Turning Tides and a Quick Catch-Up

Tide heart by Janice HunterWe must be open to all points of the compass; husband, children, friends, home, community; stretched out, exposed, sensitive like a spider’s web to each breeze that blows, to each call that comes. How difficult for us, then, to achieve a balance in the midst of these contradictory tensions, and yet how necessary for the proper functioning of our lives. ~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh, (A Gift from the Sea – 1955)

Thank you to every one who commented on my last post. As often happens, this post began life as a reply. I decided to post it instead, for those of you who don’t subscribe to comment threads.

A few weeks ago, if I’d logged in and found those comments, so full of wisdom, compassion, understanding, friendship and appreciation, I’d have wept with the emotion of it all.  But today, after a few sunny,  pain-free weeks full of  music and reading, what I feel is a surge of contentment and gratitude…and a growing  – but comfortable – longing to get back to some balanced blogging.

I’m not ready for daily blogging or inbox safaris yet, but I’ve regained enough perspective and clarity to know that taking a step back was entirely the right thing to do. I remember a few of you ‘logging off’ for a bit  in recent years and coming back stronger and even more creative because of it.

In the hundreds of hours I’ve gained by not logging on every day, a deeper sense of calm has helped me  – and my husband  – stay more grounded while  we navigate tough financial times and our kids’ teenage turbulence.

Before I dulled my own shine by spending too much time at a table, writing and reading online and not living enough, my writing tapped into a part of me that was more aware, more open, intuitive, communicative and creative. I feel this offline break is leading me back there.

When I wrote my coaching column, the monthly deadline suited me, but blogging’s blurred the line between ‘writing’ and chatting. My best bouts of creativity follow a clear pattern: on fire > burnout > rest.

I’m not a slow and steady, constant, reliable kind of  blogger even though I love community connections and always feel the need to creatively filter and pass on what I experience. Because I’m slowly becoming my old synchronicity-loving self again, I’ve recently ‘stumbled across’ lots of expressive arts courses, events and opportunities that have excited me and my daughter.

The universe has also delighted me with surprise visits from FOUR old and dear friends and their families en-route to and from holidays in Scotland. This means my daughter can have real life outings with her long-distance friends instead of just texts and cyber relationships.

My son, still physically unable to pursue any sports or social events that involve activity, is an inspiration to all of us. He’s simply taken the imposed rest time to fill his life with other things he enjoys, and is brave enough to believe that if sporting friends abandon him during this traumatic phase, then their friendship isn’t as valuable as he thought it was. He’s the poster boy in this house for living the ‘It is what it is…’ and ‘What will be, will be…’ way of life.

Our garden’s still a mess after the winter ravages, but I’m feeling the benefits of having aligned myself with the seasons again. I’ve been noticing the sudden breezes before storms and appreciating all the summer flowers in my garden when they come into bloom. Simple pleasures, like sitting on the back doorstep, enjoying a coffee in the sun, have been flowing back in like gentle waves and restoring me.

Being more mobile and proactive these last few weeks has also given me a boost. It’s meant that I’ve felt brighter and more positive and even shed a few midlife pounds; I’ve done less of what I call ‘C’ eating (Comfort/Celebration/Consolation/Compensation/Convenience) and am feeling the benefit. I now have more energy to support my friends who are battling cancer and my dad who’s experiencing health challenges in his eighties.

I sense that a lot of you experience similar blogging  tides and seasons. I wrote a newsletter article a few years ago called Ebb and Flow so it’s now fairly apparent that I was a  ‘tidal’ writer long before I became a deciduous blogger. I’ve no idea when I’ll be logging on again, but in the meantime, here are a few questions for you to ponder before we meet again:

  • What are your creative patterns?
  • Do you ever get an icky feeling or a sense that your blogging’s straying out of alignment with your integrity or seasonal/tidal patterns?
  • If you took a blogging break right now, for two straight weeks offline, how would you fill that time? If the thought appeals, what, if anything, is stopping you?
  • What do you need more of right now?
  • What do you need less of?
  • What do you need to say NO to?
  • What do you need to say YES!! to?
  • What expands you?
  • What contracts you?
  • Do you ever C-eat? If so, what do you really need instead of food? What is food (or drink) a substitute for?

Thank you, once again, for being so appreciative of my desire to craft something constructive out of the ups and downs of my life and for making this a place I enjoy coming back to.

Janice

Deciduous Blogging, Soul Gardening and Cherishing our Children

baby rainbow fingersIt is…the parent willing to nurture a child that will decide our fate. ~ Barack Obama, in his inauguration speech.

A few months ago, I coined the phrase ‘deciduous blogger’.  It seems I have a natural tendency to take frequent breaks from blogging; my blog often lies dormant while I gather strength, ready to reach for the sun, put out fresh new growth and blossom again.

I used to have a love-hate relationship with blogging; I’d periodically succumb to blogweariness, not only from writing and commenting at length, but from visiting dozens of blogs every day and spreading myself too thin in an attempt to participate in supportive, reciprocal blogging.

In that depleted state, I’d become more aware of the tribal drums of blogging and the underlying currents of hypocrisy, egotism and exploitation that so often leave me feeling queasy. Now, if blogweariness or cynicism sets in, I simply have  a break.

