December 31, 2012
The origins of being nice
The origins of being nice?
Being nice is having nothing left to defend,
no barricades of fear, distraction or self-pity.
It's having no rights to protect, no territory to be threatened, no feelings repressed.
It's having died already and risen beyond the small arrows fired by frustrated lives.
It's having lain so broken in the mud that there's nothing left inside that can be hurt.
Shattered bones healing, made stronger at the broken places; and we notice the twinges, yes, but talk now more of healing than hurt;
with huge halls of inner space for the loving recognition of hurt in others.
Being nice is not the same as being polite.
And it's surprisingly costly.
But very nice.
December 30, 2012
This is me
Content with just being
Warmed by the sun
Watered by the rain
Moved by the wind
Heartbeat echoes down deep corridor
Leading to infinite space
This is me
Bigger than I ever imagined
Room to dance
Not just sideways, forwards or backwards
But room for movement in every conceivable direction
Up, down and all around
With loops and curves
Spirals and leaps
I can touch the stars
Meet with the moment of all creation
Know and be blessed by my own
This is me
Amazing, wonderful, incredible me
And I wonder
I wonder why
I so often choose
To live in the crumbling, cramped tenement block room
Conforming to the madness of the world
Shifting shape to fit in with others wishes and expectations
Being grateful for the crumbs that fall my way
When a seat at the top table is laid
And a voice is calling, calling me
'Come, claim your throne,
This is me
This is you.
December 29, 2012
The coldest place in the world
The coldest place in the world
Is the land of withdrawn connection
Some children spend a great deal of their childhood in this place
Pushed out into the cold by those who are unable to respond to their needs
Being forced to live in this place
Impacts immensely on their adult life
Always cold, yet aching for the warmth
Longing for a place by the fireside
Continually searching for the sun
With their core emotions frozen in time
The only way to survive
Was to put on layers of insulation against the harshness of the conditions they were forced to live
But as the child grows into adulthood, these extra layers work against them
Making relationships with others awkward and difficult
What once kept them alive, now stops the thawing that would bring them the freedom they yearn for
The liberty to be joyful and to connect with the world
However once the adult notices these extra layers
Once they can sit in front of the Truth Mirror
And look upon their stunted small self
They can choose to reach out with kindness, care and love
Then the healing that allows the unfreezing can begin
Warmth can be welcomed
Holding can be considered
Connection can be allowed
It may take time
But this is ok
For true and lasting relationships do take time.
December 28, 2012
This mid-winter darkness, cold but kind
It is the nest of the soul.
Here I'm released from the prison of required shape,
where I need to be this, that or the other;
here I'm relieved from the strain of being exposed.
It is the sweet nest of my soul,
where calls to function die away,
pressure to perform dissipates,
requirements to impress fade.
I crawl into the shelter of the night,
the obscurity of the long night and deep shade,
the hidden cover of the furrow,
the unformedness of the womb,
for this mid-winter darkness,
cold but kind,
is the nest of my soul.
December 27, 2012
That's Christmas over! Or is it?
'That's Christmas over,' said a depressed woman in the newsagents this morning.
She looked tired, distracted as she paid for her paper, and spoke as one who saw the Day as a hurdle to be jumped, a fire wall to walk through, now negotiated, happily or otherwise.
'That's Christmas over.'
Perhaps all her life is something to be negotiated, something to be got through, endured, then ticked off:
'At least that's over'
It's not uncommon and perhaps she spoke for you too, there's much that can damage us at this time:
'Thank God, Christmas out the way!'
Though in my diary, the twelve days of Christmas have only just begun and that warms my heart.
It's in this space behind the day itself, when everyone has stopped talking about it and planning for it and being absurd about it, that Christmas is often best discovered; when the pressure eases and and the guests have all gone home.
It is now our secret Christmas can emerge, like an intrigued and wondering child, something starting small but growing.
My secret Christmas is appearing around one of the cards I was given, Rembrandt's 'Landscape with the Rest on the Flight in to Egypt.'
Painted in 1647 and owned by the National Gallery of Ireland, it is mostly darkness and inhospitable terrain in which burns a small fire. Around this fire site the fleeing couple, beneath a tree, huddled with their child.
It's Mary, Joseph and Jesus escaping Herod's men.
Future uncertain, but here is home until dawn comes.
A fire burning in the dark, heat and light and rest.
On their search for a home, home finds them.
December 24, 2012
The journey to the House of Joy
A Christmas Eve extract from 'Pippa's Progress':
We pick up the story after a good day for Pippa; but now night is falling and she's in the mountains....
