Monday, 26 December 2011

These are a few of my favourite (Christmas) things..

Since I keep on humming the classic Sound of Music song to myself, I was already thinking of writing a post about some of my favourite things this Christmas, and then my daily Enneathought suggested that “On Boxing Day, which can be a day of recovery from celebrations, quietly reflect on your blessings. As a Nine, consider the ways you are blessed with being optimistic, good-natured, and creative.” So today I am celebrating the blessings of my life, and the blessings of being me! :-)

Enjoying our newly renovated den with friends who really appreciate it, and who experienced Den #1 enough to know how significant the changes are! My very creative friend Abigail just made us two gorgeous cushions to grace our ruby red sectional sofa, making the lovely room even prettier. And I’ve been lighting candles often in the evenings for a wonderful inviting ambiance. Today’s happy scene: four of us spaced out the sofa with either book (thanks for mine, Joanna!) or ipad or laptop, perhaps snoozing, maybe with blanket and cat on lap... just being. Old friends (length of acquaintance rather than age!) are great for this: we can laugh, remember, get serious, get heated, be silent; everyone naturally mucks in to clear up, cook breakfast, wash up, initiate something to watch or a good conversation, carve the turkey, peel and chop vegetables, make (lots of) coffee... Comfortable.

The pleasure and satisfaction I get from cooking a lovely meal, making the table and house look pretty, and choosing presents for loved ones that I know they will enjoy... coupled with Jeremy’s very real gratitude with how I “make Christmas happen, and do it so well”. :-) After so much thought and planning (and shopping!) these last weeks, I was especially happy that I still have a good sense of what Amélie will love. It's so gratifying to witness her joy and delight. These celebrations definitely are a LOT of work, but they are worth it... Satisfaction.

Starting to read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to Amélie on Christmas Day 2011, with snow gently falling outside and the lights of the Christmas tree twinkling in the corner or the room. I absolutely loved reading it to her, and am so looking forward to working our way through the whole series (which my Mum and Dad are sending to her a book at a time) and rediscovering it as an adult; Amélie, too, was evidently already captured by the story and characters. Joy!

My new snugly red robe from Long Tall Sally (a gift from Jeremy), which almost reaches my feet and is incredibly warm, and almost matches my favourite sofa! I‘ve never had a robe this long or beautiful or warm and it makes me happy! I keep on wanting to repeat the brilliant line from Despicable Me (there spoken by the littlest girl about the soft unicorn she really wants): “It’s so fluffy I’m gonna die!” :-) Fluffiness!

Just enough snow to make things pretty and white and Christmassy, but not so much that travel plans are scuppered or the footpaths by the river hard to negotiate for a late morning stroll. It was beautiful out there today, especially the black of the river against the snowy banks, and all the feathery reflections. By the end of the walk, my legs were like ice blocks, but I felt rejuvenated from my turkey stupor... and entitled to some more overindulgence! Enjoy!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Dance, Holy Flame

Dance, Holy Flame. Dance into our darkness. Come as the old friend we are expecting, and come strangely disguised and unrecognised. Come as the guest who brightens our nights with flutesong, tall tales and laughter, and as the visitor who disturbs and exasperates. Enter our homes unnoticed, even uninvited, slipping in on the winter wind, as we bustle to leave the cold and hurry to close the door. Come and gust into the dusty, cobwebbed corners we ignore. Dance, too, around our glittering lights, revealing their lacklustre and granting them a glimmer of your own brilliance. Touch, and turn our festive trees into burning bushes of your Sacred Presence – each ornament a holy reminder of the human giver, maker, conceiver; the riot of untidy and melodious colours and shapes echoing creation's chaotic beauty.

Come to our feasts and revelries. Take our hands and spin us till we are breathless and drunk with joy. Or stand on the sidelines and watch, a contented wallflower. Sit in the empty chair at our shared meals, stand with kindly hand on the burdened shoulder, or crouch smiling beside the happy child. Delight to bring platters laden with exotic fare held high above your head, and be happy to sit with us in the silent darkness caught by a flickering flame and a smouldering spirit.

Surprise us with the way you skip and trip through our days, our spaces and our interactions, merrily weaving around our furniture, touching with gladness the well-worn wood and frayed fabric, and lingering over our conversations – careless or cheerful, stilted or strained. Dance hotly in our sudden rages and hidden furies, to temper and refine, and rock us gently in our loss and despair. Dance closer and then dance away; just as we think we have perceived you, shift and change before our eyes – leave us guessing and in wonder.

Sit where you will in our church services: at the very back on the pile of unused chairs, or in the front row, eager and attentive; even propped against the holy altar if you wish, if you dare. Bear patiently with our fumbling words, our desperate attempts to see, seek, apprehend; touch, adore, and emulate. Please, deign to alight on our gatherings, and scatterings, our grapplings and graspings. Make the simple song, candle, and holy story enough for us, and yet not enough; may we enter into the Holy Now and glimpse as we do the Ever Beyond.

Dance, Holy Flame. Dance in our darkness, which is as light to you. Bring us your light, which is dark to us. May your flame in our midst grant us peaceful trust to sit in darkness, and expectant hope for the coming dawn. Come watch and wait with us. And, at your departing, leave behind unnamed gifts, which we will open as the new year begins.

Clarion call

Voices ring around me, pealing like a carillon of clear bells in my fog. To hear a human voice speaking its truth is a clarion call to authenticity. It is disturbing, unnerving, disorienting. The evident clarity of another soul pierces unclarity, shows up the aimless wandering of my own soul. It is a wake-up call, a dawn bugle, a violent knock on the door in the night hours.

But to answer the call, open the door, rouse myself from sleep... What does this mean? What will it take?

