I have written of Thich Nhat Hanh before, and I know many share my gratitude for his writing and teaching. Patty Fawkner is among his admirers, and she sent me these words of his. I’m indebted to her, because I hadn’t read them before, but feel they could have been penned just for me. Straight to the heart. I hope you feel the same way…
People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle.
But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth.
Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize:
a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves,
the black, curious eyes of a child —
our own two eyes.
All is a miracle.
Thanks to Patty for the reminder of everyday miracles.
And thanks, as ever, to my feet, for taking me to see so very many of them.
PS – I’ve updated the Events and Media page, so there are links to recent podcasts and videos etc. It has been a busy time. Gratitude for that too! For so much.
Everyone has a talisman or two – in my case, a dozen! They hold memory and meaning; they can be comfort or inspiration; they can take us home when we are away. Their significance can be instant or it can sneak up on us over time.
Locating meaning isn’t always like looking for the grail, and is often found when we least expect it, in humble places and objects, out under a wide sky or nestled at the foot of a burnt tree. To find meaning does require attention, though, and when I look at the talismans on my desk, I’m reminded that not all of their significance was obvious to me when I first saw them, so I’m glad they called in loud voices.
That eraser in the picture at the top, for instance… I was in Rome, visiting the Ara Pacis – the altar to Peace. White and luminous and stretching back to 9 or 10 BC, it seemed impossible to me that there were cars whizzing past outside, and mobile phones pinging in the corridors around it. I was transfixed by the life of the characters in the friezes, and the delicacy of the rendering of vines and trees. Someone, centuries ago, had loved the world just as I did, dreaming of the possibility of peace between people, and trusting that we might find it if we learned to live lovingly with nature.
Or that’s what I saw!
At the giftshop I went seeking something to remind me of an extraordinary day when time had stood still and peace seemed possible. What did I find? A humble rubber with a message that seemed, at first, to be nothing more than another Roman joke. I don’t know why I didn’t buy images of the altar itself. Perhaps because I decided that no image could do justice to it. Maybe I wanted something solid to hold in my hand. Perhaps it was the outrageous scale of that rubber – the promise that it would be able to erase my multitude of human errors! Forgiveness might be divine, but for earthly muck-ups, that rectangle would get rid of plenty of mess!
I brought it home where it sat unused on my desk for months, a memento and nothing more. Then, one day, feeling wretched about writing that wouldn’t bend to my will, I picked up my Ara Pacis souvenir, and I let rip. I rubbed and rubbed the page, watching mistakes and false starts disappear, leaving an almost clean slate. There were traceries etched into the page, but it was fresh again, waiting for me to rethink, restart.
And I did.
And it was good and bad and right and wrong.
Something in that feverish act of ridding myself of the work that hadn’t worked was healthy and helpful. I learn things best by experience, and while I had always known intellectually that error is human and vital to the creative process, and that I should forgive myself and move one, it was only when my body enacted the words that I actually “got” their meaning. Rather like when I am following a trail and take a “wrong” turning. I do understand now that there is no such thing, and that I am never lost – I’m just where I am.
I don’t often use the Ara Pacis rubber, because I mostly write in pen, but it travels with me, and when I want to really play and muck up and risk, I will take a pencil and paper, and my talisman, and let rip. It is fun and freeing, and I am grateful. I hope it will travel with me for a very long time, reminding me to be human and to err with gusto in my work.
There are other talismans – the precious Finisterre shell, reminding me that if I can walk 1300 kilometres to collect it, step by step, then I can complete my word-count camino at the desk, sentence by sentence. There are my beads for fingering in times of stress; the stones that are identifiers, reinforcers and weights to ground me; the dragonfly – libellula – to remind me of love and laughter; the postcards from afar that prompt me to do better for those I value; and the fat silver heart that says it all…
And there are the stamps with their tin of red ink.
Well, they are the things I want to send at the end of every missive – a piece of my best self, and love in all languages. For today, consider this a page of thick white parchment with a piece of me on it, sent to you wherever you are in the world, with love in sticky red ink pressed into the bottom right hand corner.
Update – 29th May 2013
Thanks to all who came along to the Sydney Writers Festival session with Cheryl Strayed and Caroline Baum. It was such fun, and you can listen to it by clicking here.
Huge gratitude to Rachael Kohn for inviting me and Tony Doherty to be part of her beautiful programme, The Spirit of Things. Details for listening and download are here.
So I went to one of my old notebooks, opened it, and found this. It cut through my internal clamour. Only trouble is, I want more of it, but don’t know where I got it. The notebook is ten years old, and I didn’t credit the quote. Any ideas? At least if I knew who penned it, I’d be baffled about one less thing…
There are, it seems, two muses: the muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the muse of Realisation, who returns again and again to say “Is it yet more difficult than you thought?”
