Thursday, 30 March 2017

Caught Between: A Poem

Caught between

Needing empty 
eyeless time 

weighed down 
by exhaustion

And butterfly-mind 

wanting to flit 
through fullness 

all eyes and wings

A (female?) tailed emperor butterfly, photographed 1st April 2014

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

The Exalted, Tender Ordinary

Grey fantail
… One morning I saw a robin singing in a high branch, and the angle of its beak was the angle of hope: those extra degrees beyond the necessary and the abundance of bird-joy and robin-poetry made me cry for its song of well-being. The sheer goodness of nature for the sick psyche is incomparable; there in green one is not judged, one is accepted, with consolation and company. Nature gives you the exalted, tender ordinary – as of right.

(Jay Griffiths, Tristimania: A Diary of Manic Depression, Penguin, 2017, p. 25) 

Eastern spinebill

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

A Thought-Journey

A story is a journey; it follows a particular trail through a particular landscape. The trail is never straight, or easy. Often there are tree roots poised to trip unwary feet; overgrown bushes that need to be pushed through, catching at clothing and scratching at arms, so that you must pause to lick the blood off your skin. There are places where night quickly descends, and it helps to light a match to see the way (hint: always carry matches). Even when I know the final destination of a story—how it will end—I am never quite sure of the route I will need to take to get there. Sometimes there are glimpses of it, but it is not possible to see all the way ahead. There are tall trees obscuring the view, wraiths of mist, or the flank of a hill.

This is just the way stories work. They are living things, and they know how they want to be written—all the twists and turns, dark and light places, obstacles that obfuscate, and straight sections travelled with ease. And if you try to write off the trail, in another direction, whether deliberately or otherwise, the story always protests: No, that is not the way. You’ll never reach the end if you try to go in that direction.

I’ve been thinking these thoughts because I haven’t been writing stories. The last one I completed was in January, and I’m not convinced it is any good. The path of that story was a particularly obstructive one; and funnily enough, it was about a bush track that was no longer passable. Lack of use had led it to become so overgrown that only small creatures, moving underneath the tangled foliage, could use it.
Was I, unknowingly, writing about how I was feeling?

I think I do put much of myself into my creative writing—sometimes more overtly, but usually hidden beneath layers of meaning and imagery that disguise and slant the truth. In a way, writing a tale is a metaphoric way of exploring myself, the world, or the things I have been thinking of. I can role play through characters, inhabit and learn from different landscapes and situations.

Yet if a story—the writing as well as the reading of it—is a journey, how do I go on such a journey when all I want to do—all I have the energy to do right now—is stay in one place?

In writing this, I know I’ve taken a small thought-journey, even if it didn’t seem like there was a visible trail at all. I’ve made myself go somewhere, when I thought I couldn’t. So, while I may not be able to go on longer story-journeys at present—for it is best to rest within myself for a while—I do not have to be entirely static. I can let my thoughts be moved, gently; and I can follow them, slowly, at a pace my mind can handle, trusting that I will be led to a new and interesting destination.

Sometimes CFS can leave me befuddled. I just can’t think clearly. I wonder, have I said, here, what I wanted to say? Do I even know quite what I wanted to express?

Does it even matter?

I journeyed a little way, found something, and then returned to myself. A little tired, but glad to have been exploring.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Healing = Wholeness = Holiness

I recently read Jeanne Achterberg’s book, Woman as Healer, and was struck by the list of concepts that she believed were essential to a balanced view of healing. 

I know that it is not as simple as ‘curing’ oneself, but is an ongoing process of growth and transformation, of coming into balance and finding wholeness and insight—whether illness remains or not. But sometimes I forget, and need to be reminded again.

There is, importantly, an etymological relationship between the words heal, health, whole and holy. Such connections are never coincidental.

I share Achterberg's list here in the hope that it might inspire you as it has inspired me.

1. Healing is a lifelong journey towards wholeness.
2. Healing is remembering what has been forgotten about connection, and unity and interdependence among all things living and nonliving.
3. Healing is embracing what is most feared.
4. Healing is opening what has been closed, softening what has hardened into obstruction.
5. Healing is entering into the transcendent, timeless moment when one experiences the divine.
6. Healing is creativity and passion and love.
7. Healing is seeking and expressing self in its fullness, its light and shadow, its male and female.
8. Healing is learning to trust life.

