Thursday, 29 September 2016

Out of Patience and Searching

I feel a need to slow down, to rest. To continue my ongoing search, of course—for my Self, for meaning, for stories, for life amidst my sometimes non-life—but to do so slowly, with patience. 

It frustrates me that there is so much I could do, yet at the moment there is not enough energy to do even half of it. I have no choice but to go steadily, to let life and the creative process take me where they need me to go, at a pace that I can keep up with.

This past week I’ve been heartened by rereading Jeanette Winterson’s Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery (1995). I first started reading Winterson’s work when I was a teenager, and I admit, I did not fully understand her then, though I was certainly beguiled; now, older and a little wiser, with much more reading behind me, I do understand her better (though not perfectly, I am sure), and I love her work all the more. 

Initially, what drew me in were the fantastical elements of her stories, which, nonetheless, I would not have described as ‘fantasy’ in the usual sense. To me it seemed more like she had taken reality and skewed it sideways slightly, so that the impossible suddenly became possible. As she writes in Art Objects, ‘I wanted to create an imaginative reality sufficiently at odds with our daily reality to startle us out of it’ (188). I think this is, perhaps, one of the things that the best books do: they startle us into seeing our own reality with different eyes, with greater intensity, and our imagination kicks in, allowing us to believe in and dwell in other worlds.

Reading Winterson is something of a challenge—I often feel like a tiny intellectual minnow to her grand Salmon of Knowledge—but it is worth the effort. Art Objects, especially, is replete with insight and wisdom, so much so that I have typed out almost nine pages worth of quotes for future reference! 

I particularly identify with Winterson’s approach to life. She says:

I like to live slowly. Modern life is too fast for me. That may be because I was brought up without the go-faster gadgets of science, and now that I can afford them, see no virtues in filling the day with car rides, plane rides, mobile phones, computer communications.
If you deal in real things, those things have a pace of their own that haste cannot impose upon. The garden I cultivate, the vegetables I grow, the wood I have to chop, the coal I have to fetch, the way I cook, (casseroles), the way I shop, (little and often), the time it takes to read a book, to listen to music, the time it takes to write a book, none of those things can happen in microwave moments. I am told that the values I hold and the way I live are anachronisms paid for by my privilege. It is a privilege to make books that people want to read but why would it be more appropriate, less anachronistic, for me to spend the money I earn on a flashy lifestyle instead of funding my own peace and quiet? (158–159)

Remember that she was writing this in the early- to mid-1990s, before mobile phones, the Internet and all the other technologies we take for granted had become as ubiquitous as they are today, and therefore I believe she was, and remains, a woman ahead of her time in striving after a way of life that is real and nourishing, yet to so many seems ‘behind the times’. In some ways I could describe her, and her writing, as being outside of time. If you have read her books, you will know what I mean, for she often plays with time; also, as she has said, in stories, whilst writing them and reading them, time as we know it ceases to exist. It is clear that Jeanette Winterson knows what is important, necessary to life, and necessary to the making of art: peace and quiet; a lack of haste.

I need this peace and quiet for myself, this slow pace, for I often have a tendency to rush rush rush, and it does me no good, physically or mentally. (Does it do anyone any good?) Though don’t get me wrong, I appreciate what technology, in particular the Internet, has given me—information at my fingertips, connections with people near and far, and the opportunity to share my work publicly, by blogging. Yet, sometimes I long for a return to a pre-Internet, pre-technological life, in which I would have more time, and would use it more wisely, forming a better relationship with the world around me. In which there would be less distraction, less digital/virtual intrusion into physical reality and my own imaginative realms. That day may yet come (whether through my own choice, or by technological collapse), but for now I must find my own ways to live with less haste, to use my time (and energy) wisely, and to walk the creative path with patience and trust. 

Life takes time. Art takes time. I must be patient.

