Meant to Be

I’m not on Twitter much, but one of the things that keeps me going back is synchronicity. Some days it’s like the universe curated a reading list just for me, even though I know it’s because at some point I followed friends with common interests. (I found today’s inspirational people on Twitter a while back, courtesy of Joanna, a wordsmith and photographer many of you already know.)

Today’s message?

“Right this moment, you’re exactly where you’re meant to be.”

Earlier today, after I finished writing a piece about parallel homes and homesickness, which may or may not make it out of my drafts box, I logged on to Twitter and found this post by Catherine Drea.

A few clicks later, and I was reading a beautiful poem called ‘The Gift’, highlighted by Anthony Wilson.

After retweeting Anthony’s post and deciding I’m an idiot for not making enough room in my life for poetry these days, I found this poem. The link will take you to an astonishing young poet, Sarah Kay, reading one of her poems aloud, in the treasure trove that is Brain Pickings.

‘The Paradox’  by Sarah Kay

When I am inside writing,
all I can think about is how I should be outside living.

When I am outside living,
all I can do is notice all there is to write about.

When I read about love, I think I should be out loving.
When I love, I think I need to read more.

I am stumbling in pursuit of grace,
I hunt patience with a vengeance.

On the mornings when my brother’s tired muscles
held to the pillow, my father used to tell him,

For every moment you aren’t playing basketball,
someone else is on the court practicing.

I spend most of my time wondering
if I should be somewhere else.

So I have learned to shape the words thank you
with my first breath each morning, my last breath every night.

When the last breath comes, at least I will know I was thankful
for all the places I was so sure I was not supposed to be.

All those places I made it to,
all the loves I held, all the words I wrote.

And even if it is just for one moment,
I will be exactly where I am supposed to be.

Life-cherishing

When I’m lost or troubled, I read fewer blogs and more books, real books, the kind you can hold and take notes from. The more rattled and scattered I am, the more I crave books about creativity and writing, especially those written by poets about poetry. The process of reading and note-taking calms me. Because they invoke all kinds of connection and contemplative practice, good books about writing are really guides to leading a more engaged life, inspiring us to distill the essence of our experience so we can share it creatively, and, if we’re lucky, connect with the hearts and minds of those we we long to reach.

Last week, I grabbed a pen and a notebook and re-read Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook. It’s so much more than a book about understanding poetry; it’s a rallying call to experience life like a poet, to create something that has the power to change lives.

“A mind that is lively and enquiring, compassionate, curious, angry, full of music, full of feeling, is a mind full of possible poetry. Poetry is a life-cherishing force. And it requires a vision – a faith, to use an old fashioned term. Yes, indeed. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry. Yes, indeed.”

(Mary Oliver, from A Poetry Handbook)

Jotting down excerpts from A Poetry Handbook was a delight. Today’s post from the archives is an old article from my Coaching Moments column, but one I hope you’ll resonate with; I don’t know anyone who visits here who isn’t a life-cherisher, a capturer and framer of moments, a wordsmith or an artist.

Treasure Hunting

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’m a quote-hunter, an unashamed gatherer of quotes. Capturing the words that resonate with me is like gathering wild berries, nuts and seeds, windfalls of fruit – food for thought.

Some stand out from the page or computer screen like the flash of a robin in a winter bush. Others are a rainbow of satin ribbons, waiting to be the right words to wrap around a bouquet of thoughts or to become the bow that sets off a simply wrapped sentiment. Then there’s the unexpected treasure, precious gems that dazzle with their brilliance. I keep them somewhere safe so that I can bring them out later, like a child fingering treasures wrapped in a handkerchief, hoping to find a special friend to show them to, someone who will understand.

I never go outCigdem Kobu's Ram Dass quote 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.

I use a different instinct, a different skill when I capture a quote. In many ways, it’s like the honing in and the active listening I do as a coach.

Finding the perfect quote that illustrates several sentiments or pulls together a complex train of thought is similar to recognising an Aha! moment in a coaching session. It’s synchronicity’s way of helping us focus and pay attention.

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.

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.

