Till Johannesburg

Credit limit increased
Africa shines inside a twelve week module
Constructed from
Fragment memories
Shards of remembering made-up
Snatches of conversation
The songs we feel
Inside our cars
Ancestral cults and curls
Yearning for belonging
A bigger picture
A cultural context
You know when
It feels right
And the music fills up every broken part
In-head
I offer my children apologies
For the mess we are
Though, shoulders shrugging
When occupying
A point of stillness
In the midst of the Chaos of Us
It’s the realness I get stuck on
That makes sorry unnecessary
After all this
We can only be
Where
We are
Riding the dual carriage way from the Celtic Fringe
London bound till Johannesburg

Echidna

Echidna calls!

Unexpected totem, coming up from the Underground

Clinging to this excavation of truth

Protecting the fragile shoots

Of new creation’s completion

She, being a home-girl and fully grounded

Focuses on detail, unafraid

Scrutinising

A sepia-tinted Bree St, Fordsburg side

Washed up on the River, Southside

She knows that these flows must be sifted systematically

Stubbornly

Till the stability of the patterns emerge

Anchored in the harbour

Warm burrow in the storm

Sweet and fierce warrior

Lover of Home

The Bats of Tropical London AKA Reading the Natural Life of the City

There’s a mini heat-wave, and London becomes the tropical city of my dreams.  There are long sun filled days at the ReUnion.  My five year old splashes in the pool, golden, beads she made in the play project round her neck, performing songs with her friends while I have a cheeky half with their mum.  Icy cold London Lager from the micro brewery, sipped under the railway arches.  I follow my baby son, now toddling, as he pads along the deck, walking with Sara, a member of the collective of artists who made this space, interpreting her dreams.  These whisper of a steady,careful surrender to a great and transformative Unknown; and the tensions of how humans exist with, and make, built environments.

Lucky me, I think, brought to this place of freedom and Life: easy, joyful, gently/firmly disciplined, grounded, ephemeral.  Wide open.  Most of all, playful!  When I come to a place like the ReUnion, I am grateful for the sense of play; both internal and external.  There are other families here too from the local flats.  All of us benefit from the openness offered by the ReUnion.  The sharp edges our children develop in defense against crowded living conditions and the materialistic city, visibly melt as they begin to play.  Or make banana crumble.  Or sit wide eyed watching a group of feminist protest artists practice a topless intervention.  I love how afterwards these serious and focused women bend down to answer the questions from the children.  Only here.  In the gap between building sites, luxury apartments, council flats and the overhead trains.

In the sultry tropical evening, I go for a walk with my Beloved.  Rainbow Olympic lights on the River, the Tate changing colour.  When London gets hot, even the local parks gets a sweet and heady feeling in the golden pink hazy light of dusk.  Our meander takes us through our local park.  The grass has become lush and electric green.  A bat flies over our heads.  I am surprised and delighted.  It is so rare to see bats in the heart of a built up metropolis like ours.  But if my dreams and practice of the last year have shown me anything, it is that the city has a natural, wild-life all of its own, woven into the concrete and the high rises.  The pocket woods in-between.  Animal teachers do appear, and they bring messages and lessons.

On that day, Bat spoke to the tension and dance of what had come up for in my weekly Circle meeting with my writing partner, and in the dreams I had interpreted for Sara at the ReUnion.  What happens when we try to control and dominate what we create?  What happens when we are responsive to the environment we create in (both the inner and outer worlds), surrendering to the rhythm of what is and building  from that point?  It’s a dance because there is always the opportunity to take a step away from a stance that is too dominating; to be rescued from the plotting of our egos.  The soft landing of Hay Bales.

Dancing between domination and surrender in the West as I write the Life Story, I notice how when I try to force the story (I want it to be finished quickly….), it gets stuck.  When I write from a free and open point (within a gentle discipline), it flows.  It is almost like magic, the way it shifts and unburdens my mind set as I read it out loud.  The same goes for listening to the stories my writing and circle partner shares.   Bat brings me a live message about death and initiation:

“Shaman death is the symbolic death of the initiate to the old ways of life and personal identity.  The initiation that brings the rights to heal and be called a Shaman is necessarily preceded by ritual death”

The ritual death that I am being asked to undergo by my practice isn’t about being buried alive or placed in the woods alone.  It’s about releasing the hold of what has gone and being reborn without the ego that clings to the pain stories of the past as my primary identifier of Self – and all too frequently, my sub-concious saboteur.