Winterson writes:

My work is rooted in silence. It grows out of deep beds of contemplation, where words, which are living things, can form and re-form into new wholes. What is visible, the finished books, are underpinned by the fertility of uncounted hours. A writer has no use for the clock. A writer lives in an infinity of days, time without end, ploughed under. 
It is sometimes necessary to be silent for months before the central image of a book can occur. I do not write every day, I read every day, think every day, work in the garden every day, and recognise in nature the same slow complicity. The same inevitability. The moment will arrive, always it does, it can be predicted but it cannot be demanded. I do not think of this as inspiration. I think of it as readiness. A writer lives in a constant state of readiness. For me, the fragments of the image I seek are stellar; they beguile me, as stars do, I seek to describe them, to interpret them, but I cannot possess them, they are too far away. At last and for no straightforward reason, but out of patience and searching, I find that what was remote is in my hands. Still uncut, unworked, but present. (169–170)

I am going to take some advice from this, to invite silence in, and pursue Nature’s Time in favour of clock time. To live by the slowness and rightness of the turning seasons, the sun and the moon, and my own internal seasons and cycles. To read and think every day, and to spend time outside, walking or just sitting in the garden, watching the birds and insects and newly emerged skinks, listening to the living, speaking Earth around me. Trying, as much as possible, to remain in a state of readiness, so that out of patience and searching, what I seek will at last arrive glimmering in my hands. 

Friday, 23 September 2016


Today is the equinox, the time when the hours of light and dark are in balance; and, in the southern hemisphere, it is the mid-point of the light half of the year (or the beginning of it, depending on how you look at the Wheel of the Year). The light was born again at the winter solstice, and ever so slowly began to increase, and from now until the summer solstice, the hours of daylight will gradually begin to exceed the hours of darkness. And yet, because each season holds within it its opposite—in this case the autumn equinox in the northern hemisphere, which is the mid-point/beginning of the dark half of the year there—I have been thinking about, yearning for, the Darkness.

William Morris - Night Angel Holding a Waning Moon, 1857/1869
When I decided to write a piece in praise of the Darkness, I began to ponder what I would call it. What, I asked myself, is the antonym of ‘enlightenment’? My first thought was ‘benightedness’—and I was right. But I only had to look at the definition of the word to know that ‘benightedness’ was not what I wanted to write about.
In the West in particular, we have a fear and dislike of the Dark, which has led to darkness being seen as negative, even evil, and associated with death, in contrast to the eternally positive light, which is associated with goodness and life.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines enlightened as: ‘having or showing a rational, modern, and well-informed outlook’, and ‘spiritually aware’. Some synonyms are: knowledgeable, wise, civilised, cultured, advanced, sophisticated, open-minded, and so on.

Compare this with benighted: ‘in a state of pitiable or contemptible intellectual or moral ignorance’, and ‘overtaken by darkness’. Some synonyms are: uneducated, illiterate, uninformed, backward, simple, primitive, uncivilised, barbaric, savage, crude … the list goes on.

And here, it seems, is the problem. Darkness is so thoroughly negative in connotation that we tend to gravitate towards the light at any cost, losing the wisdom of the Dark in the process. 

Simeon Solomon - Night, 1890
Yet consider this: While the leaves of plants are ‘photophilic’, loving light, and therefore moving towards it, the roots are ‘photophobic’, disliking light, and moving away from it, down into the dark earth. The roots (arguably more so than the leaves) are what make the plant’s life possible, anchoring it in the ground, and drawing up water and nutrients, and those roots live and thrive in the dark. Moreover, the seed from which the plant grew in the first place began in the dark, germinating because of the fertile, moist darkness surrounding it, pushing out its dark-loving root, as well as its light-loving leaves.

As Glenys Livingstone writes, ‘It is in the compost, the de-composition, in the darkness, that new life is nurtured, fertility is found. It is in the acceptance of death that wisdom is gained, and life is lived more fully’. (1)

The truth is that everything begins in the Dark. It is what we emerge/d from, and what we will eventually return to—Life circling towards Death and back to Life again. Black absorbs all light, because the Darkness contains everything, including the Light; and it is in the Dark that the Light shines brightest. 

Darkness can be seen in more positive ways. Jay Griffiths, writing of the Christian/Western perception of forests being benighted places, says that in contrast, the Pygmies of the Ituri Forest of northwest Congo sing

their great song of praise to the forests: “If Darkness is, Darkness is Good.” Knowledge is mothered by darkness in the Amazon; knowledge from the “plant teachers” [is] learned at night, while the soñadores, the dreamers, find their wisdoms in the dark. In the forests, you see the tenderness of darkness, how it folds things into itself, nature nurturans, for all good things are cradled in darkness first: seeds and babies, sleep’s dreams and the heart’s love, compost and starlight. (2)

Why are we so afraid of the Dark? Because we are afraid of what we do not know? Of what we cannot see? Of what we might find there?