These past few months, however, I haven’t been going through a spell of deciduous blogging. I’ve actually been battling a wind that’s felled dreams, washed away blossom overnight and threatened to uproot me. My roots ache from having to hold on so tight, even though I know that every storm they weather strengthens them. Sometimes, letting go is simply not an option.

Despite a notebook full of drafts and a camera full of photos to share, I’ve been resting after a confluence of losses, bad news, family health problems, teenage exams, financial blows and a minor but confidence wrecking car crash. Even when I wanted to log on to explain, and to bask in the warmth of my online friendships, I spent a part of my time away virtually immobilised with back pain; sitting at a computer was impossible.

I’m a very honest writer and cherish authenticity and integrity; I believe in looking for the learning in challenging situations, but in two months that have included a short spell in hospital, doctors’ visits, physiotherapy, friends’  battles with cancer, and a medical diagnosis that threatens to blight my son’s adolescence, every bird, bee, cloud and sign from the universe has told me to lay low, rest, fill up the jug and focus on my own health and that of my family. That’s the only way I can replenish my soul and my writing so that some day, I can turn it all into something that might touch, help or resonate with others.

So often we advise extreme self care but are the last to practise it. I love my family, my friends and online buddies, but if I don’t take care of myself, I have nothing of quality to give – and this beautiful world of ours deserves the best we can give, not half hearted love on automatic pilot.

I hope to be writing again soon, here and at my Kitchen Table Space; a comment  response I left there the last time I logged on formed the core of this post. I adore my wee blog; I built it with love, hard work, time, energy, laughter, tears and a genuine desire to connect at the heart, to contribute something of value to the world, even if it’s just a splash of floral colour on a dreary day. I don’t get writer’s block; when I have an overwhelming need to stop writing and start living more, to clean house and do some soul gardening, I’ve learned to listen.

I hope you’ll bear with me while I tentatively dip my toes back into blogging waters.

In the meantime, here’s a video I’d urge you to watch if you’re an educator or have kids, nieces, nephews, young neighbours or grandchildren. As you know, I’ve had an organic, patchwork career which has included teaching, so I really resonated with Sir Ken Robinson’s latest TED talk. (I posted his 2006 TED video here when I started out blogging.)

In this latest talk, he discusses  principles and beliefs that my husband and I actually live by when it comes to our kids. (To read more about how we try to nurture their talents, please check out my piece called Sharing the Journey.)

The poem in Sir Ken’s video is also deeply personal and special to me; used in this context – and because of the pain both my kids have been through these last few months – it had me in tears. I logged off weeks ago to cherish my loved ones and my health and I’m glad I did. I posted today because I wanted, more than anything else, to connect with you again.

Janice

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A Patchwork Post: Quote-hunting, My Bloggling’s Birthday…and Cake!

cake (laptop shaped)

I logged on to post my final haiku instalment, then suddenly realised what the date was. It’s been a year exactly since the official launch of Sharing the Journey! And yes, that is a photo of a REAL cake, by someone called Zhanna in St Petersburg.

I’ve had a rich, gratifying year full of connection, friendship, learning and inspiration. Curiously, though, my stats declare that in some ways, it’s all been downhill since that first day; because I launched with a simultaneous guest post over at Write to Done, Zen Habits’ sister blog, I got hundreds of hits in a few hours, and have never had that many since! That was probably my first lesson in blogging – don’t get obsessed with statistics or you’ll get depressed and fry your brain!

Since then, I’ve learned that I am what  I call a “deciduous blogger”. I need periods of dormancy so I can grow and blossom. I also need frequent integrity checks, as there are aspects of the blogging world that don’t sit well with me. Here’s how I expressed it in my post Guest House:

Writing helps the soul breathe, but blogging is a different beast. It  makes me feel like a madwoman most days, swinging between highs of connection, learning, new friendships and self expression and lows of paranoia, frustration, exhaustion and queasiness at the underlying hypocrisy and unmentioned stalking and plunder that goes on in the shadows.

Some days I gush, full of the overflowing inspiration I feel the need to share, grateful for the gift of every single page view or subscription; some days I long  to lash out and rant.

I relish our humanity – mine, yours and that blogger over there’s, the one who bugs us both. But I know, from living every detail of my journey, that I’m not positive every day, that I’ve needed my darkness to make me reach out for better days, like a plant craving the sun’s embrace. The huge discrepancy between my subscriber numbers and the comments boxes makes me wonder if I’ll ever learn enough in the silence between the comments to know what you want to read, what you’d like me to share.

One thing I do know, I appreciate you, for taking the time to come here and read. It’s all a writer really needs, that one-to one connection. Everything else is a bonus. I’ve cut and saved the rest of this draft to post later – it started to sound embarrassingly like a weepy, grateful Oscar acceptance speech – but for now, here’s the piece that marked the beginning of my journey.

Quote-Hunting: How to Improve your Writing and your Life

Big claim. How on earth can capturing quotes in a notebook improve our lives? I’m guessing you’re a book lover as well as a wordsmith. Or an avid reader of other people’s blogs? If we use our skills as quote-hunters with integrity, we can sharpen our writing and invite presence, openness, connection, focus and inspiration into everything we do.

