Title Image

Relationship

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

3

Torn

 

dancing_feet_by_lucidcarbon-d303tqsZen master Thich Nhat Hahn has said that “usually when we hear or read something new, we just compare it to our own ideas. If it is the same, we accept it and say that it is correct. If it is not, we say it is incorrect. In either case, we learn nothing.”

In the conundrum of our humanness we cling like drowning sailors to the life raft of stories that have worked for us for years. Some stories portray us as the hapless Victim: our mother was an alcoholic, we were bullied at school. Some give our lives a heroic dimension that lifts us above the rest and spurs us to remember our Greatness: the great grandfather who was the illegitimate son of the king. We were always daddy’s favourite child. We inherited our uncle’s business acumen. Tyra Nur Athirah girl on balcony

We can “Om” ourselves into the Power of Now, root at our past hurts and grievances during hours of therapy, affirm all we like that we are OK. But if our negative narrative is on the repeat button, we stay becalmed in a polluted sea.

Inner work requires the courage to strip naked. Our past will insist on a Full Monty – the meat and two veg – served up cold and often congealed, mostly unpalatable. If we are to understand why we stonewall our best friend, overreact in the workplace, shut down and exit  in our relationships, we are required to broaden our tunnel vision – to open our eyes as we trip over the dusty baggage from our past that clutters the hallway of every new relationship.

The one constant we bring to all our relationships is ourselves. Yet as the psychological model  proposes, much of ourselves is incarcerated in the unconscious – our orphaned  hunger for love, our shame, our worthlessness wander like itinerants in exile. Our relationships will mirror back our own “intimacy issues”. Birds of a feather will always stick together.  If we are out of touch with how we feel about ourselves we will say, “my husband cannot show his emotions” as we unwittingly diminish and confine him to the small airless box we live in ourselves.

Moving from a place of stuckness into a place of hope and new vitality takes courage and commitment, much like the decision to climb a high mountain. To look back or down the steep slope renders us wobbly, weak-kneed. Neale Donald Walsch admonishes, “Move forward with no second-guessing, no guilt trips, and no hesitation. Your purpose is to recreate yourself anew in each moment.”

Our subconscious mind accepts whatever we believe is our truth –  those limiting ideas about the world we have breathed in to our lungs and uttered in moments of fear. Our brains store our memories in files marked “explicit memory” which is all the conscious, intentional. The  who, what, where and when recall of our experiences, stored away in the hippocampus area of the brain. We store our misty, water-coloured “implicit memory” in the amygdala. The diffuse memory of the emotional climate, always unconscious and unintentional.  Science suggests that if we are not given enough time or space to process our experiences, our emotional resonances will remain locked in the amygdala, like unexploded bombs, activated in our daily interactions. That the unconscious clouds the present moment, drags our energy into the past, clutters our minds with circular thoughts, judgements, conditioning, so we shine like low-wattage light bulbs never fully present in the Now. When we still our minds and really hear something new from each other, we may find an echo within ourselves that resonates with a new way of being in the world.

It takes an act of will and enormous courage to be fully present to ourselves and to the Other. Says John Bradshaw, “when we are present, we are not fabricating inner movies. We are seeing what is before us.” We can make sacrosanct a space for ourselves each day. Commit to watching our thoughts and words vigilantly.  Commit to listening with empathy and compassion when our partner expresses a frustration or a desire. Commit to accepting our responsibility in the mess we find ourselves in and doing our bit to repair the ruptures in our relationships. We can heighten our awareness of our self-talk – the babble of criticism and judgment, the scaremongering. The knee-jerk response which says, “I’m not too bad,” that lodges the bad into our consciousness when someone enquires how we are doing. We can work at truly loving ourselves so that we are able to love another with all our heart. Scottish mountaineer W.H. Murray describes this gathering of intention and focus so beautifully: “Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that moment one definitely commits oneself, and then Providence moves too.”

