Monday, August 11, 2014

Summer School... glimpses, notes, moments

The past 9 days have been a time of immersion in my Baha'i community - time spent with almost 500 people from 21 countries, sharing a vision of a great future for humankind, and exploring our part in bringing that about, as individuals, and as part of our larger community, or rather, communities; reflecting on the various groups of people of which I am a part.  A few elements of the week that have been especially meaningful for me....

Monday's Interfaith conference on the topic of humanitarianism gave me much food for thought. I was really struck by the idea that, while we often focus on the elimination of poverty, if we really thought about the idea of eliminating extremes of poverty AND wealth, what a difference that would make.

Three days in a group reading and discussing materials on Humanity's Coming of Age and the Promise of World Peace tied together biblical prophecies, Abdu'l-Baha's explanation of how they relate to some the principles of the Baha'i Faith, and traced our development to where we are now.

Three evenings of meditation and an introduction to the Endorphin Effect led me to a better understanding of (among other things) how my recent "100 Happy  Days" project led to such an increase in wellbeing, not just for me, but apparently for some others who were following along. It seems that when we have a pleasurable experience, if we Notice it, Pause, and Absorb the experience, we produce endorphins (feel-good hormones), and we prime ourselves to be able to produce them again at a later time, just by recalling the same experience.  Fascinating introduction to the work of William Bloom.

An evening reflecting on Creativity and the deep blue ocean from which it emerges.

All of that - and a workshop over the final two days in which I got the opportunity to consider my own part in the business of community-building going on all around me - but the overall effect of the 9 days came from simply being among people of like mind and heart; from sitting in on concerts and witnessing the most wonderful talent in young people, sharing laughter; comparing experiences, encountering new friends from 3-year-olds with some fascinating news to share to visitors from around the world met at mealtimes and encountered as sister- and brother-souls, to dancing at that final-night blowout, filled with awareness of just how blessed I am, just how fortunate I am, and knowing that I'll never really be able to express it in even the smallest measure.

I was aware, in the course of the week, of people I wished were there, of missing those who couldn't be there for various reasons, and also I was aware of the spirit being generated there going out into the world, the prayers being said being carried out to all of them.  Last year, I could not be there. This year, my appreciation of the gift of being there was surely heightened by that fact.

Next year.... next year.... next year   Inshallah

Friday, July 4, 2014

Poems... Past and present

A couple of poems...  First, something I wrote quite recently.

Giving Thanks

It couldn't have been

some cartoon cat

with a bunch of daisies

grinning Thank You s.

It needed to be more than that,

spelt out in 6-foot letters on a beach;


Something beyond ordinary,

beyond special.

I don't know how

to make it big enough,

but I think I should

plant trees, in rows 6-deep.

Wait twenty years

to take you up in a balloon,

to look down,

and finally see

what I've been trying to say.

Thank you.


One from a couple of years ago.....

3.30 a.m.

Lately I’ve been rising

in the middle of the night

to write poems.

Well, not to write poems,

but while I’m up,

and wondering what to do,

poems come,

and at that hour,

you do not turn company away.

You say:

Could you not sleep either?

What has you so restless?

Would you like a cup
of my chamomile-vanilla tea?


And finally.....


We pray for rain

or an end to it;

health, continued,

or a return to it,

for us, for friends,

for all;

for a good day,

an easy heart,

someone to love,

someone to love our sons,

our daughters.

For protection in peril,

for souls gone from us

we pray,

each word another fragment

on the endless fluttering string

connecting us

to where our prayer goes.

And always, the only questions

to which we really seek an answer:

Are you there?

Do you hear?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Happiness, Gratitude, and all that jazz

51 days ago, I began a daily practice of taking note of something that made me happy, and posting it on Facebook. I'd seen a couple of other people begin the practice, and something about it drew me, caught my attention. I suppose it resonated for me especially as this was while the buzz of the "Donegal is Happy" video was still very much in the air. I noticed that it made me feel good to see what made other people happy. The challenge is to post each day for 100 days with #100happydays, linking to all the other people participating in the same challenge.  Officially it should be a picture, but I haven't always used a picture, and participants adapt the challenge to suit their own ideas and interests.  
So, half-way through the 100 days, what have I discovered?  That there are opportunities for happiness, little joys, special moments and treasures in every day, even in the days that have difficulties and worries in them. I'm still working on finding what the differences are for me between happiness and gratitude.  It's strange - I'm grateful for anything that makes me happy, and I'm happy for everything I'm grateful for, but they are still different emotions.  I've been keeping a nightly gratitude journal for many years, and the practice probably does contribute greatly to my sense of happiness in the world, and yet, this 100 Happy Days project has opened up something new.  I suspect it's something to do with the fact that the gratitude practice is private, introspective, and the happiness practice is public. I name it. It's external.