I wondered today about what I would say, or what I could say, when my daughter asks why we aren’t rich or live in a big house.  What are the reasons?  My initial thought was how I could tell her about the hardships I went through as a youngster when we first moved to the UK, when our family lost all our money and our home, and fractured rather than pulling together through crisis.   How this set me back so I couldn’t recover economically as an adult – there was both the lack of financial help for getting started, and the pain of traumatic rupture I carried around too.  Then I remembered the story my father told me as a child: about how he gave up his place at University so his sister could study because his father couldn’t afford to educate them both.  And the subsequent loss of all of his family’s property and money when Mozambique became independent.  This is a pain story about sacrifice, martyrdom, holding onto regret and being self-made against the odds that has been passed down.  I listened in awe to it then, and now I’m ready to pass it down again as the primary answer to a question that actually deserves far more nuance and consideration in its reply.  Not least in questioning the very basis of what we consider wealth to be!  How dangerous.  That’s why I’m going through the Wheel.  To stop passing down the pain stories.  And it’s hard.  Sometimes I stagnate.  And it scares me.  The idea that I won’t make it.

“The basic idea of ancient initiations was to break down all the former notions of self that were held by the shaman-to-be”

That’s what telling the Life Story, and identifying the pain, does.  It breaks down all former notions of ‘self’ and ‘past’ as intact, absolute, inevitable.  Allowing the old self and beliefs to be broken down and die, is to allow it to be transposed into a newborn being.  Again, this is the message from the Bat in Mint St:

“Hanging upside down is a symbol for learning to transpose your former self into a newborn being”

I have to keep going.  Surrendering to the writing of the Life Story as it comes, and moving into the North of the Wheel.  This is what I learnt from giving birth too.  The more I resist what is, or try to impose my will on it,  the longer and harder the labour.  The labours for both my children were fast, easy and exhilirating because I practised surrender to the pain, the fear and the Power that was greater than ‘me’.* I joke that if I was as good at writing PhD’s as I am at giving birth I would have several by now!  And the same goes for the stuckness I get to in the Initiation practices of The Wheel.  It’s all about Resistance – letting it run things and dictate the pace.  The less resistance to what actually is, the easier the birth of whatever it is we are labouring to deliver.  Or the faster the death of whatever it is that no longer serves us.  Which is the final message from contrary Bat:

“Some people think themselves into a corner with obstacles that are illusionary.  By the time they decide what to do, the opportunities are gone and old age is upon them.  Use your mind, courage and strength to insure an easy labour and quick  delivery into your new state of understanding and growth.  Surrender to the new life you have created from thought.”

Tuning in to the natural life of the city on a hot summer’s night.  Now that’s how I like to live!

*Giving birth in this magnificent way also involved pooing on myself (both times) and making some very far out noises.   Just so there are no misconceptions about what ‘easy’ means in the context of birthing!

With thanks to the following sources:

http://the-reunion.org.uk/

http://www.medicinecards.com/

http://www.julietallardjohnson.com/wheel-of-initiation

What are We Responsible for?

Responsibility is hard.  It’s hard to take it.  It’s hard to know to what extent something is your responsibility.  Over-responsibility is as damaging as taking no responsibility at all.  It’s one of those over-used words too, that tends to lose the substance of its meaning through casual and frequent use.  Click on the link below for an interesting background to the origins of the word:

http://www.iep.utm.edu/responsi/

Yesterday, I received some wonderful news.  After years of searching and asking, I obtained a spiritual and writing mentor.   I was absolutely buzzing, and found that in my writing group discussion and practice that day, I flew through, making beautiful connections articulately.  Truly, this is the flow.  A wonderful thing.

Then when I went to pick my daughter and her friend up from school, I found her friend’s big sister at the school gates.  She seemed subdued for a usually bubbly and talkative 11 year old.  I asked her what was up. and she burst into tears.  What followed was a horrible story about the bullying she has suffered at school.  That day she had been verbally taunted and had her head slammed in a door.  All in front of a teacher who was too intimidated by the rowdy class to do much about it.  It was awful, and really frightening.  In London now, bullying has become even more of a spectatator sport.  Forget the secretive bully.  Kids now film their abuse on their phones and post it on you tube.  It leaves me with a hollow feeling in my heart, like the bottom has dropped out of the world.  Because young people are the foundation.  And the relentless violence that is characterising so many really young kid’s experience of the world, whether bully or bullied, is a deep wound in our collective psyche.