Being open to inspiration and guidance

As a writer, you should have a sticky soul; the act of continually taking things in should be as much a part of you as your hair color. ~ Elizabeth Berg

I never go out without a pen, a notebook and a book to read. When I read a book with a ‘quotebook’ and a pen handy, it’s a signal I send to myself and to the universe. It says “I’m open. I expect nothing, but I’m prepared to be moved, enlightened or entertained. I’m a student, ready and willing to learn from the lives and the wisdom of others.” In my Filofax, stuck on the fridge, pinned to my pinboard and incorporated into my art work, albums and blog, quotes serve as flashes of inspiration, mini mission statements and signposts to keep me on track. Dead poets become heroes, strangers become mentors.

Right in the middle of Barack Obama’s inauguration speech, I jotted down the words that became the header quote for a multi-threaded article I’d written about school decisions, coaching, my daughter and the new president, called Sharing the Journey. I’d been hunting for the right quote for hours and I felt like he was speaking to me directly when he said, “It is…the parent willing to nurture a child that will decide our fate.” It brought the whole piece together and set the tone.

Focus and attention

“You see, what catches our attention might be more than a coincidence – it might also be a potential incident of inspiration.” ~ Wayne Dyer

Using a quote by someone else can add freshness and a different perspective to what you’re expressing, like a photo used to illustrate a blog post. At the beginning of a piece, it can stimulate curiosity and provide a taste of
buttonswhat’s to come or it can highlight an important concept. In the middle of a piece, it can link sections or bind ideas like a ribbon around a bouquet.

Finding the perfect quote that illustrates several sentiments or pulls together a complex train of thought is similar to recognising one of life’s Aha! moments. It’s synchronicity’s way of helping us focus and pay attention. Highlighting sections of your own writing, either as a header or in a text box, can help clarify your aims, intensify your intention or mirror your message. We all have different ways of processing the world; it’s a sign of respect to others if we try and find a way to repackage what we’re saying in ways that resonate.

Connection, magical moments and collages

“Cling to simplicity, sincerity and the power of truth.” ~ from the I Ching

Our first instincts are often the ones that bypass our censors and cruel inner critics which is why many quotes become deeply personal and precious to us. They’re like messages sent from our own souls.

Every time you choose a quote that resonates with you, don’t stop to ask why; just write it down and keep it safe. Quotes are like photographs, snapshots of who you are, who you were. They’re music that moves you, lyrics that leave you scarred. They’re memories of a moment when you came upon someone else’s words and felt connected, not only to another human being, but to the moment, the thought and the feeling that overflowed from them and cried out to be heard. The ‘Me too!!’ or ‘That’s it exactly!!’ moment.

As writers, isn’t that what we want to achieve in our own work?

Being open to connecting with others in this way makes us more grateful and humble, more open as human beings, more able to create this kind of connection in our own writing. It’s our unique life experience and how we channel, choose and arrange the moments, the music and the words that makes us writers, creating collages that turn our lives into works of art – living, breathing works of art that we want to share with others.

(This piece appeared as a guest post in Write to Done . It was was adapted from my Coaching Moments article Treasure Hunting, which was edited by Linda Dessau and appeared in the March 2009 issue of VOICE.)

Writers Write (Revisited): Your Comments are Part of Your Writing Mosaic

quill-penLast year, I wrote a post called Writers Write: Your Comments are Part of Your Writing Mosaic. I’m even more convinced this year, after a blogging break, that our authentic selves often show up in our comments, regardless of what we present in well prepared posts. My tentative return to blogging has been subdued, to say the least, but I’ve felt myself starting to reconnect and engage again in some familiar comment boxes. Here’s an extract from that post; I enjoyed revisiting it:

I take thirty words to say what genius poets and great thinkers can say in a heartbeat! I think that’s why I’m so drawn to quotes. Some have a kind of distilled essence that comes from having been lovingly shared and passed around for years, like a worn wedding ring or a sea tossed pebble. ~Janice  (in a comments box somewhere…)

Are you tired? Do you regularly find yourself wondering where you’re going to find the inspiration for your posts? Maybe you don’t realise that your comments on other blogs  – and the replies you write in your own comments boxes – contain gems, the seeds of whole posts. They’re your spontaneous writing, your honest, authentic, initial responses to the writing prompts that are other people’s ideas and feelings.

I’ve had beautiful comments in the comment boxes here, pieces of writing that make the boxes a blog within a blog. Some blogs hint that people shouldn’t write long comments because it’s not good netiquette; when I’ve emailed bloggers to check, every single one has told me they’re touched to see that their posts have moved someone to say more than “Great post!”

It depends on which blogs you visit. That’s the key. Go where you love the work, enjoy the person and feel appreciated.

That way, the comments, whether they’re a few words or a paragraph, will flow unbidden and reveal the real you, piece by piece, like an online jigsaw coming together.

One of the reasons I get tired is that I enjoy reading my favourite blogs and checking out new sites, but I also like to comment if something moves me or inspires me. That takes time, but writers write and it’s all a jigsaw. We learn as much about ourselves from the comments we write as others learn about us. And it’s all practice. Here are some of the comments that gushed and flowed out of me, unedited, on other people’s blogs this week alone.*

(*I’ve removed the comments that formed the original post and replaced them below with some I left at colleagues’ blogs last week. Making occasional mosaics out of your comments or responses can also be a refreshing way to send link love to the bloggers whose posts have evoked those comments.)

