equinox (the time where the night and the day are equal in length) happens twice each year, a moment of unity and convergences in the dualistic dance our tilted axis moves us through between light and dark. Eclipses form and pass as our Earth and the moon spin and dip to each other as together we weave our way in orbit around the sun. The zodiac represents a different view of our orbit, seeing the canopy of stars and planets from the overlay of an ancient pattern that each adjust as the days move along. The natural world is filled with countless such patterns and tides gracefully interacting with each other and forming the normal and significant events that are a backdrop to our human patterns – civilisations, generations, families, birthdays and so on. So many patterns, so many scales of activity and timeframes and perspectives of meaning.

Why that’s great news for you

Sometimes life is hard and unpleasant. Sometimes when that happens, nice people might say “this too shall pass” and they’re trying to be helpful, but it never helped me to feel any better.
That was until I was able to think about it in perspective of the Earth moving around the sun and the four points along that path that you can prove with nothing more sophisticated and complex than a stick in the ground – the solstices and equinoxes. These give the phrase “this too shall pass” some meaningful context.
The Wheel of the year is a bigger picture that I can connect to. I am part of an enormous organism “life” that on this Earth is so ubiquitous as to be taken for granted. Yet in the universe and indeed in the galaxy we know, we can still prove that it is unique to our planet. (No matter how many probes and expectations and hopes and movies we may make or have about the prospect of finding more planets, more somehow of ‘us’. Although I’m not confident that our collective ego would survive if we sadly turned out to not only ‘not-unique’ but actually something more like the shunned ‘hillbilly’ inbreeds of the galaxy that nobody wants to have to call the police on at a wedding but everyone expects that there’ll be a fistfight inevitably leading to blood and tears. But I digress.)

So. Equinox, eclipse – whatever?

Actually a total eclipse doesn’t happen as regularly or often as you may think – at the end of this month we have another, and then there won’t be one for ages. You may have a handful or two of chances to see one in your life (North Pole inhabitants are the lucky ones in this particular instance). This particular one is also a ‘supermoon’ the name for when the moon is particularly close to the Earth there will be king tides because of it. Those are both facts of the science of Astronomy.
Another element of interest to today is from the art of Astrology. This Eclipse happens while the moon is in the last degree of the 360 degrees of the zodiac. That is very unusual. I don’t know how often that pattern happens, but you’re unlikely to come across that one again in your life. You don’t need to believe in astrology or astronomy for both of these things to be happening. They’re going on without you. You can choose what, if any, of this information you take away to apply to understanding your own life and the events and tides you experience in it. Your quincunx is yours to dance within.

What’s your gravitational force?

To be human is to seek connection (or to judge /reject connection if you are rebellious and need something to push against) we move between sets of belonging. It is a force at work within us.
Oddly this is how it is for the stars and planets too. All matter in our galaxy, and in the universe, is bound to each other through subtle, powerful, complex forces and we call it gravity. You and I have no problem believing totally and implicitly in gravity when we play on a swing, catch a ball or drop our toast. Can you easily believe in the power of gravity across a galaxy? Be honest with yourself.

It’s a big question.

Challenge yourself and expand the edge of that belief to the limit of your comfort and look out from that vantage point. What on the horizon makes you uncomfortable? Breathe here for a while and contemplate the nature of things that are unknown or seem impossible. Can you comprehend the vastness of space and the invisible strength of gravity that leads to slow, graceful orbits that human minds can map and trace into the future? What forces pull on you in ways you do not understand but feel to be real? Relationships? The moon? The enormity of the earth below your feet, abstract concepts like money or the type of time that glaciers count?
You may well decide to ignore today other than as a functional section of the weekly calendar. What’s for dinner? Where are the house keys? Or you may drift into an awareness of the bigger patterns of your life that swing around less often than a week and sit underneath the life that is passing in a blur. We are interested in revealing more about life than is held in a spreadsheet. To do that we are on a path of expanding our awareness, our interest, our willingness to hold multiple ideas and possibility. Today, with our total eclipse in the closure of the zodiac on the cusp of the equinox we are in a powerful place of choice.

Open yourself to the idea that you’re part of this single world, we’re together in the gravity of the situation. Patterns are happening around us, within us, even as we shape the events of our lives. Our social and emotional connections to each other give us our relationship gravity, sometimes those orbits put us in the dark, wondering if “this too shall pass” and of course the answer is yes.

Yes, everything changes, and when it comes around again it will be both different in particulars and the same in pattern.

In the dark of this night that is united with day, know that you belong and are part of this mighty dance of the heavens.

Inky Water

dolphins at night

Inky water gives no ripple as we enter,
no need to sink, it is all deep.
Here fears show their own faces
Breathe despite your worry you cannot drown.

This is you, stripped of illusions,
revealed in the shadow’s world.
This is your eternal womb, your own mystery.