May Providence move for you this new day.Mount Whitney, California

Natalie Imbruglia’s  Torn

Photographs by Galen Rowell and Tyra Nur Athirah

6

Who By Fire

Fire-Hands-Screensaver_1One size does not fit all. Our bodies, our minds, our souls have a fragile grace that is matchless. We are beautiful originals, with a journey to take that will be uniquely ours. Yet so many still cleave to centuries of congested conditioning which has congealed our minds. We have learnt by fire, by water, by high ordeal, by common trial that it is very dangerous to leave the protection and the tyranny of the religious, social, corporate, familial tribe. One size fits all. New or unique thinking and behaviour have historically been brutally silenced.  We have learnt that it is death-defyingly dangerous to be the sacrificial scapegoat. We have learnt by someone’s command or by our own assent how very lonely it can be in exile. Our brave hearts, our strong bones reverberate with the burnings, the crucifixions, the be-headings, the stonings and the suffocating clods of damp soil that silenced our ancestors who were buried alive, expunged from memory. They did not fit the tyrant’s mould. Heresy, blasphemy, treason! They asked for too much. Too soon. They were cut down to size.

Still we lop off those parts of ourselves that do not fit the standard norm of what is good, physically attractive, socially or politically correct. Still we sit in silence. Afraid to speak. Afraid to ask. We squeeze through the eye of the needle to find ourselves in Dante’s circle of Hell as we dance in the searing flames of pretence.

Alt-rock icon Amanda Palmer has gained acclaim and worn the fool’s cap of infamy as she has dared to ride the sacred cow of her truth. Giving voice to her uniqueness as a performer, a woman, a member of this human tribe, she dares to question, to challenge, to expose and to open her arms and her heart. She raises the Art of Asking to a sacred exchange between herself and her fans. She speaks of a world where one size does not fit all. Where people live surrounded by strangers in a vacuum of isolation and  loneliness. And where it is possible to meet, to connect with a simple gesture and meet each other in a tender gaze.b16537922d8c4547e298fa8c6d5ea50f5dcda21b_389x292

So, as we silence our voices in the Medusa stare of self-doubt, fear of ridicule or reprisal, we must trust that by exposing our vulnerability, asking for what we need, exchanging what we can give, we will eventually find our flock of swans and learn to fly.

We must promise ourselves that we will keep an oracle eye on our own agenda. We must promise ourselves not to break our vows to ourselves or betray another when we lose congruence of head and heart. We must promise ourselves that we will try to speak our truth from that place in our heart which is generous and wise and loving.

 “Consciousness is tough work,” says Carolyn Myss. It is tough work to be awake, aware, truly in our authentic internal power. It requires an act of will and spiritual discipline to pulverise our past in the pestle and mortar that contains the mustard seed of hope for each new day.

We alone are the custodians of our integrity. The setting aside of one’s integrity is not required to win someone’s heart,” Neale Donald Walsch says. “But the setting aside of one’s anger may be. It is possible to make a point without making an enemy. It is possible to be right without being righteous.”

At the equinox today, let us celebrate another turning in the Great Wheel of the year, and dare to speak, sing, shout our own personal truth. Carpe Diem!fire-heart

 

Leonard Cohen asks at O2 in Dublin, And who shall I say is calling?… Who By Fire?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4

I want you but I don’t need you

3470549444_075c8ceb0eI have a friend who has perfected The Art of The Brush-Off.

He is a Vermeer, a van Gogh of seduction.

Relationships, his blank canvas. He blends his pigments on a palette of politeness. With panache he delivers the final flick of the brush.  Perplexed friends and lovers wait for the visit, the call, the email. The “why”, which like the Second Coming, never comes.  His septic self-loathing aches beneath the gauze of a white-toothed smile. His arsenal of languorous pleasantries conceal the immensity of his attachment to beliefs which bind him to his past – it is dangerous to need, to love, to be vulnerable. He leaves before he can feel the pain of rejection or the obliteration of loving.  He unilaterally severs communication because the pain of self-enquiry is too excruciating. Like the Emperor who is wearing no clothes, he parades proudly wearing his assumptions about love and loss wrapped around him tightly.