Learning to resonate with those moments strengthens the treasure-hunting in our coaching sessions; those repeating words that draw our attention, those powerful silences when our clients connect to an answer nestling patiently in their souls, waiting to rise and take flight – they’re the gems.

I never know how my words will affect others but I do know that my best coaching happens and my best pieces write themselves in the moments when I’m most alive, aware and open. Some moments of clarity or emotion are so powerful they brim up and overflow and make me feel that if I don’t channel them into words, control them and create something from them that I will drown or that something very precious, something vital will be washed away and lost. When I sit down to recreate those moments, I feel like my whole life, everything I know and everything I am is a prism being used to refract the light of a message coming, quite simply, from somewhere else.

When I coach well, I feel the same connection.

Know then, that if anything I ever write affects, moves, touches or supports you, it was meant for you, sent from somewhere that neither of us can fully comprehend. I’m happy to be the messenger.

Travelling

VanGogh-starry_night

My son and I sat in the freezing car, muttering about my teenage daughter’s forgetfulness as dusk turned to dark. Running late as usual, she slammed and locked the front door, stowed her guitar in the boot, closed it with a thud then slammed the passenger door shut and handed me the jangling house keys.

I glanced over at my neighbours’ house and noticed a long, black estate car parked very close to their front door. The door opened and an elderly man in a dark suit emerged pulling a lightweight, collapsible gurney. On it, something black. A blanket? No, it looked waterproof, zipped up. Another man emerged . They looked up at me, alerted by the shrieking “No!” that had escaped as my hands flew to my face. They looked on with concern when they heard the sobs and saw us staring before I ushered the kids back into the house.

For several days, as the cancer had advanced through Maria’s limbs and organs, and the morphine had brought on terrifying hallucinations, I’d kept the kids away, encouraging them to remember the funny, strong and vibrant woman they’d come to know, the Maria who’d been a school teacher, political activist, hill walker and painter as well as a devoted mum, wife and friend.

But now they’d seen the stark reality; Maria in a bag, deposited gently but unceremoniously into the back of a hearse. For a rich life lived long and wide and deep, it was such a small bag. I knew then that her soaring spirit had moved on.

As the children sobbed in their respective rooms, I stood in the hallway unsure what to do next. My daughter had a music workshop and rehearsal to get to. As well as performing her own material, she plays guitar and co-writes songs for other bands, and with a gig coming up, her absence would affect everyone in the workshop.

Propped up against a photo frame on the shoe cabinet, I saw the poem my daughter had printed out in rainbow colours to comfort Maria’s husband and family when the inevitable happened; they love Scotland’s breathtaking beauty as much as Maria did.

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.

I decided.

Still wearing my coat, scarf and boots, I stepped outside into the cutting cold of a clear, star filled night. I slipped the card through my neighbours’ letterbox, then stepped back into my cosy warm home and asked my daughter if she’d still like to go and make music.

Knowing Maria would want her to do anything that made her feel glad to be alive and grateful to have a gift, my daughter sniffed, wiped her nose, hugged me and nodded.

We left the house quietly, and got into the car. I switched on the headlights and the heater, reversed out of the drive and headed off.

Life is messy. I’ve met, loved and lost a lot of people along the way, but every time I’m left behind, it makes me even more grateful that I can still share journeys with the people I love.

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I’ve turned the comments off because I’m taking things slowly, getting used to being online again after my cyber hibernation. If I got any comments, I’d want to respond, chat and check out the Comment Luvs. For now, I’m content just to be writing again.  Janice

Some Haiku How to’s

robin eating

Last year, I wrote a spontaneous post called  Haiku: Sharing Essence, Shedding Skins, which I loved. Last week, in Why Haiku? we looked at why writing haiku is a good idea. We also looked briefly at the content they cover and their effects on the reader and writer. (Haiku is both a plural word and a singular, by the way.)

Today, I’ll be giving you some brief guidelines on how to write haiku. Why brief? Firstly, there are plenty of specialist haiku sites out there, and haiku experts and authors.  Secondly, I suspect no poet enjoys being told what’s ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, and I believe the most important thing is the pleasure you get from writing.