I’ve always thought in terms of evolving, making the most of the seeds inside me and trying not to change my essential nature. I prefer, instead, to work on changing my supportive environments wherever possible, by providing the best soil, sun and water to nurture those seeds and getting rid of weeds and anything toxic that may throttle growth. Recently, I’ve also learned from nature that some of us are more deciduous than evergreen, and have distinctive and noticeable periods of dormant growth before blossoming. I’m also getting better at spotting ’squirrels’…

To Mary at Goodlife Zen

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In all aspects of life, not just in threatening situations, as soon as we stop blaming others and take responsibility for our own choices, happiness, health, language use and safety, as soon as we learn when to stay silent, when to be curious, when to ebb and flow or accept what we can’t change, that’s the miraculous moment we claim our power.

To Lori at Think Like a Black Belt

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I’m old school and techno challenged a lot of the time, but I still believe that if folk put as much effort into living authentic, fulfilling lives as they do reading loads of how to have it all and get rich quick now posts, they’d write better, be happier and ’success’ would be a by-product.

There’s a side of blogging reminds me of the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes – so many folk willing to believe what they’re told rather than listen to their own common sense.

To Barbara at Blogging Without a Blog

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Seeing life in terms of memoirs is such a powerful tool on so many levels. It reminds us that we’re here on earth to leave a legacy and that everything’s meant, even if we don’t ever get to see how many threads we’ve woven or lives we’ve touched. Sometimes it’s only when we look back that we can see all roads were actually leading to something we were unaware of; sometimes, our interests as youngsters were actually the first signs of our gifts and of our destinies. It’s always empowering to see ourselves as the authors of our own lives and experiences.

To Bo at The Calm Space

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And here are some replies I wrote to a variety of wonderful, supportive and thought provoking comments in the boxes here at Sharing the Journey last week.

Oh how I wish I could lie and tell you I went into the garden wearing a flowery apron and carrying a trug and some gardening shears, deadheading and selecting the dewiest blooms….But, nope…I bought them from our equivalent of Walmart. My garden’s full of flowering evergreens and perennials because I’m an intrinsically lazy gardener. I like creating and arranging, but maintenance? Not so much.

I’m so glad you liked the flowers. One of the things I’ve always done with my blog – and one of the reasons I take frequent breaks – is that I always ask myself what I have to offer anyone taking the time to visit my site when there are so many out there to choose from. Even if the answer’s as simple as a coffee and chat with a friend and some cheery flowers to brighten a blogging day, I feel I’ve contributed something.

(…responding to Brenda )

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I’ve been craving scent and colour recently – as well as soup – and it’s almost as if I’m being guided back into my full-on senses way of operating. Sometimes I get so overloaded with sensation, inspiration and engagement that my synapses feel fried, but after a restorative rest, it’s always intriguing to see how life lures me back in! (…responding to Evelyn )

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Your words warmed my heart. I went to a hermit aunt’s funeral yesterday, to support my elderly dad. I was surrounded by a small group of family members; some of them I only see at funerals, and some I hadn’t seen in 35 years. They didn’t know me back then and they certainly don’t know me now. I found myself thinking how my friends and blog readers from continents on the other side of the planet know me much better through listening with open hearts to my written words than many of the folk in my ‘real’ life do. I work on improving my life every day, but I never cease to be grateful for comments like yours and those above. They restore my faith and keep me writing from the heart, even when I’m ridiculed and sneered at for doing it. (…responding to Ciaran)

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Have you had a good look at your comments on other blogs recently; the replies in your own? Try cutting and pasting a week’s worth into a document to see what your online jigsaw looks like. Are there any seeds of spontaneity there that you could build whole posts from?

A Patchwork Post: Soup, Song and Hyacinths

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
~ T.S.Eliot,  from
Little Gidding

As you know, I’ve been having a break  from public writing while I attempt to get some balance back into my life. I only write well if inspiration overflows from a life filled to the brim with presence, insight, love and creativity and I discovered last year that too much time spent reading and writing online detaches me from the real world, the source of all my soul-fuel.

The blogging world is an inspiring, stimulating place, full of friendships and opportunities, but blogweariness  can drain the life-blood from my writing if I let it. These last few months, I’ve been refilling the well and getting the balance back.

My husband and I have been making slow but steady progress clearing out and renovating our house. I clear cupboards and drawers and fill bags with stuff most days, and the house is feeling more spacious and serene as a result. We were given a few boxed sets of DVD’s at Christmas – 24, Supernatural and Cranford – and after long, productive days, we’ve been enjoying cosy winter nights by the fire enjoying them.

My kids’ school days are going more smoothly and we’re back to having home-made, nutritious snacks, meals and soup every day. There was a time, right in the middle of my most OCD blogging phase, that the freezer saw more use than ever before, but there’s nothing quite like making soup – washing, peeling, paring and chopping a rainbow of colours and textures – to make you feel healthy and grounded.

music for healing2I’m also in the middle of putting five decades worth of music onto my MP4 player, and that’s involved converting cassettes to MP3 and hardest of all, classifying and editing them.  Music’s always been a important part of my life, and it usually means there’s a mini bout of depression on the horizon if I stop singing and listening to music. There’s a deeply rooted connection, too, between my writing voice and my love of music. When one fades, the other often joins it.

I wanted to write you a piece about music, but couldn’t manage it. But that’s OK; it heartens me that I wanted to and tried. Everything will  fall back into place when I’m ready and my writing voice is refreshed and rested.