I suppose our fear is a natural response. And yet, we do ourselves a disservice when we ignore, devalue or mis-define the Dark (and when we do not face our fears).

Livingstone writes: ‘In Greece, perhaps as early as the Paleolithic era, the Divine Female was known as Nyx, Black Mother Night … She was the full Emptiness, the empty Fullness … Her Darkness was understood as a “depth of love”, not a source of evil as later humans named Her.’ (3)

Gustave Moreau - Night, 1880
I completely identify with this idea of Darkness as Love, for the Darkness can be a very nurturing, enclosing and safe place, particularly if I imagine myself being held in the velvety black womb of the Earth. Rebecca Solnit elaborates on this idea:

Darkness is amorous, the darkness of passion, of your own unknowns rising to the surface, the darkness of interiors.

In darkness things merge, which might be how passion becomes love and how making love begets progeny of all natures and forms. Merging is dangerous, at least to the boundaries and definition of the self. Darkness is generative, and generation, biological and artistic both, requires this amorous engagement with the unknown, this entry into the realm where you do not quite know what you are doing and what will happen next. Creation is always in the dark because you can only do the work of making by not quite knowing what you are doing, by walking into darkness, not staying in the light. Ideas emerge from edges and shadows to arrive in the light, and though that’s where they may be seen by others, that’s not where they are born. (4)

So Darkness is fertile, the place of love and creation of all kinds, and this should help us to see it in more positive ways. Yet the fact that it is dangerous, as well as linked with the Dark Feminine, is another reason why the Dark is feared and labeled evil. For the Darkness is the Old One/Crone/Hag, the Destroyer–Creator—and the reality that She requires us to face, that of old age and death (that is, change and transformation), is a reality which, in the West, we try very hard to avoid. It is true, this aspect of Goddess is indeed fearsome and confronting. She is 

primarily in relationship with All-That-is … The Crone/Old One is that movement back into the Great Sentience out of which All arises, thus she sees into the elements behind form. She is often depicted with wide open eyes; often associated with the gaze of owl or snake—and knowledge of the Dark. (5)

Yet, though the Crone is formidable and fierce, Livingstone points out that Her fierceness strengthens women, helping us to recognise our own power, and to bravely seek knowledge of our Selves. Perhaps this is another reason why the Dark is feared, for the Dark gives women the power of self-knowledge, and the patriarchal forces of this world are afraid of women’s power. 

All the more reason for all of us—women and men—to learn how to embrace the Dark, in the knowledge that there is no Light without it, just as there is no Life without Death. We simply do not have the option to accept one thing and refuse the other. While to be ‘enlightened’ may mean to be ‘spiritually aware’, no one can truly achieve that awareness unless they have embraced ‘endarkenment’ too (the descent to the Underworld, the place of Soul, and the integration of the Shadow, amongst other tasks). As Bill Plotkin says, ‘Our spiritual growth is meant to go in both directions, toward the fertile darkness and the glorious light, each of us having the opportunity to bridge earth and heaven—the underworld and the upperworld—through the trunks of our middleworld lives.’ (6)

Tree Sketch (Emergence), 2012
So, what word could we use to call ourselves lovers of the Darkness? 

While ‘photo’ (from Greek) relates to light, ‘scoto’ relates to darkness. So we could say of roots that they are scotophilic, dark-loving, rather than photophobic. I have also discovered the words ‘nyctophilia’ and ‘lygophilia’. Though none of these options are particularly memorable or attractive. Perhaps in the end we just have to remember that Darkness is Love, is Wisdom, is the womb and birthplace of everything. We should embrace it. After all, it is only when we are be-nighted that we get to see the stars.