Striving to write haiku, within the traditional guidelines, has given me a great deal of pleasure and repays the effort, even though most of my poems rarely make it into the realms of ‘proper’ haiku. That’s why my posts about haiku have been informative as well as personal; I’d like you to discover that joy, too, if you haven’t already.

So, here are a few tips.

  • get used to carrying a notebook and jotting down life-sketches
  • contemplate nature and objects so you can describe them objectively
  • immerse yourself and stay centered in the NOW, the present
  • become one with nature and empathise
  • recollect your thoughts and recreate them in silence and solitude
  • don’t attribute human qualities to nature; describe it as it is. (Tricky, this one, as vivid verbs and participles often wander into anthropomorphosis – see, I just did it!)
  • if you use adjectives and adverbs, make sure they vivify
  • make every word and syllable work hard
  • use verbs in the present tense
  • suggest the emotional reaction you had during your haiku moment
  • use normal, common language; try and get your English as natural and ‘unpoetic’ as possible
  • avoid end rhyme
  • life is the essence of haiku; it doesn’t have to be beautiful
  • don’t be obscure; avoid personal symbolism and intellectual allusions (there’s a lot of debate about this last one, because of how much homage goes on)
  • avoid poeticism and figurative language if you can; haiku are immediate
  • work on each poem till you’re sure the reader will feel what you felt
  • haiku aren’t about you being clever;  be as ‘invisible’ as you can so there’s nothing to detract from the experience you’re recreating
  • the best haiku are written by those folk whose minds are contemplative, serene and calm; they are the people whose capacity for mental stillness is best able to recreate the experience
  • use words which indicate the elements or the seasons (kigo); they give universal breadth and depth. The Japanese have plants, animals and elements that indicate the seasons and special times of the year. For example, the phrase kaze no kaori, ‘wind scent’, is a season word representing (Japanese) summer – May, June and July. There’s an extensive list at the back of William Higginson’s book, The Haiku Handbook -25th Anniversary Edition: How to Write, Teach, and Appreciate Haiku

Haiku Form

Ah, …eventually, you sigh…here we go…

Haiku don’t have to be in three lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables respectively. Folk did this originally, thinking it was the best way to represent Japanese syllables, or onji, which are shorter and more stable in their length than English syllables; English syllables vary in the length of time it takes to pronounce them. (Compare ‘ease’ with the ‘ed’ at the end of ‘started’.)

Personally, I love the 5-7-5 structure; I enjoy trying to corral my thoughts into a restriction that makes my tapping fingers feel like accomplices. And I suspect hundreds of thousands of non-Japanese folk feel the same. Cor van den Heuvel, a respected expert and haiku poet, says this in The Haiku Anthology

Though a few poets still write in the 5-7-5 syllable form, this form is now mostly written by schoolchildren as an exercise to learn how to count syllables, by beginners who know little about the true essence of haiku, or by those who just like to have a strict form with which to practice.

I guess that puts me in his third category. However, having taught haiku both in classrooms full of children, and to foreign adults learning English, I must admit I find their enthusiasm and beginners’ minds – and often their results – more full of haiku essence than the work of some élitist, haiku experts.

English haiku often have 7 accented syllables with a syllable total –  including unaccented syllables – of  about 12. Most experts agree that haiku shouldn’t have more than 17 syllables.

You don’t even need to have three lines…

at dusk hot water from the hose                      ~ Marlene Mountain

…although many haiku do have a structure of three lines with a  2 -3 – 2  sequence of stressed syllables.

On néaring the súrf,
évery fóotprint  becómes
thát of the séa…                                       ~ James W. Hackett

What you do need are two rhythmically balanced sections and a cutting word (kireji) or some kind of punctuation or natural break between them. Higginson suggests that if you leave a major grammatical pause between the 2nd and 3rd stressed syllables or between the 5th and 6th stressed syllables, it provides the sense of division created by the Japanese kireji.