The muse of Realisation works with us best when we welcome these obstructions – this is also the muse of form, and form serves us best when it works as an obstruction to baffle us and deflect our intended course. Why? – because when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work, and when we no longer know which way to go we have begun our real journey…perhaps…perhaps all this is, is a play of words – though the mind that is not baffled is unemployed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.
Even if you don’t know it, I hope it feeds you as it has me. Or at least gives solace!
And while we are on the subject of solace, this is what was written on the next page of that notebook – the words of the gifted and tender Nick Enright, who died ten years ago. We lost a great writer and a great spirit when he passed, and this says it all.
I’m grateful for the experience of love, it is the only reality. Love is the only reality and everything else is the negation of that.
All the horror and stupidity of the world is the negation of our capacity to love and care for each other.
There can be no doubt about who wrote those words.
A postscript – do scroll down through the comments if you are a poetry hound. Some beautiful stuff has been left here, for which I am very grateful to my subscriber family!
The 2nd February is Candlemas day, when, in the Christian tradition, beeswax candles were brought to the church to be blessed for use throughout the year, in rituals and in homes.
Well, that is one of the results I got from Google when I went searching.
I like the idea of a Candle-mass. I like the idea of blessing candles. They bless me daily.
This morning, waking as I usually do before dawn, I lit the candle by my bed. It had been given to me by a dear friend for my birthday last Monday, and lit up just enough of the space for me to read a few words of a favourite book. Then I put that down and lay, watching gold light fluttering across the walls and ceiling, and inhaling its rose scent.
Such a small flame, and yet it signified so much to me. Wherever I light a candle, I feel at home. As a child, I loved to light them when the generator failed – it was a responsibility and a trust bestowed. Then in churches – a symbol of faith, even when I couldn’t feel it. Somehow I had faith in the light of the candle to show me a way to somewhere brighter. I am never without candles – tea-lights in glass vases, under oil-burners, on tables for shared meals, outdoors by paths…they are celebrations and comfort, hope and promise, history and mystery writ large over all of my years.
I spoke to Tony Doherty about Candlemas this morning, and he remarked on something I had never considered – that even as a candle is shedding light, it is dying. It gets smaller and smaller in direct proportion to the light and heat it emits. Its job is to give itself away.
I loved that.
As I sit here typing this, there is a candle burning opposite me, its flame moving occasionally when a drift of air whirls past. My heart goes out to it in gratitude. I couldn’t even begin to count the number of moments in my life that have been restored or enlivened by those delicate flames.
So today, here in the sacred space of my workplace, I honour and give thanks to candles. Like friends, they are vital to me, and like friends, it’s all too easy to take them for granted in the swirl of these digital, white-light days. This evening, in the home of new friends, I will ask if I can light a candle in gratitude for all my friends, and for my village of readers.
I wish for you all that is bright and shining and new, all that’s mysterious and soft yet true. I wish for deep waters and lofty thoughts. I wish for breezes that bring you always always home to your heart.
I wish you peace and acceptance with every challenge that arises.
I wish you fulfilment and feting for every summit achieved.
I wish you work that challenges and stirs you, and lets you serve to your full capacity.
I wish you strength to your formidable heart, so you can shine light on dark days.
I wish you ease and laughter in all your relationships.
I wish you roads that open at every turn, legs that bound along them, a spirit to soar above you, and when required, a compañero whose stride will match yours.
I wish for you to be always coming home. Always on your path. Always free. Always open. Always receiving.
I wish on my star and your star and every other lucky star that your way be made in beauty and your days be made in joy.
I wish you love and love and more love.
The year is picking up pace. I’m off to Sydney to spend time working on my new book, and also, hopefully, to make work with two trusted friends and collaborators. Fingers crossed.
While I’m there I’ll be leading a writing workshop on February 6th from 10am to 1.30pm. I’ll also be in conversation with Monsignor Tony Doherty on February 7th. After the talk we had in Melbourne, which was one of my highlights of 2012, I’m looking forward to it enormously. More details are at the end of this post. Both of these events will be conducted at Tony’s parish in Rose Bay, and if you can come along, or spread the word to others, please do. Tony is a true pilgrim – and an inspiration.
I hope such inspiration is close at hand for you all through this year, and that whatever you undertake, it brings you rewards beyond your imagining.
Thanks, as ever, for sharing my road. I’m excited to see where it is leading us all.
It surfaces in myriad ways. One is that I’ve always prided myself on not looking over my shoulder. I live in the present, I tell myself and others. I move forward, I say, I move on.
Well, today, I have a confession. I’m looking back.
Unfortunately, not entirely without pride!