I will leave the last word to Ursula Le Guin:

“And when you fail, and are defeated, and in pain, and in the dark, then I hope you will remember that darkness is your country, where you live … Our roots are in the dark; the earth is our country. Why did we look up for blessing—instead of around, and down? What hope we have lies there … in the dark that nourishes, where human beings grow human souls.” (7)

1. Glenys Livingstone, PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion, iUniverse: Lincoln, NE, 2005, p. 100
2. Jay Griffiths, Wild: An Elemental Journey, Penguin: London, 2006, p. 76
3. Livingstone, p. 82
4. Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby, Granta: London, 2013, p. 185
5. Livingstone, p. 100
6. Bill Plotkin, Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and the Psyche, New World Library: Novato, California, 2003, p. 34
7. From Ursula Le Guin’s Dancing at the Edge of the World, quoted in Griffiths, p. 76

Monday, 19 September 2016

The Path Through the Forest

There have been many ups and downs since I wrote Being the Mountain in July, and I am still trying to rest and re-centre myself after a trying month or so, still needing to be that firmly rooted mountain on occasion. I am not very well at present, not at my best physically, and in a bit of a low period emotionally, but I do feel like something is beginning to change within me, and that gives me hope. 

Lost by Frederick McCubbin, 1886
When I am not feeling well, I often feel lost, or stuck in one place. So, finding a direction, a path to take, to get me out of that stasis of lostness and stuckness, that is important. Though over the years I have come to realise that lostness is a gift too. For the lack of direction, the feeling of emptiness, gives me an opportunity to reassess things, to rediscover the direction that I should be moving in. I need to fully empty myself out so that I can refill myself again; and I look forward to this process of refilling, which, with time, leads once again to a spilling over of my inner wellspring. Creativity will flow again, and I will feel more sure of the path I am walking.

This is far from easy, however, for when I am tired and run down (and I am sure many people with chronic illness would agree), it is very difficult to feel interested in anything, for there is simply no energy to devote to that. And without interests and passions and a desire to enjoy life, it is very hard to motivate myself to get out of the mess I am in and to find the elusive path that I am seeking. So, as I am being pared down to the bare bones of my existence in the world, I find I need to return to essentials, a few key strategies:

1. Reading

Though I am almost always reading something, I have felt a particular need for story lately, so I have turned to novels. They help to distract me from my own thoughts, and to feed my soul. There are two I would like to mention—the kind of rare books that not only tell a compelling story, but are also just what I needed, with much wisdom to relay; and both deal with shamanism:

Ceremony (1977) by Leslie Marmon Silko

Considered to be a classic of Native American literature, this is one powerful book. It tells the story of Tayo, a young indigenous man who fights in the second world war, is taken captive by the Japanese, and returns to the US sick and traumatised. But instead of turning to violence and alcohol as his friends do, he feels drawn to the old ways of his people, and spends time with a medicine man who creates a ceremony for him. This ceremony expands to become an unfolding of the living world all around Tayo, because ‘His sickness was only part of something larger, and his cure would be found only in something great and inclusive of everything’ (125–6). The story itself, and the ceremony within it, is the cure. As it says in the opening:

I will tell you something about stories,
[he said]
They aren’t just entertainment.
Don’t be fooled.
They are all we have, you see,
all we have to fight off 
illness and death.

You don’t have anything 
if you don’t have stories. (2)

This is true. Stories can heal, can nurture, can teach us much about ourselves and others, and I particularly loved this book for being written by a woman of mixed ancestry (Laguna Pueblo, Mexican and white), who therefore has expressed a very different take on ‘civilisation’ and the accepted way of things. Ceremony speaks of violence, injustice, racism and addiction, and some of it is confronting to read—but it also shows us what is important: a relationship with the land, which cannot be ‘owned’ or ‘colonised’, only belonged to; and the power of dreams, visions, magic—all of which are available to us if we are humble, trusting, and we open our hearts. Which leads me to the next book … 

Now is the Time to Open Your Heart (2004) by Alice Walker 

This book is about Kate, a successful writer, who at 57 years of age, feels lost in her life, and goes on a journey of discovery, first down the Colorado river, and then into the Amazon jungle, where she meets and learns from Grandmother—yagé, also known as Ayahuasca, or simply la medicina, a powerful entheogenic and healing plant. Meanwhile, her partner Yolo goes on his own journey.