For that voice, bell, clarion, bugle belongs to another and emanates from the true and courageous places of another’s deep self. To try to pick it up and sound it myself would be to enter even more deeply into the shapeless fog. Somehow, somewhere, I must awaken my own slumbering voice, speak kindly and urgently to my own timid soul.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Expectations about expectations

One of the treats of living in New Brunswick, Canada, is that we are no longer forced to go and sort through spindly, overpriced trees at the local garden centre but, instead, can tramp out into the snowy woods and choose a real live, bushy one, chop it down, drag it back to the car, and carry it home triumphant like the proverbial caveman with his quarry (or woman!). This year the snow was absent, but the presence of our good friends – and some ice to stamp on and crack – more than made up for this unusual lack, and the kids all ran around among the trees, usually invisible and so only traceable by their shouts and laughter. Thus it came to pass that the fated tree was chosen without the participation of dearest daughter number one, who has grown to love the way we wander and deliberate and choose together. Bad idea. Both Amélie and I always think we need a taller tree than we can actually fit into our sitting room, but this year she decided it was ‘tiny’ (and so it WAS compared to the giant specimen that can fit into our friends’ house!). Tears were shed. Angry words were spoken over the accursed tree.

Cue my allergic reaction to ingratitude, which sadly isn’t the most accurate radar and can read lack of thankfulness into the simple (but, admittedly, dramatic!) disappointment of a little girl’s deeply-felt desires and wishes. How long will it take me to learn that an attempted clampdown on the emotional reaction of a seven year old is more often a fruitless stab at control than it is a loving or helpful response?! Yes, sometimes a line has to be drawn in the sand, but often a simple ‘being-with’ is enough to allow the tide to reach its lowest ebb and then begin naturally to rise again.

A blessed pause in the proceedings followed. The tree had to wait a handful of days until we could bring it in from the cold to finally stand upright and be dressed in its finery. This was enough days for my dread to grow over what sort of scene would ensue during the tree-decorating afternoon that is ‘meant’ to be a time of family frolicking and fantastic fun! Enough days for me to angrily contemplate another clampdown on unacceptable behaviour so as to ENFORCE gratitude and fun-having! How infuriating that this little person was so unable to manage her high and inflexible expectations of what a tree should be like that she would end up ruining her own enjoyment of what IS – and ours along with it! Truth be told... she would end up ruining MY own (high and inflexible?) expectations...


The day rolled around. The tree rolled in. Even with a ton of trunk sawn off, its peak still touched the ceiling. The perfect size. We laughed. Jeremy is ALWAYS right about this, despite our habitual lack of a tape measure and the subsequent female insistence that our ceiling is higher than he thinks. We put on Christmas music and laid out gingerbread eggnog, crisps and chocolate biscuits. We complained about the sap on our hands. We contentedly arranged each treasured ornament on the fragrant branches. Amélie claimed that this tree wasn’t quite right; it wasn’t like trees we’d had in previous years. Jeremy said he thought she was just getting older, taller, and her perspective was changing. We turned out the overhead lights and Little Girl sat on her Daddy’s lap in the dark silence and stared at this year’s twinkling tree. Expectations had mercifully lost their urgency – along with expectations about expectations! – and we could just be, as we were, with the tree that just was.

It was a typical beginning, at times a tough beginning, but in the end a good beginning to this special, challenging, sometimes magical, sometimes trying season. If we can just BE, just enjoy what actually IS, in all its imperfections – if we can ALL do this! – ours will be a happier, more restful, more loving Christmas.

So be it.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Just Breathe

“Just breathe” The invitation floats to me across the mist above the river.

Driving the same old route home from the school run and captured by the glimpse of hazy water as I passed, I find myself standing on the pier facing the broadening estuary, the mistline just below treeline forming ethereal shapes, one sleeping fishing boat and one bobbing bird the only black against expansive grey.

My internal space feels nothing like the serene, open space before me – tight, tense, packed full and spinning. Though no great tragedy has crossed my threshold, still the full gamut of human emotions dances in my veins this morning: anxiety, sadness, fear, shame, longing, guilt, loneliness... And my heart and mind reach out greedily, desperately, towards and beyond the calm generosity of the riverscape. I need something more, want something more.

“Just breathe.”

Could it be that simple? Just to stand. Just to be. Just to breathe. Not grasp, grab, grapple. Not clutch for answers or meaning... or even rescue. No need to understand, process or resolve all the swirl and churn.

But I’m not sure that’s enough for me, or if I am even able to stop, and let go...

And then I notice. This river, this mist, this sky, these trees and clouds and birds, they make no demands on me. They ask for nothing. So why should I demand anything of them, why stand greedy on this wharf? They are effortlessly what they are, and that is their gift to me, if I can receive it. The unselfconsciously graceful arc of the bird’s neck a second before it dives underwater, black blot absorbed ripplelessly into the vast silver. And, on the far bank, those faithful friends the silver birches remain rooted to their spot, content to exist. They know themselves as part of the whole, as freely sustained, just as the air offers itself to me without reserve or cost or need to be noticed.

I breathe. I am. My inner swirl is like the mist. It just is.

No other stage on which my life plays out offers me so fully this gift, picture, mirror, example. In every arena I bring desires, demands, expectations, and am met by the same in return. I do not object to this, you understand; these are the stuff, the fuel, of human interaction and endeavour. But, oh, to hold these lightly and play them blithely! Oh to complete my next needful task with the same unselfconscious grace as that one bobbing bird!

And so I rediscover what I have finally and recently been learning after almost forty years on the planet: that it is worth taking even five minutes out of my work day to go for a walk in the woods, or ten minutes out of a long journey to look at the sea. Stepping off the stage for mere minutes immerses me in the healing power of nature’s unforced presence, and in its gentle invitation simply to exist, and know my existence to be supported. Just to be.

“Just. Breathe.”