Buds

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Branches full of buds
like a flock of tiny mouths
poised in heady anticipation
of summer’s kiss
for winter’s death
fuels the season of life
with the unbridled passion
of a perpetual first love
whose own death is light
and falls with sweet fragrance
turned into perfume for those
whose love is in a rush
burned by the very warmth
that kindled it
now grown unchecked
consuming all
in its search for enough
only to choke the blameless sky
so overwhelmed
she fails to find a cough
to clear her throat

A Bridge

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I know a bridge

let me ease your way

open a crossing

into no fear

and when you’ve crossed

I’ll hold your hand

and we’ll breathe freedom’s air

together a while

for the joy

of the bottomless taste of it

***

then you’ll look back

across the bridge

and see

there’s nowhere the air is not

and the sky above is the same blue

pack your heart with that wisdom

and go your way

knowing you can taste freedom

in each breath everywhere

Celebrating Small

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IMG_0008_NEWA much younger, and even smaller, me!

I’m not a tall person. In fact, I’m small enough to be one of those people who’ll ask you to get them something from the higher shelves in the supermarket, and I’m one of those people you’ll be jealous of as you watch them sleep soundly curled up in their coach seat with their knees nowhere near the back of the seat in front of them.

I’ve always known that small can be beautiful, and that it’s the little things in life that matter most. Just today the smallest of gestures gave me such pleasure. I was next in the queue to wash my plate and cutlery after lunch, Another person arrived behind me and I offered to take her plate and wash it along with my own. She gave me a huge smile, handed it to me, and left, and I began to wash. Moments later she returned and began to dry the plates and cutlery I was washing and placing on the drain rack, so it turned into a team effort. Beautiful. We did it together, and it became not only effortless, but a pleasure.

So in celebration of small things working together to make something big, I’ve just added ten new perks to my indiegogo campaign;

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/for-the-health-and-education-of-my-rwandan-friends/x/9801530#home

…one new perk for every single digit amount donated between £1 and £10. They look something like this:

£1 is for…oneness!
I will sing this simple song (one by one everyone comes to remember, we’re healing the world one heart at a time…) once through for each person who donates £1, to thank them, and in recognition of the power of one…by one. If I get more than 50 (!) donations of exactly £1 each I might just post myself singing it on YouTube that many times through!

‘Not all of us can do great things,

but we can do small things with great love.’

- Mother Teresa

£2 is for…pairs!

I’ll write you a rhyming couplet on a topic of your choice (within reason!), for example, on generosity:

What grace it is to give and share with all,
If yet I stand let not one near me fall.

They laugh at me, these fellas, just because I am small
They laugh at me because I’m not a hundred feet tall
I tell ‘em there’s a lot to learn down here on the ground
The world is big but little people turn it around
- sung by Gavroche in Les Miserables

£3 is for…Beginning, Middle, End

I’ll send you a mini 100 word story about my time in Rwanda. Just choose when you want it to come from – the beginning, the middle, or the end?

In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.
- Khalil Gibran

£4 is for…my favourite things!

One of which, obviously, is the song form the sound of music. Number four also happens to be my favourite number. But what else would you like to know about my favourite things. You can ask me for four and I’ll share them with you…food, film etc

It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.
- John Wooden

£5 is for…wise!
I’m an avid collector of great wise and inspirational quotes. I’ll share with you my current top five.

Nobody’s going to fix the world for us, but working together, making use of technological innovations and human communities alike,
we might just be able to fix it ourselves.
- Jamais Cascio

£6 is for…pics!

As in pictures. I’ll send you six digital photos, not yet shared on this campaign, from my time in Rwanda, spanning several years.

Some think love can be measured by the amount of butterflies in their tummy. Others think love can be measured in bunches of flowers, or by using the words ‘for ever’. But love can only truly be measured by actions. It can be a small thing, such as peeling an orange for a person you love, because you know they don’t like doing it.
- Marian Keyes

£7 is for…heaven!

I’ll name my seven heavens on earth, places of natural beauty all over the world, that I’ve been to and felt blessed by. A good perk for those travelers amongst you who might like to check some of these out for yourselves!

The older I get, the more I’m conscious of ways very small things can make a change in the world. Tiny little things, but the world is made up of tiny matters, isn’t it?
- Sandra Cisneros

£8 is for…plate!

I’ve just started a new job as a residential cook in a retreat centre. I will share my eight favourite recipes, incorporating everything from starters and salads, to sweets and mains.