Once again, I loved the fact that this book was written by someone with a different perspective on the world, an African-American woman, who does not take civilisation at face value, and provides alternative ways of thinking and being. Furthermore, the way she has written this story, about shamanism and spiritual awakenings, is very real and accessible. It is supremely grounded, and I found myself typing out many passages to add to my rather large file of quotes, because the key passages are not, in my eyes, fictions, but truths that spoke directly to me. This quotation stood out:

For her life, like human life everywhere on the planet, had speeded up and speeded up until peace was rarely possible. Always there was movement, noise, inevitable and constant distraction … A madness has seized earth. The madness of speed. As if to speed things up meant to actually go somewhere. And where, after all, was there to go? The present is all there ever is, no matter how you lean forward or back. (28)

And this idea of the need to slow down, as an antidote to the madness of speed and distraction that we are constantly plagued with in the modern world, leads to my next strategy …

2. Meditation

Feeling as I have recently, and being unable to do much, meditation has been calling to me. I can’t claim to be very good at it, as my mind tends to wander about as if it has a mind of its own (ha!), but it is something that I have done on and off for a number of years, and there are definite benefits, I am sure.

Sometimes I need stillness and silence. I just need to rest, within myself. Even if there are thoughts floating by, nonetheless, that commitment to stillness and silence is helpful. To simply be in the moment, to remember the goodness in being, as opposed to the constant doing that is so often expected of us. And yet, here is the paradox: sometimes much emerges out of that non-doing, that nothingness, the emptiness that has led me to meditate in the first place. Regular mediation, I feel, helps with my creative flow. Which leads to my next strategy …

3. Writing

For a few years I have been doing ‘Morning Pages’, as based on Julia Cameron’s model from The Artist’s Way (1992). Though I cheat a little, typing them, instead of handwriting as advised. And I don’t always do them in the morning either. But I’ve found that this year I have not stuck to my daily practice. Partly this was because I was beginning to get bored, and needed a change; and then when I started blogging I was doing quite a lot of other writing anyway. Nevertheless, recently I have returned to the work, realising (as I have known from the beginning), that regular writing not only helps to keep the River of Creativity flowing, but it is also therapeutic. It helps me to get irritating or upsetting thoughts out of my head and onto the page, where they do far less damage, and to boost my positivity and self-belief, so that I sail above negative feelings, rather than being dragged down by them. It may not always be the best writing—in fact, mostly it is terrible—but it is healing writing, which engenders motivation, inspiration and ideas, and therefore it is invaluable.

The interesting thing is that I think my strategies are beginning to work, for recently I began to write a story. It still needs a lot more work, but it is a beginning, and I am confident that I will find an ending for it, if I remain patient and trusting. I have also written a post for the upcoming vernal equinox (so stay tuned for that). I know that this little burst of creativity has come about as a direct consequence of my reading, meditation and writing. 

So, while I’m not out of the woods yet, I think I’ve found a forest path I quite like. I will follow it.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Frida: The Woman Who Was the Moon

I’ve long had an interest in art, so, many years ago I decided to go to art school. But as I wasn’t anywhere near well enough at the time, I had to change my plans. As an alternative, I chose to complete a Bachelor of Arts by correspondence. Art History (along with Literature) was my major; and I went on to do Honours, writing a dissertation about the Pre-Raphaelites.

Yet in the years since I completed my studies I have found myself feeling less and less interested in art as a whole (particularly 20th century modern art, with its emphasis on form and abstract ideas), and more and more interested in the specific kinds of art that speak directly to me. I still love the aesthetic and narrative themes of the Pre-Raphaelites, but have also become interested in ‘mythic art’, certain kinds of folk and ‘outsider’ art, and anything to do with nature, landscape, animals or shamanic/spiritual themes. I love things that have meaning, earthiness, strangeness, and a beauty—which is far from mere prettiness—that attracts me. 

One artist of the 20th century who fits that description is the unparalleled Frida Kahlo, and on the very last day of winter I was lucky enough to go to see an exhibition of work by Kahlo and Diego Rivera at the Art Gallery of NSW. Seeing her work up close was a real treat—though looking right into her eyes was difficult. In all her paintings her face, for all its beauty, has a look of great sadness. Yet I know that there was a strong defiance behind that sadness, a defiance that enabled her to keep living despite her suffering, and to keep expressing her truth.