In these examples, can you feel that break, that pause that heralds the moment of altered perception, or signals that there’s a universal message or deeper truth in the emotion conveyed by the juxtaposition of the images?

The names of the dead
sinking deeper and deeper
into the red leaves                               ~ Eric Amann

a bike in the grass
one wheel slowly turning –
summer afternoon                               ~ Lee Gurga

The Gurga poem makes me feel the essence of summer heat and fields and childhood and wide open spaces. I feel the presence of someone, maybe a child, who has tossed down the bike and just left the shot, maybe in pursuit of the next pleasure, as we pan in on the still spinning wheel; it suggests to me how childhood is gone in an instant, how that wheel spins and then slowly comes to a halt and how precious it is to take it all in and savour it while we have the chance. But that’s just my gut feeling.

I hope this mini-series has heightened the pleasure you get from reading and writing haiku. If you’re inspired to write haiku or any kind of haiku inspired short poems over the spring break, you know you’re always welcome to share them with us here.

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I’m celebrating my blog birthday by reminiscing!

This week last year, I posted….

Why Haiku?

phone photo of ducks 2Haiku happen all the time, wherever there are people who are in touch with the world of their senses, and with their own feeling response to it. ~ William J. Higginson

My attempts at writing haiku bring me a lot of pleasure. I love the intensity of the initial experience and the inner stillness, serenity and focused, centred composure required at the capturing stage. I love the restrictions of haiku and the way they comfort yet inspire me, and I love how the process reminds me to be aware of the beauty and ‘lifefulness’ in everything, from flowers and birds to cityscapes and domestic details.

I’ve read hundreds of haiku that are astonishingly beautiful in their simplicity and vast in their scope, like this one by Lee Gurga:

from house
to barn
the milky way

But in addition to the pleasure I’ve had in reading haiku, I discovered a while back that adopting a haiku mindset is a talisman against the stresses, anxieties and overwhelm that so often accompany western lifestyles. Writing haiku requires a level of engaged awareness in the present that wards off the fears and Shoulds and But what if…?’s that live in the future, and the grief, regrets and If only’s that so often haunt the past.

Writing haiku is also a wonderful way to journal, and our notebooks can provide rich material for inspiration or word gifts, or become a legacy for our loved ones.

Experimenting with haiku expanded my love of life and my awareness of the essence of every living thing, but learning to make word-sketches also improved my writing.

The following paragraph, taken from The Empty Jug, evolved from one of my attempts at haiku. In haiku, every syllable and the sound of every word earns its place. What you want to say has to be pared down, and every syllable justified. I wrote this haiku (the linked part shown in mauve) in response to a creative stimulus I gave folk on a haiku post last year. It was only when I read it that I realised how aptly it described my sense of isolation and my despair at being separated – by something unseen – from the inspiration I need to write and fill my life to overflowing.

I stood at the kitchen sink, robotically washing dishes. I paused, my gaze landing on a hand-painted jug on the window ledge, raindrops running down the glass. I clung to the sink with soapy hands, hunched forward, eyes clenched shut, terrified that I might miss another deadline, that I’d never have another moment of revelation, the inspiration that flows in and fills me up then spills over into my writing and my online coaching.

‘Proper’ haiku

As with all forms of poetry, there are divisions and differing beliefs among experts, with regard to form, subject manner and approach, but as a rough rule of thumb, when I say ‘traditional’ haiku, I mean those written by the Japanese grand masters, or written  by devotees who have studied the masters and are experts in Japanese culture, language and aesthetics. My personal favourite haiku were actually written by North Americans. I love how they took the ball and ran with it. I also love urban haiku, and the grey area where haiku meets senryu, the poetry that focuses on human nature.

Essence, awareness and compassion

A human being is part of the whole called by us the universe…a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts, and feelings, as separate from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty. ~ Albert Einstein

Haiku, real haiku, help us see into the life of things, to become more spiritual, compassionate and aware. Traditionally, haiku are direct, sensuous and real, and they centre us in the eternal NOW, even if they also allude to a literary heritage or recognised seasonal representations. If we write a haiku, we don’t tell the reader how we felt, or  how they should feel, we simply paint the perception, in all its fresh immediacy, and let them experience it themselves. In haiku, something is what it is.