In the meantime, here’s an extract from a  piece I wrote a few years ago, about how I got my writing voice back when I discovered coaching. I re-read it today, and it reassured me that we spend our whole lives spiralling upwards. We may feel we’re stuck in a loop, back where we started, but we’re really always evolving; if we can see the patterns for what they are, we can rise above  them.

extract from The Sound of Music

I love hearing silence used beautifully. The perfect pause that reaches out like ripples around a pebble in a dark pool. A poem where the unspoken word can say more than the most carefully crafted chapter. The silence between the notes that makes the music.

I went to a Scottish folk concert last night and sat in awe as the fiddles and pipes had a spirited conversation, the flute became a voice, the guitar wrapped itself around them all and the drumbeat turned into a heartbeat, a handclapping, footstomping hall full of joy and applause. As I sat listening to the band, watching the stage lights pick out their foot tapping, swaying forms in beams of changing coloured light on the dark stage, I remembered how I used to feel performing my own songs in the heat of the lights, savouring the silence between the fading of the last note and the start of the clapping.

I sang my way around Europe when I worked as a language teacher and translator; my voice was a vital part of who I was and what I did. After I had my kids, I moved back to Scotland and slowly, imperceptibly, I stopped writing, stopped singing, stopped playing the guitar and even stopped speaking the foreign languages I was fluent in. Silence gently settled around my soul like snow.

When I drifted into life coaching, on my journey out of what I now realise was low grade chronic depression, my passion to tell the whole world about it bubbled up, spilled over and finally gushed out in the torrent that helped me rediscover my voice.

I’ll be able to write again in the next few months;  I’m sure of it. Inspiration is always there, like hyacinths blanketed beneath the snow, biding their time, waiting to wake, blossom and fill the air with their fragrance. Until then, I wish you all good things and look forward to connecting with you again someday soon.

Berries and Birds

garden path2Our garden’s not very big but it’s brought me hours of joy over the years. There’s a scrubby lawn at the back where the kids used to play, and a narrow strip of path and garden outside the kitchen window. We planted laurels, rhododendrons and assorted evergreens to cover the fence, and they’re always teeming with birds.

I often stand transfixed as I wash dishes, watching the robins and blue tits, blackbirds and swooping starlings go about their daily business.

But I’ve been avoiding my garden recently. Deliberately avoiding it. After weeks of benign neglect, it’s become an overwhelming wilderness, overgrown with weeds and covered in drifts of autumn leaves – but not the attractive russet, red and gold ones you kick up and dance around in. These are slimy and grey and slugs live under them.

Scotland’s green for a reason, but we had unusual floods this summer. And everything’s grown, I mean really grown.

Our outdoor furniture, which used to look trendily shabby and distressed, is now sprouting flat greyish green florets of moss. Decorative miniature trees have rebelled and shaken off their self-limiting beliefs. Rhododendrons that were meant to be two feet high have doubled in size and smothered two small euonymus bushes.

Grey-green and damp, it was a perfect summer for weeds and plants, birds and bugs. A few glorious days lured us out to bask in the sun, but unexpected tropical showers were never far behind.

I ventured into the back garden this morning to collect the seed pods from some shrivelled up nasturtiums that had faded from glory, unnoticed, in a terracotta plant pot. Depression loomed, heavy as a leaden sky, when I thought of all the autumn gardening jobs waiting to be done. A month of illness, overwhelm and exhaustion can turn the sweetest of daily tasks and rituals into an soul-sapping backlog of chores.

A gust of wind in the branches, and suddenly, I caught the scent of it all; moist, rich soil, a fresh green breeze, raindrops on leaves and the beautiful mossy breath of trees. It didn’t look like a garden, it looked like nature, a bit of wilderness outside my back door, overgrown, untamed and perfect for birds.

I suddenly saw the sunset-bright berberis berries, the dangerously dark and tempting laurel berries. Clusters like hidden jewels, and below them, still thriving, the flowers of some daisy-like thing I don’t even know the name of, something I just planted because I loved how the colour blended in with all the other mauves and violets and purples back in May. I rushed in and grabbed my camera.

I stood transfixed and smiled a small smile. Life longs for life. Our happiness, our planet’s existence, depends on the tiniest of details we often overlook or take for granted while we’re desperately trying to make sense of the bigger picture.

Trees, birds and bees don’t make a mess of things the way we humans do. They don’t create slave trades, mutilate their neighbours in the name of religion, knowingly destroy their habitat or create global credit crises. They don’t get stressed by trivia or moan about blogging roadblocks. They just get on with it.

The bees follow their bliss. Flowers turn to berries, birds breed, eat the berries and spread the seeds – the evidence of their small but perfect lives. The seeds grow into the lush bushes and towering trees that feed and shelter the birds’ offspring in years to come. Nature’s bloggers.

I’m part of all this: I live, I love, I create and I try to nurture what matters, but the beauty, the unstoppable, teeming life in a tiny stretch of garden humbles me. At best, I’m just a guardian and a gardener, an observer who appreciates. All I can do is try to spread the seeds of the moments that stun me into silent wonder and hope they grow.

