Sunday, October 4, 2015

Two faces of granny-hood

 Spring is here, and I've been absent with a mix of winter flu and big busyness as I develop my business of distributing my books, speaking at conferences, and the new enterprise of 2015: teaching online courses. It's all very exciting, but has taken me away from the blog (and I've missed you, dear blog friends).
We have just passed spring equinox, which makes me aware of the balance of dark and light.
Today I'm musing on the two sides of being a grandmother.
1. Hands-off. Visit, adore and leave 
It's so seductive to stop there. After all, isn't that part of the deal of grandparent, part of the great privilege: that you can leave at any time? 
'Bye-Bye,' says the smallest one now, as she opens and closes her little fist.' 
And away I trundle, with a bursting heart. 
Back to my own life. 
But there's another aspect. 
2. Hands-on. Do the work 
Last night's sleepover began with the little one (7) throwing up within minutes of arriving. 'Take her home?' offered my daughter-in-law, who was exhausted from a day when the smallest one (14 months) didn't sleep at all. 
It's school holidays and more demanding than usual. Father is away in USA. It was a no-brainer; she stays. 
I gave her a clean-up bath & washed the sofa cushion, drying it with my hair-dryer, and dabbed the carpet. Then she vomitted over the sofa again. 
She threw up every hour until 3 a.m. I slept on the sofa next to hers, waking just in time on each occasion to hold the basin. 
Remembering what it's like to care for a sick child: staying present to 'Is this serious or something that will pass?' (Well, it was passing all right!) Listening with a carer's ear, even while asleep, to the early warning sound (a cough and a whimper in this case) that means 'Wake up!' 
Trusting the knowledge that has been built up over time.
There's no such thing as forgetting this learning, hard won in the small hours of many nights 40 years ago. This morning the little one ate a tiny bit of stewed apple and pear, and peacefully drew a big picture. 
Who's that old woman lying on the sofa? Oh, it's moi! Well at least I look happy. And I was. 
Happy to serve, and glad that it ended well. 
Then: adore and leave.
Happy equinox to you all, (belatedly). May you find joy in the hard things as well as in the things that come easily. Relationship bonds are forged as we wipe up the mess, rub the back, stay calm, and hold on for a new day to bring relief.

Monday, July 13, 2015

She's eaten my snail!

 The wail could be heard throughout the house, bouncing off the walls and bare wooden floors. 'My snail!'  Through the sobs she choked out, 'It's gone!'

This happened last Thursday when I was visiting the family for dinner. Oh dear. When I arrived, she hadn't yet returned from her Playdate. I'd spotted a little box with leaves and shells in it, beautifully arranged, and thought it was one of her little homes for the fairies. But no.

On the threshold between six and seven years old, the little one has graduated to wild pets. Before leaving to play she had left the box on the floor with a picture on top to act as a lid.
That would have been fine last July, when she was the only child. But now she has a very active little sister, who is crawling everywhere and exploring everything. There was no lid on the box when I came in, and I thought nothing of it when I found something squishy in little sister's mouth. I removed the dark soft object and placed it on the mantle piece.

It wasn't until the little one came home and let out her wail, that I realised what the squishy object was. Oh dear, it's tough when your little sister tries to eat your pet.
I have been at war with snails for many years. They attack my tender lettuce seedlings and destroy whole plantings in a night. But one snail, singled out for love and care, how can I be at war with that? I cradled the little one in my arms, and said I had a special story to tell when she came to visit on the weekend.
 Making mandalas is soothing. Sometimes we draw mandalas, but the morning after the sleepover, she wanted to use shells, flowers and sticks. Her sharp eyes had noticed a little arrangement I'd been making on my desk, and she was inspired to create something for herself.
She had slept peacefully, for in the evening I read to her from the special story, written by a person who would have understood her upset.
You may know Elisabeth Tova Bailey's book, 'The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating', or have seen the video [click on the left of the page] of her snail slowly moving over a bed of moss.

We learned that snails are nocturnal, that they have 2,640 tiny teeth, and that they are very fond of mushrooms.
 We found out how the companionship of a wild snail helped a woman with a serious chronic illness, and we learned how when life slows down, new wonders of the natural world may be revealed.