The aim of every haiku is to recreate the poet’s experience in the reader, and then ripple outwards like the ripples from a pebble in a pond, as the reader adds their own life experiences to the emotion conveyed by the poet. In some ways, the best haiku are invisible, because in reading them, we are taken directly to the emotion the poet was experiencing, and in that way are connected to something universal and eternal.

We write haiku to keenly perceive –  and then re-create  – what we experience in Nature;  in that way, our awareness is strengthened, and we are reminded that we are part of the life force that is in all things.  In traditional haiku, human nature is secondary to what’s referred to as Greater Nature.

Haiku are deceptively simple. Although writing them requires a sharp eye, an accute inner ear, deft use of simple but vivifying vocabulary and skillful juxtaposition of carefully chosen images, they’re not  full of poeticism, abstract anthropocentricity, intricate personal symbolism, figurative language, complex poetic devices or intellectual cleverness; nor are they puzzles or simply word games that seem like a great way to introduce beginners to poetry. For many people, haiku are a form of Zen meditation, a mindset and a way of experiencing life with heightened awareness, compassion and empathy for all creatures.

dead cat…
open mouthed
to the pouring rain                                          ~ Michael McClintock

In their purest form, they capture concisely, in a flash of awareness, the essence of something in Nature, or one of life’s fascinating dramas or everyday occurences.

at dusk hot water from the hose                      ~ Marlene Mountain

That one reminds me of how, in my friend’s seaside home in Greece, I always washed off the sea salt with an outdoor hose after swimming in the sea. The loops and coils of the hose lay spread out in the dusty yard all day, the water in them warming in the sun.

Haiku don’t have to describe the beautiful, but they do need to convey some kind of life essence.

The very best haiku alter our perceptions and change the way we see things.

On nearing the surf,
every footprint  becomes
that of the sea…                                       ~ James W. Hackett

They can also help us connect two seemingly disparate things and often seemlessly merge details with the universal.

The names of the dead
sinking deeper and deeper
into the red leaves

I love the poignancy of  this one by Eric Amann, and its gentle power to take us beyond the graveyard to issues of life, memory and death; nature and the passing of the seasons claim us all as equals in the end.

In the following poem, not only is the image beautiful, but when I read somewhere later that the author, Richard Wright  is an African American, it added an extra, though not necessary, dimension.

In the falling snow
A laughing boy holds out his palms
Until they are white

In writing haiku, we learn to love the details of our lives and treasure our own experiences as life-filled beings in the grand scheme of things.

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My next post will be focusing on the How (the form) of haiku and will probably present an analysis of a few of my favourite haiku before we have our next  wee poetry writing flurry!

Until then, here are a few places to read some wonderful haiku. Why don’t you share a few of your favourites with us and explain why they touched you.

  • Check ot a variety of haiku and other work by the fabulous Al Pizzarrelli.
  • Get a library or second hand copy of  Fresh Scent by Lee Gurga.
  • If you’d like to learn how to write, share and teach haiku, please help me send my kids to college by buying Higginson’s definitive book on haiku from my bookshop. 😉
  • This interesting essay is full of examples from The Haiku Anthology, which is also for sale in my bookshop.

Connected and Encouraged

rainbows-on-the-water2
Photo by JB in Pacifica

Do not keep the alabaster boxes of your love and tenderness sealed up until your friends are dead. Fill their lives with sweetness. Speak approving, cheering words while their ears can hear them and while their hearts can be thrilled by them. ~ Henry Ward Beecher

There are different ways of feeling kinship and connection.

Spiritually, we’re all waves in the same ocean, we’re air, we’re light, we’re dust motes and raindrops. I breathe you in, you breathe me out.

We all resonate to different frequencies, feel connected to people, places, creatures, concepts, sensations and objects, but what happens when we become disconnected from ourselves?

I’ve been feeling that a lot  recently, but comments I’ve received in the boxes here over the last few days have not only made me feel connected and encouraged, but re-aligned to myself, my mission and the people I care about. The flu’s nearly gone. My writing voice feels healthier again, too.