Every successful individual knows that his or her achievement
depends on a community of persons working together.
- Paul Ryan

£9 is for…’crime’!

This isn’t a ‘who dunnit’, but a ‘yep, I dunnit’. Yes, I’ll confess, I’m no angel or saint, so choose of the following; rage, lies, poison pen, death, theft…and I’ll share my (humorous rather than heinous)confession!

Little things seem nothing, but they give peace, like those meadow flowers which individually seem odorless but all together perfume the air.
- Georges Bernanos

£10 is for…when?

I’ll make a playful prediction on a topic of your choice; love, career, health or money. Now let’s get this clear, I have NO psychic skills, so if I’m ever right, it’s purely by chance. If you get in touch to let me know I hit the nail on the head, that would be nice.

Everyone is trying to accomplish something big, not realising
that life is made up of little things.
- Frank A Clark

Blessings on you all and – celebrate small!!!

A Personal Motto

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I recently read a wonderful book called 102 free things to do. I had found myself in a library with time on my hands, and the book was displayed near the entrance on a quick selection shelf. One of the suggestions was to adopt or invent a personal motto. On reading this suggestion I began sifting through possibilities> The first that caught my attention was an adaptation of T.S. Eliot’s, ‘teach us to care and not to care’ which became ‘learn to care and not to care’. However, as I sat with it for a while I realised, though I find it a very powerful and inspiring phrase, I don’t think I’ve even begun to understand what it really means, let alone managed to experience that perfect balance of compassion and equanimity it seems to suggest. I believe a personal motto ought to be followable, practical in those moments when I call on it for support and firm guidance, so one I don’t fully understand probably isn’t going to be so useful.

And so to another poet, and the final line of his most famous poem, Invictus, by William Ernest Henley. ‘I am the captain of my soul’ is the final line I was considering for a motto. But something nagged that this was also not quite right. It’s too broad, too otherworldly in tone for my needs. Ok, so now what? Listen. Yeah, I am, that’s exactly… No, really. Listen. Just that. Listen.

And so my personal motto is just that. Listen.

When I give my attention to the resonance of that word it feels huge. When I follow it through to its grandest expression I imagine age old conflicts being worn away, with peace creating new pathways like a majestic river patiently carving out the dramatic beauty of a canyon. I remember the story of Ghandi’s follower, Vinoba Bhave and how his deep listening to the concerns of poor villagers resulted in a land donation movement across India. I remember the story of a young western Aikido student in Japan who was preparing to start a fight with a drunk man on a train, until a old man spoke gently to the drunk and listened to his pain without judgement, diffusing the situation completely. Then I come back to me, to see how the word ‘listen’ shows up in my own life and actions. It seems there is still much for me to learn…

I was recently at a silent retreat centre trying out for a job in their kitchen. A retreat centre would be a good place to express the best of the word listen, you’d think. One morning I was due in the kitchen at 9.30 am. I glanced at the clock in my bedroom, where I was reading a book while waiting, and saw 9.20. Time to make a move, as I like to be early, so I left my room headed for the nearest bathroom. I found it was still being cleaned. ‘They’re supposed to be finished by 9.15,’ I said to myself. ‘Why must they run late?’ I inwardly tut tutted whilst keeping my face serene, and found another bathroom.

I then went on to the kitchen. It was full of people chopping vegetables, cue inwardly repeat, ‘they’re supposed to be done by 9.15, why must they run late?’ followed by further inner tut tutting. I continued to smile at the retreatants diligently washing and chopping, a little faster perhaps now that they had an audience. Gradually they started to tidy up and leave, until the kitchen was empty of people, apart from me.

I continued to patiently wait for what felt like at least five minutes. The person I was due to meet still hadn’t turned up. Cue repetition, ‘he’s supposed to be here at 9.30, tut tut’. Then it dawned on me. I looked up at the kitchen clock, which I hadn’t even glanced at until now. 9.12. Flustered and embarrassed I returned to my room to hide from my mistake. I had misread my bedroom clock, an easy enough mistake to make, but why had I been so convinced of being in the right? I had inwardly made all those other people ‘wrong’ instead of listening to the repeated visual clues which suggested, several times, it was I who was wrong, not them.

