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Relationship

The Chain

463px-We_Can_Do_It! January is a month of fervent resolutions and brave new intentions. A month of planting seedling new habits that require careful tending to take root.  Shakespeare wrote that “The chains of habit are generally too small to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.”  Yet our morning rituals settle over our lives bringing a sense of comfort and continuity in an often chaotic world. Our habits frame the frayed edges of our days and wrap the weeks together seamlessly.

A habit is defined as “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.” Most of us spend most of our lives cruising along on autopilot. Self-destructive habits keep us chained to the rock like Prometheus while the hungry Griffin picks and pecks at our liver day after day: negative thoughts cycle round and round like vultures over the carrion of the past, repetitive behaviours that harm our bodies and sabotage our relationships. Albert Einstein is quoted as saying that “insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” So often pain, physical or emotional, is the fuel that burns away our inertia and creates a new sense of momentum in our lives. But it takes willpower and heartfelt intention to break the chains that bind us to the past.

We are not the sole creators of our reality. Would it were that simple. Millions of human beings endure cruelty and abuse, are taken hostage, imprisoned, scapegoated. But when we can see in the often fated challenges, opportunities to awaken to the fierce flame of our Higher Self, we unchain our potential to heal and realign our energies.

It takes kindness and compassion to look around our personal space and acknowledge that we have chosen the clothing we are wearing, the food in our refrigerator. On some level we do choose our partners, and our friends. We choose to love and we choose to feel happy. We do have the will to change and befriend our belief about the world we see. And it is will that ignites the fierce flame of power.  It is will that breaks the chain of “have tos and shoulds” that cloud our connection to our own volition.images2J2ZP8HQ

Psychologists who still work on a mechanical reductionist model of the world see a linear, causal curve for making and breaking of habits. New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg in his book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business proposes that first there is a cue – a trigger for a certain routine. Then the routine – the behaviour. Then the reward. So when we can diagnose the cues, witness our routines, we may be more conscious of why we keep doing. And change the behaviour. Our willpower and self-control are like muscle strength writes psychologist Jeremy Dean in Making Habits, Breaking Habits: Why We Do Things, Why We Don’t, and How to Make Any Change Stick. Willpower varies from person to person. According to our emotional state and even our energy levels during the day our willpower muscle will tire of pushing and straining. And when it does, we will be more susceptible to gorging on chocolate or having that midweek glass of red wine, or saying something harsh to our partner, despite our best intentions.

What if  changing our habits is more about self-love than muttering mnemonics to prompt us into new ways of cruising on autopilot? What if habits hide our Light, though we wear them like the garments that conceal the bodies of nuns or priests in certain religious orders.nuns

Perhaps habits belong to the realm of the heart. Perhaps they wander like itinerants through the crowded landscape of the mind? Perhaps changing habits is more about stillness and a dignified refusal to be part of the momentum. At least until we can access what gnaws in the darkness of our gut or makes us reach for a cigarette or turn on the telly. We might ask ourselves what our habits serve. What they cover in the folds of familiarity: the feeling of loneliness, invisibility, the  pain of our submissive silence?

Many of us see power as outside ourselves – the Universe, or the gods or the angels will tell us what to do. We seek guidance from others which may cloud the voice of our own true self and exempt us from the terror of our own responsibility.

Perhaps the human heart is far more complex than lab-rat behaviour in its many-splendoured manifestation.  Perhaps habits are about congruency and a deeper sense of purpose.  Perhaps habits will flower from the tap roots of discipline. If we are willing disciples we can fix our fluctuating feelings and will ‘o the wisp whims to a desired outcome, a larger purpose. Perhaps habits are about a commitment to our heart’s desires not our pained egos that fear the radiance of living too gloriously, too fearlessly. More about staying in authentic communication with our True Selves.

Perhaps it’s our heart that will perceive the true path for our journey this New Year. And the task of our Will to honour that path and stay in  communication with our True Self.

