Friday, 24 December 2010

Dream 1: Analysis

Ok, as promised, dream analysis of the first dream here.

This entry is an analysis of the dream about work, where I'll put myself into the roles of people/symbols who seem important.

1. Dresses: I have to admit to finding it difficult being an inanimate object, but here goes. I am simplicity and luxury in one: clean lines, but lush fabric, one that - like you - begs to be touched. I am freedom and I flow: both attributes that are naturally yours that you deny yourself, like your femininity. Your fear is that each of these will make you weak: that forcing yourself to challenge, to always stand up and speak, being tough are what make you strong. They are not. What resists the relentless rhythm of the sea or the power of the air as tornado? You do not need a hard shell, nor do you need to mete out resources to yourself by inches to prove that you are a survivor. If I am summed up by anything, I am summed up by this: abundance. Abundance that you do not allow to flow in because you see life as a burden to be borne, something to be paid for, rather than as a free gift to be reveled in, to be fully owned, to be liberal with.

You believe you have shaken off all of the baggage your parents left you - but this, that life is hard, that life is a burden, that you will not get what you want - that, you still carry. And it is your last, and greatest, barrier.

2. X: I am the universal spirit of generosity, the archetypal mother, bringing you abundance - do you not remember how much I carried in? There was plenty for everyone, but you couldn't trust that, just like you couldn't trust your own mother, who would give only to take back or betray. So you let others go in front of you to take the risk, to see if any trap is hidden in what I have to offer. Once you decide there isn't, you come forward. And then you feel that there is nothing in your size, not the red dress you want, that there is nothing for you - that everyone else has and you don't. And that reinforces your belief that life must always be a struggle, that it denies you, that life will never freely give you anything. You just walked out - you didn't even wait to see, nor did you ask if there was something else. You ASSUMED that you had been betrayed and that there was nothing for you, that there never was.

You forgot that in the form I came in, I was a seamstress. Why didn't you ask? Why didn't you TRY something? Why didn't you work with me to create something uniquely yours, something you might have loved even more than your pre-conceived idea of what you wanted, rather than storming off, assuming I had lied to you, that I had betrayed you, that I had chosen to withhold from you, to deny you and you had to go elsewhere for help? That may have been your childhood, but it isn't your life now. Open your eyes, see what is offered. I AM BRINGING IT TO YOU, LOOK AND LISTEN.

3. G&P: Much as you love us, we are the people you envy. The people you see as having a simple, straightforward time getting what they want, for whom life is effortless, those who take it as a given that happiness is theirs. Those who take it as given that happiness will come their way, and because they believe it, it does.

4. Y: I am severity, austerity, extreme criticism, stinginess. I look at those around me with judgment and contempt. I look at MYSELF with judgment and contempt. I give little, I love even less. I am trapped in my story. I am what you are afraid of becoming, but that which you need to face in yourself to avoid that. I am prickly, like a cactus. Dry. My roots go deep. But let love's healing rain fall on me, and you will see the most brilliant blooms nature has to offer. Embrace me.

5. Manure field: I may seem to be the most disgusting of places to be, but I am the most fertile. I am the potential garden that you walk across, that you try to escape when you climb over the gate. Instead of walking over me and ignoring me, kneel - get to work with me. Seed me. Because of me, you can grow anything in this garden. Work me. Don't let me go to waste because you think of me as your blight, as your burden. I am your potential.

6. Barn: Like the manure field, I represent your LIFE. Note my spaciousness, my light, my structure, which is both simple and beautiful - begging for you to make a mark on it. Instead, you want to leave me and walk away, starting again elsewhere. Don't. Stop going from place to place, never making anywhere yours, holding yourself back from me. Paint me. Put pictures on my wall. Take risks. Bring to me the velvet, the plushness, the sensuousness to balance my simple structure. Currently, I am a storage space for whatever is happening at the moment, something you bear, you survive. I am begging you to make me your home, as the manure field is begging you to make it your garden, for she is an extension of me.

Whoa. So I was in my life, which had various things happening, but mostly work, when the universe brought me the essence of who I am, combining simplicity and sensuousness, clarity and passion, but I didn't think I found it in my size, and I chose not to work with the universe because I don't trust anything that comes to me, so I stormed out. I then walked across my potential,
born of what I've borne - like a survivor, like the traveller in Alan Parson's song - ready to leave, ready to make do somewhere else, yearning to start over - whilst the universe, the mother, followed me trying to talk to me, and I WOULDN'T listen.

Main themes:

1. Deep doubt that there will ever be anything good for me, doubt of abundance
2. Unwillingness to look at what's being offered if it's not exactly what I expect to see if it's a manifestation of abundance; I need to unwrap it to see if it's a blessing
3. Lack of awareness of how much potential there is around me and in me
4. Ditto how much help is around me
5. Need to keep the edge, but love it, so it becomes an asset: crisp like an apple rather than sharp like a poisoned dart
6. I need to own my life and make it mine rather than just write it off and assume the next one will be my 'real' one - the structure is beautiful and the potential immense
7. Need to allow myself my sensuality and love of abundance and fun
8. I need to listen like my life depends on it - if the universe is chasing me down to talk me into staying, then there must be so much that can be done with this. I remember the barn was immense
9. REAL issues with femininity here - my own and trusting the feminine, the receptive quality. The garden is feminine, I refuse to make the house feminine. I refuse to let myself go to it, though I will use qualities of it if necessary, and as my friend Jack once said, "You are well maternal." AND, interestingly, even though I lean towards Our Lady and feminine imagery of the Godhead.

