Wednesday, 22 June 2016

The Land of Normality

After the choppy seas of the past seven months, we’re finally returning to normal.  However, after the challenging times behind us, what is normality?

The waters are calm and peaceful again: my husband is back at work; I’ve submitted a new short story to a US publisher, another is about to go off to a South African publisher; and we’ve returned from a short, soul-restoring holiday to Kaapschehoop.

What a relief to realise that after traumatic events – be it the loss of a loved one or a life threatening illness — life goes on and normality eventually returns.

Or does it?

While on the surface life seems to return to the same rhythms as before the crisis,  there are small beacons flashing reminders that irrevocable changes have occurred: the frozen Facebook profile of a deceased friend; the multitude of scars criss-crossing my husband’s body; and the red-ringed date on my calendar marking the first of his many future check-ups.
Can life ever return to normal after rough seas have battered our shores?

Image purchased from www.iStock.com 

©iStock.com/"Waves" by airn
It’s less than a year since our lives changed. We’re still picking through the flotsam, discarding psychological and physical debris, re-designing our world, for life can’t ever return to what it was.

Post-trauma, when the rough seas abate and we dock on rocky shores, we look around and discover a new world. Small yellow dandelions creep through the cracks in the rock; the sun is partially obscured by clouds ... but dandelions aren’t always weeds and clouds also bring purifying rain.

Filled with gratitude, we anchor ourselves and accept that life, no matter how changed, can still thrive and grow in this land of our new normality.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

The Art of the Here and Now

I used to be a planner.

My days and months were planned years ahead. I had lists of the lists of the things I needed to do.

Yet, with my attention focused on making all those lists and plans, I didn’t realise that life itself was passing me by. Insidiously, plans and lists dominated my life.  So stealthily I didn't notice it happening, my days lost their balance in the clamouring demands of everything that needed to get done. 

Since my husband’s diagnosis, treatment, surgery and now (thanks be to God) his slow recovery, I’ve learnt that one is most alive when plans must be changed in an instant and there’s no time to make lists. 

Life these past seven months has consisted of focusing only on this moment, this day. No time to worry about yesterday’s mistakes. No time to stress about planning for tomorrow’s tasks. No time to think, just to be in the moment and deal with whatever happens. 

Living in the present moment
allows us to be open to whatever experience comes our way


Image purchased from www.iStock.com 
©iStock.com/"Life Crossword Puzzle" by kaan tanman
Life can’t be planned. Life can’t be controlled. Life can only be lived in the here-and-now. 

Sometimes it takes a terrifying crisis to make us understand on a deep spiritual level that this moment of existence is all we really have. In spontaneaously living through the crisis, we learn how to differentiate between what's essential to our happiness, and what is ultimately superfluous. 

And how enlightening that discovery has been.



Wednesday, 13 April 2016

The Art of Imperfection

When we reach a certain age – that awful age when we realise more time lies behind us than could ever lie before us – a change comes over us.

Somehow, our mortality and our regrets, the huge gap between what we had hoped and what is our reality, become more defined.

At that moment, in one final desperate leap to stave off our finite humanity, the temptation is to either compel ourselves to close this gap by any means possible or to let ourselves slide into a spiral of negativity, dwelling on our perceived failures and losses.

Is this the point in our lives when we should stop dreaming and simply accept that this is as good as it’s going to get?

Not quite.

Of course, there are certain realities in life that maturity forces us to accept – ill health, financial problems, responsibilities that youth neither knows nor cares about. These limits could cause resentment and anger to eat away at our peace of mind.

If we are to find happiness in our old age, if we are to avoid the curse of becoming grumpy old men and women, we need to face the shadows looming out of our fears. We need to embrace our limitations, as well as our secret, festering wounds and those irritating imperfections with the same fervour we embraced our wild and youthful dreams.

Once we accept that as much as our humanity includes the inevitability of lost dreams and lost loves, it also excludes the possibility of perfection,  we can open our hearts to a different dream: one that finds contentment in the mellow moods of middle-age. We can slow down and listen to the silence between each breath rather than run ever faster in a futile attempt to overcome the inevitable imperfections in our lives.

When we no longer deny our human-ness, when we accept that we were born imperfect beings in an imperfect world, it is then that we begin to evolve beyond the tyranny of perfection.

We can then treat ourselves, and others too, with a little more kindness, a little more tolerance. And then we can begin to aspire to new dreams anchored in the reality of our ordinary lives, but with the potential to carry us through to the end of this, our life’s journey.

The art of imperfection teaches us how to accept the gap
between what we want to be and what we are.


Image purchased from www.iStock.com ©iStock.com/"Glass Trap" by bowie15

Monday, 21 March 2016

The Art of Stillness

Have you ever sat in a hospital ACU isolation unit, your loved one too sick, too restless, for you to read or work or do anything except hold his hand and pray?