Psychology proposes that we learn about love in the cradle of our source – our original family. That encased in our adult’s bodies is the child, the adolescent. That each one of us has lei-lines of feelings, associations, punitive judgements and an emotional resonance which underpin our adult relationships. That we drag our family complexes through the passage of time and meet them again and again in our relationships with our lovers, our children, our colleagues and our friends.  il_fullxfull_227594205

Yet we live at the dawn of a new paradigm of energy wisdom heralded by teachers like Carolyn Myss in her ground-breaking work in the ‘90s. This is the wisdom of the mystics and the shamans. A wisdom that has slumbered for centuries under the perfectly cloudless skies of rationalism.  A wisdom that now stretches into the concrete canals of mainstream thinking: Everything is energy. Our thought are energy. Our thoughts speak through the mother tongues of our bodies. Our thoughts leak into our childhood time line, our previous parasitical relationship, our betrayal, our unfair dismissal from our last job.

So many of us define ourselves by our physical, emotional, or social wounds. These wounds (my mother was depressed, my parents divorced, my husband was an alcoholic, my family died in the holocaust, we were victims of apartheid ) create an archetypal bonding and security within our relationships. They colour our attitudes and beliefs. They are our  “wounded child” that ties us to the thred-bare blue blanket of the past and communicates through the illnesses that manifest in our bodies and our neurotic behaviours. Wounds become a form of higly valued currency to control others subtly in socially accepted ways. When we pull out our wounds nobody challenges us anymore and we find a sense of tribal belonging with others who plug in, just like us. We don’t do this consciously. It is the stream of our inner dialogue that loops around the same stuck places where we ache and lose our connection to our core aliveness. Carolyn Myss posited that healing is as frightening to us as forgiveness.

“One may not reach the dawn, save by the path of night,” said Kahil Gibran. So often it is in the velvety darkness of  despair that we glimpse the radiance of the morning star and draw our energy back to present time. So often it is in our pain that synapses cross and we finally have the courage and the will to unplug our energy circuits from our tangled perceptions of events.  So often it is in the dawn of the new day that we embrace the jettisoned parts of ourselves and disembark from the leaky boats of relationships we once built with bent timbers. Loving ourselves enough may mean we walk away from lovers and friends who remain plugged into their own matrix of suffering and expect us to stay there with them.

We walk across the stepping stones of challenge  to return to the warm welcome of our home coming, tempered by the heat of the fire that has burnt us black. We emerge more pliable, more resilient, more compassionate, and more attuned to the heroic strength of our own spirit. It takes enormous discipline and discrimination to hold on to ourselves and know that we alone are capable of reversing, re-framing events from the past.

Intimate relationships offer us opportunity become artists in the poetics of the soul. From the crushed bud of loss, from our own perception of rejection, seeps life-giving moisture to nourish the fragrant flower of our own authentic power. We can grow and flourish through forgiveness and love, which burns away hatred and fear in its blue flame. We can value ourselves enough to simply mirror the pain of those that scratch and claw at life, and not to take it on as ours. We allow our hearts to bloom as we hold on tightly to ourselves and don’t become entangled in assumptions or stories that we make up in the dark hours just before dawn. “Thoughts become things … “says Mike Dooley, “choose the good ones!” flower

Amanda Palmer sings poignantly I want you but I don’t need you

 

 

 

2

By The Rivers Dark

private moonThere are two kinds of people in this world: Winners and losers. This belief is celebrated in song and movies, entrenched in education and sport, set in the cement of corporate temples to Mammon. Dream big, reach for the  stars, you can have it all, because, dammit, “you’re worth it!” This  sense of entitlement, this determination to be worthy, might be a warm poultice on the inflamation of our unworthiness.