The little one found a new snail under a rock after Thursday night's little tragedy.
Elisabeth Tova Bailey decided not to name her snail. It's hard, she said, to name a creature that is a hermaphrodite. She simply called it 'the snail.'
The little one had already named her new snail. 'Nut' seemed to me a perfect name to describe a little brown shelled creature.
The mandala has been photographed, printed out and pasted on to a card. Tears are forgotten. We are fascinated to learn more about snails and the wild world they inhabit. What was nothing but a pest to me has now become a creature to study.

All the same, I hope it doesn't copy the author's wild snail, and hatch 118 babies.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Mindfulness Mountain (2)

 'From the top, light and shadows will shape the land you know in new ways,' said the mountain as I rested with my back against a sun-warmed rock at the summit. I closed my eyes, and felt I could stay there forever.
 But the voice of the mountain said, 'Don't be seduced by the summit. Don't linger too long,' and I remembered what my father told me.
My father was a mountain climber in his youth. He climbed to the top of Mt Taranaki, on whose foothills I grew up, twenty-one times. He taught me the first lesson of alpine explorers: that it is more dangerous to descend than ascend.
And so I set out before the weather changed and the wind came up and the light faded.
 This time I discovered another path.
 'Be mindful of every step,' warned the mountain. It would be easy to slip or sprain an ankle going down too fast.
 'Follow the signs, and go slowly,
even though a new destination has appeared.'
Joseph Campbell, who studied the mythology of hundreds of cultures, said that an important part of the great adventure (the 'hero's journey') is the Return. It is important not to return too fast, but to take time for integration. The new path down the mountain led me first to the labyrinth.
 Time to pause and frame a question. The labyrinth is based on the 7-circuit classical labyrinth as shown on ancient Greek coins. Never have I walked a labyrinth with so much spaciousness on every side. I was given several answers to my simple question, all of them perfect.
 And then it was time to enter the Sanctuary. Based on the old Byzantine chapels of Europe, this stone building breathes silence. Now was the time to stop, to meditate, to linger.
 The golden mean was used throughout, giving a deep sense of harmony.
 The late afternoon sun cast magical reflections on the wooden ceiling panels
 and on the stone floor, with its central greenstone circle.
I chanted a little, feeling my voice enlarged into the four corners, reverberating as never before in this place of amazing acoustics, where it is said that sound takes 5-6 seconds before dissolving back into silence.
I could have rushed back down the path I originally came up on. But the mountain showed me another way. It brought me to this sanctuary, and reminded me that while sacred places abound in wild nature, there are times when human endeavour also results in great beauty, stillness and upliftment.
As I left, the bells, cast in Germany using old methods and transported hundreds of miles to reach this place, began to ring. The cascading peel rang out across the valley, up the sides of the mountain and into the sky.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Mindfulness mountain (1)

I've just spent a weekend at the beautiful Mana Retreat on the Coromandel Peninsula, where I led a winter solstice ritual for the community and helpers who had gathered for a big working bee. On Sunday I had time for replenishment. At Mana, there are many choices. On this day I felt fit, and as the mist cleared, I decided to walk up the mountain.
 In the still rhythm of walking, I could hear the mountain guiding me.
 'Take a staff,' it said. 'This will steady you.'
I had forgotten to pick one up from the big basket as I left, so I needed to search amongst the trees. The mountain had a staff ready and waiting (not one of the soft punga trunks in this photo, but a tough kanuka pole),
 and it was true, the staff gave me steadiness as the path ascended steeply and at times it was hard to find a foothold.
 'Pause to notice what's here', said the mountain. Native flowers are quiet, not flamboyant. They are mostly white, because of being pollinated by moths at night. I paused, and discovered rangiora about to burst into flower.
'You will be supported,' said the mountain, and so I was, with a sign just as I was feeling lost, or a foothold cut into a steep part, when I was faltering.
'And when you think you have reached the top, know that it is not really the top. 
Take some breaths and gather more energy.'
'Now is the time to stop and rest.'
'Lifted high above dwellings and roads,  bushes and tree tops, up in the realm of bird song, pause to drink in a new perspective.'
To descend from such a height is sometimes more challenging than to ascend. In my next post, I will tell you how the mountain guided me, and what I found. But for now, dear reader, we have climbed enough. Take a rest with me, and enjoy the view.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Thyme for solstice

Just before I picked up my pen to write to you for winter solstice, I opened an envelope that had just arrived through the mail. Neatly folded inside the letter, I discovered two little sprigs of wild thyme.

Lost on the limestone
I inhaled the tangy scent and was suddenly tumbled back to the late sixties, when I was living in Paris. It was Easter, I was three months pregnant and we'd taken a train to the south of France for a holiday. Now we were wandering on a high limestone plateau known as the Calanques, searching for the Youth Hostel that would be our haven for the night.