I’ve been trying to imagine how to honour this amazing year, and those who have travelled it with me – for a day, a week, a conversation, a glimpse, or for the time it takes to read a book. Images swirled: my friends holding up copies of the book; faces shining at beachside festivals; blinking into stage lights at the end of the Sinning monologue; the profile of a hero-writer in conversation beside me; singing Gracias a la Vida when I didn’t know I dared sing; holding hands as a confession was made; laughing as a secret was told; crying as pain was shared; asking other writers to sign their books for me; thrilling at coincidences and serendipity…
It was a glorious mental collage, but I thought I’d best be methodical, so I came here to the blog and made a pilgrimage through the posts to my first entry, written with trepidation, about entering the cyber-world. I was a Luddite and afraid. I don’t know why exactly, but I felt I would be exposed in some uncomfortable way.
Stepping forward through the posts, I marvelled at things forgotten in the melee of the months, and I began to see with clarity how very much the sin-walk has given me, and continues to give. That first inexplicable impulse to carry for others still takes me into wild places, and still introduces me to members of my village – a village that has grown and grown, and asked me to expand with it. “Get bigger,” the book has kept shouting to me as it has pulled me after it down new roads and by-ways.
This blog, begun in doubt and nervousness, is now a village all its own. Its history is right here, in the posts, but even more so in the comments, which I think of as the village square where we meet at day’s end to sniff the breeze and check in on each other. No relationship is one-way. They all require exchange of one sort or another, and it is the richness of that exchange that I see when I look at the comments. Such wealth. Such generosity. Such humour. Such tenderness.
I thought I would compile a list of thanks, but it would go for days. I’ve shared stories in Aireys Inlet and Carlton, the Wheeler Centre and the Grumpy Swimmer, Byron Bay and Eltham, Strath Creek and Hampton, Thornbury and Leichhardt, Paddington and under the spire of the Melbourne Arts Centre. I’ve sung the praise of Spain at the Cervantes Institute and with the Spanish Consulate. I’ve been welcomed and championed and – most amazing of all – given away as a gift. I have been applauded and belittled – and learned that neither matter as much as the moments when someone tells me the book has helped, offered an insight, or illuminated a moment. Nothing thrills me more than that the book has given pleasure to some and been useful to others. It has even been re-read. Imagine!
Every day of this miraculous almost-nine-months, I’ve had cause to consider the road, the sins, and the sin-donors. Every day I’ve been grateful. It seems more incredible to me now, after the book has its own life, that people trusted me with their intimacies back in the beginning when it seemed like lunacy. When people tell me secrets now, they know that I can be a vault. It doesn’t make it any less of a privilege for me, but I’m aware that my first sinners took a leap, and I salute them again for their bravery and trust. The book could not have been a book without them.
To share one’s self to that degree is rare. They didn’t give me their air-brushed, curriculum-vitaed, rubber-stamped glossy selves. They gave me their scuffed, tarnished, worn and wept-over bits. Those stories are the most precious cargo I will ever carry. They taught me so much.
I’ve been asked often whether the road changed me. I think it’s an impossible question to answer, really. I hope it did. It certainly asked me to expand, every single day. It still does. And I hope I’ve been able to meet its requests when they have come to me. I try. I try really hard.
And I fail.
I fall too, as witnessed by a post on this blog!
But I like to think that the sinners, my road companions, my angels from Barcelona, the readers of the book, and my subscribers here, are behind me, propelling me up the hills when they’re steep and watching I don’t fall on the shale of the slippery downhills. When I remember all of them, I know there’s no failure, only expansion. Only growth.
So at this curious time of endings and beginnings, reflection and revelry, I come with no pride at all, only humility and wonder, to offer thanks. Gratitude. Which has the same beginnings as gracias and grazie. And grace. I have known such grace on this journey.
I trust that it will continue next year, when I will be sinning across Sydney, Perth, Albany and Brisbane at festivals and events. I know it will continue to take me in, deeper and deeper, and out, further and further, to my limits. And that is good. I am still a pilgrim.
Grazie. Gracias. Merci.
That is Bahasa for “thank you”. It translates as “receive love.”
So here is the last poem for 2012. It’s an original this time.
I don’t want to crowd pre-Christmas mailboxes, but here’s a gift for y’all……
When you hear sweet syncopation
And the music softly moans
T ain’t no sin to take off your skin
And dance around in your bones
When it gets too hot for comfort
And you can’t get an ice cream cone
‘T ain’t no sin to take off your skin
And dance around in your bones…
I danced around in my bones all day Saturday in 37 degree heat, preparing a dinner for a table-load of friends. Seven hours of chopping, dicing, slicing, cutting, plating, baking, with Paul Simon at full volume. He is my cooking guy!
No gluttony was involved, but I did feel sinfully happy, and Edgar Leslie’s lyric seems to sum up the best of that long, hot, dancing day of joy. I was rewarded with a cool change at 5pm, and a table singing with laughter and stories.