Not all my friends are on Facebook, and I've found myself trying to explain what this is about.... so here are a random few of the "Happies" I've posted during the first 50 days of the challenge.....

Day 2. Taking yarn and a hook and making something with it makes me happy. Making something that will form part of an anti nuclear weapons statement ditto. Joined Caroline Kuyper to help make Wool Against Weapons 7 mile long scarf. #melshappydays
Day 7 #100happydays, what's making me happy today is having coloured pens to play around with and being part of an online Art Therapy and Happiness project. #melshappydays

Day 16. Food makes me happy. I enjoy cooking it, learning about it, watching others cooking it. Today, I'm really happy to have salvaged yesterday's failed lentil-loaf and turned it into today's delicious shepherdess pie. Always learning! . . .
Almost forgot to say - I enjoy eating it too!

Day 20 I was asked today "Are you not afraid you'll run out of happy things to post?" No. I'm afraid I'll forget to post some of the things that have struck me,but not made it just yet into a post. Today, happy to be in my hometown with some of my favourite people. #100happydays, #melshappydays. — with Gavin Kelly and Aileen O Dea.

Day 32 of my #100happydays, #melshappydays: Watching a blackbird totally enjoy his supper of leatherjackets in my back-garden this evening made me happy

Day 38 of #100happydays, #melshappydays. It makes me inordinately happy to switch on the radio and find I can identify the piece of music that's playing. Happened today. Feels good! ("I think that's Fingal's Cave... or is it the Hebrides? Or is it known as both? It's Mendelssohn anyway..... Correct!")

Day 46 of my #100happydays, #melshappydays. Today was a day to mark in its ordinariness, one year on from my surgery, and out the other side of my treatments. It makes me happy to have finished a job in my garden, made flapjacks, and tried a new soup recipe, to call on friends and simply to BE. Happy and grateful.

Day 50 of my #100happydays, #melshappydays, and I'm very happy to be spending this weekend celebrating my sister's birthday, exploring Kilkenny and this morning, encountered something I've only seen in books before - a pocket-handkerchief tree. Beautiful, and we found it at just the right time, I'd say! Happy!
I didn't start doing this in order to encourage others to do it. I didn't give it a lot of thought - just said Yes, I'm up for that! and went with it. I only know now, at this half-way point in the challenge, that I'm very glad I began the practice, and that yes, it has certainly contributed to an increased sense of happiness within me.
What makes YOU happy?


Friday, August 30, 2013

Just Today

There's a restlessness on me today. Early waking. Not settling back after a breakfast. So I played some games, read a bit of my book, dug out a box of magazine images and snipped a few, but I haven't settled to anything.  I have a feeling like there's something else I ought to be doing. Maybe it's writing. Maybe it's picking up my crochet hook and yarn again. Maybe it's just a sense of the season changing, and I'm not making preparations to return to work next week, like I would have been doing - Have I got decent shoes?  Is there a battery in my clock?

So here's what I'll do for now... I'll share the four SoulCollage®, cards that became my supporters in this cancer journey. They were each made long before I began this journey, so their contribution as part of this particular aspect of my life is very interesting to me. 

It took a few weeks for me to begin to approach inner processing of my response to the diagnosis, surgery, prospect of chemo & radiation. I wondered if I was operating in denial, but chose instead to see it as just going slow, just dealing with things as I became ready to deal with them.  That's all true, and in another way, I know I responded fairly immediately with a deeply felt sense that whatever happens, it's ok. Whatever way it goes, it will be ok. I hold that sense, and it makes everything else easier to carry.  When I pray for healing, it's with the hope that I get to keep this body for another 20+ years, but with the knowledge I might not (we all know this all the time anyway, really), and that the healing I need may be spiritual or emotional, rather than physical.

When I felt the urge to explore what my SoulCollage® cards might have to say to me, I selected four random cards from my deck of over 180 cards, and allowed each to have a voice in answer to the question "In what way do you support me at this time?"