Private Moon by artist Leonid Tishkov

Fleetwood Mac – The Chain

private moon

1

Smooth Operator

African Baobab TreeAnd so it’s Christmas. You’re worn to a frazzle. The sleeping  herpes virus has awoken and painfully alerted you to its presence. You drive to the doctor. Then to the pharmacy. It’s nothing really in the great scheme of things. A bit of discomfort, especially in the heat, this time of year.  But it’s something about yourself you don’t want to share on Facebook, or with your former or future lovers, or with your insurance company, advertisers, or the government – or leave hanging up there in the cloud do you? Well if you own a smartphone darling, it’s thank you for sharing.  You are leaving a trail of dots that can be joined. There’s nothing stopping the multi-trillion “Smart things” business now.  The internet lives in your wristwatch, the locks on your doors, your car, in your eyewear, in your phone. Our physical world is on the brink of morphing into a virtual one. We’re tiny frogs in hyper-connected water that’s hotting up.imagesW7IIH6N5

And yet in this interconnected world where we are all stardust, all part of the Great Design, what’s so ominous about being transparent? Is this Western need for individualization and privacy passé? An anachronistic foible of ageing Baby Boomers? A dinosaur in a quantum age?

Christopher Mims, science and technology correspondent for Quartz writes that 2014 is the year of the internet of things. And the internet of things will replace the web and tell us what we want – continually. No surprises. No spontaneity. It will moderate our lives, anticipate our thoughts and feelings – till we’re too dumbed down to wonder, whose life is this anyway? “The web will survive, just as email survived the arrival of the web.”  Science Fiction, Double Feature.  We are but players, joined by invisible threads that urge us to buy more stuff, that know exactly where we are and what we’re doing. We may feel important, special, seen. But there is a price to pay for our narcissistic  specialness.

BI prophet and founder of 9sight Consulting Dr Barry Devlin, writes in a recent blog post: “ The sad truth is that we have lost most of our privacy already, having entered into a Faustian pact to share, both knowingly and unwittingly, the details of our daily lives.”

images8KWPVDZDIt’s a trade-off. Like most things in life it must be made with as much consciousness and alertness as we can muster in our dazed and dazzled minds. At it’s best it’s a symbiotic relationship. At it’s worst it’s parasitic. In exchange for everything there is to know about our lives, Facebook and Google give us social networks and information we may find useful – or not .

“Even the acceptance that our smartphones report our location minute by minute is driven by a consensual belief that we may be offered a coupon for a nearby coffee shop at any moment. The payoff for ultimate traceability… Which aisle in the supermarket are you in? What about some very specific retail therapy recommendations? These, and other soon to emerge toys, have the addictive quality of sex to many of the current generation of CMOs and proponents of big analytics,” writes Devlin.

Dave Eggers’ The Circle: A Novel is chillingly prophetic in the same way that George Orwell’s 1984 was 30 years ago.  “The world has dorkified itself,” he writes about the insidious encroachment of technology in every aspect of our lives. Oh, but this is just a novel, he cleverly states up front. A chilling read and well worth slipping into your own Christmas stocking. Big Brother is watching us in our dorkified new world – every breath you take. Every move you make. Every bond you break … every time we use our credit card or phone a friend.

So step off the grid this Christmas. Meet those you love in real time. Embrace the spirit of Christmas with real hugs and real kisses.

Smooth Operator  songstress Sade’s molasses voice melts the world away…

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4

Mandolin Rain

Photograph by Sheldon WoodThere’s a feeling something is missing when someone who has touched your own life in some profound way dies. Like walking past a place where a great tree once stood. Or past a vacant lot in the middle of a city. Theres something unnatural about that empty space. We shrug or shudder as though a cloud has passed over the sun or a cold wind has curled its fingers into the fibres of our clothing. And although we continue to continue with our lives, things are never quite the same. New green shoots thrust upwards around the severed stump. A glassy edifice arises from the rubble strewn across the old foundation. We grow accustomed to the changes. Resigned. Stoic even. But theres a hollowness. Things are never quite the same.