Ok, this will probably have edits/additions later, but for now, that's where I am. Over to you - really. The comment section is really going to help here, since this is a new technique for me.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Dream experiment

Monday night, I had two very intense dreams - and considering I had about 5 hours of sleep, tops, that's not unimpressive. I've come across a method of interpreting dreams that is very powerful, so I'm going to post them and try to analyse them as a blog exercise.

The way this works is that one takes all the important symbols/people and becomes them. Speak from the "I am" perspective: "I am X, and I represent Y, etc."

So here are the dream summaries:

Dream #1: I was in what looked to be a big barn conversion with folks from work - it was light and looked like a fashion designer's room, actually, or the costume room at a play/production - and we were doing some kind of Christmas pageant at the party. X came in with an armful of dresses that looked medieval: long sleeved, full-length cream chemises with overdresses, something like this, but with a rounded neck and more velvety in texture:

They were also in deep jewel tones: red, blue, green. I asked X if there were enough - she said that yes, there were plenty. I allowed others to go first: P got a small, G a medium and then it was my turn, as I passed G & P adjusting their overdresses.

I flipped through the dresses with anticipation, but nothing in my size, or rather, a large in a colour I didn't want (or there was something else wrong with it). I went ballistic, at which point the barn went dark and I delivered an outburst that shows how little I really trust the world: "What the FUCK? You said there were plenty. NO ONE ever tells me what's really happening. Everyone got what they wanted. No one made sure there was something for me. There's NEVER anything for me."

I stormed out under the disapproving gaze of Y and the stunned countenances of all the others - into pure manure. Not frozen, not even dry - boggy manure that sucked your foot in up to the ankle. I was so angry, I was shaking and ready to cry. X followed me out, walking with me across the (interestingly, also indoor) manure and stood by me as I went over the stile and gate, trying to listen, calm me down and let me know it could be sorted.

Some pretty obvious stuff here, but it goes very deep, so I'll want to be:

  • The dresses
  • X
  • Y
  • the manure field
  • G &/or P, possibly
  • the barn, I think

Then we'll work from there.


Dream 2:

I was near Cape Town, having just been driven out of it along the highway by a woman I don't know IRL. Interestingly, we were driving on the right side of the road, which is wrong. CPT was to our left - she blessed it as we passed - and we pulled into a layby.

I was barefoot, and stepped out onto an asphalt walkway covered in broken glass. I thought about putting on shoes, but she told me to trust, so I kept walking, and looked up to see a two story peach coloured stucco house - something like this:

We went to the top floor, and there was a gorgeous room: part canteen, part game area, part shop area. but more generally all purpose room full of black boys and young black men. Our arrival turned some heads, but they kept on what they were doing: some studying crafts, some playing, some working the canteen - but all happy. There was broken glass being used ornamentally in the jet black tables, and clearly some used in the stained glass windows in the room.

I stood in awe, feeling electricity running through me as she said, "They were all orphaned and left to die, look what they've done."

My last thought before I woke up was that the friend I was in Cape Town with NEEDED to know about this.

Here, I need to be:

  • Friend driving
  • Road (why on the wrong side?)
  • Path
  • Broken glass
  • House
  • Room
  • Possibly the boys as a collective; the whole idea
  • Possibly CPT itself: what did it represent, why was I there? This feels tied to a dream I had about the Southern Cross months ago.

Those will be the subjects of the next blog entry or so. Stay tuned.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Musings on 15,001 ---> 13,000

My yahoo account has been slow for weeks. I knew it was probably because my inbox was too full, but I put off doing anything about it. However, when getting to 'reply' seemed like too much work for yahoo Tuesday morning, I knew it was time.

15,001 emails, covering nearly 8 years of my life. What to do? I decided to delete the early ones - perhaps up to the beginning of this year - en masse. I'm not referring back to any of the emails and haven't since the time in question, so why not?

It was harder than I thought it was going to be. I'd dip into an email, smile at the memory of the context - my exchanges with my cataloguing buddy, SA, were a particular delight, as were offlist conversations with several people I'd met online – I’ve certainly not changed in essence: analytical, cheeky, introspective. But more and more, perhaps because it is the unresolved thread from then, I found myself going back to the emails of a man I was involved with at the time. I’ve read the emails leading up to the first kiss, and those leading away from it to the end. Far more difficult and dark, very painful, but no less a pleasure.