The first card to emerge was my "Protective Female Warrior"  Well, I could straight away say "welcome" to her. She says "I am one who will battle on your behalf, step up to protect you, shield you when you are feeling exposed and vulnerable, ward off anything negative or unhelpful.
And, of course, the background figure's posture - paralyzed with fear, vulnerable, and even with a breast exposed, perfectly represented the part of me that needs this warrior working on my behalf.
The second card emerged - "First step towards my goal", saying "I am one who looks far ahead to the goal, but concentrates at the same time on taking the next first step, carefully and with attention. This will bring me to my goal. Staying in the moment, and taking each step as it comes. There may be storms swirling about me, but I stay clear-eyed, and focused, and I wear my coloured scarf proudly"  - This last surprised me, as I did this exercise on the same day that I'd first toyed with the idea of "What will it be like to lose my hair?  Will I wear a scarf?  How do you tie a scarf anyway" - and had actually experimented with wrapping my head in a bright scarf
The third card to emerge has had a few different names, and supported me in different ways in the years since I first made it, but the title I often use is simply "Don't".  In the past its voice has been shy or resistant, but here, the words were very positive.  "I am one who chooses to stay back from what is overwhelming until I am ready. I look cautiously and allow only what I am able for to approach me. It is perfectly ok to say "no", to say "not now", to say "too much".      This felt very assertive and positive, not weak and fearful.  I was also struck by the appearance of a scarf again!

The final card selected was "Eternal Religion", and speaks to me of the spiritual gifts available to me from so many sources. Wherever I find solace, peace, words of comfort, that is good. Whatever prayer I choose to say, that is good. This card says "Let your soul speak, and it will be heard" Thus has it always been.
The four cards have been ranged across my mantelpiece since that day, many weeks ago now. They remind me that I have within me resources that sometimes I lose sight of. They are companions and friends, parts of myself, and parts of the larger story, and as time passes, their relevance and meaning become deeper and stronger.
[Please read the note about SoulCollage® in the right margin. It contains important information]

Thursday, August 1, 2013

"This journey" was what I entitled a Facebook entry just after my first chemo treatment 3 weeks ago. Tonight, awake on a steroid-induced racing brain, I realise there's a great danger of overwhelming friends on Facebook with my thoughts, interests and odd directions taken, and have decided that if I offer the option of coming here (or not), then I get the chance to "download" all that swirling stuff in my head a little; to share what is of interest with anyone who's interested, and to avoid too much intensity for those who are part of my Facebook community but are not necessarily close enough to wish to share all of that. 

This Journey              (11 July 2013)

It's a common way of looking at life and its stages and phases. Every journey has potential for disruption, can involve stops, new starts, detours, difficulties, meetings with challenges, friends and allies along the way. We travel in many ways, and at the start of my cancer journey, less than three months ago, a metaphor that was strong was a sense of being newly cast off on an...
unfamiliar boat, on fairly rough seas - but not far from shore, and not without strong anchors.
"And who's on the shore?" I was asked. My answer was immediate and felt very strongly. All along the shore, where I can see you clearly, stand friends, family, everyone who wishes me well, who would offer a thought of kindness if they knew I was having a rough time. You carry those things that call me home and remind me that I am so not alone here. Some of you carry lifelines, ready any time I need it, to help. Some wave flags of memory, banners of laughter. You carry books, poems, songs. Your voices carry over the water. You hold lights and flowers, bowls of ice-cream. Some have children in your arms. Some of you carry beads, and say prayers. You have called out to me and said "We're here". I know it.

Today, I start on a new phase of this journey. I start chemo. Four rounds, three weeks apart. I do not know exactly how it will be, but I know that I could not be in better hands, or among better people, so thank you. I appreciate your presence. Simply that. Just as you are, just as you have been, just as you have come to be part of my life. 

  Thank you.

The picture I've chosen as my profile picture is a SoulCollage® card created quite a long time ago, and which I entitled at the time "The Ferryman".  Today, it represents for me a sense of being carried along on a swift-flowing river, by unknown, but very benign forces, and surrounded by a garden of blossoms and lights, dressed in "power-purple. 
The forces supporting me right now are too numerous to list fully, but they include all the people referred to above, The process of SoulCollage®, Bach Flower Remedies, my wonderful Faith community, and an amazing family - siblings, cousins, my Dad and my incredible son, and the grace and wonderful certainty that I am also supported by an array of souls in the next world, chief among them, my dear, precious mother, on whose 5th anniversary, I got word that chemo would be part of this journey. Always with me, always showering me with her love.