I admit it.  I wanted to run away.  Because it is scary.  You worry that if you take a stand, then you will be targeted.  Certainly, in the heat of the moment, people have died challenging these things.  London is too full of those stories.  I feel them like a silent weight.  Is it my responsibility to find the bullies and punish them?  Punishment and revenge is so often the desire that kicks in first when confronted with injustice.

Those thoughts flashed trough my head lightning-like.   I pause, very briefly because time is short and I am the grown up here.  I take a breath and do what my practice asks me to do.  I deal with what is in front of me right now as best I can.  I am one woman with a lot of responsibility.  And it’s in no shape or form a responsibility to put the world to rights and sort out London’s horrifying bullying problem.   I have an 11 year old in bits, two high energy four year olds and a baby in a buggy to push.  Home is a 20 minute walk away.  My responsibility is to keep all these lives that are in my care right now as OK as possible.  We walk.  the 11 year old is utterly distressed and talking about her experience.  It is violent and scary, and the four year olds are listening.  I take us to the playground.  They play, and the 11 year old can talk.  I try to walk the line.  And I am scared of not being up to this challenge.  Today I have been blessed with a mentor to help me make sense of the big stuff I confront.  Now, I have someone in front of me who needs that from me.  I may be inadequate to the task, but I am required to act.  We breath.  We talk.  I try to reassure without making promises that can’t be kept.  Will everything be alright?  I don’t know.  Can we stop this pain right now?  Probably not.  I am powerless.  I want to cure this, but it is beyond me right now right here.  What I offer are tissues, nasal breathing to steady her nerves and hugs.  Many hugs.  I remind her that she is not alone.  I tell her to look for the things that make her feel good and real and strong inside.  The films, the books, the music that can offer her a better narrative.  I acknowledge the hate she feels, and gently let her know that at some point she will have to drop this barrier if it is not to eat her up.  Am I being too strict?  Too prescriptive?  I don’t know.  We need food and home.  My phone to call her mother.  Today would be the day I left it on the table.

So we do that.  Get home.  Eat.  TV.  Ordinary grounding things.  The kids are all fine right now.  I am in awe of their resilience.  I give the 11 year old a notebook and tell her that writing things down when they get too much has always helped me out when the pressure needs to be relieved.  I speak to her mother, and when her dad comes to pick them up, I write down an account of what has happened.  My handwriting is large and loopy.  For a second I am struck by the power of the written word.  watching the narrative appear on the page as I write, I see how being able to tell this story clearly means that healing can come closer.  Maybe.  I am aware of my ego on the edges wanting to take credit or blame here.  Again.  Back to what is in front of me.  Write down the events of the day, clearly and in a way that can be communicated and understood clearly in order for right action to be taken.  Contact details at the school.  Hand to the parent.

This morning, her mum asked if I would go with her to a meeting with the parent’s of one of the kids who was involved in the assault.  Again I stall.  Is this my place?  I am wary of getting over involved inappropriately and bringing pressures I can’t handle down on myself.  For right or wrong, I decide that it is not my responsibility to rush in here.  I do give the contact details of an organisation that can offer support, and my writing services if any letters need to be written to get the right kind of action taken.

But I don’t stop thinking about this.  How can we, as the grown ups, respond to situations where young people are inflicting pain on each other, and us,  and it all seems out of control?  At 1pm most days, I listen to Robert Elms on BBC London.  It’s an amazing radio show, idiosyncratic and deep without being pretentious.  Sometimes I feel it is a little bit magical in how its subject matter will resonate with whatever it is I am grappling with that day.  Today I turn it on, and immediately hear the word ‘Bibliotherapy’.  It is not something I am familiar with, but a quick google reveals there’s a lot out there about this.  It’s the use of reading particular books relevant to the experience of what any person might be going through, in order to activate a process of identification, catharsis and insight.

I find this on WordPress, an account of using bibliotherapy as part of healing strategies for young people.  One book in particular catches my eye, to get kids who bully, and are bullied, to reflect on their experience.  Hopefully bring them more into presence with their actions and into an awareness of consequence.  To reflect on responsibility, and forgiveness.

http://bibliotherapyplus.wordpress.com/2011/06/01/touching-spirit-bear/

And impulsively, I order the book.  If nothing else, I can give it to the 11 year old to read.  And maybe, I can put myself out there a little bit and offer it to the school to use as part of their strategy to deal with the youngsters who are doing this bullying.  Imagine a punishment where you sit in detention and read a book that might change your life.  Or not.  Changing lives is not my responsibility.  Responding to what is in front of me as best I can, treading very very carefully, well, that might be.

http://www.authorthelmacunningham.com/blog/2012/01/05/Another-Soul.aspx