Many of us are sailing across the rivers dark of change and uncertainty at this time in our collective evolution. For some, the race to “get ahead”, to set higher “bench marks” has become utterly meaningless. Some may be in the right place at the right time. Their moment of glory will be encoded in the birth chart as they elatedly clasp the Oscar; proudly stand on the winner’s podium. Success – or  “failure” – may be predetermined by a sacred soul contract – a Divine Plan. We can merely determine or control the meaning we give to events as they unfold in our lives. The fabled “American Dream” is a Technicolour rainbow. As it evaporates, it leaves a grimy residue of shadowy taboo: envy, ridicule, disillusionment. And the shame of being a “loser”.

In societies where individualism and equality are valued and encouraged we may believe we alone are responsible for every aspect of our lives – our successes and our failures. We concoct our very own recipe for our happiness. Our ancestors could rail against misfortune, or the gods, or the circumstance of their birth. Today, self-made men and women sail solo. When we slam against the dark reef we cannot blame the gods, our parents, our ex-lover, or the government for our choices and perceptions. So we perform the blood-letting when our scapegoated heroes fall from grace, baying like frenzied hounds at their blunders, their stupidity.

Mass Wedding South KoreaWherever people gather together they create a language that binds them to the tribe, or anesthetises sensibilities to the savage brutality of what is really going on. In the military, it may be “friendly fire” or a “dust off” which shrouds the unspeakable horror of legalised mass murder or an air lift of mangled bodies. In the 24/7 world of advertising and marketing it will be power words that convey enthusiasm and the admonition to “Just do it” as we deliver the “deliverables” or disassociate from the pointlessness of our allotted tasks.

Life is simple in the fast lane. Or is it? Success will be yours, if you work hard, have the right attitude, pointed focus, if your character and integrity are “good enough”. In the 1920s Bertrand Russell asked,  “what will be the good of the conquest of leisure and health, if no one remembers how to use them?”  His question is still pertinent today. I have a friend who works within the honeycomb cells of a large corporation. She sprinkles her sentences with hollow phrases that encompass our cultural comprehension of success: products, like people, must be “relevant”. By unspoken implication, if we are not “relevant” we are obsolete. Disposable. Like tooth brushes, celebrity marriages and old people.

We hunt success with bows that are stretched to breaking point. Like Love and happiness, success has myriad, illusive permutations. And yet, in this world of contrasts could it be that even in external “success” there will be some measure of loss or painful sacrifice? Perhaps in our tenacious climb to the summit we must cut loose our close family bonds? Eschew intimacy. Perhaps the trade-off will be a bloated ravaged body. Scarce unstructured, unaccountable time to enjoy the financial benefits of our long labour. Sometimes we seem to be rowing around in circles. The straining, the striving can wear us to a scooped-out void, our hands bloody and blistered on the oars. We forget our  “holy song”. We do not know, we cannot see our own reflection in the moonlight as we panic on.

“What do you do?”  A question that carries in its vapour trail a cloud of unspoken appraisals. A question that may be as difficult to answer as “Who are you?” as we comb through the interwoven layers of our complex human lives. Oriah Mountain Dreamer asks us to see each other through a different prism in her Invitation: It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing. It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive…”

John kimSometimes it is a dispassionate Collective Fate that steps in to decimate our lives – the savagery of a bombing, the watery obliteration of a tsunami or the violence of a hurricane. Sometimes it is a private tragedy that rips the windows and blows the roof off our reality. We may resume our striving unaltered, unshaken, defences nailed back in place, just as they were before. Or we may painstakingly sift through the broken foundations of our hopes and dreams and find that nothing is and will ever be the same again. Our values, priorities, longings now sound forth in a quieter song. Perhaps then we may lift up the oars. Allow ourselves to be carried towards the jetty, accepting things are as they are, for now. We may smile, because we sense that this life is but a dream. In this part of the dream we can put down our bow, pack away our arrows, success no longer our quarry. Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.Michael Melford

Private Moon Poems by Leonid Tishkov

Photographs by Michael Melford and John Kim

Leonard Cohen delivers his unsurpassed deliverables – By the Rivers Dark

 

2

Give Me Love

john_lennon_yoko_ono_rolling_stone_kiss_17pju56-17pju5cI chose a TV-free, news-less diet many years ago. I have no idea what’s trending, what’s new, who’s saying what on Facebook, because in the shrug of human evolution the fundamental challenges stay the same.