The King is dead. Long live the King! In Myth and fairy tale the natural order was righted when the old King died and was buried. The new king sat beside his queen on the throne and the cycle of life continued once more.  Today in the world of politics there is no new king. No beautiful queen to sit beside him on his throne. Mandela has left no successor who can match his wisdom and stature as a statesman with a canny grasp of human psychology. An unruly rabble of politicians  remain to pick at the carcass of his greatness and capitalise on his legacy.  Mandela’s rich melodic voice rings out over 95 years of human history. He now sits in the hall of the ancestors and the sad sound of a mandolin plays in the rain of our tears. 

Fate and free will lift some men and women high above the heads of ordinary people. uTata. Iconic Father of a fatherless nation still struggling with narcissistic teenage growing pains. His image printed on T-shirts, cook books, mugs and posters. His long walk to freedom leaves footprints in the sand of collective memory.  We carry his greatness in our hearts and feel noble and dignified. Capable of magnanimous deeds and heroic action. Perhaps “freedom” means permission to behave like a prat and throw human excrement on the windows of public buildings; to own a Merc and wear bright-coloured designer clothing; or to sleep peacefully in your bed at night with doors images71895DSWunlocked and windows wide open. But, Mandela’s life has gifted us all with a glimpse of what is possible when we choose what true freedom can bring: Love not hate, forgiveness not revenge.

For some, his death brings with it a sense of relief that this Great Spirit has at last flown free from his frail old body to re-incarnate once more.  For some, his death brings a hiatus in the busyness of life and a time to reflect on a personal and collective history when the rabid dogs of apartheid ripped this beloved country asunder.  For some, this is a time to  grieve deeply personal  losses and mourn the death of this remarkable human being.imagesCABR67C6

Mandela. uTata. Mabiba.  Let us take into our lives your example of forgiveness. Let us lay this like a healing balm over the blistered sores of pain in our relationships with those whose behaviour we find so difficult to comprehend. Let us stand for just one moment, heads bowed, and feel the sprinkling of stardust from your Bright Star.

 

Bruce Hornsby & the Range performing Mandolin Rain.

5

Hold On

Just when we think we have garnered peace and tranquility a wrecking ball shatters the structure of our life. Pulverizes all that we believed was “real”.windy-lion-johns_31422_600x450

We may discover we’ve been snared in a deadly trap of deceit and deception. Been blindsided by flattery or the heat of a lust we thought was long lasting love. We may find out that what we thought was real has been a mirage, shimmering in a dust storm of lies. We may acknowledge that we have cruised along on autopilot. Allowed entry to our life the very thing that liquefies our viscera, congeals the blood in our veins, rubs against our values. There are days when this world seems crazy, chaotic and unspeakably cruel. When we feel utterly alone. Terribly afraid. Rainer Maria Rilke expresses the sharp shards of broken glass despair so eloquently in The First Duino Elegy:

And so I force myself, swallow and hold back
the surging call of my dark sobbing.
Oh, to whom can we turn for help?
Not angels, not humans;
and even the knowing animals are aware that we feel
little secure and at home in our interpreted world.”

There are days when the bruises and scrapes of life sting and ache so much it takes an enormous act of will to come back into the quiet calm of our center. To disengage from a “game” that requires so much energy and defensiveness.  To change our interpretation of what happens in our life. To cease self-harming with thoughts that and flutter inside our aching heads, twist and turn like rusty knives inside our bleeding hearts. It takes a shift in focus, realignment in consciousness to begin to believe, behave, differently.

imagesCAF69KU2This may mean changing the way we perceive the past.  Seeing the behaviour of those who have hurt us as coming  from a wellspring of pain. Acknowledging this without smug self-righteous judgment flung out like a cruel harpoon, but with heartfelt compassion for the part we have agreed to play. This may mean searching for fragments of gold in the sinking dross of  old conditioning or circumstances. This may mean choosing to be grateful for the experience .  There is a sparkling jewel that glistens on the necklace of poetry that is William Shakespeare’s The Tempest: “Let us not burden our remembrances with a heaviness that’s gone.” Many of us carry for years the ashes of our sorrow in the heavy urn of regret. Those of us who have walked away from relationships with family members or lovers that were pickled in pain and negativity, left siblings or partners who are manacled by their own addictions. We may carry in our hearts survivor’s guilt, our days blighted by a sadness which is not ours to carry. Neale Donald Walshe says “Move forward with no second guessing, no guilt trips and no hesitation.”