In this example it was no big deal, no harm done, but I was hit by the realisation of how dangerous such an assumption could be in a more sensitive situation. If I’d listened to the tone of that inner voice, which was patronizing and tut tutting, I would’ve recognised it as a voice that at best wasn’t especially wise, and whose assumptions shouldn’t be trusted. But I didn’t. I listened to the words, which made me right, and that made me feel good so I left it at that.

In adopting this motto I’m committing to truly listen, in the hope that, with practice, my willingness and ability will grow from a fickle trickle to a steady flow that has the power to carve a path to peace. Tomorrow I will move to Devon to take up my new job as a kitchen coordinator for Gaia House. I clearly need some practice at living this motto, and working in a silent retreat centre feels like an excellent place to give it my best shot. I will fail more times than I will succeed for a long while yet, but I’m prepared for that, even welcome it, because each failure will refine my understanding of what it really means to listen by showing me all the things it’s not. That will take me, step by step, closer to discovering its true expression.

kuan yinKwan Yin, Bodhisattva of compassion, whose name roughly translates as ‘one who hears the cries of the world’

Do you have a personal motto? Do share in the comments…

I will not be blogging as regularly for the near future, but expect to post an update about once a month, and intend to check in with my blogging friends at least as often.

Here are some links on this theme of listening, if you’re interested in further reading/listening ( :) ) on this topic:

https://wordsthatserve.wordpress.com/2014/04/01/130-taking-the-napowrimo-challenge/

http://www.sapphyr.net/largegems/pleaselisten.htm

Happy Birthday to…me!

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me beachObligatory embarrassing ‘me as a child’ photo…

Yes, today is my birthday and I wake up to knowing that, in this moment, there is nothing at all I need beyond what I already have – and that makes me one very lucky person, and something I would like to remember to celebrate every day, and not just on the anniversary of my birth.

When I was a child I would bring a tray brimming with bags of sweets to share with all the children in my class. This was a tradition that came from my Dutch mother, and was a way of sharing the abundance on a day when we tend to become the focus of giving.

Bull Terrier CarpetToday, I would like to offer you something too, and no, not virtual sweets, that would be too cruel (like those dreams when there’s a delicious looking cream filled cake right in front of you but you just can’t pick it up…you do have those dreams too, right?!)

I would like to offer an emailed copy of the 36 writing prompt cards I’ve recently completed the first draft of, some of which I’ve been sharing here over the last few days. All you have to do is pop over to the campaign page I’ve set up for my Rwandan friend Beatha (see link below) and make a donation – anything from one pound upwards – then give me your email address in the comments below, and I will send them to you :) AND…if you don’t fancy the prompt cards, then go ahead and make a donation, and I will write you a poem on a topic of your choice! Delivered straight to your inbox :)

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/for-the-health-and-education-of-my-rwandan-friends/x/9801530

I taught English in Rwanda and Beatha was my housemate. One day the heavens opened while I was teaching and sheets of rain fell beyond the classroom door. How was I going to walk home? Then, through the rain, a figure appeared. Beatha had come to collect me, with an umbrella, so that I could make a dignified exit as befitted a teacher. Well actually, I had already raced home splashing in the rain (much to the amusement of my students) and was banging on a locked door when Beatha arrived tut tutting and asking why I hadn’t waited for someone to come, or for the rain to stop. I was like a child and look at the state of my clothes! She was my ‘umbrella’ in Rwanda in so many ways, now I want to be her umbrella.

Have a great day friends!

Love and blessings, Harula xxx

Me and BeathaI still love playing in water…Beatha not so much :)

 

Writing prompts 5 – The Elements

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I recently finished creating a set of thirty six writing prompt cards based on the theme of the elements, which I ‘baptised’ and tested with a few writer friends recently. I’ve been sharing a few examples of the exercises with you over the last few days to see what you think. Today it’s one of the six exercises inspired by the element I call The Unseen. I’ve also included what I’ve just written in response. Enjoy:-)

THE UNSEEN

An Unseen Presence (10 minutes)

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
- Hamlet (1.5.167-8)

Many of us have a sense that there is more to life, and more to this world that just the things we can see and touch with our five physical senses. Sometimes this evokes great fear and confusion, other times exhilaration and a sense of grace.

Think of a place where you felt the presence of something or someone you could not see. Describe the place and how you first became aware of, or registered, the presence. Now, in as much detail as possible, describe the feeling of the presence itself as you remember it. If no memory comes to mind, don’t spend too long searching for one. You only have ten minutes. Make it up!