After the wonder and warmth of the day, the clear night sky brought a chill to the air. And Pilgrim was hungry. Where was food to be found in a place such as this? And where would she sleep?
She'd been told to trust the path but it hadn't always proved kind and, as she dwelt on that thought, other fears assembled themselves. Should she have taken up Dismal's offer? Was she stupid to be walking this darkening path alone with only the howling wolves for company?
The wolves could no longer be ignored, their night shrieks terrifying and close. And further on, when she saw two merciless eyes glinting in the moonlit dark, she froze with fear. What chance did she have here? And when the eyes appeared to move nearer, she simply turned and ran, dodging the trees, slipping and sliding in icy undergrowth, launching herself forward, again and again, keeping going, keeping moving through the cold.
Breathless, Pilgrim reached the edge of a scree where the land fell away. She stopped and dared look round. Was she being followed? Had she managed to shake off her pursuer? She'd heard nothing behind as she stormed through the woods, but the news was not good: two eyes had now become eight and from one of their mouths emerged another heart-stopping howl.
In terror, Pilgrim threw herself down the loose-stoned scree, rolling and falling; and it was half-way down that the changing vista revealed a log cabin ahead with a light burning inside. But could she get there in time?
There were now four baying wolves behind her, panting in the chase with Pilgrim plunging forwards and aware now of disturbance. Shouts were breaking out in the darkness and stones flying over her head.
'Keep running!' cried a voice holding a lantern, and Pilgrim did as bid. She ran towards the light, aware of both snarl and whimper in the snow behind.
She arrived at speed into the arms of a large man launching everything he could at the sharp-fanged pursuers, now turning back towards the dark undergrowth.
'Fear nothing,' he said, guiding her exhausted frame towards the bright red front door. 'They won't be back tonight.'
'Thank you,' said Pilgrim. 'I thought I was done for then.'
'Not an uncommon thought. We often think our story is over - '
' - until we realise it isn't?'
'Precisely. My name's Mr Home Fires by the way and welcome to the House of Joy.'
He opened the door and Pilgrim, on stepping into the light and warmth, collapsed instantly.
Our approach to Christmas is not always full of peace. But may you collapse into the House of Joy....
No wolves now...
December 21, 2012
It's not a hair cut. So what is it?
He's fat, I grant you.
Wide of girth.
As broad as he is tall.
And I got him from a hairdressers.
I don't visit the hairdressers much these days...they tend to demand hair to work on.
But just off the Holloway Road, a hairdressers is selling Christmas trees this year.
Diversifying, we all have to.
No one coming in to have their hair cut? Sell Christmas trees. It's obvious.
As a freelance, I'm told I need four income streams as two are always about to disappear.
The two bit is certainly true...the four, is that a pig flying past my window?..
But back to my fat/generously proportioned christmas tree. Some have looked askance:
'It's very short', they say.
'WTF' I think.
(I carried it home.)
Others, however, have embraced the generosity of its branches...room for everyone...and everyone is there believe me, robins, angels, baubels, shepherds, odd dangly bits, combine harvesters, snow flakes, the lot... though due to its lack of height, it's something of a bungalow experience, all on one level.
Have I mentioned that it's squat and could well be called 'Sumo'?
In the end, however, it is what it is.
Like all of us.
And it's utterly brilliant.
December 20, 2012
Different sorts of silence
There are different sorts of silence.
The silence of admiration: awe, and it's better than applause.
The silence of contempt, not even bothering to respond.
The silence of fear, you could say something but you're frightened.
The silence of the broken heart, wounds beyond the sad cycle of recrimination and rebuke.
The silence of contemplation, a pondering, listening stillness.
The silence of tragedy, the scene surveyed so bleak that all words are stupid.
The silence of mutual trust, sometimes company is best enjoyed wordless.
And your silence at the beginning of each day around Christmas, like the silence at the beginning of time.
What will be created from this?
December 17, 2012
Sometimes rest comes
Sometimes rest comes.
'I know what should be, but I don't know how to get there,' she cried, 'It's like banging my head against a wall, bang, bang, bang!'
Though sometimes rest comes and the banging stops.
In the words of Julian of Norwich, sometimes 'it seems to the soul that God has been moved to look upon it, as though it had been in pain or in prison, saying: I am glad that you have found rest for I have always loved you and I love you now, and you love me.'
And sometimes this is so.