Recreating a new life is a soul craft that requires patience, skill and compassion. Moving forward is an act of will. So is holding on. There is a Tibetan saying which goes something like “everything rests on the tip of motivation.” When we talk about compassion and loving kindness, we will also require motivation to change the energetic field in which we live.  To have the courage to be re-born, over and over again. Mark Nepo on Book of Awakening writes so beautifully, “Repetition is not failure. Ask the waves, ask the leaves and ask the wind.”

We meet the experiences, the inner learning, just when we need it. What we experience may come in cycles, so we can return again and again if we need to, and do it all at our own pace. I have a wise friend who describes this as doing the cha-cha. We take one step forward, one step back in time to the music. Until we decide to change the steps of the dance.dancing_feet_225

“We fall down as many times as we need to, to learn how to fall and get up. We fall in love as many times as we need to, to learn how to hold and be held. We misunderstand the many voices of truth as many times as we need to, to truly hear the choir of diversity that surrounds us. We suffer our pain as often as is necessary for us to learn how to break and how to heal. No one really likes this, of course, but we deal with our dislike in the same way, again and again, until we learn what we need to know about the humility of acceptance,” says Nepo.

So today, let us  be grateful to the wrecking balls that smash through the structures that no longer serve us.  Let us acknowledge the gifts that lie in the rubble of our lives and keep our steps light  when we dance the cha-cha. Let us hold  on to ourselves.

 

Hold On – Angus and Julia Stone

 

 

 

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Truly Madly Deeply

313834_1988220076323_1567958031_31512884_860394615_nThere’s been increase in interest in happiness over the years.  Is it related to demographics, to having more money rather than less?  Is our  happiness related to a sense  of meaning and purpose? Is happiness a transient emotion? Is it a matter of perception? Alain de Botton writes in The Architecture of Happiness “(that) which we anoint with the word beautiful, alludes to a state that, on a psychological level, we can describe as mental health or happiness.

Some research hypothesizes that happiness is linked to the content of our moment to moment experiences. For centuries, spiritual traditions and hermetic philosophy have affirmed that human happiness rests in the present moment. We really don’t have to go anywhere to find the truth of our happiness because it is contained within the core of our whole being. At this very moment.  Our happiness is inherent within us all. Vanity Fair Managing editor, successful playwright, Congresswoman Clare Boothe Luce gave her her 18 year old daughter Ann this advice: “for the moment the main thing is to get what little happiness there is out of life in this war-torn world because these are the good old days, now.” A year later Ann, her only child, died in a car accident.

So “These are the good old days now.” Forget the “bucket lists” (a trite term I have always found leaves a clanging sound on the tongue, especially when most bucket lists appear more like silver platter lists) Live life now. Each moment of each precious day.

On Christmas Eve BBC’s Helen Fawkes discovered she had incurable ovarian cancer. She made a decision to live the life she had always wanted to experience and discovered that “these are the good old days now.”   Helen’s “list for living” included getting a dog, moving to the countryside, exploring the ancient ruins in Rome, taking a speed boat down the Thames, having her book published, learning to play poker and seeing penguins in the South Pole. Externals which for Helen, hopefully  brought  her the happiness and fulfilment she was seeking.Penguin

Like happiness, what we hold dear to our hearts will be different for each one of us. It may take an act of will or the unlimited power of imagination to focus on the essentials and trim away the superfluous details that wallpaper the borders of our days. Turbulent emotions tear across our lives like tornadoes. They shatter our equilibrium and sense of calm. When we disengage from our addiction to melodrama and gossip, and treat ourselves with love and kindness we free ourselves of self-importance and the self-pity that clouds our contentment. When we focus on what is right, rather than on what is wrong, the world will mirror our state of consciousness. When we embrace change and let go, we live in the wonder of the unknown and release a spontaneous flow of Divine Intelligence into the material domain.