(Jeanne Achterberg, Woman as Healer, Shambhala: Boston, 1990, p. 194)

A medieval manuscript image, perhaps depicting Trotula of Salerno, a woman healer who was said to practice at the medical university of Salerno (founded around the year 1000, and shut down by Napoleon's decree in 1811), one of the most famous medical institutions in Europe.
(Source: Wikimedia)

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Remember to Look Up

Summer ended and autumn began with much rain and mist. Yesterday, after what seemed like about two weeks of grey, wet weather, the sun reemerged, and I went out in the afternoon to make the most of it. Imagine my surprise when I looked up into the sky and saw two flocks of birds, flying in lazy circles, soaring against the backdrop of a fat white cloud. I could not think what they could be, though my heart said: Eagles! 

I did not think that eagles flew in groups—in this case, two flocks of about eight birds each—though my Birds of the Blue Mountains does say that wedge-tailed eagles hunt singly, in pairs or in small parties. As I watched they moved higher and higher, until they were barely visible, and few other birds, as far as I am aware, fly at such altitude. 

I wanted to take a photo, as proof of what I was seeing; or at least to find some binoculars. But the sight was so wondrous, so magical, that I knew I couldn’t waste time running inside to find my camera. I needed to live it, let it wash over me.

I thought to myself, If I had not gone outside, and looked up, I would not have seen this, and felt blessed that I had. 

Was what I was seeing unusual? Or something relatively common, just seldom seen, because I have failed to look up and take notice?

Either way, I think perhaps the eagles were enjoying the sunshine just as much as I was, dancing their joy in a newly blue sky.

(I could be wrong, of course. Perhaps they were not eagles at all. But I prefer to believe that they were.)

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

The Sadness and the Gladness

There is a feeling held in the atmosphere of this time of year that I see as the reverse of, though closely kindred to, the green, burgeoning quality of early spring. A soft sadness that summer is coming to a close, and a growing gladness that autumn, with gradually longer nights and crisp mornings, is on her way. I can’t help being wistful, holding this sadness–gladness close.

The sadness is surprising, considering how badly summer treats me. The heat drains me of energy, and the warm, short nights often lead to poor quality sleep, so as the season progresses I feel worse and worse. (Doing anything in January and February is a struggle.) And then I begin to long for autumn, for invigorating breezes, and days cool enough for cardigans. For boots and scarves and coats. I do love autumn. I love the decent into the darker half of the year. But … there is still something about the passing of summer that fills me with sorrow and regret.

I think it is because summer is traditionally the time when things are supposed to happen. When you are supposed to have a more substantial bodily immersion in the world. It is the time for holidays at the beach, swimming and sunbathing, picnics and walks—essentially, for pleasure, for being in the world. 

I always have plans for summer: to spend much more time outside, to make the most of the sunshine, to work more on art … And of course those things rarely happen. Because of my lack of energy, yes, but also because I find the weather is often too hot to be outside. Or it is raining. And so summer after summer has passed me by, seemingly wasted.

This summer has been a particularly hot one, with temperatures well above average, and breaking records (and it scares me that this is becoming the norm). Though thankfully, each heatwave has been followed by a few cooler days of rain and mist, so this year, we’ve been lucky. Things have remained green, instead of drying to tinders, and the bushfire threat has not been substantial in my part of the state—a great relief.

Yet despite the heat, the discomfort, the lethargy, I still feel what I feel at this time of year. I mourn summer’s passing, lament the fall from the height of the solstice, away from the green lushness, back to our dark origins, dry leaves underfoot. 

Another summer gone.

This feeling of sadness mingled with gladness, a bittersweet melancholy, is a beguiling one that I wouldn’t be without. But it feels strangely unfinished, open and frayed at the ends, and I’d like to be able to weave it into something useful, some piece of creative work that enables me to finally catch hold of it, to finally be embodied at this cusp of the seasons.

Yet as I wrote in my notebook not so long ago, as I was accumulating ideas for a story: If it is the journey, not the destination, then it is the longing, not the attainment. 

Much like the Welsh concept of hiraeth, some things are unattainable, forever just out of reach. The beauty is in the feeling of longing itself, the openness and wildness of something that cannot be contained or defined, and remains a mystery, even when we are granted precious glimpses of it. 

I think, perhaps, that it is in such feelings that poetry is born.
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