Friday, 22 July 2011

Meadows of delight

My last post on trudging through treacle struck a chord with many people. Thank you so much for your words of empathy and wisdom, and the offer of custard to pour on my sticky toffee pudding.  
One of the many things I love about this blog is the richness and variety of your responses. Catherine, who lives just a few streets away, knows all about the stickiness of treacle, and how hard it is to stay afloat and not drown.  Murthy emails me from India to share his response to the stress of developing diabetes: recognise the crisis, identify changes needed and harmonise them with other aspects of life.  Deb writes about the suffering of others as being tiresome but necessary work to take on; and how “cultivating loving-kindness" may help us to keep giving without the feeling of emptiness. And for Katie, vulnerability is part of being human.
Indeed it is....  We are in this together, for good and for ill. We can’t just choose the fun bits, and leave the rest behind. They’re all part of the package.
I’ve been thinking about the17th century poet John Donne, and his famous poem No man is an island, all about the indivisibility of humanity, and how we can’t help but be affected by the loss of others: ‘never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee’. And Garth Brooks’ lines from The Dance, about the end of a love affair : ‘I could have missed the pain, but I'd have had to miss the dance’.

And – mostly – I’ve been revisiting the writings of the Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue, who died far too young in 2008.

Beannacht (or Blessing) is one of his very best poems. Here it is, in its entirety:
On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.
(You can find John reading this here)

There are so many healing images in this poem, I can't begin to do justice to them all. They are grounded in the natural world around us - the safety of earth, the energy and guidance of light, the fluency of water.  The wind as an invisible cloak: this puts me in mind of Sue imagining her father's overcoat spread protectively around the aeroplane, whenever she is flying.

The treacle is runnier now, and I don’t have to trudge any more. I can stroll through it, and enjoy the feeling of it trickling and gurgling between my toes.  Perhaps it will nurture my own meadow of delight.  

Friday, 8 July 2011

Trudging through treacle

I’ve been at a conference these past two days, doing a lot of networking and catching up with friends and colleagues. Yesterday somebody asked me, ‘What are you passionate about at the moment?’ The honest answer is ‘I don’t really know’.
These past few weeks I’ve been feeling tired, without a lot of energy to be interested in things. Even just doing everyday things takes quite a lot of effort. Not much creative thinking or imagination going on. In response to the recent post about Iain (Rolling rocks), Natalie wrote about ‘ballet-dancing through treacle’. I’m not sure I can manage any pirouettes or pas-de-deux just now. Trudging through treacle is about the best I can do.
‘Hey, wait a minute’, you’d be forgiven for thinking to yourself. ‘I thought this bloke – and this blog - was all about giving positive messages. What’s he doing spreading doom and gloom?’
Well, the answer is that life’s been tough recently. Not for me specifically, but for people I care a lot about.  My wife Sue’s just had her right knee replaced, and it’s been hurting her like mad – we know it will get better, but it’s very hard going just now. My brother is not recovering from his major surgery as quickly as he’d hoped, and that’s getting him down. And our dear friend Carl has been seriously ill, admitted twice to hospital in the past couple of weeks. 
Life’s becoming intrusive. There’s a bit too much stuff going on for my liking. Its making me aware of contingency, of how things we take for granted suddenly might not be there any more, or might change in ways we just don’t expect - or want.  William Boyd writes brilliantly about this, especially in Any Human Heart.  I’m doing my best to look on the bright side, offering these lovely people constructive advice and encouragement. But you can’t shrug it all off. Sometimes it does get to you.
I know this is how a lot of people feel, a lot of the time. And with much tougher loads to bear. During my most recent surgery, I heard about living with recurring lung cancer; dealing with the sudden death of an older sister and the expected death of a younger brother; having to respond to severe homophobic abuse at work; and the trauma of a dawn police raid for suspected drug dealing.  There is an awful lot of suffering about.
When I ask them how on earth they manage to cope with all this, patients often tell me ‘I plod on, doc, I just plod on’.  They know life is tough, they know there’s not much they can do about it. Sometimes it’s just a matter of wrapping ourselves up against the elements, battening down the hatches, and keeping on doing the things that need to be done.
I’m going to revisit my post on well-being recipes, because I’ve realised the best way out of this is to take the advice I give others.  Maybe watching some cricket, climbing a mountain or diving through ocean waves will do the trick. I’ll do a bit of reaching out, maybe find a hug or three.  And I believe there are some fresh starts just round the corner. Sue’s knee is going to get better, and I’ve just seen a photo of Carl back home, cooking up something in his kitchen.
In the meantime, I'll plod on. I’ll pat myself on the back from time to time, remind myself how well I’m doing, considering what’s been going on. Trudging through treacle – maybe I’m gathering ingredients for a delicious sticky toffee pudding.