Psychologists purport that there are two essential human emotions: pleasure and pain and we respond to these through love or through fear. Love expands our energy field and fear contracts it so what we perceive as pleasure will be interpreted as happiness.

house burningOne way to bring our scattered thoughts to a midpoint of clarity is to imagine that an asteroid is hurtling towards our earth. All life on this planet will be irrevocably obliterated. What would be important then? What would define us? Foster Huntington reflected and defined what he truly loved and valued by  imagining the scenario of a burning house. He collected a few precious things and photographed them. Then asked others to do the same. His beautiful book is titled “The Burning House”. It  is filled with poignant photographs. A haiku that speaks of the uniqueness of our humanness and the vagaries of our selective perception of happiness. burninghouse_kate molins
So today, breathe consciously. Be deeply grateful for what you have right now. Be kind and gentle with yourself. Tell people you love them. And  celebrate the important things in your life.

“These are the good old days now.”

Truly Madly Deeply – Savage Garden

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Josh Smith – Already There

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Nostalgia

imagesCAOVDKN8There is something alchemical about travel. It’s in the constant arrivals and departures that take place at airports and railway platforms that we re-enact the hero’s journey, the setting off on our voyage of discovery to gather experience and bring it back home. High above the fleecy clouds, suspended in space, we slip effortlessly into a private part of ourselves that may feel familiar.

Even a banal business trip offers the opportunity to share a moment of connection with a fellow traveller.  And if we were to unplug from the iPhone, close the laptop, sit with ourselves. Cocoon and cuddle in thoughts that are our very own originals… what would that feel like?

As we make our “connections” to cities and far-flung places, our hearts in motion, we may be asked, “Where are you from?”  Flung like a silver thread this need to find a baseline. This need to establish tribal belonging, a root, however shallow. So we lean across the armrest of our seat to meet the eyes of the stranger sitting next to us and tell the story of our belonging.

The collective yearning for home has been echoed in great works of literature and in movies that have captured the longing in each one of our orphaned hearts to return to the safety of warmth of home whatever we believe this to be. From ET the Extraterrestrial, to Harry Potter, our homesickness is universal. And it’s data mined by advertisers and the megalithic pharmaceutical companies – our lonely hearts momentarily soothed with material things or the oblivion of pills.   distantlove

Katherine Sharpe in Coming of Age on Zoloft: How Antidepressants Cheered Us Up, Let Us Down, and Changed Who We Are, bravely explores the effect of psychopharmaceuticals in our culture and in our individual lives. Twenty-five years after the introduction of feel good Prozac, she asks us to consider what our sadness and our pain mean when they are labelled as an illness. How when we turn to pills, do we know what is trying to come up from our psyche to be acknowledged, to be healed?

“Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Americans grew ever more likely to reach for a pill to address a wide variety of mental and emotional problems.” She writes, “ We also became more likely to think of those problems as a kind of disease, manifestations of an innate biochemical imbalance…less than two decades after the introduction of Prozac, SSRIs had outpaced blood pressure medication to become America’s favourite class of drugs, popped by about 10% of the nation…in permeating everyday life so profoundly, antidepressants also embedded themselves in youth, with an ever-growing number of teenagers taking psychopharmaceuticals to abate depression, ADHD, and other mental health issues. And while relief from the debilitating and often deadly effects of adolescent depression is undoubtedly preferable over the alternative, it comes with a dark side: Antidepressants confuse our ability to tell our true self from the symptoms of the disease… And given the teenage brain responds so differently to life than the adult’s, the implications are even more uneasy: Though antidepressants are effective at managing negative emotions, they don’t in themselves provide the sense of meaning and direction that a person equally needs in order to find her way in life.”

Nostalgia comes from the Greek, nostos, a return home. It’s a “ bittersweet longing for things, persons, or situations of the past. The condition of being homesick; homesickness.” Yet our yearning may be less about place or even a person and more about the quality of the energy we find there that nourishes our innocent soul.imagesCACQ4ZIX

Many of us don’t know where our true home is anymore. We’re uncoupled, disconnected from the mother ship of our true self. Disconnected from our core aliveness, what we truly value, what gives our lives meaning.