We still struggle to accept each other’s “otherness”. We still sink into the oblivion of psychological fusion with something or someone who mirrors our own version of our own story about the world. We are anesthetised by a monochromatic life where everything fits with our version of “reality” our belief in what is “right” and “wrong”.  We react to the bits that niggle and jar us out of our somnambulant complacency with outrage or distain. “Love for ourselves, despite our imperfections, can come alive only when we also risk loving others – accepting their imperfections. And then we understand how starkly our attitude to ourselves, and especially the presence or absence of a feeling of self-worth, is mirrored in the larger society we are collectively creating,” writes Stephanie Dowrick.

“Boundaries” like “Co-dependence” are words that have lost their conflagration. The Sun is now in the boundary-less sign of Pisces, where it meets a line-up of planets, transiting at this time through the silent darkness of the heavens. The Piscean quality of beatific new love feels, tastes and smells so sweet because we see reflected in the eyes of our Beloved, our own Divinity. We breathe in his essence through diaphanous hearts; we invite him in through our transparent minds. We rock him gently in the soft bosom of our in-breath and our out-breath. In his gaze, we greet ourselves.

Love, like Life, is a tight-rope walk that requires vigilance and balance. There is no “right way” or even a “wrong way” to place one foot in front of the other on this eventful journey, and we are all travellers on the same road.

A friend, recently returned from a month in Pune, in India, was shocked to discover that not all Indians are “spiritual”. And that in contrast to western individualism, the general view in that industrialised, polluted, over-populated part of our world does not embrace her values of sanctity of life, gentleness, cleanliness or even common courtesy.  In the hologram, we see what we want to see, until it morphs into shadow. Beneath the immaculate robes of the guru, behind the altar of the priest and within the troubled heart of a golden-haired celebrity or sportsman, we find our own self-doubt and hubris that haunts like a hungry ghost. And yet we are so often shocked and saddened, outraged or betrayed, when our idol or loved-one must inevitably topple and fall into the salty soup of humanity.

We live on a binary planet with an illusive Moon that appears to be much bigger than the Sun when she is in her ripe fullness.

It is within the dappled shallows of contrast that we experience our duality. It is within the interplay of intense passion and the insecurity of possessive love in adult relationships that we discover our suffering. It is within the net of psychological fusion that scoops us like flapping tadpoles, confused and dying, unable to breathe alone. It is down the dark depths of our own narcissism that we draw up muddied water to discover the Lotus Flower of our soul’s beauty.Photograph by Eiko Jones TADPOLES SWIMMING

“The cure for narcissism,” writes Thomas Moore “is to move from love of the self, which always has a hint of narcissism in it, to love of one’s deep soul.” It is in this place of quiet stillness that our differences become obsolete, that the chitter-chatter of our self-protective questions crackle underfoot, a carpet of russet autumn leaves in the sunlight. It is in this place of quiet stillness that we need no longer struggle or strive. It is in this place of quiet stillness that we discover Love is all there is.

Tadpoles Swimming – Eiko Jones

Ed Sheeran –  Give Me Love

 

0

Heart Shaped World

rosetruffles3Dark chocolates wrapped in cerise or shiny scarlet foil. The promise of red satin, the feminine fluff of pink lace, gift-wrapped in tissue paper and arranged in a heart-shaped box. This week commerce pays homage to the Heart.

A muscular pump that can be replaced or fixed with a set of stents? Or the source of Love that transcends our humanity? In many spiritual traditions the heart is believed to be the repository of the soul. From the lifeless bodies of lovers and poets, from the ravaged remains of chieftains and warriors, from the noble ribcages of  kings and martyrs,  hearts were removed, carried home and buried. Cardiologist Professor Dr. Armin Dietz writes, “If it proved impossible to either transport the body home or conserve it, the heart at least was brought home, being the seat of the soul and therefore most important part of the body.”