Maybe it’s because of the origins of the word, but encouragement makes its home in my heart. The words I received in response to a tired plea have kept a flame alight that was threatening to flicker out and die. Thanks  to everyone who wrote to help me.

And thanks to my husband, who held everything together when I was ill.  If I were to write a list about encouragement, it would include these:

Encouragement is a hand on my shoulder….

Encouragement is a cup of coffee laid by the computer…

Here are a few quotes that sang to me today:

 

Friendship is not essentially a union of personalities, it is an attraction and magnetism of souls. ~ Thomas Moore

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Every soul that touches yours—
Be it the slightest contact—
Gets therefrom some good;
Some little grace; one kindly thought;
One aspiration yet unfelt;
One bit of courage
For the darkening sky;
One gleam of faith
To brave the thickening ills of life;
One glimpse of brighter skies-
To make this life worthwhile
And heaven a surer heritage. ~George Eliot

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Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it.
Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good.
Be good friends who love deeply;
practice playing second fiddle….
Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy;
share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other;
don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies;
don’t be the great somebody.
Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. ~Romans 12:9-10, 15-17 (The Message)

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This above all: to thine own self be true
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man. ~ Shakespeare

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In our whole life melody the music is broken off here and there by rests, and we foolishly think we have come to the end of time. God sends a time of forced leisure, a time of sickness and disappointed plans, and makes a sudden pause in the hymn of our lives, and we lament that our voice must be silent and our part missing in the music which ever goes up to the ear of our creator. Not without design does God write the music of our lives. Be it ours to learn the time and not be dismayed at the rests. If we look up, God will beat the time for us. ~ John Ruskin

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Do not close yourself off from life because of fear. Do not build walls of expectations or dictate terms for who, what, how and when the Universe will deliver. Expect miracles and see miracles, even in the simple, mundane round of life. Love each moment as it comes. Embrace it fully. Immerse yourself in this moment, this reality. Be aware. Be yourself. Be brave and dare to live from the very centre of your being. ~ Candy Paull

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Any favourites?

Try writing your own  Encouragement is… list.

Guest House

white-cottage-front-porch

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

Poetry, Wedding Vows and Gift Ideas for Loved Ones

diana-maus-passion-garden-frame1

I got a lovely surprise today when I discovered that Diana Maus at With All My Heart Art had dedicated a new piece of art to me as a thank you for the piece I wrote about  exploring the senses in our writing, especially the often underappreciated sense of smell. By discovering our preferred representational system and exploring our underused senses, we can expand our life and improve our creativity. Here’s what Diana wrote over at her blog Mosaic Moods:

[Janice] asks the question “How can you discover what your sensory preferences are?” Good question. It led me to look for my biases towards one sense over another and I noticed that the olfactory is ignored in my art and my writing. So here’s a garden for you, Janice, with hope “that the spices thereof may flow out” and spread throughout these pages.

If you know of anyone who’s looking for a unique wedding gift or a special gift for a loved one, an engagement or a wedding anniversary, this would be very special.

Talking of weddings, I often spookily cross posts with Sean Platt , a gifted ghostwriter from over at Ghostwriter Dad .  His post today was about wedding vows. My post was simply going to be dedicated to all the spouses and partners out there who support us while we blog; the dancers, the writers, those who’ve recently lost jobs, those who are scared they may lose the jobs that keep the roof over our heads, those who risk their lives for others, our best editors, our best friends and most patient listeners, lovers and friends.

The poems here are beautiful and can be used anytime, as wedding vows or in anniversary cards, blog posts or presents. Sean, on the other hand, can craft the most beautiful unique wedding vows  for you or someone you know. This is what Sean promises:

Your custom wedding vows will be good enough to hang on the wall and remember forever. I will write beautiful prose, perfectly placed between a beginning and end that is guaranteed to fill your wedding aisles with weeping. You are a custom couple, you deserve to exchange a custom promise.