Darkness was falling rapidly, the moon sailed high, and we were lost. I sat down on a rock to relieve the weight of the back-pack and rest my weary legs. That's when I was surprised by an unusual fragrance, penetrating the air: wild thyme, more pungent than anything my kitchen had known. It was everywhere, growing out of every crevice.

An injection of courage
Have you ever found that the smallest, most unexpected thing can charge you with courage when you are floundering? That's what the wild thyme did for me.

My friend is having medical treatment that requires her to draw on courage every day. Her gift reminded me of how connecting with my senses, beauty and wonder allowed me to refresh my brain, make sense of the map, agree on a route with my partner and find the way to the welcoming lights of the hostel.

Finding life in the dead of winter
At winter solstice on June 22 the sun's light will return. But how can you feel it when the days grow more chilly from now on? In winter, sensory awareness tends to contract. Autumn brings glorious richness and spring sweet fragrance, but winter sometimes seems like a bundle of dry sticks or soggy dead leaves.

Dear blog readers, you've seen less of me here because I've been busy writing my Seasons Newsletter, which I now post on my website as a blog. Today I had the bright idea of copying the newsletter into my seasonal inspiration blog, hoping that you will enjoy it too. 

You can read and post on my website blogs by clicking this link. (Scroll down to see earlier posts)

I'm also teaching online courses now, and this is keeping me busy. Below is a sample of what I'm doing: 

The 'Winter Attunement' on June 23 is an opportunity for you to tune in — not just to the depths of winter, but to your own self. In the online meditation you will be guided to connect with the source of nourishment and wonder within. Following this there will be the time for drawing or writing so that you can express what you discovered. 

My friend did the first winter attunement in 2014. She told me that the image she drew sustained her for months afterwards. Others reported feeling 'very relaxed, centred and nourished', and having something 'shift and ease inside'.

I'm hoping to keep this blog going as well. I value the connections we have built with one another, and enjoy posting more personal material here. I just need to find a way of juggling the balls! Meanwhile, happy winter solstice to my friends in the south, and summer solstice to my friends in the north. 

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.

—Albert Camus

Friday, June 5, 2015

Against the dark

 It is human nature to rebel against the encroachment of winter. At the Steiner School in the late afternoon, the rain cleared, and Darkness stepped coolly towards us.
 The air was alive with chirping children's voices. 'I know where he's gone,' said a young boy. 'He's gone to the bamboo forest.' Pranks were played, naughtiness frolicked amongst the trees, and all the time the lanterns began to appear. As Darkness threw her cloak over the end of day, more and more lights twinkled from the trees.
 Then circles formed in the classrooms as the children were called inside. Their bellies were full and warm with tai chicken curry, dahl on rice, and hot tomato or buttercup soup. Our little one is in Class One, and we waited outside in the dark, wondering what would come next.
 And then they began to emerge, little processions from each room.
 Each one had its own style of lantern, depending on the age of the children and what they could manage.
 Gradually they formed their lines, until all the classes were gathered. Silence. Waiting. Then the bagpipes began to play. A violin followed.
After an invocation to Matariki (the Pleiades), which is soon to return and mark the Maori new year, the children began to sing - Maori, Scottish, English songs and rounds, ringing out beautifully in the shivering air. Music drifting over the cloak of Darkness, while lanterns blinked and winked—and my cheeks softened, wet with tears.
 Time collapsed and rolled into a ball, in which centuries past and this very day here and now all folded around one another, and by the time the hooded senior pupils came on with their flaming torches to banish the darkness, I no longer knew which era I was born into.
 Asserting 'enough!' Turning the sun around. Banishing the dark of the dark. I tumble and roll back forty years or so, remembering these words of Thomas Hardy in 'The Return of the Native' as he described bonfires being lit on the hilltops of Wessex:

'. . . to light a fire is the instructive and resistant act of man [sic] when, at the winter ingress, the curfew is sounded throughout Nature.'
'It indicates a spontaneous Promethean rebelliousness against the fiat that this current season shall bring foul times, cold darkness, misery and death.
Black chaos comes, and the fettered gods of the earth say, Let there be light.'
Time rolls around again, and I am a young child, returning to drink up a sense of wonder and ceremony that I didn't have at school. It is never too late to receive what was missing. And to rejoice that my granddaughter is having it all now.