Sometimes - and I have no procedures, no three steps to heaven, steps vary - rest comes for those who bang their heads, to the frustrated end-of-my-tether people;
or to those who fear the worst, yes? 'I'm a 'worst always expected' sort of a person, always have been,' he said to me on the phone today, 'but in the jaws of hell, rest came.'
As sometimes it does; as though someone or something is looking upon us kindly.
And words like meaning, hope and calm embarrass us with tears, watering the cheerful soil of our, well, rest. How did I get to here?
I have no procedures, steps vary, but I have seen that this is so.
December 15, 2012
A Good Weekend
I hope its a good weekend for you.
It may be one shot through with plans, commitments and things to do.
I suppose the secret for us all is to stay as free from agendas as possible, so that no one scheme or outcome takes hold of our psyche and makes a fool of us.
Which is why I tweeted today about getting up and starting again, starting as though we know nothing (entirely accurate) and then starting again at lunch as well, and maybe at tea, just in case we're imagining ourselves an expert by then...and ensuring things really are passing through us.
We have a path to follow this weekend and we don't have a path.
And to this end I'm grateful to one of you who sent me your favourite bits from Pippa's Progress this week. One of them was this line from a scene towards the end:
'You walk in the cloud of unknowing and there is no path to follow. The path withdraws and you walk by the power and insight of your heart.'
That's good for a weekend in December when we can be rather enslaved by tasks...and frenetic paths.
We walk a path and we don't walk a path, seeking only the power of our heart.
And we keep noticing the sky, and feeling the wind, and watching the feelings pass through as the weekend unfolds.
Perhaps you must be busy today, so much to do; but you will also so free.
December 13, 2012
A birth is announced
The mother is with child and we're told to rejoice and again rejoice; for one is promised who will be called 'wonderful' and be third in line to the throne.
Politicians fell over themselves to be 'more pleased than thou' with the announcement that the Duchess of Cambridge was pregnant. David Cameron 'struggled to contain himself' during the meeting when he heard the news and we were all firmly told that the nation was rejoicing; though not the bit of it I was sitting with.
My friend had just returned from Afghanistan, where she's spent much of her life in development work and she was furious at the wall-to-wall coverage. 'This is why I don't feel comfortable in the west,' she said. 'It feels more real in Afghanistan. There was a bomb in Jalalabad yesterday. Why isn't the news covering that?'
But one woman's discomfort became a global fury after 2Day radio set in motion the fickle law of unintended consequences around the royal pregnancy. Prank phone calls made early to London's King Edward 7th hospital, before the receptionist was at work, meant nurse Jacintha Saldanha took the call. She was not talking to the royal family as she imagined but to a giggling commercial radio station in Australia.
Tragically, it was a humiliation she was unable to cope with and as news of her death criss-crossed the world, there was a maelstrom of condolence, confusion and rage.
Kate and Wills, as they are affectionately known, are not to blame for any of this. One of the reasons for the extraordinary interest in their child is simply their popularity. In national polls, they are the most popular royals and therefore lightning rods for the nation's transference; yes it's time we talked about that.
Transference is a process first described by Freud whereby attitudes, feelings and desires of very early significant relationships are transferred, unconsciously, onto the therapist; but its reach stretches way beyond the psychiatrist's couch. When Princess Diana died, the outpouring of grief was believed by many to be transference of sadness onto Diana which people did not allow or acknowledge in themselves.
In like manner, other people can sometimes draw happiness from us, vicarious happiness, in which we are happy on their behalf: 'I'm so happy for you even if I can't experience it myself.'
Transference is not dangerous once people are conscious of it; and in the hands of a good therapist can be used to help people re-engage with denied feelings in themselves.
Kate and Wills are an ordinary couple who are not an ordinary couple and to that extent, rather like Mary and Joseph who, along with their baby, were also under a pressure they didn't create for themselves.
'The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight,' wrote the Rector Phillips Brooks of Philadelphia after a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Now that's what I call transference.
December 11, 2012
Three cradles in the Middle-East
Archeologists discover three cradles in the Middle-East.
Those of the baby Mohammed, the baby Jesus and the baby Abraham.
How sweet! And indeed, how lovely.
And really, didn't they all do well? Those who have founded major world religions are quite an exclusive club.
But sadly, as the three familes gather round the cradles - or rather, their particular cradle - an argument starts and a fight breaks out.
Not quite sure how it began, but it seems some people were feeling insecure.
It must have been that, because only the insecure are divided by difference.
Difference feeds the holy.
December 09, 2012
'Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is.
In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.'
December 06, 2012
They've had three vicars in the last twenty five years; the last one left the priesthood after punching his dad. They're a rural community, but have moved away from the farm.