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I was in the laundry of the community up in Scotland where I’ve lived, on and off, for the past nine and a half years. I was sad and confused by my powerful love for the place and what I, at that time, saw as a lack of commitment to serving it by some of those I worked with. I was struggling with that impatient, judgmental part of me that wanted to criticise and control, and that yearning, loving dedicated part of me that wanted the best for a place I loved. This inner conflict was tiring me out and tearing me up. I started crying and singing into the freshly laundered towels, now dry and neatly folded in a pile. I was making up the words as I went along, but as I continued to sing, another voice began to respond.

I don’t mean my voice changed or anything, but the words seemed to be a reply to my request for support and advice. I got shivers as I continued to sing and I felt my whole being relax. The air, everything around me, seemed to be the very essence of softness, caring, love. It felt like someone or something was holding me, rocking me, telling me everything was going to be alright. The universal ‘you’ I was pouring my heart out to was with me, by my side, lifting the fear and despair from my shoulders in an invisible but hugely tangible gift of encouragement. I almost ran from the laundry to find a paper and pen to write down what I’d just sung. It went like this:

I really want to serve you

but I don’t know if I can do that here

all I’ve ever wanted

is to be sure each moment that you’re near

but now I’m

scared that you’re asking too much from me

I’m not strong enough

to be and do all that you want me to

and you know that I love you

so don’t make me

or I’ll disappoint you

what will I do

if I can’t be close to you

living here’s taking me away

that is why I cannot stay

Sweetheart you’re not listening

for I would never ask too much from you

all I’ve ever asked for

I’ve always known deep down that you could do

can’t you see

you don’t have to run to make you free

please believe me

I know you better

than you know yourself

and you know that I love you

so just trust me

as I my dear trust you

how can I know

who I am if you won’t show

so just trust in me this time

let me show you how to shine…

 

Writing prompts 4 – The Elements

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I recently finished creating a set of thirty six writing prompt cards based on the theme of the elements, which I ‘baptised’ and tested with a few writer friends recently. I’ve been sharing a few examples of the exercises with you over the last few days to see what you think. Today it’s one of the six exercises inspired by the element of water. I’ve also included what I wrote in response. Enjoy:-)

WATER

The River (20 minutes)

Take a moment to play with the idea of imagining your life as a river. Where did it start, where has it been and what’s its destination. This is an opportunity to symbolise instead of getting stuck in detail and fact. You might describe the landscape, the river’s size and speed, any people or boats on the river etc. Paint a picture of how you see your life’s journey, as of this moment.

You have twenty minutes, so use that time as you wish, making notes or taking some reflection time to start with, or just going straight into the writing, whatever serves you.

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A small, pure, mountain stream bubbles up with enthusiasm. It laughs at the joy of rushing down the mountainside, not deterred  or hurt by any bumps or deviations along its way. No responsibility, no effort, just the joy of flow.

A little older and wider, the river’s pace has slowed. Its water has become rich with life and minerals. It carries, feeds, houses. A dam is built across it and pressure builds. What once flowed becomes still, heavy, huge and all encompassing. Villages have been engulfed as water continues to arrive and rise, flooding the landscape and causing those who lived there, animals and humans alike, to move away. All the time water continues to arrive and rise.

At last, the damn bursts, and in the destructive rush of release, much is dragged along with the power of this new found flow, but this slows down almost immediately, though trees and other natural debris caught up in the flash flood continue to float on the river’s surface for several miles, before settling on its banks further down.

The river is again finding a natural pace and starts to get a sense of its destination. There grows a busy collection of villages along its banks and the value of the river is much acknowledged by those who make their living from it, either directly by fishing, or more indirectly by using it as a means of transport through which to trade with distant towns. Some still come to the river to wash their clothes and bathe, and the river seems not mind, its constant flow allowing it to heal and cleanse without becoming overburdened with dirt and waste.

Now very wide, and slow enough to be referred to as ‘gentle’, the river enjoys serving those who come to it, and somehow, they sense this too. They sing their thanks to the river, throw in flowers, bring their children to swim and play and splash and laugh.

Still slower and wider, the river begins to sense its destination is nearer and, though it’s keen to reach it, recognises its inevitability and therefore knows there’s no need to rush. Birds appear overhead and their calls speak to the river’s memory in a way it can’t quite understand. It knows this particular call is significant somehow, but it doesn’t know why. The meaning of those wide wing spans and yellow eyes evades the river. Still it moves, unhurried and fearless, unstoppable and fully surrendered to its onward journey, and the intensity of the call.

