Thursday, 2 October 2014


There are rare days in life when time seems different, almost heavy and slow like on a hot humid summer's day when the moisture in the air sticks to your skin. Some outside force causes you to stop and wait.  You don't want to move. You wait for time to pass. You wait and wait and you wait.

I have felt this on a few occasions: when my body has birthed my babies, sitting with my dying mother, waiting for news about my father while he endures long risky brain surgery, and sometimes I feel this slow out-of-time but strangely more in-time feeling when I travel far distances and I find myself waiting for hours in foreign airports. I am waiting for something to happen, some change to occur.  I am waiting for some movement.

All these moments/movements are transitional.  My body, my mind, my spirit moves from one place of being to the next. I am aware of the invisible shift within me while the very visible me experiences the extraordinary moments. Are these moments really that extraordinary?

The more aware I become of  the slowness of time, and the more I allow myself to give in to its waiting,  the more I notice how much I have yet to learn about the art of paying attention.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

map making

I am pretty sure that midlife is about map making.

Every time I visit my childhood home I know I am creating an internal map of me that is probably not that different from anyone else's internal map. I have the same desires for love and comfort, integrity and contribution, creative expression and will, as anyone else. I am pretty sure the same type of characters appear in my map as they do in yours, albeit different faces. And, I am pretty sure we are all after soul breath, those sometimes tiny and sometimes deep breaths that help our body, mind, and spirit work together.

Midlife is full of reflection.  Who I once was makes me think of who I am now while I search for the me that has never changed.  Where I once lived reminds me of old paths and friends, trees and people, who all appear on my map of me.  Emotional and physical and mental landscapes appear side by side and on top of each other in my map.  Pretty sure they appear that way for you too.

There is another landmark I have been adding to my map: wisdom.  I am not sure what its shape is or what it will look like on my map, but I am noticing how I will not be able to go anywhere without it.

Since my mother died a year ago, I am aware of how I want to collect as much wisdom from her generation as possible.  Maybe I am just a grieving daughter who misses her Mom. Maybe I wish I would have collected more of her wisdom when she was physically present in my life.  Maybe I am just at midlife and that's what we do when we arrive here:  we make maps, we make decisions about colours and shapes, we find landmarks that mean something to us, we search for wisdom, and we continue on.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

the song of the trees and wind

It has been ten years since I've lived near trees. Obviously it has been long enough for me to forget what wind sounds like when it moves through leaves and branches.

All day the wind has been here. All day that gentle wind-blowing sound, hollow and yet full of energy and motion, crashing like a wave, fills the air. Sometimes the wind's song makes me think I am at sea. Sometimes I completely forget the year and am unexpectedly transported back in time to a place where I lived under the canopy of old maples and oaks. Oh yes, now I remember the how the wind needs the trees to sing certain songs.

Trees teach me all sorts of things. Studying the patterns of their winter branches, counting their spring blossoms, finding their summer shade, and collecting their Autumn leaves encourages me to notice and accept the passage of time.  But trees also teach me how to play and how to listen.  Have a go at playing pickle-in-the-middle with the sun and a cluster of high branches.  Or have a good long listen to how the trees work with the wind, accepting graciously wind's powerful energy.  Even after all these years, the trees seem surprised by the call of the wind's strength.

The sound of the wind is like no other sound, doing exactly what it is supposed to do: move and breathe and sing through trees, around barley, howling over rolling hills, so that it can finally land somewhere close to you and somewhere close to me.


Sunday, 20 July 2014

just passing through

In the week leading up to moving house, I bought a tent.  And in the first week in our new home, I set it up in our back garden.  There were loads of things to do--organize the kitchen, the bedrooms, the home education space, the toys, the clothes--but I wanted to make sure my tent was in order and that I knew how to put it up quickly. Just in case.

Just in case a zombie invasion? Just in case peak oil?  

Well, no, I like the idea of a portable home. Plain and simple. 

And I like the idea of traveling lightly even more.  The lighter my load, the more I pass on, the more feasibly it is for me to take a step somewhere else. So I am playing this silent game with myself--how much can I pass on--knowing that as its only player, I am making room for some just in case moment, whether it be a public family event or a more quite inner revelation. 

This game encourages me to think about home and houses and how my children will never experience home in the same way I do (my father continues to live in my childhood home).  To them it can't be about the structure and space because we have never lived any where for longer than 5 years.  