The House of the Thousand Horrormoans

salmon swimming upstreamClearly there is some tenacity, some deeper longing to keep keeping on, that lies at the heart of the human experience. I don’t think we cleave to life for no other reason than that we’re afraid of death. I think we cleave to life out of a deeper knowing that there is something about it that has not happened yet. Like salmon rushing upstream, we instinctively know that we are here to continue the process of life. That we are the process of life. And as such, we’re here to contribute to a larger drama than our individual selves could ever fathom, much less describe. ~ Marianne Williamson, from The Age of Miracles: Embracing the New Midlife

I logged on yesterday to see if I had any comments on my Kitchen Table post or any personal emails. It was an eye-opener; I’ve had very few personal emails this last few weeks, but those I got were heartwarming. The rest of what I consider to be ’emails’ were actually email alerts telling me that my favourite bloggers had posted. I pressed DELETE, thinking “Archives…that’s what they’re for…”

I logged on last week to post a wee note explaining my absence and was horrified to discover the server had taken my blog down. I still have no idea why they did; apparently it happens to a lot of folk. The lesson there? BACK UP EVERYTHING, then let go and don’t catastrophise!!!!!

There are many reasons for my silence, but it’s mainly because I haven’t been feeling very well. In between bouts of feeling washed out and weary, I’ve given in to the temptation of overdoing things when I’m feeling less buffeted. I suffer from periodic phases of  ferritin depletion, caused by mineral malabsorption and a clash between my daily thyroid meds and my iron absorption. (I had a tumour removed after Chernobyl.) I’m on antibiotics and extra iron now and feeling much brighter.

Turns out, I’ve also had an infection on top of the menopausal nasties and exhaustion. (Tiredness goes with the territory when you have teenagers and an eighty-four year old lone parent.) Some days I feel like I’m in the middle of a Jet Li film called ‘The House of the Thousand Horrormoans’. (That’s what my son called hormones when we first explained puberty and the wonders of womanhood to him!)

For many women, our deepest craving is for a place to relax. ~ Marianne Williamson

Despite the dips, I’m still feeling very serene at my core and am focused on slowly but surely getting rid of 80% of the contents of my home. I’ve also been out and about when I feel the urge, remembering life before laptops. We bought new curtains (ehm, we had to…my husband came home one day and found the old ones binned and nothing left at the windows except our wooden venetian blinds.) Illness&exhaustion&no-blogging has given me back my clarity, integrity and serenity as well as a surge of boldness. I’ve disliked the curtains for ten years, but kept them because they were custom-made in colours that matched the rust and green sofas and rugs. After they went, the 15 year old permanently grubby rug went too….then the battered back-breaking green sofa….) Currently, we are down to two small sofas and are rugless, but happy. It’s inspired us to paint the living room next month and finally lay the new wooden floor that’s been in packs in the attic for three years!

I don’t recommend getting overwhelmed, ill and exhausted as the wake-up call that demands an integrity investigation, but it feels like I’ve cleared the way for all sorts of happiness and prosperity and a new phase of life. Maybe my birthday fest last month had a deeper knock-on effect than I thought!

It might take ten years to discover how to build a business and then another ten to learn how to be the most compassionate human being — add ten more to find out how to be the best mate or parent, and somewhere around our 50’s or 60’s we’re ready to live our most shining lives. ~ Marianne Williamson

Giving myself permission to celebrate for five days, one for each decade, family photo croppedgave me a real boost of integrity. I’m the only bridge between my past life and the life to come. I need to stay serene and healthy, focused and present in order to enjoy my NOW, but I don’t need to keep hundreds of letters, ornaments, and books in order to remember who I am, to know who I am, define who I am or show who I am. I promised a few of you I’d post a photo soon, well here I am; this is from a family photo from the summer before last.

I started blogging to share my life journey with others and to give others a place to share theirs. To do that, I need, quite simply, to have a life in the first place, to live as fully as I can, with presence and awe so that I can capture and filter the essence of the moments I long to share.  My life revolves around my family, my home and my creativity, but I also need to read, to connect and to soak up as much nature as I can. If  I want to make the best possible use of my life and energy, I can no longer spend large chunks of my day on blogging-related activities.

I’ll still be blogging, still be supporting and enjoying fellow bloggers, but in order not to burn out and crash again, I need to accept that I have blogging OCD and work around that awareness.

I’m really sorry I didn’t put up a post to explain my absence, but I feel as if my spirit told me to go blogging cold turkey last month to get some real clarity around why I blog and what I’d miss if I stopped. I seem to write as many posts about my blogging breaks as I do about parenting, writing or homelife coaching. That has to stop or I’ll bore both of us.

I’m glad you’re still here, and if I go AWOL again, I hope you’ll understand and bear with me. I missed connecting with you. That’s why I logged back on.

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What keeps you blogging?

Stunning photos…sigh

Caroline's seagull 1

I admire…

  • Folk who can take stunning photos
  • Folk who can frame and enhance them beautifully with Photoshop
  • Folk who can find other people’s stunning photos online
  • Folk who can resize and upload them without taking five hours to do it 🙁

Some day I’ll practise enough to learn and get better, but until then, I am so thrilled to be able to introduce Caroline. She is the owner of two beautiful blogs, The Zen in You and Whimsical Whispers. Many of you already know her. However, for those of you who haven’t met her yet, she’s the person whose glorious photo heads up this post – which may turn out to be my shortest ever!