Photo by Nickolas Murray, 1939
I think that the reason Frida Kahlo is so fascinating—so much so that ‘Fridamania’ is a thing!—is not just because of the nature of her art, which is clearly aesthetically, technically and psychologically exceptional, but because of the evident difficulty of her life. We all know the story of the accident which left her lying in bed with her torso in a plaster cast for months, and of how that accident haunted her for the rest of her days, resulting in much pain, and probably leading to her inability to have children. This accident, in some ways, defined Kahlo—yet it did not defeat her. It was what made her become an artist, after all. She said: ‘I am not sick. I am broken. But I am happy to be alive as long as I can paint.’ (1)

Self-Portrait with Necklace, 1933
I love what Rebecca Solnit has written: ‘Stories like yours and worse than yours are all around, and your suffering won’t mark you out as special, though your response to it might.’ (2)

Kahlo’s response to her suffering is what marks her out as extraordinary, and what makes her a particular inspiration for me. She defied her pain and disability and lived fully, exuberantly and passionately, despite her body’s limitations. She also painted her truth, her innermost authenticity, however much she is thought to have cleverly invented her image for the public gaze. As she once declared: ‘They thought I was a surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.’ (3)

Diego on My Mind (Self-portrait as Tehuana), 1943
In an interview with Sharon Blackie, Jay Griffiths said:

… what I find compelling about her is that she, in her life and in her painting, uttered, or outered, the inner experience of many women. She made visible things which are common but invisible. She was forced to let life scrawl some terrible graffiti over her body, in her accident, and then she chose to express, in her own brushstrokes and handwriting, her wit, joy, pain and defiance. Her sense of rebellion is the fire at the heart of art … (4)

Few of us are as ingenious as Kahlo, or as artistically productive. She was utterly unique, utterly herself. Yet she still gifts us with a valuable lesson: That how we respond to our lives, particularly to the bad things that may happen to us, is what is most important. 

I myself am guilty of letting despair take hold of me for many years. I was sick and I had no response to that at all. But now I see the world, and my life, differently, and I can respond in a positive way. Though CFS is part of what defines me (though it is not the only thing), I will not let it defeat me. Like Kahlo, I want to find ways to express the truth of my life. I do not want to turn away from what is difficult or painful. I do not want to turn away from my past, for my past is what has brought me to my present, and what feeds into my future. I feel a kind of pride in myself for surviving, and now I want to learn how to thrive, in spite of my limitations.

Going to the Frida Kahlo exhibition also gave me a good excuse to read (for the third time) Jay Griffiths’ A Love Letter from a Stray Moon (2011). Interestingly, this slim novella began life as an autobiographical piece of writing, which, Griffiths said:

made me feel far too vulnerable and exposed. I needed a mask so that I could still be true to myself and yet also have the protection of fiction. A friend gave me a book of Kahlo’s work with a brief biography, and, like many women, I was so struck by similarities between her experience and my own life on the inside. I saw then that I could, with relief and fluency and feathers, let the book fly free for being masked. (5)

I think it is true that women often see similarities between Kahlo’s experiences and their own lives—inner or outer—and that is why she is so loved. She shows us something of ourselves, in a roundabout way, and encourages us to be stronger and more courageous in living fully and (sometimes) flamboyantly. I see those same similarities in Griffiths’ book, which is intensely intimate as well as grandly mythic in its scope. In it Kahlo is changed completely by her accident:

All of my afterlife referred always to that now, that moment then … I was flung away from all I knew and all I had been. The ferocious wrench, the shattering of me. I was flung into the darkness of outer space, injured, lonely, and part of me died—I became the strange and limping moon you see every night. Before, I had been part of earth, as young as life itself and I had known dance and freedom. After, I was unearthed, old as death, and caged in days. (6)

Part of her died. Part of her became old. She became the lonely, barren moon. And yet …

Some time after the accident, as I was still in bed, sick and feverish, with paintbrushes in my hand, I suddenly saw in their delicate, feathered tips the tangent of my flight. My soul could fly with each brushstroke and my paintings could make visible all the universes which my soul held within it. (7)

This is Frida herself, written through the medium of fiction. A Love Letter from a Stray Moon is a beautiful book. Challenging, but full of passion too. As John Berger says on the cover, ‘It’s like a dress that Frida Kahlo invented for herself and wore’.

In writing this I have also remembered a message that was given to me as part of the creative workshop I did earlier in the year, and which I wrote of back in May. The message was this: 

Remember your past to guide your future.