So which parish am I describing?
Emmerdale, the ITV soap opera, used to be called Emmerdale Farm. But even a national institution has to move with the times - apart from the Church of England obviously - so they modernised the theme tune and dropped the 'Farm' to make very clear they're not just for those with cow shit on their boots.
Characters though, must take the ups and downs of life, particularly blond go-getter Katy (used to be so nice) who recently fell down a disused mine shaft, ending up in a dark tunnel - so cut off from life that not even her mobile worked.
A terrifying thought.
Waiting at the top of the mine is her unpleasant husband Declan, with whom she's just had a major marriage-busting fall-out. But now, in the cold light of day - and it is cold on those Yorkshire Moors - he regrets what he said and realises he really does love her.
But with underground flooding a danger will he ever see her again?
Sudden emotional U-turns are essential in soaps. They're a popular art form because they portray one emotional drama after another; 'just like real life' we're told, only ten times more intense and crucially, with much quicker healing in relationships.
If soaps were like real life, where grudges are held for years, none of the characters would be talking to each other after ten episodes, which would be a problem for the script writers and viewers alike.
For this reason, soaps need the dramatic U-turn where people like Declan suddenly realise that the wife he hated he now loves; oh, and the sister he tried to destroy is now 'family', with blood thicker than water etc. Three lead characters all talking again; job done.
And although Ashley, the former vicar, did punch his father, there were extenuating circumstances and religion is not treated with unkindness in the series. Ashley stayed on in the village without his collar and is now one of Emmerdale's more emotionally-stable residents. (Not a huge amount of competition, I agree.)
Meanwhile the new vicar arranged a vigil for Katy in the pub, a 'non-denominational setting', as he said. His intentions were good but the candle-lit silence in 'The Wool Pack' did suffer from certain drinkers talking loudly about the day's shopping spree.
There can be value in using the church occasionally.
Soap art doesn't so much mirror life as accentuate it, magnify it. Everything's a drama on its way to being a crisis. Take Katy for instance. Two weeks after an ecstatic honeymoon, marital matters have nose-dived. Declan has said he doesn't need her and after a terrible row she's now dying in an underground tunnel. Soap characters, like the rest of us, learn quickly that life is a fickle mistress.
So what happens next?
Oh go on, tell us.
More suspense, until...
(Emmerdale really span it out)
More adverts...more suspense...and then...and then...
(No, they really did spin it out endlessly)
Theme tune and closing credits, please.
December 03, 2012
The murderous darkness of the first draft
As some of you may know, I'm presently working on some murder mystery books.
I've always wanted to create my own detectives and give them some darkness to explore.
'A Vicar, Crucified' will be the first; it's currently going through the editing stage and is out early next year.
In the meantime, I've had to get started on the sequel and I'm 18000 words into that difficult, rock-breaking, wrist-aching, mind-disturbing 1st draft.
I set out with a group of characters I don't really know, all with futures I'm not sure about.
So who are these people? And how will I find out?
The answer of course is to get them talking. Get them on the page with one of the others, get them talking.
We reveal ourselves when we speak, however secretive we may imagine oursleves to be.
Our pause tells all.
Our choice of words tells all.
Our sigh tells all.
Our deft evasion tells all.
Our irritation and judgements tell all.
And does that smile reach the eyes?
And so I've been listening today, getting them on the page, getting them together and listening, listening and watching.
Listening to the sighs, the pauses and casual irritations.
And tonight, for the first time, I see who two of them are.
Some light in the murderous darkness...
December 01, 2012
Advent. What now?
It's the first day of Advent today.
The season that leads us to Christmas.
Some of us are opening our first window. And without our glasses may be stuggling to see what it is...once we've discovered, with heavy heart, that it isn't a chocolate.
(Clue: it could be a poorly drawn sheep.)
Advent as a season has changed over the years. In former times, it was a little like Lent, a time of humbling, chastening, in preparation for the grand, ecstatic and divinely hilarious festival of Christmas.
These days, it's a mad headlong and increasingly tense rush towards the exhausted and stressed-out Festival of Collapse. (Formerly known as Christmas Day.)
It's total hecticity - a new word, rooted in the word 'hectic', to describe what happens to people in the West in December.
But it is only so if we allow it.
So each day we'll dissolve the hecticity of events with our simplicity of self. We'll stay in touch with the self living the events.
I didn't write Pippa's Progress as an Advent read, honestly; but I might as well have done as I reflect on these things.
And it may even give Christmas back to us.
Which is nice.