Maya Angelou writes, I am convinced that most people do not grow up. We find parking spaces and honour our credit cards. We marry and dare to have children and call that growing up. I think what we do is mostly grow old. We carry accumulation of years in our bodies and on our faces, but generally our real selves, the children inside, are still innocent and shy as magnolias. We may act sophisticated and worldly but I believe we feel safest when we go inside ourselves and find home, a place where we belong and maybe the only place we really do.”

Many of us don’t know our real selves. Most of us have not spoken to the shy child inside us for decades. We haven’t a clue what we truly desire because we don’t even know who we are any more. Shamed by the harsh voice that admonishes us, scared by fears that darken our dreams, dulled by the anesthetic of antidepressants, we’ve lost our ruby slippers.

So be present as you witness the bittersweet goodbyes and exuberant home comings of feelings that surface like ripples on a lake. Dare to allow yourself to feel the nudges that stir your consciousness, however raw and painful.  They give meaning and texture to life..681x454

For there is no place like Home, as Dorothy proclaimed in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. In the sorrow and in the pain, in the cyclical seasons of our moods, like homing pigeons, we will find our way home to our authentic self. When we quieten our minds and allow ourselves to feel the cells in our bodies respond with a soft sigh Yes! We will know we are home!

Everywhere it’s been the same… feeling…
Like I’m outside in the rain… wheeling…
Free, to try and find a game… dealing…
Cards for sorrow, cards for pain

Cause I’ve seen blue skies through the tears
In my eyes
And I realise… I’m going home.

I’m going home, I’m going home. The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo  Nostalgia

 

4

Pause

Blerta Zabergja“How we spend our days,” wrote Annie Dillard “is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

How did you spend your day yesterday? How will you spend your day today? Will you flutter from window to window in an attempt to escape this featherless flight of busyness? Will you sit at the feet of the false guru blinded by the harsh neon light that hides the darkness of the shadow? Will you be unwilling to think your own thoughts? Unable to find a voice no matter how timid to say: Enough! No more! Will you beat your instincts into cowering submission when they urge you to leave the burning house and run?

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.  How we choose to stay in relationships that blister our hearts. How we remain in situations that diminish us. How we meekly, with heads bowed, enter the company of those who, by the poisoned-tipped arrows of their words and the repetitive bludgeoning of their actions, stunt our potential, crush our spirit, laugh at our heroic struggle to grow and to walk away from what feels toxic. We gorge on empty kilojoules – fast-food media, office gossip, relationship melodrama, vacuous conversations. Blindly we rush about, ravenous ants on the march. Doing so much. Being so productive. We shut out the voice that screams for something more. Dying before we dare live, pressing onwards and upwards, straining towards the punitive demands we expect from ourselves – and inflict upon others.

So how will you spend your day today? Will you mark off the minutes and the hours, corral the daydreams, the hopes, the longings behind an impenetrable fence of shoulds and shouldn’ts?  “What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labour with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order — willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living,” says Annie Dillard. Blerta Zabergja 3

When we focus, concentrate our attention, what are we missing? When we look, what do we not see? When we carve out a walkway in the labyrinth of our life, in a design that fits with our world view, our old conditioning, what do we hack away and trample upon in our urge for perfect symmetry? When we float through the world, attached to the umbilical cord of the iPhone,  blinkered behind dark glasses of our endless to-do lists, are we floating through Life itself?

Small children and animals are our guides and teachers in mindfulness. The way they focus on the little things – a butterfly sitting on a flower, the smell of another dog on the side of a park bench, a bird flying from the foliage of a tree, a glimpse of the ripening moon from behind a dark tangle of cloud. Neale Donald Walsh says that “the degree to which people have evolved is instantly revealed through what they call entertainment and fun…nourishment of the mind is no different from nourishment for the body. What you put in is what you get back. In triplicate.