 

 

Update on Indiegogo campaign

Originally posted on Beatha and her Boys:

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https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/for-the-health-and-education-of-my-rwandan-friends/x/9801530#home

Thanks to all of you who have visited this campaign. If all of those visitors had pledged 5 pounds then I would have raised 120 already, over 10% of my goal. If you’re reading this, please consider getting this campaign off the starting blocks.

I opened this campaign because I’d just spoken to Beatha, in our funny mixture of Kinyarwanda and French which I’m sure few others could make any sense of, and she told me the last money I sent had run out a week earlier. There was no money for food or her medical treatment, let alone school fees. Food, shelter and health needs have to be met before education can be successful. If a child is hungry, their capacity to learn decreases. If a child is ill they will miss days of school, or not fully benefit if they do force themselves to turn up. If…

View original 317 more words

Writing prompts 3 – The Elements

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P1030064Apologies for the quality of this ‘photo of a photo’, but it shows me at the street children’s centre in Rwanda with one of the local staff and some of the boys. The cooking fire was out of shot to the right, just beyond where the two boys are standing…

I recently finished creating a set of thirty six writing prompt cards based on the theme of the elements, which I ‘baptised’ and tested with a few writer friends recently. I’ve been sharing a few examples of the exercises with you over the last few days to see what you think. Today it’s one of the six exercises inspired by the element of fire. I’ve also included what I wrote in response. Enjoy:-)

FIRE

A Fireside Gathering (10 minutes)

There’s something magical about sitting around a fire, feeling the presence of others rather than being able to see them clearly in the half light of the flickering flames.

Ask yourself to remember such a time, an experience of being around or in front of a fire, indoors or outdoors. Who was with you? What were the sounds, smells, feelings that arose as you shared that warmth, and how did the fire itself contribute to the unique atmosphere of the gathering?

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It was a necessary, practical fire, used for cooking three times a day. I sat chatting with the two boys who were on the rota for the evening meal. There were long periods of comfortable silence, interrupted occasionally by the wood ‘popping’. There weren’t really flames any more, just the hot orange glow of embers perfect for cooking. I could hear water boiling, and the comforting smell of wood smoke mingled with the rice scented steam.

There was a a hint of electric light spilling on to us from one of the bedroom windows nearby, but otherwise the fire was the only light, the sun having long bedded down for the night. There was something safe and informal, permissive, in the shadows that allowed only glimpses of what our faces might be showing, telling.

I was running this street children’s centre in the east of Rwanda, and the boys I lived there with had taken to calling me ‘boss boss’, but such glorified rank and status had dropped away in the presence of the fire, and one of the boys asked, “Why doesn’t God love us?”

The question appeared to come from nowhere and I didn’t know how to answer. I was aware that most of the boys were catholic, and I didn’t share these beliefs, so I wanted to tread carefully with what I said. “What do you mean?” I replied.

“Why doesn’t God like black people as much as whites? Why are we always poor, no school. We must’ve done something wrong.”

“Is that what you really think?” I said, replying with another question rather than commit myself in any way to knowing about God’s preferences.

“Maybe,” came the reply. And then we just continued to stare into the fire.

 

And on the subject of Rwanda, if you haven’t yet checked out today’s earlier post please do, if you have time, or go straight to:

https://igg.me/at/helpmyrwandanfriends

Go go indiegogo campaign!

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DSCF0646Dear friends

Some of you know I spent years working in Rwanda, and have a dear friend with two young boys who I support regularly. When I spoke to her yesterday, she had run out of money a week earlier and was buying food on credit from a small local shop.

I am waiting to start a new job and find myself stretched so yesterday, when I was thinking about what I could do to help, as well as writing to friends and family I set up a crowd funding campaign on Indiegogo.

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/for-the-health-and-education-of-my-rwandan-friends/x/9801530

This allows people to make donations, from just 1.00 pound to as much as they wish. I would so appreciate it if you would check it out, and share the link as widely as possible. Of course, if you yourselves feel inspired to make a donation. I would be hugely grateful, and spreading the word is a powerful contribution too :)

Beatha is like a sister to me, and her story is one of great strength as well as sadness. You can find out more on my other blog:

beathaandherboys.wordpress.com/

I’ll be back again later with another writing prompt – this time inspired by fire!

Hugs, Harula xxx

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