Some say it was the deep green curve of an ivy leaf, or the generous spread of a fig leaf that inspired potters of prehistory to carve hearts into clay. Some say it was the immaculate feathered  necks of two courting swans or bright coloured flowers that fluttered like fallen hearts in a fresh spring breeze that were immortalised around the rims of bowls and slender jugs discovered in splintered shards in ancient Greek and Roman middens. In dank catacombs, in the silent vestibules of monasteries and convents, heart motifs represented a love that was paradoxically both hotly erotic and transcendent of mortal concerns. The original iconic heart might have its origins in the little seed of the silphium plant. It was highly valued all over the Mediterranean and ancient Egypt and traded from the North African city, Cyrene. It mainly used medicinally and as a contraceptive. Two simple curves that join to represent a symphony of human emotion, heart-shaped pictograms were carved into coins of pure silver. Then, just like now, hearts were bought. And sold.

Ivy leaves became the red hearts on playing cards. Red suggesting life force, the heat of passion, the white hot flame of a spiritual, eternal love.  As physical love evolved into stylised courtly love, qualities of loyalty and faithfulness were celebrated in art and literature. Across the world as  the broad green leaves of the Bodhi tree fell sofly onto decks of playing-cards they grew into stylised hearts too, and for the Buddhists, it was enlightenment, not earthly love that was highly prized. For the self-deprecating Jesuits, The Sacred Heart represented the  painful longing for eternal life and redemption, stoked by the fires of Catholic fanatics who longed to purge and burn away anything that threatened the stone pillars of patriarchal power.

Eternal love, passion, or simply sex, the heart is a symbol that transcends culture, class and centuries of human muddle as we seek this thing called Love. So on this Hallmark day of commercial brouhaha and the echo of the death cries of the mythical  martyred Valentine, let us pause a while amidst the plethora of heart-shaped second chances to speak our truth, buy those red roses,  to dare to say I love you. Let us celebrate the confounding mystery of the human heart and spin like whirling dervishes, gone giddy with  delicious excess, the pink and red flourish of kitsch, cheesy, craziness of it all. Happy Valentine’s Day!old-2-red-love-hearts-flowers-arrow-valentine

Chris Isaak reminds us that this is a Heart Shaped World

 

3

Like a Virgin

sandro botticelliNew – fresh, innocent, exciting … we are curious primates, irresistibly drawn to things that look different, that we have not tried before. Advertisers bait the hook with words and images that attract our insatiable appetite for novelty and variety. Our hunger for “newness” is in direct conflict with the jaded repetition of most of our very ordinary lives. The searing surge of sexual attraction we feel when we fall in love, soon dissipates as we grapple with the practical realities of earning a living, calling the plumber to fix the blocked kitchen drain, packing school lunches, and giving our harassed spouse a peck on the cheek as he hurries out the door to join the flight to the concrete city hive.

How do we see enchantment, magic in the ill-tempered scowl of our frazzled life partner who has been sitting behind a desk all day? Where do we find a frisson of excitement in distant eyes? How do we continue, year after year, to arch with delight at a touch that has grown so familiar and find intimacy in the tangle of tasks that require left brain engagement? When do we allow time for romantic reverie, erotic fantasy conjured up in expansive imaginings? Alain de Bolton, in his new book, How to Think More about Sex, proposes that the ethos of modern marriage “with its insane ambitions and its insistence that one person can plausibly hope to embody the eternal sexual and emotional solution to another’s every need” sets us up for bitter disappointment. He suggests that love, sex and family were wisely differentiated from one another historically for very good reasons. Like oil and water, they do not mix. The elevated high of romantic love that inspired the chaste troubadours in the twelfth century to write sublimely beautiful songs and achingly beautiful poems was fuelled by the sleepless suffering of unrequited love. Raising a family and earning a living were never urgent desires of lusty eighteenth century Parisian libertines. Says Bolton, “the impulse to raise a family has been well known to the largest share of humanity since our earliest upright days in East Africa. In all this time, however, it seems to have occurred to almost no one (until very recently, evolutionary speaking) that this project might need to be fused together with constant sexual desire as well as frequent sensations of romantic longing at the sight of a fellow parent at the breakfast table.”