Blerta Zabergja 2So just for today, let’s rest a while in the pause of a heartbeat, in the warm embers of a love remembered. Let’s  feel what  we have been afraid to feel for so long. Let’s glimpse through the spaces in our busyness the mythic journey we all embark upon as we transform, re-birth, re-image ourselves in our own private lunar cycles of renewal. Let’s observe those small brushstrokes amidst the broad ones. And attune to the sacred cadence of our soul song.

Photographs with acknowledgement and gratitude by Blerta Zabergia

Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo – Pause

 

5

If I could turn back time

Photo and caption by  Hideyuki KatagiriFor most of us today the songbirds will sing as the clouds scud across the cobalt dome of the sky. Tonight, the sun will melt across the horizon like toffee, and the feathery new moon will wax and wane once more. Although we may try to live every day as if it were our last, set intentions to live in the now, it may be a melody, fragrance, or the feeling of walking over grass that’s wet with dew that takes us back, makes us wish we could turn back time. Say we’re sorry. Re-live that time, kinder, more forgiving, more patient, more loving, than we were then. Though the ghosts of time may  haunt us, we cannot turn back Time. And if we only live in the past, our lives will be preserved in amber, sadly one dimensional. “I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then,” said Alice in Wonderland.

Time is an emotional experience. Each new day like opening a cardboard window of an advent calendar, discovering a chocolate or a tiny tableau we either like, or don’t. Is Time is a collage of events or states of mind?

We know time will pass without us when we will die. When we are willing to step out of our sometimes limited construct of time, we observe the changing scenery, as if from the window of a train.

For eons, our ancestors have marked the passage of time, noted the cycles of the Venus and the Moon. A small piece of a baboon’s fibula dates to about 35,000 BC. It was discovered in the Lebombo Mountains near Swaziland. There are twenty-nine notches carved into the bone. A marker of a menstrual lunar cycle, perhaps? We will never know for certain. Paradoxically, in a modern time-obsessed world, the Amondawa tribe of the Amazon who were “discovered” by anthropologists in 1986 have a different time map. They have no word for time. No “I’ll see you next week.” No “It happened last year.” Events occur in time but time is not a separate concept.forest-and-stars

Albert Einstein would agree. “Time is an illusion,” he said. “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” Science suggests that time is a cognitive construct. Some psychologists suggest time is a matter of perception.  We can choose to feel irritated when we’re stuck in traffic. We can choose to feel at peace as we take a moment to observe the clouds and the sunlight as it ignites the office windows. Grateful for the hiatus in the busyness of our day. Time appears to be elastic, when perceived through the hall of mirrors that is our mind.

Author and broadcaster Claudia Hammond suggests in her new book, Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception, that we actively create and shape time in our minds. Neuroscience and psychology dub this “mind time”.

Psychological studies propose that time does move slowly for those who feel depressed, lonely or suicidal. When we are actively engaged in our work or our social interactions, we may feel as though time slips past like quicksilver. Those who have experienced the terror of a car crash or a hi-jacking will report that everything seemed to move in slow motion. For many, memories of a trauma remain frozen in the musculature and nervous system of the body.

Psychologist Daniel Kahneman, in Thinking, Fast and Slow, suggests People tend to assess the relative importance of issues by the ease with which they are retrieved from memory—and this is largely determined by the extent of coverage in the media. Frequently mentioned topics populate the mind even as others slip away from awareness.” Claudia Hammond writes, “You are most likely to remember the timing of an event if it was distinctive, vivid, personally involving and is a tale you have recounted many times since.”

It’s astounding, time is fleeting
Madness takes its toll…

Surely, time and memory recall are far more subtle than this. Wilhelm Reich talked about the basic expansion and contraction of life which ripples from the amoeba to the human being. And therapist and author Peter A. Levine, who has specialised PTSD for the last twenty years writes, It is essential that the unresolved activation (from trauma) locked in the nervous system be discharged. This transformation has nothing to do with memory. It has to do with the process of completing our survival instincts. So our memories are locked, or frozen in the musculature of our bodies, encoded in our nervous system. Stored in the collective mind. For some, time transfigures our memories, allowing us to slip into soft pockets of recollection where we can rest amidst the turbulence of the waves of the world. For others, time imprisons us in the terror of the past.

leaf-under-water-523359-gaMost of us cannot truly live in the now. For if we did, we would not plan a party, book a holiday, buy treats for a beach picnic. That would be the future not the present.  All  we can do, really, is live with as much mindfulness as we can and know that time is cyclical like the cycles of nature, the cycles of life and death. And as Irish poet and mystic John O’Donohue said, When time is reduced to linear progress, it is emptied of presence.”