In those anxious moments, the aggressive, active mind spreads turmoil and fear. The “what ifs?”, the guilt, the worry, all jostle and shove their way into your mind until you struggle to breathe under the weight of waiting for the first sign that your prayers have been answered and your loved one is safe.

At first, when I sat watching the restless sleep of my beloved husband, his face grey against the hospital linen, with its gay white swirls adorning the light blue pillow cases, this inaction, this helpless inability to do anything other than wait, was purgatory.

Later, this testing time became a great teacher, for I am learning the art of being still.

There's the physical skill of sitting still; of learning to control my natural inclination towards  movement and busyness. Wriggling in the chair, scratching itches and rustling through my bag - all futile efforts to pass the time, so that the clock conveniently placed on the ACU ward wall would magically speed up from ten o’clock to five past ten to twenty past ten ...

Some people may see the art of being still as being passive, but stillness is an active art, a conscious act of choice with a definite goal: mastering the body to keep one’s natural movements to a minimum, allowing my beloved to sleep and heal in a peaceful, calm atmosphere.

Once that essential skill is learned another, more difficult, skill is required to master the art of stillness ... Keeping the mind still, a seemingly impossible task with nothing to do all day except think and think.

But, slowly, as the minutes blur into hours, and the hours into days, I'm learning that there are as many rewards in stillness as there are in furious goal orientated activity.

For there, in the muted lights of that lonely isolation ward, I hear a voice speaking in that stillness. Whatever name you give it - call it the voice of God, the spirits of angels and ancestors, or simple craziness - it carries with it the message of hope that all will be well; an acceptance that whatever happens is part of that mysterious path chosen by my Divine Soul before I was even born; that what is, is what is meant to be and I will cope with whatever the day brings.

When those voices whisper their mysteries to me, I suddenly find the art of stillness has become an open doorway to a world where miracles and healing replace worry and fear ... and I can move again, rising from my chair as my beloved's voice calls to me, wanting to know that I am near and telling me that he is, at last, awake.
The art of being still becomes a doorway to another world.

Image purchased from www.iStock.com ©iStock.com/"step into the great beyond" by Yuri_Arcurs

Friday, 19 February 2016

The Art of Celebration

Do we know how to celebrate life?  Do we look at a celebration the wrong way? 

A celebration is usually thought of as a festival, a special event or ceremony that is full of joy. For example, we “celebrate” a wedding but “attend” a funeral.

Have “celebrations” come to mean only marking a victory, an achievement or a happy event?

Since my beloved husband’s illness was diagnosed last November, I’ve learnt that there’s an art to celebration.

Celebration doesn’t depend on outside circumstances: why should we wait for the next birthday or personal success or sunny day to celebrate?

Even in dark times, even when we’re separated from joy and laughter by an abyss of fearful anxiety, if we dig deep enough, we can find within our souls a bubble of joy, a small wonder that can and should be celebrated with both tears and laughter.

The art of celebration doesn't lie in waiting for the good times or the happy days. 

No, it lies in finding a way to walk the middle path between great joy and great sorrow; of finding one particular moment in between those two extremes to rejoice in this moment, this one instant in which we’re alive to all that life has to offer.

Can you practice the art of celebrating your sorrows as well as your joys?  If you can, then you already know what I am learning: the dark days always become brighter when we search for something to celebrate in each other, in our life and in our world.
Magnified section of "Man and the World of Stars" mixed media Wenkidu.
Find out more about this wonderful painting of a celebration dance here

Friday, 1 January 2016

The Gate of the Year: 2016

From exhilarating highs to the most intense lows, 2015 is a year I won't forget.  

Today, the first day of another new year, we face  — on both personal and collective levels — an uncertain and challenging future.  We can sink into despair at the thought of an ambiguous future … or, scared, perhaps even terrified, at what awaits us in 2016, we can choose to step into the unknown, trusting that the steps we take as we walk the path we’re meant to, will be guided by the light and love of the mysterious Divine.

How we perceive or frame the concept of a Divine presence in our lives does not matter: all that counts is that we choose to walk through the gate of the year into the darkness, trusting that at the end of the year just beginning, fears will be transformed into joys, uncertainty into knowledge, and darkness into a Divine inner peace which passes all human understanding.  

Published in 1908, M Louise Haskins wrote the poem “God Knows” as part of a collection titled THE DESERT. This poem later caught the public attention, and the popular imagination, when the then–Princess Elizabeth handed a copy to her father, King George VI, and he quoted it in his 1939 Christmas broadcast to the British Empire.(1)

My maternal grandfather passed down this poem to my Mom and her siblings, and my Mom passed it on to my sister and I. That poem still resonates today and, as we cross over the threshold from the old year into the new, I find these words as comforting now as I did when, as a child, I was frightened by an uncertain future: 

God Knows
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

May 2016 bring us safely through the dark into a world 
transformed by light and love.