I adore her work! Her blog posts are short, beautifully written and inspiring, but I must confess, I love the photos most of all. I think they’re simply breathtaking. They stun me into silence and make my heart sigh…

A friend of mine thinks I’m mad for including links that will inevitably lead people away from my site to others, but that’s not the way I think. Our extended blogging family is one of the most supportive, inspiring communities I’ve ever been a part of. In tough financial times, it’s a tonic to feast your eyes on something for free. I can think of a million and one ways Caroline could earn her living from her photography, but I also know she’s wise enough to find her own way.

I was absolutely paralysed trying to choose a few photos from the hundreds of Caroline’s I’ve seen. In the end, I just went for the first few I loved. Enjoy! (Then head on over to The Zen in You or Whimsical Whispers!) I asked for Caroline’s permission to use a few of her copyright photos. But I beg you, please; if you’d like to use any of her photos, please ask her. She’s a kind, generous person and would love to hear from you.

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light at the end of the day

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Is there a blogger whose art or craft makes your heart stumble and sigh?

Guest House

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I haven’t posted for a few days because of a nasty bout of flu. Being forced to stay in bed has taught me a lot.

It was a relief to be told to log off and get to bed, to read books and not blogposts; to silently rest and heal and know that the world would keep spinning without one single word of mine being typed. It was a comfort to know that you would still be here when I was ready to return. I’m glad you’re still here. It means I was right not to worry, right to trust that you’re here because you want to be. Thank you.

Writing helps the soul breathe, but blogging is a different beast. It  makes me feel like a madwoman most days, swinging between highs of connection, learning, new friendships and self expression and lows of paranoia, frustration, exhaustion and queasiness at the underlying hypocrisy and unmentioned stalking and plunder that goes on in the shadows.

Some days I gush, full of the overflowing inspiration I feel the need to share, grateful for the gift of every single page view or subscription; some days I long to lash out and rant.

I relish our humanity – mine, yours and that blogger over there’s, the one who bugs us both. But I know, from living every detail of my journey, that I’m not positive every day, that I’ve needed my darkness to make me reach out for better days, like a plant craving the sun’s embrace. The huge discrepancy between my subscriber numbers and the comments boxes makes me wonder if I’ll ever learn enough in the silence between the comments to know what you want to read, what you’d like me to share.

I called this blog Sharing the Journey because I wanted everyone who comes here to enjoy hearing about yours as well as mine.

But I’m floundering at the moment, fleeing the fear of becoming ego-driven, envious of others or numbers obsessed, yet wandering around in no-man’s land, not knowing what you’d love to see more of or less of; what you find useful or inspiring.

I’ve lived for decades, loved, lost, learned, written, taught, travelled, given birth, watched toddlers turn into teenagers, had two people die in my arms. I have whole worlds in me I long to share, would gladly filter for you, refract through the prism of my soul for you if I knew it would help or inspire you in any way. But am I wasting my time here? Please let me know. I am open.

guest house

This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.  ~ Rumi

I came cross this poem a few weeks ago on one of my favourite sites, Danielle Laporte’s White Hot Truth. Her most recent quote warmed my heart and made me feel better. If you visit, please tell her I sent you. I promised her I’d tell you how wonderful I think her site is. It has drama, flair, energy and passion that crackle off the screen. Her book, Style Statement: Live by Your Own Design is a perfect starting place for a safari of self discovery or a gift for anyone you know who’s longing for self realisation.

Yesterday, still feeling ill, I didn’t post, just logged on to reply to friends’ emails, to respond to comments on my blog and read the blogs I’m subscribed to. What I discovered was like a huge get well card from the universe with a message inside saying “Treasure map enclosed, in case of amnesia.” The blogs we subscribe to because we enjoy them are a blueprint to help us excavate our real selves. Commenting in communities we’ve chosen connects us to our deepest, most authentic voices, makes us feel like we’re at friends’ kitchen tables.

I found a joyful list on Tess’s site, The Bold Life,  that multiplied itself in her comment boxes and unlocked an ache in me that went beyond my desire to get well.

I found a quote on Marc’s Daily Aikido that made sense of so much and summed up many of my blogging days; then I found a video of an Aikido Master that inspired me to get well and get out of bed and stop feeling so old and sorry for myself.  The quotations and insights Marc finds for this wee undiscovered island of wisdom always seem to touch me. Because they stand alone, simply, surounded by an ocean of serenity, they really get me thinking. I like the way my mind works there.

Lori Hoeck’s new site, Think Like a Black Belt,  makes me feel empowered, in the truest sense of the word, and reminds me of my own love of karate and the ancient wisdom it’s based on. Reading it is a gift I give my kids. If you have kids, if you ever feel uneasy with certain people, if you’re a woman, if you ever feel vulnerable, then read this blog.

Barbara Swafford’s Blogging Without a Blog had a timely, informative piece about what to do if leaving a gap between posting makes you worry about your numbers dropping. Her blog always reminds me of how much I love learning from others who know so much more than I do.

A post on Davina’s Shades of Crimson made me smile and feel like part of a bird watching community and GhostwriterDad makes me feel like GhostCoachWriterMum – it’s bizarre how much his take on ghostwriting  reminds me of coaching.

And these are just a few of the jigsaw pieces that reminded me who I am and what I enjoy. I visit many, many more blogs. Maybe that’s why I’m so tired and frazzled, like an overwrought child in a sweet shop.

