Silence

Not speaking and speaking are both human ways of being in the world, and there are kinds and grades of each. There is the dumb silence of slumber or apathy; the sober silence that goes with a solemn animal face; the fertile silence of awareness, pasturing the soul, whence emerge new thoughts; the alive silence of alert perception, ready to say, “This… this…”; the musical silence that accompanies absorbed activity; the silence of listening to another speak, catching the drift and helping him be clear; the noisy silence of resentment and self-recrimination, loud and subvocal speech but sullen to say it; baffled silence; the silence of peaceful accord with other persons or communion with the cosmos. ~ Paul Goodman: novelist, poet, playwright, and psychiatrist

Be still. A daily practice of silence bears gifts — a heightened sensitivity to beauty, deep inner peace, and a profound feeling of connectedness to all living things. ~ Cheryl Richardson

Let silence take you to the core of life. ~ Rumi

I suggest that just once in a while, you make a conscious decision to keep yourself to yourself. ~ Danielle LaPorte

Natalie Goldberg once wrote that while she was in the middle of writing a novel, she carried the characters around with her, wondering what they’d say or think or do in all sorts of situations she’d find herself in.

Writing for my blog affects me like that. After days and weeks of posting, I start experiencing the world through the filter of what would make a post you might enjoy; what might be an uplifting photo, a moving song, an inspiring poem. Then slowly, imperceptably, I start to feel like it’s a channel I can’t switch off. I’ll be driving along and instead of enjoying the moment, there’s a flash of frustration as I wish I had a notebook or a phone or a camera. I start to feel like I’m carrying a community around in my heart, in my head. Communing even when I’m not at my laptop, logged in.

Sometimes, channeling, distilling and filtering the world stops me from simply being.

That’s one of the reasons I take frequent and often abrupt breaks from my blog, even though I love it; I need to reconnect with the real world around me and rediscover the silence that feeds my creativity like an underground pool.

Sometimes, it’s just exhaustion after a tough time being a sandwich generation mum and daughter.

But this time? During our wonderful, rejuvenating family holiday in Greece, we were heartbroken to learn that the referendum result meant the UK would be leaving the European Union, something most Scots would rather not do.

The day after we got home, a beloved friend told me she’d been diagnosed with cancer. So many phonecalls like those in the last few years.

Shock and grief always make my husband and I recalibrate, determined to create, to enjoy loved ones, details and moments. Last summer we threw ourselves into creating a new patio and building a cheap but pretty summer shed, a new perspective in the garden to enjoy the birds, the plants and views of nearby hills.

One of the blackbirds from a family who was born on our bathroom window ledge had become so tame, he’d tap on the kitchen window for food, or sit beside us and clear the scraps from our plates. My dad, 92 now, was absolutely mesmerised and started to sit in the garden casually eating strawberries, just in case…

The blackbird kept my son and me company while we dug out turf; his wee friend, a scrawny robin, stopped us working as he ate worms next to our spades.

We were inspired; my son, home from university, worked alongside me in disbelieving silence, stopping every five minutes just to enjoy the birds’ antics.

Every evening and weekend, I coped with my friend’s news by working on this new garden. I looked forward to showing you the before and after photos. My husband dug up old bushes and laid slabs, and working wordlessly side by side, we pruned, we painted fences and the grand finale was removing Leylandii trees that had become overgrown and hideous.

I clung to the daily presence of those birds like a talisman.

A few days after I took these photos to share with you, the robin and the blackbird disappeared. Distraught, I realised that by tidying up the garden, we’d destroyed their safe, messy, overgrown, cat and sparrowhawk deterring habitat.

I logged off, put away my gardening gloves and chose silence.

November brought the wintery news of Trump’s election, stunning millions of people into head shaking disbelief. My husband and I both got ill.

I lost faith, lost friends and Christmas came and went. I thought of you and almost shared some old year new year thoughts by candlelight and mulled wine but couldn’t summon the strength.

Last week there was a whisper of fresh warmth in the air and the days seemed longer.

The snow from yesterday’s storm is melting, and in every room, bright jugs of shop bought rainbow tulips have got me wondering whether the bulbs I scattered and planted last year will bloom.

And here I am again, spring cleaning my online home and listening for blackbirds.

A Patchwork Post: Daffodils, Haiku and Chickens

daffodilsThe sun’s shining through rainy gales today, and I’m sitting in my kitchen, soaking up every last ray like a lizard on a rock. Shadows are dancing on the walls and I’m enjoying how the light blesses all my mismatched, brightly painted crockery and everyday treasures.

Sunshine makes every bit of living art in our homes beautiful, but shadows add depth and interest…to us, too.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

chickensOne way I welcome spring is to be open to all kinds of supermarket synchronicity. I fell in love with this range in the sales last week and brought some cheap and cheerful spring chirpiness into my kitchen. I’m always drawn to hearts and birds, but it seems the universe decided I needed a touch of whimsy, too!

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Those of you who’ve been visiting for a while will know I write poetry and lyrics, and am very fond of haiku and tanka. When I lived in Greece, I was fascinated by the changes in the wind, the tides and the sounds of crickets in the olive grove below the balcony where I wrote; I filled a lot of notebooks trying to capture the intensity of those moments and memories.  Most of what I wrote weren’t pure haiku but I liked their pared down essence so I kept some of them as poemlings in their own right.

I’ll be doing a mini series on ‘proper’ haiku next week, but in the meantime, here’s a fragment  from one of my Greek  ‘word-sketchbooks’ describing the signs of an impending storm, and a link to one of the best posts I did last year :  Haiku: Showing Essence, Shedding Skins.

a warm wind rises
whipping up dust
and dried leaves

sun umbrellas flap
a loose shutter bangs

the trill and pulse of cricket chirping slows
to silence
in the olive groves
before the skies
crack

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

This weekend, why don’t you start a word-sketchbook and capture some life sketches in a few brushstrokes, ready to be re-lived and reduced to their essence when you get home.