Someone, somewhere, would love to have their unique wedding vows framed in one of Diana’s frames! I don’t  really understand Twitter, but if you do, please retweet this post, Sean’s or Diana’s to celebrate and support unique artistry and help people we actually know to make their living online.

Here are the simple poems that were going to form my post today, as a gift for my husband, the person I’m happy, relieved and grateful to have sharing the journey with me. The first is by one of my favourite Scottish poets.

The Confirmation by Edwin Muir

Yes, yours, my love, is the right human face.
I in my mind had waited for this long,
Seeing the false and searching for the true,
Then found you as a traveller finds a place
Of welcome suddenly amid the wrong
Valleys and rocks and twisting roads. But you,
What shall I call you? A fountain in a waste,
A well of water in a country dry,
Or anything that’s honest and good, an eye
That makes the whole world bright. Your open heart,
Simple with giving, gives the primal deed,
The first good world, the blossom, the blowing seed,
The hearth, the steadfast land, the wandering sea.
Not beautiful or rare in every part.
But like yourself, as they were meant to be.

Sonnet from the Portuguese by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, — I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears of all my life! — and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

And what of Marriage? from ‘The Prophet’ by Kahlil Gibran

Then Almitra spoke again and said, And what of Marriage, master?
And he answered saying:
Together you shall be for evermore.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness.
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

Love one another, but make not a bond of love.
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.

And here’s the quote that has kept our marriage strong for nearly a quarter of a century:

Love does not consist of looking into each other’s eyes, but in gazing together in the same direction. ~ Antoine de Saint Exupery

My Journey to Ithaka

I nearly gave up blogging today, not for the first time these last few weeks. After writing a comment on someone else’s blog, I made a coffee and was led to this poem in a book of Greek poetry my best friend Kostas gave me, a few days after we first met. Neither of us knew then that the thoughts and wishes in this poem would be the message he would leave me as a legacy when he died a decade later. Kostas never let me  – never lets me – give up on anything without exploring it fully; this is his way of telling me I’m on track. I’m just having one of those days when I wish I could be having this conversation with him in our favourite seafront café.

Ithaka

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon-don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon-you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind-
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

(From C. P. Cavafy: Collected Poems: Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992. As a professional translator from Greek into English, this is one of the best translations I’ve come across. If you want to see the original Greek too, I’d recommend The Collected Poems: with parallel Greek text (Oxford World’s Classics))

Poems and Prayers for Parents

baby rainbow fingersDo you know someone who’s struggling with a teenager?  Parents too tired to deal with well-meaning or interfering grandparents? A new mother frazzled with the anxiety of sleepless nights, wailing “I don’t know why the baby won’t stop crying!!”  Please pass these on. I especially like the lullabies sang by the babies to their anxious, distraught mums.

The Serenity Prayer

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.
Rheinhold H. Niebuhr

The Parent

Children aren’t happy with nothing to ignore,
And that’s what parents are for.
Ogden Nash

Lullaby

Go to sleep, Mum,
I won’t stop breathing
suddenly in the night.

Go to sleep, I won’t
climb out of my cot and
tumble downstairs.

Mum, I won’t swallow
the pills the doctor gave you
or put hairpins in electric
sockets, just go to sleep.

I won’t cry
when you take me to school and leave me:
I’ll be happy with other children
my own age.

Sleep, Mum sleep.
I won’t
fall in the pond, play with matches,
run under a lorry or even consider
sweets from strangers.

No I won’t
give you a lot of lip,
not like some.

I won’t sniff glue,
fail my exams,
get myself/
my girlfriend pregnant.
I’ll work hard and get a steady/
really worthwhile job.
I promise, go to sleep.

I’ll never forget
to drop in/phone/write
and if
I need any milk, I’ll yell.
Rosemary Norman

Baby Song

From the private ease of Mother’s womb
I fall into the lighted room.

Why don’t they simply put me back
Where it is warm and wet and black?

But one thing follows on another.
Things were different inside Mother.

Padded and jolly I would ride
The perfect comfort of her inside.

They tuck me in a rustling bed
—I lie there raging, small, and red.
Thom Gunn