Love and marriage. Horses and carriages. We are conditioned, admonished, to balance our wet erotic urges with the harness of constrained convention. And yet, the swoon of a stolen kiss, the delight of a brush of skin, the intoxicating scent of newness, awakens the beast within our bellies. What we think is romance, or love, nearly always comes in the guise of someone who makes us feel all shiny and new. And the fee at the tollgate of adultery may bankrupt us, liberate us, or lead us on a circular road right back where we started – new horse but same carriage.

goyaIn Greek mythology Thanatos was the daemon of death. Thanatos and Eros dance together, two polarised forces. Eros thrusting into the hot rush of life. Thanatos sucking us like the undertow into cold dark waters of death. Perhaps the monumental challenge we face as modern-day humans is to navigate through the narrow inlet between these two Titanic forces, paying homage to both.

Without Eros there would be no great works of art, no new inventions, no unfurling of passion that galvanises us to cross continents, discover the hero within, experience events that crack us open like juicy pomegranates and flood our lives with sweet pink juices. Eros confirms our existence is real, vital, infinitely creative.

The icy blackness of Thanatos quenches our flame, pulls us down to the stark finality of endings. Ego deaths are accompanied by a retinue of unspeakable isolation and grief. Loss of a sense of Self so often ensues after a dance in the flames that burn us black, leave us charred, irrevocably. When we step aboard the sailboat of a committed long-term relationship, we are required to use the compass of common sense to deal with the myriad practicalities of survival. We are summoned to bend with the winds of change as they hurl fiercely against our sails. We are asked to be humbled by our own humanness and the contradictions of living with another who is so different and yet so familiar as to seem invisible to the arrow of our ardour.

It may be impossible to feel weak at the knees with a heated rush of lust when our rumpled partner staggers through the front door after a long day at the office. It may be ludicrous to feel anything but resignation as he burps in unrestrained satisfaction, leaves the loo seat up, uses the last of the milk, and clips his toenails while sitting on the side of the bed naked and not so sexily exposed.

red rose and bumA night in an unfamiliar hotel, a steamy romp on fresh new sheets while the kids are at a sleep over might fan the flame of passion. Maybe it could be a shared adventure with just a hint of danger that throws you trembling, quite unexpectedly, together once more. Homo not-so-sapiens may require plenty of thrills, spills and surprise to bring out the hirsute wild man or wild woman in us all.

So as you lie together on rumpled sheets, or hold his hand and feel his skin against yours, remember to open the window wide. See in the softness of the moonlight the innocence of his familiar face. Remember there was enchantment there once. And if we use our artist’s eye and our poet’s imagination, we will find it there again.

older man and woman

Madonna –  Like a Virgin

 

 

 

 

 

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Do You Want The Truth or Something Beautiful?

CAL0407-CLOWNSCHO-Activist-clown, Wavy Gravy once said “We’re all bozos on the bus, so we might as well sit back and enjoy the ride.”

Beneath the frosted icing that overlies every Lance Armstrong, Kim Kardashian or Tiger Woods, whom we adore and then vilify, is our very own delectable humanness. We have all been erratic, dishonest, mean-spirited and selfish. We have all betrayed, and been betrayed. We have all lied, withheld, presented our false faces to the world. So often we find ourselves mere spectators, looking through net curtains at the lives of others – those people we imagine to be happier, richer, more passionately in love, more successful, more fiercely outrageously creative in life than we are.  We hold them high above our shoulders, then let them fall. We are blindsided by our copycat version of the truth, which is just one truth in a casket of truths that all shine like rubies when the light falls upon them. Perhaps the truth does not set us free but is the mote in our eye. Our “truth” is so often a carriage that turns into a pumpkin at midnight, as we return from the ball of our subjective perceptions. The stories we tell ourselves about the world are so often like the wily Gingerbread Man – eaten by the even wilier fox that, of course, has his own version of “the truth” which justified his appetite for athletic Gingerbread Men.

hearts benetonAnais Nin and, allegedly, the Talmud suggested that “we do not see the world as it is. We see the world as we are.” Perhaps the truth is that there is no truth. Each human heart is the same no matter how famous or infamous we are. Rich man, beggar man, thief: even the poorest of the poor have hearts that beat out their soul songs. Even the richest of the rich feel the sharp sting of loneliness as they gaze upon their smiling circle of sycophants.