But now I have my tent.  It is not exactly ideal, I don't call it home, and I don't know how often we might use it, but the idea of it encourages me to be easy on myself: it is okay that home is more of an emotional landscape for our family than a physical one.  

This tent invites me to consider what I value and what I would take along, just in case.

Children's author, Julia Donaldson, writes in her Jack and the Flum Flum Tree about a Granny who gives her grandson Jack a patchwork sack for his seemingly dangerous adventure. In the sack are ordinary things: chewing gum, tent pegs, balloons.  He comes to need each item to complete his journey and return home safely to his Gran.  His resourcefulness I admire.

What ordinary things do we need?  My mind instantly goes for all the practical things: knife, bowl, warm blanket, shelter, food.  But what I forget is what is really inside that patchwork sack  (made by Gran): time, love, creativity, trust, sense of purpose and meaning.  

I used to think that life is about finding home, but today as I started making a patchwork sack for my daughter and started dreaming about making one for myself, I realize that life is about creating home wherever you are and for however long you there.  It can be about colours, about qualities, about ideals and about dreams.  It can be about space and about emotions.

The real gift of that patchwork sack is its creativity.  And the real gift of that tent I bought is that it has given me a new understanding.  Roger Deakin writes in Wildwood:  "There's more truth about a camp because that is the position we are in.  The house represents what we are ourselves would like to be on earth: permanent, here for eternity.  But a camp represents the true reality of things: we're just passing through."

Saturday, 3 May 2014

the hidden side of perfection

The photographer's eye and landscape fascinate me.  Capturing a subtle movement or moment using light and time calls us into the present moment, here and now, while taking us to the hidden place just below the surface.

This week when I was admiring my friend's photograph of a young woman's face, slightly veiled, I thought, "perfect, perfect beauty."

I stopped for a moment to think about this word perfect and all that is means in our culture, especially as it relates to the body.  There is no perfect body.  We know this even though modern media does everything to present a perfect body to us.  Today's standards of what is the perfect body is always subjective and keeps us from finding that hidden side of perfection.

I saw in this young woman's face a beauty perfectly human.  A photographer's gift can be to present human beauty to us while revealing what it is means to be perfectly human: that being human means we carry the marks of our struggles as well as the signs of hope--written on our bodies. Wrinkles speak of aging and wisdom. Youthfulness carries hope. Cultural dress speaks of a location as well as hinting at personal experiences.  All these marks matter because they mean we are living a perfectly human life.

It is sad that today we are only given one side, one view of beauty, and that we accept it. We are missing the opportunity to grasp a humanly perfection that holds sacred beauty.

That's why I love this photograph. It reminds me that I am perfectly human just like you. And it reminds me that art has the power to reflect our experiences so that we can see the human condition in a richer, more full form.

There are many shades of perfection that go unnoticed, but we need each shade to help us find true beauty.

Halim Ina's photograph of a young woman in Lebanon was posted on his Facebook page, 29th of April, 2014.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

what is the weather like there?

In my family, we talk about the weather.  Thankfully we talk about others things too, but the weather always pops up in our conversations.  When I lived in Cairo and my parents were in the States, they would always ask me, "what is the weather like there?"  When it became easier for them to use the internet to track my weather, they could tell me my current temperature.  The weather in Cairo rarely changed and when you live in a hot place, it is best to not know how hot it really is!  I always thought this point of our conversation was sort of silly and meaningless and I tried to avoid it.  I wanted to talk about deeper things, topics that mattered, not the weather.

But then this week when my son went sailing on the west coast of Scotland, and I started charting his weather, checking the forecast, tracking the shipping news, looking at the details of the wind's direction,  I realized why my parents were always wanting to ask about the weather:  it is how we stay connected.  

It might seem silly to say that knowing what the weather is like where my child is holds a certain meaning to me, but it does.  I don't know half of the things he will experience or contemplate or see or hear or discuss, but somehow if I know the backdrop (the weather) to the stage of his life, then maybe, just maybe I will feel more connected to him and he won't seem so far away. Maybe if I know about the sunshine or rain or wind or clouds, I might understand his landscape, and then I might have a better chance of knowing him more fully. 

I am no longer embarrassed to say I sound like my parents. 

So, what is the weather like there?