A Few New Haiku…from the beach!

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ness beach one

Cold rush – you got me!

Bare toes kissed by cheeky wave

They jump back laughing

***

Sun scatters diamonds

Paves a road of light – will you

dare walk on water?

***

Sun tired eyes close

To view the landscape within

A soul full of sea

 

***

I took that photo with my phone yesterday – yes – this is a beach, in England, in April – AMAZING!!!

The butterfly’s cocoon

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This morning I shared with my colleagues that I was planning to visit the coast to see the sea. I have two days off, and haven’t been on a beach since leaving Scotland. I need a dose of salty air, crying gulls and the kind of expansive hugeness that only the ocean and the sky can do. I booked one of our shared cars for tomorrow morning, not wanting to keep it to myself all day in case someone else needed it, and I googled a map to plan my route. I wasn’t entirely clear or confident (navigation is not a strong point of mine) but I knew I’d get there, albeit with a few wrong turns along the way. I was happy, excited and looking forward to my coastal adventure.

Over lunch I ended up in a deep discussion around the challenge of climate change, and the negative impact humanity is having on the sustainability and wellbeing of the natural environment. One aspect of the discussion was to question the very point of such debates, when it seems self-evident that the vast majority of people on the planet are playing the business as usual card. We talk well about reducing our carbon footprint and treading lightly on mother earth, but what does all this talk actually change?

This question is one I’ve asked many times in a variety of situations, but here I found myself defending the position of debating and sharing. Sometimes, I said, I find my personal internal spark needs reigniting. I can so easily get lost in the dangerous dual trap of unquestioningly following familiar habits, and at the same time succumbing to the mindset that says I’m too small and too insignificant and this is too big and too scary – the End. Having a discussion with others who face similar challenges can feed me in a way that stokes that vital flame of hope and curiosity. I start to question again. I start to wake up. I start to feel engaged.

After this discussion I went to my room and found myself sitting quietly, with my eyes closed, to do a bit of digesting. I noticed that my plans for tomorrow and the conversation I’d just had were not in alignment. I’d been sharing how much I loved nature, especially the oceans, and yet in order to see the ocean and feed that ‘love’ I was going to drive, thereby contributing to the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in the air, which is being absorbed by the oceans causing them to acidify and threatening their delicate eco system. Before consciously making this connection it hadn’t even occurred to me to explore alternative ways of reaching the beach.

So I decided I would instead walk to the nearest town (something I do frequently) and take a train to the coast. And then something interesting happened. A whole host of other concerns I’d only half registered were resolved too! I had wanted to stay out for the whole day, but it didn’t feel right to keep the car all that time, so I’d limited my adventure to just a morning. I was now free to stay out for as long as I liked! I had been worrying about getting myself there without too many wrong turns. That was now the train driver’s concern, not mine! I had been wondering how much this was going to cost me in petrol and parking, as I’m not swimming in cash right now. The return train ticket is both cheaper, and a surety, so I could plan my budget! With that momentary shift in perspective, not taking the car had become very much the choice likely to bring me more pleasure and happiness, and not a sacrifice at all. It being my day off, one of the things I was rich with was time. The only real benefit using the car could have offered was the one thing I didn’t need on this occasion.

This isn’t about ‘cars are bad’. That’s a pretty boring and unproductive statement. This is about waking up and remembering to ask questions before making decisions based on personal or cultural habits that leave us making do with so much less joy and meaning from life than the full richness we could be experiencing.

Culturally, as a citizen of the developed west, I’ve been taught to believe, ‘the quicker and easier, the better’. Tell that to the butterfly helped from its cocoon by an impatient bystander who wants to watch its first flight, only now it can’t fly because it doesn’t have the strength. It dies, because it needed that challenge of working to get out of its own cocoon to build the necessary strength in its wings. Vital learning, strength and satisfaction are to be had from making a genuine effort for something you really want. Anticipation too is sweet.

It will take me about 1.5 hours to get to the beach tomorrow, instead of the 15 or 20 minutes it would have taken by car. All the better, for this will allow the inevitable joy of the arrival to slowly build and grow and feed my soul with wonder through the journey itself. The destination is just a single part of any journey, and often not even the most interesting or significant part. I want to give myself the time and space to understand that the whole of life is an ocean, and I can bow to the vastness in every moment. I want to see the ocean in the grass, green only because of the rain. I want to bless the ocean with tears equally salty as I give thanks for remembering.

Straining for heaven

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I miss
the wildlife of childhood
in this high-rise of grownupness

the sky used to be
all around me
now I strain my neck to see

the clouds that drink
at the cosmic well
framed by dancing branches

waving at the heavens
with their thousand-fingered hands
as I wield an axe

to cut open the sky
and realise how much easier
to simply climb a tree

Stories

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I serve your story hunger

let you feast on a character

that looks like me

sounds like me

and behaves in all kinds of

reasonable and predictable ways

or bad ways (with a lower case b)

that make you laugh

and graze my polished veneer

just enough to draw blood

and make me real

***

I’ll breathe yours in

and respond in kind

from a choice of genre

with stories of bravery and strength

fallability and shame

of friendship and loyalty

of love

of pain

that turn us into Aesop’s animals

one dimentioned and unthreatening

***

these are the stories

grown potent in their maturity

to be opened and shared

without risk or fear

for I know them

I distilled them

into pure magic

***

and I’ll pour them freely

with gesture and song

make them so alive

you’ll never know their lies

are mere beautiful smoke screens

in which truth asphyxiates

as the swirls and turns draw

a new map

with your willing collusion

for you don’t really want

to know who I am

***

for the truth of you

lies in the same direction

***

so we get lost together

in familiar landscapes

as truth’s sirens sing from rocks

on unknown shores

and we wave our mock map in the air

as proof

that we know better

than to listen

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!

________________________________________________________________________

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…

 

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