We may isolate ourselves, in imagining that we are unique in our failures, the heat of our yearnings. Or we may gorge like vultures on the public humiliation of others. We hide our secrets from each other – our holy longings, our heartache, the ache of our bewildering disappointments. And like self-deprecating clowns, we make light of our pain, diminish the untidy details of our humanness. We don’t want to appear weak or sad or self-absorbed, so we lightly say, “I’m doing well, thanks” as the shame of our secret rustles in the dry straw of our life.

“Run, run as fast as you can; you can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man” is the refrain from the old fairy tale. As we run from our pursuing thoughts and that uneasy feeling that we are out of integrity, perhaps we could stop and breathe in compassion for our vulnerability that creeps into the corners of the lies we make up about ourselves – and others. We are not alone in our fears, our pain, our aloneness, our moments of madness.  We all have the same foibles; we all rumble along  through life in all our guises, rich and poor, famous and infamous; we are all in the same old bus here for a magical mystery tour and it’s often quite a ride.

gingerbread-men-cookies_Photograph by Candy CaldwellOh, and if you see a Gingerbread Man running down the road. Eat him.

Just close your eyes and make believe I am happy to deceive … sings the delectable Paloma Faith

Photographs: Gingerbread men by Candy Caldwell, portrait of instructor Nadene Rogers at her “Art of Clowning” class, and the powerful Hearts ad campaign – United Colors of Benetton

 

 

 

 

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Now is Here

Be here now wrote Ram Dass in the 70s in a book that brought ancient eastern wisdom to the hungry hearts of western spiritual seekers. “Know that Faith and Love are stronger than any changes, stronger than ageing… stronger than death..”

Be here now, as this first month of the New Year stretches and yawns after the blowsy revelry of the final days of December.

Be here now in the effervescent bubble of the promises we made to ourselves, the intentions we resolved to hold on to and the changes we were going to glide through with ease and with elegance.

An unexpected brilliance of silver and gold flashed in the burnished branches of a discarded pine tree that lay on the pavement this morning waiting re-cycling. A tree that once grew in the soil and fed on sunshine and water will return to the earth, perhaps as a blaze of light and a flutter of ash in the cycle of life and death, endings and new beginnings, just like you and me.

New beginnings are springtime surges of urgent impetus. Bright green shoots of Hope. Brave envisioning that slices a swathe through thickets of fear and negative self-talk. New beginnings are like the vows we make to one another on our wedding day.

The bright burst of clear energy of this ego-less intention sprouts from the pure chambers of our hearts and climbs the rungs of the days and months like brave Jack who clambered up the thick stem of the beanstalk. It is this little bean of hope that contains our courage to look upwards, not down. To keep on climbing, though the storms clouds gather and thunder booms menacingly. Through triumphs and disasters that ratchet up our lives and make us appreciate more deeply the beauty and the brevity of our experiences as they fall through the hourglass of time.

To be here now requires a perceptual shift.

To be here now requires the will to bear the unbearable. If not now, then when? What are we postponing? What great fear anesthetises us from our own delight? Our own cracking open into new growth.

To be here now demands that we spin straw into gold and see the beauty in our bleeding fingers. This New Year we may be invited to step over a new threshold so that our soul may pour its light through the cracks in our egos, through our learned behaviours, our neuroses, our weakened bodies and over-loaded minds as we are buffeted by setbacks, splintered by the sharp sword of loss.

To be here now is to be in exactly the right place at exactly the right time for what we have come here to experience.

photographs by Adam Hanif and Heather Liebensohn

 Now is Here – Clannad.

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