Come, join me in the search.
Break the satin surface of this blood-hot reservoir.
There are no tourists here,
we are all seeking the fullness of union.

No light from the other side penetrate.
You must make friends with echoes,
be guided by reflections
Embrace private riddles, brambles and thorns.
Sway in generous currents of eternal grace and beauty.

This juicy place is the source.
We are molten and reformed to wake anew.

 

Image source.

Shit happens

It is Leonard Cohen who moans best “Everybody knows that the dice are loaded, everybody rolls with their fingers crossed” (go and listen) and goes on to enumerate the many ways that shit happens and the universe gives us the rough end of the pineapple. At some point we’ve each felt those words to be the truest thing we’ve ever heard. Sometimes, shit just happens, and there you are – at rock bottom.

Dung barrow - literally a pile of shitThere’s nothing darker, nothing harder. You’re stuck in a situation where the choices are all bad, where there’s no glib ‘out of the box’ solution, where you can’t sweet-talk or wiggle, or ‘leverage’ or visualise abundance or re-frame or negotiate or create a win-win. Here’s the moment where you realise you’re a grown up. This is with you.

Stinks, doesn’t it?

Usually, just to really make sure you’re in a bad place, no one can really help you either. What do you do? How do you cope? Why is life so unfair? Well I’ve got good news and bad news for you.

Bad news

Well the bad news is that there are no simple answers to solve whatever your particular problem, conundrum or situation is. The path ahead of you is going to be rough, uncomfortable and probably life-changing. Ready or not, you’re on it. Also, by the way, no one knows why life is unfair. It just is. That’s another shit thing about being a grown up, there’s no ultimate umpire on the field with you right now who can call a time-out, send off cheating players or award a ‘best and fairest’ to someone who didn’t score but was very nice. Finally, in a personal and physical sense, you’re on your own. You’re in your own head through this with all your demons doing their things. That’s a scary place to be stuck.

Good news

Life is contradictory. Fortuna is both bountiful and capricious.  She can change her mind and ‘whoosh’ the winds blow you in another direction.

Having just finished saying that you’re on your own and no one can help you, the opposite is also true. (This is another weird thing about being a grown up, you have to get used to being able to hold contradictory ideas (truths indeed) in one’s mind, and this is one of them.) Last week we shared ideas for being happier in life and we’re able to do that because so many of us have experienced the same things, just at different times. So if you’re able to accept support, there are people who have also been in a similar dark and hard place and they will share what they have already learnt with you. You’ll have to make your own way out, but at least there will be people cheering for you from the sideline.

Next week we’ll explore some things you can do and some ways to cope with tough situations and rough deals. This is a place for honesty, so let’s admit that we’re about to venture into the realm of grief, sadness and despair. Please be respectful of your own wounds, and those of others. The intention is that by sharing these things we can help to heal ourselves and others who may be lost.

If you are in need of help right now, please ask.  If you’re in Australia, Lifeline offer crisis support and phone counselling. Whatever country you’re in, there’s a charity or service standing ready to help you, please contact them.

Thanks for reading and also for the suggestions last year that we explore this topic.

We are all in this together

There is a team of people who help make these essays happen and it is probably the same for you too, that what you make is not done in a vaccum. Hmmm. Team sounds very sportsy doesn’t it? Maybe even with someone blowing a whistle and pointing and someone else keeping score. Imagine instead people choosing to collaborate and play together sometimes with one purpose and sometimes with another. Perhaps like a Sunday afternoon gathering of friends – you come if you can and contribute how you’re able. There’s always food and conversation that is delicious, filling, and unique.

That’s a nice image – all sitting around sharing good times, making art and memories. Those moments we can treasure. Days like today it is worth remembering how many more people there are in your world who contribute to everything you have and do. Most of them you’ll never have a chance to meet or know or thank in person but in our globalised and specialised world they are legion.

Who are these mystery fans and assistants? They are the people who grow your food, who can it, bake it, transport it, sell it. They are the people designing and making your clothes, your phones and computers, your books and movies. They are the people who sweep the streets, collect the garbage, unblock drains and watch over us through the dark hours. They do their jobs and allow us a place to do ours. Of course we expect that all those people paid to perform their jobs, and mostly they did, but should that stop us from being grateful that they did it with care or at the cost of being with their loved ones? Just because we use an economic system where money is the means of exchange it doesn’t make the people inside that economy invisible or unimportant. Or rather it doesn’t as long as we each remember them and honour them for their contributions to our lives, comfort and convienience.

The world is full of strangers who are on your team – in unexpected ways.

Thank you for reading and being on the team.
There are plenty more conversations and meals for us to share. Everyone is welcome because we’re all in this together.

With thanks to my Editor, Riley.
Riley drafting a new post

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