I leave you with a Buddhist prayer I found on my friend Victoria Moran’s blog; I felt she’d posted it just for me!

May you be filled with loving kindness
May you be well
May you be peaceful and at ease
May you be happy

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Which aspects of blogging cause you the greatest discomfort?

How can I best serve you through my blog?

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photo thanks to theinspiredroom

Birds, Bees and Blogging

blackbird-in-nest-with-eggs3

We are part of the whole which we call the universe, but it is an optical delusion of our mind that we think we are separate. This separateness is like a prison for us. Our job is to widen the circle of compassion so we feel connected to all people and all situations. ~ Albert Einstein

Before I created my blog, I was a hermit bee, living, not in a hive, but in my own cosy wee writing cave, emerging to buzz away happily in other people’s blogs, reading, writing guest posts and cross-pollinating for pleasure in their comment boxes. All the writing honey from my life and my daily detail loving was saved for my coaching column.

When I wasn’t writing, every moment was a chance to gather nectar, the essence of moments spent in my home and garden.

I spent more time watching the birds outside my kitchen window, nature’s bloggers, living and foraging side by side: blue tits and chaffinches sharing the bird feeder happily; gangs of starlings swooping in and squawking loudly, chasing off other birds and swiping all the berry-filled fat, leaving nothing for the smaller birds; dunnocks hopping about in the bushes, silently feeding on the scraps left after the flapping frays, and the serene robin, sure of his territory, sitting on my fence, bobbing his head three times, choot choot choot, doing his business, planting the seeds of trees and bushes that will shelter his offspring someday.

March came and went in a flurry of blog-building, jury duty, illness, kids’ activities and shopping for my eighty five year old dad. I missed birthdays and deadlines, unaware that the weeks were flying by.

April and May settled into routines of burned meals, overflowing ironing baskets and piles of dirty washing.

Wet clothes were eventually dragged unceremoniously from the washing machine and dumped into the dryer. I no longer stuck my face into piles of damp line-dried laundry smelling of flowers and fresh air.

It reminded me of the first time I went for Step 2 of the IAC exam, obsessed and blinkered, neglecting all the other areas of my life. It came as no surprise that I failed first time.

But still I blogged, driven by the urge to create a community, to do something with my writing, to reach out beyond my garden and share more of myself.

I kept thinking, I’d settle into a blogging routine, but never for one moment did I realise that I was becoming worn out and weary right at the start of my journey, a journey I’d hoped to savour and share with all kinds of travelling companions for years to come.

My husband had a day off work last week and we planned to catch up on some neglected gardening. He went to run a bath in the family bathroom after the kids went to school and I found myself heading furtively towards the laptop, thinking I’d just do a quick ten minutes, when suddenly he bounded into the room.

“You’ll never guess what we’ve got on the window ledge outside the bathroom!”

“What?”

“A nest! With eggs! Four eggs!”

He sounded just like our young son.

We both crept to the back door like a couple of teenagers getting home late, wondering what lunacy had possessed a bird to build a nest next to our garden path, outside a family bathroom where our kids squabble loudly about everything from toilet paper to toothpaste.

We opened the heavy wooden door slowly and took a step out, as quietly as we could. And there she was. A blackbird, with a thin, sharp yellow beak and beady black eye. Aware of us, she didn’t move.

I sneaked in for my camera and stealthily captured the moment, scared that if we stood staring too long in awe at the magic of this little scene, that she’d get spooked and fly off.

The kids came home from school and couldn’t believe it, smiles wild and full of wonder.

That evening, while they were out with my husband, I started to worry. What if the wind blew the nest off the ledge, if cats came prowling, if a sudden noise from inside the bathroom spooked her. I felt I needed to do something, to help in some way, so I got some bread crumbs, opened the back door and gently scattered them on the ground in her direction. With a startled cheep and a flap, she flew off.

Horrified, I closed the door and stood, cursing myself for interfering, for having my own agenda, for doing too much and not letting things take their natural course.

For hours I was too scared to look. My husband and kids came home, asking if she was still there.

“I scared her off,”  I said, sadly. “I tried to feed her.”

“She’ll be back,” said my daughter. “She did choose us.”

“Yes,” said my son. “It’s a good place. Sheltered, and bricks absorb heat. She’s clever. She’ll be back. She knows we wouldn’t hurt her.”

I couldn’t bear to look. The hours passed and I couldn’t settle to anything. All I could think about were the little eggs, neglected, getting cold, because I’d overdone it. As usual.

My husband came into the living room smiling.

“She’s back. And there’s this little pile of crumbs next to her. It looks like she’s tried to spell out thanks.”

I threw a cushion at him as the kids teased me, asking if we should put worms on the shopping list and start a university fund.

I gently opened our back door and looked towards the bathroom ledge. As she sat there, her brown feathered body filling out the nest, she turned to me and fixed me with a beady eye. I pulled the back door shut, ever so quietly, and came back inside, smiling, trusting that everything would be OK.  Sometimes, we just need to sit still and do nothing but be.

Epilogue:

The father showed up, and together they raised four healthy chicks.

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proud-father-blackbird

This post originally appeared in my Coaching Moments column in VOICE, the monthly newsletter of the International Association of Coaching, edited by Linda Dessau.