I know that I am who I am now because of the things I went through in my past, and so I intend to honour my past by becoming the best person I can be now and into the future. My past cannot be changed. What is done is done. Yet the way I see it has changed, and therefore I have been able to rewrite the story of my life. I hope to continue to write myself into being, to give birth to myself, as Kahlo did. 

As she said, ‘At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can’. (8)

I know this to be true.

Frida photographed by her father, Guillermo Kahlo, 1932 
2. Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby, Granta: London, 2013, p. 241
3. Andrea Kettenmann, Frida Kahlo, Taschen: Köln, 2008, p. 48
4. ‘An Interview with Jay Griffiths’, EarthLines, Issue 1, May 2012, p. 28
5. ibid.
6. Jay Griffiths, A Love Letter from a Stray Moon, Text Publishing: Melbourne, 2011, pp. 13–14
7. ibid, pp. 14–15

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Violet Medicine, Nestling into Spring and a Garment of Weeds

I recently discovered that the leaves and flowers of violets are edible, and especially good for gently cleansing and detoxifying the body—thus perfect for a spring clean. They grow all over the place in our garden, the friendliest (and now most useful) of plants. So every day or two over the past few weeks I have been drinking a mug of violet tea (a subtly mauve liquid with the merest hint of green), and munching on a few of the bright heart-shaped leaves. Both the tea and the young leaves are fresh and mild-tasting, so not at all difficult to consume.

Violet is the diminutive form of the Latin Viola, the Latin form of the Greek name Ione. There is a legend that when Jupiter changed his beloved Io into a white heifer for fear of Juno’s jealousy, he caused these modest flowers to spring forth from the earth to be a fitting food for her, and he gave them her name. Another derivation of the word Violet is said to stem from Vias (wayside). (Maud Grieve, A Modern Herbal, 1931, p. 834)

Mythological derivations aside, I have found these ‘modest flowers’ to be of particular help at this time, a ‘fitting food’ to calm and cleanse body and mind, and bring me back to myself (an ongoing process), in readiness for going deep into the spring that gets stronger and closer by the day, and welcoming whatever the season brings.

Other purplish flowers have also beckoned to me: rosemary, which I have taken cuttings of and dried, in readiness for use in herbal potions for hair and skin; and lavender, as I rest with a lavender-scented pillow gently weighing down my tired eyelids.

Purple is a colour I particularly associate with the sacred, with Spirit, so I am seeing it as an ally at this time, revealing itself through these spring flowers which can heal both internally and externally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. 

Not long ago I came across a fallen bird’s nest on one of my frequent walks (two in fact, a very short distance from each other, though I only brought one home to photograph). Both were empty, and neither had any sign of broken eggshell, either inside or nearby, so I assume (hope) that they had fallen before they had had a chance to be used. Being palm-sized (and my hands are small), they were probably made by a honeyeater, or another very small species, and were beautifully constructed from pine needles, bits of some kind of nylon twine/thread, and, in the case of the one I brought home, lined with downy feathers. 

It made me think of how all creatures have a nesting instinct, a desire to make or dwell within a place that is home. The animals manage it quite effortlessly, while we humans tend to have much more difficulty. As Jeanette Winterson wrote in Written on the Body (1992):

Very few people ever manage what nature manages without effort and mostly without fail. We don’t know who we are or how to function, much less how to bloom. Blind nature. Homo sapiens. Who’s kidding whom? (p. 43) 

Finding the nests seemed an apt reminder to further nestle myself into spring, and into this land that is my home, and to let it energise and inspire me. Perhaps I am already nested here, more than I consciously realise. 

It’s so easy sometimes to get carried away by my own trivial human worries, and to forget that nature carries on regardless, and that I am one small part of her constant unfolding. She is always there to help me, if I let her—medicine emerging through violets or bird’s nests, mist over the mountains or a magpie singing in the rain. It is Mother Nature who can show us how to bloom.

I am also pleased to reveal that after several months (!) of doing, undoing and redoing, I have finished knitting a cardigan. Hurrah! As the colour of the wool was rather unpoetically named 0098, I have decided to refer to it as my ‘Donegal cardigan’, after the make of yarn (and because the colour makes an Irish connection apt). Though I could also call it my cardigan of weeds, for it is far from perfect, and a little weedy in appearance. Though I’m sure it will serve me well as a light garment for this in-between season, a fitting article of clothing for wandering into spring’s wild weediness.

And here is a galah. Just because.

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