Or try distilling the essence of spring (or antipodean autumn) into three lines, of 5-7-5 syllables, in present tense only, with no similes or metaphors…

What flowers or images add a touch of  spring or whimsy to your home?

Writing Snow

garden snow

We are not powerless specks of dust drifting around in the wind, blown by random destiny. We are, each of us, like beautiful snowflakes –  unique, born for a specific reason and purpose. ~ Elizabeth Kübler-Ross

I was woken at an ungodly hour by the arrival of a text message; school was cancelled due to heavy snow. I got up and looked blearily out of my bedroom window to see two feet of snow. I padded into the kitchen and found it eerily bright as I trudged over to the sink to fill the kettle for coffee. Through the kitchen window I saw our ten-year-old laurels bowed down and broken by the weight of the snow on their branches. They’d formed the privacy hedge at my small back garden, and I felt suddenly exposed and vulnerable.

I grabbed a sweeping brush and rushed outside in my dressing gown, trying to save as many remaining branches as I could.

I thought back to old Coaching Moments posts I’d written, phrases I’d used. This is an extract from War of the Words, about the language we use with our loved ones:

I created this piece in my head as I stood at the kitchen window, watching the falling snow bend our trees in the eerie orange glow of a street light in the middle of the night. I’d gone to bed mid-argument, couldn’t sleep, my husband  came to bed, I got up, so I’d decided to go and make some camomile tea. I stood at the window, mesmerised by the swirling orange snowflakes and wondering how something as delicate as a snowflake had the power to bend and break the branches of trees. As I stood watching, I saw one supple branch rebel under the weight of the thousands of snowflakes heaped upon it,  catapulting its burden with surprising defensive venom. I went outside in my bare feet and dressing gown and gently swept the snow off the remaining trees with a broom, knowing it was too late to take back the thousands of tiny thoughtless comments I heap on my husband over the days, weeks and months until he feels he has to lash back at me about my lack of appreciation and my seeming obsession with perfecting details. I hoped I could at least save some of our branches.

In this extract, from Shaking off the Shoulds, I use a snow metaphor to describe the freedom we experience when we free ourselves from the burdens of self imposed ‘shoulds’, and learn to see the world and all its promise  and wonder through children’s eyes:

While I’ve been sitting here writing, it’s stopped snowing and some of the snow has thawed. I’ve just watched a laurel branch bounce back from under its burden of snow, launching it like a catapult.

That’s how I feel as I shake off the shoulds, the rest of my snow day beckoning me like our snow covered front garden, silently waiting to share its treasure when the kids come home.

And in this extract from a comment response I wrote, the snow becomes a symbol for overwhelm and despair as we struggled to dig  a way out for my friend’s car so she could get to her chemotherapy session.

Because of the snow, my friend has struggled to get into hospital for her chemotherapy. That’s helped me gradually regain my sense of perspective. One day, as a few of us were digging the snow from her drive, I felt that if I could just keep digging and clearing until there was a way out, somehow, it would all be OK.

I also used a snow metaphor in The Sound of Music to describe the period of my life when I lost my ‘voice’ and almost drifted into depression:

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.

Snowflakes are delicate, astonishing things. Every one is unique and fragile yet, silently, just sitting there side by side… still… simply being, their lives are extended and their power is immense.

The polar ice caps are the breath of the planet, a delicately balanced element in the health of the oceans’ currents and conveyor belts.

But snow can also devastate, crush, wreak havoc, block roads, bring down powerlines and sever communication.

Like stinging snowflakes in a blizzard, each unkind word spoken to our children and loved ones, if left unchecked, can pile up until something precious is broken under the weight.

Every sadness we accept with an unquestioning sigh can build up until, without realising it, our hearts are shrouded in drifts of silent, snowy depression.

Every lack of clear communication can lead to drifts of misunderstanding that ultimately shut down all channels of communication.

Every piece of junk mail we leave lying around, every book we can’t part with or memento we don’t know how to deal with can become an avalanche of clutter.

But snow can’t co-exist with warmth, and even if snowfall is inevitable, we can be prepared and vigilant, and take small steps towards doing what we can. I could have brushed yesterday’s first snowfalls off my treasured bushes and small trees. If I had, they might not have broken under the weight of last night’s gentle but consistent snow fall.

We haven’t had blizzards; it’s been snowing softly and gently. But it hasn’t stopped, and that’s the lesson I’m taking away with me today.

One kind word doesn’t build a kind, loving relationship.

One written word doesn’t make a great piece of writing. One post doesn’t make a great blog, nor does one article make a successful newsletter.

One essay doesn’t make a degree, one lesson a teacher or one training course a life coach.

One cleared pile of paper clutter doesn’t let your house breathe.

One beautiful memento doesn’t make a home, just as one memory doesn’t make a life.

But our uniqueness as human beings, the gentle consistent, accumulative power of every loving deed and word, every smile from a stranger, every supportive comment left on a blog, every small triumph, every tip that transforms a life, every photo that inspires, every little success, every step or decision that takes us in the right direction, – they do make a life. A good life. We’re not just snowflakes. Together, we’re snow.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I’d love to be the kind of snow that makes children’s eyes wide with wonder and Christmas magical. I’d like to be as strong as the kind of snow that supports the Winter Olympics. Some days, all I can manage is grey slush by the side of the road. What does snow mean for you? What’s your unique strength as a snowflake?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

(Update: It’s still snowing, and for the second time in two months, we’ve had about thirty inches of snow. Miraculously, though, we still have an internet connection!)