Cher performs If I Could Turn Back Time.

Quotations: The Rocky Horror Show. Time Warp by Richard O’Brien/Patricia Quinn/Nell Campbell/Charles Gray. Lewis Carroll Alice in Wonderland.

Photographs by  Hideyuki Katagiri and Michael Melford.

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Thank You

tyra Nur Athirah girl in snowIt is the hardest thing. To give something up. To surrender. A cherished dream. A job. A relationship. A habit, a belief an addiction.

There are places, in the remnants of the vast forests that flourished in South-East Asia, where monkeys are hunted for food. Paw-sized holes are cut in coconuts and filled with rice or nuts before securing them to a tree. When the monkey reaches into the hollow of the coconut and grasps the food, it cannot remove its clenched fist because the opening is so small . So it stays there. Trapped. Holding onto the nuts or rice, waiting for death. Just like those monkeys in the shrinking forests, we hold on to what traps us, unwilling to let go. We hold onto our sorrow, our anger, the self-flagellating pleasures of guilt. We hold on to our need to be right. The acrimonious divorce, the family feud that force-feeds each new generation with the bitterness of hatred, the darkness of war that slices up territory, bodies, hearts – all kept ablaze by fists clenched tightly.When we are over-invested in an object, a relationship, an outcome, we clog the circuits, get overbearing, clench into fear, until chaos leaps and licks around the edges of our lives.

Crisis is a wonderful opportunity to surrender. We may have to bow our heads as we’re caught in the vortex of a crisis that pulverises our bones. As Marianne Woodman says, “In fateful crises, we may really have no choice.” The dice rolls and we have to accept things just as they are. And in defeat we accept what needs action and what requires a shift in attitude. We reconcile the irreconcilable.  Honesty unblocks energy, energises the body and the mind. “Everything that occurs is not only usable and workable but it is actually the path itself. We can use everything that happens to us as the means for waking up,” says Pema Chödrön.

Surrender.  From Old French, surrendre, to deliver over. To give up. To yield is to trust, to accept what is, not what should be. Yet to surrender implies we make a conscious choice.

For so many of us, the days, weeks, months and the years of our lives are cling-wrapped and placed in boxes labelled with “shoulds” and “musts”. Control freezes the life blood in our veins, stiffens our limbs, Botoxes the natural beauty of our faces. Spontaneity and playfulness are stored in the attic, with the toys of our childhood. smiling-girl_Photograph by Catherine WhitfordWe plan our days, pencil in meetings with our friends, and pack our weeks with activities and to-do lists.

Perhaps today, slow down to allow a driver to pull in front of you or step back to let someone go before you in a queue. Surrender to the sensual enjoyment of slowing down enough to be present as you eat a meal, sip a glass of wine, savour the sweet creaminess of an ice-cream. Surrender to the exquisite delight of orgasm, the dankness of grief, or the red balloon of laughter, the languid pleasure of an afternoon sleep. Surrender, under this heavy eye of the new moon to being fully present to touch, to taste, to the breath that breaths you. E e Cummings knew the surrender of the kiss when he wrote, “since feeling comes first, he who pays any attention to the syntax of things will never wholly kiss you.” And Adrienne Rich knew surrender of touch when she wrote, “When we enter touch, we enter touch. Completely.”  So on this day of the new moon, plant a seed of a new intention. Trust the integrity of this precious moment. Be present for yourself, for the person you’re with today. Flow with what is, to the newly minted moment…

Kissing-Sailor-And-Midway-Peter-KapasakisThank You Alanis Morissette

Photography by Tyra Nur Athirah, Catherine Whitford and Peter Kapasakis

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