Why? Because I loved him. No question there, looking back. Yes, I can analyse it now and think, ‘It was more about need and what I expected/needed him to be,’ but I can see the love shining through the emails as well. I recognise my tendency to affirm those I love (not just in THAT way) endlessly; the little tells in a shared foreign language; the shared pleasure in contact – talking about philosophy or daily happenings. As I read, I can feel the shared physical tells we once had: the hugs that were a little too long when we were just friends; the way I would turn into the smell of his cologne; the feel of his 5 o’clock shadow against my cheek; the little touches that scream ‘intimate’ louder than tonsil hockey in the street.

But reading reminds me, too, of how hard it was, even at the beginning. A friend of mine once said that relationship with me 'demands intimacy'; a newer friend said to me, 'You're about deep, honest connection.' They're both right; I don't do small talk for long: if a deeper connection isn't on the cards, I'm done.

But here, in a relationship that was 'intimate' by definition, the deep connection was always missing, always a struggle, only ever briefly brushed - and always by some combination of extreme reaching and walking on eggshells on my part.

In an early note to a good friend:

I don't even want him to touch me right now. There's a part of me that doesn't want to see him, that doesn't want him within a hundred miles of me right now, and another part that wants him right here.

And to another, one which reminded me that I've always tried to face things when they're hard:

You asked the right [questions], the tough ones - I need to articulate all that. And you're absolutely right, I *am* closed down at the moment, it's the only way I know to is the analysis, really - it allows me to detach and intellectualise it.

I’d forgotten how early it started; how early it went from being exquisite to be in a relationship to exquisite agony. In my head, I was completely relaxed and wrapped in it until much later, but looking at the dates of these emails, the angst set in early. Interesting, that: ‘In my head.’ Not in my feelings, not in my body, but *in my head*. How treacherous that head of mine is.

But why? If, as both my friends correctly note, deep connection is so much a part of how I relate, why struggle with an intimate relationship where it is only ever fleetingly present? If I insist on it in friendships, why not more so here? Why not walk that much sooner? Because I wanted to save him. Because it was a challenge, something to reach, the Holy Grail. Because I thought he was the One, and I had to get it right – that if I just turned myself this way, sat on that tendency…it would click into place. Because being desired, being touched like that, was intoxicating. Because…

…like him, I was emotionally unavailable.

Some of my friends would argue that, would say that I’m TOO emotionally available, that I don’t draw boundaries well enough and will be there for everyone till I drop. That’s true in an intimate relationship too, but that doesn’t mean I’m *emotionally available*. Being emotionally available entails being aware of your feelings, your processes – what’s really going on with you – and with others. I have a tendency to do my emotions in my head: I have insight – but awareness, which is deeper, which pushes us towards action – is much harder to come by. I don’t sit with raw emotion easily, as has been noted; I tend to need to place a pattern, an analysis on it early to make it bearable, to feel in control. That is an indication of my inability to be emotionally vulnerable, to let go of control, my difficulty in being emotionally honest.

Wait, Irim, you’re not emotionally honest?

Not when it places me in a vulnerable position: then, I hide behind capability, intellect, the ability to help others. But no one's getting near me when I'm feeling raw: and I don't withdraw, I attack. I don't want anyone near the place that hurts.

And that's the other part of emotional availability: the willingness to be vulnerable and aware of how you and others are. The capability is all well and good, but it's the willingness that matters. Then, the willingness to be vulnerable was minimal, and choosing someone emotionally unavailable made a lot of sense, though it also made for a lot of pain, because my nature leans towards intimacy. As was said to me in my first year at uni, "You're one of those people made to go through the world two by two," and more recently, "Yes, you DO well on your own. But you're better in partnership."

Is it any surprise that I'm deeply stuck? I can be emotionally available in friendships, where the risk isn't all of me: my heart, my nature, my essence. But in an intimate relationship, it's too much - it's overwhelm: sensory, emotional, physical...and checking out, freezing, taking care of other or not being emotionally present become barriers against the terror of being engulfed and lost.

He was the same. I've been reading these letters, thinking, 'You didn't know me,' and later, 'I didn't know you,' but I think at the level that mattered - to quote Elaine Page - I knew him (and he me) too well.

And as I've remembered and worked through that, I've remembered what I learned:

  • I am deeply kinaesthetic, though I tend to think of myself as more verbal. I need touch: from the little touches as a guy passes me, but even more skin to skin, whether it's holding hands, or cheek to cheek, or... If I have that, then I don't need words. I can rest.
  • I have a very strong nesting - or perhaps, with a wolf totem, 'denning' - instinct.
  • I love being desired and everything that goes with it. Though it isn't often expressed, sensuality is very much a part of my nature.
  • He brought a lot of healing along with the pain.
  • I am, truly, better in partnership.
  • I can love. I can stay when it gets hard. I can make this work.
  • From the way my friends gathered round, I realised how loved I was...

...though I've only begun to really feel it recently.

And over the last few days, I've learned that going back to that relationship was the best thing I could have done. Far from turning me into a pillar of salt, it allowed me to free a part of myself that had been frozen there, still chilled from the inside out by the pain.

Loving myself, applauding the risk I took to love and be involved, allowed that part to rejoin me and live again. Thawing may be painful, but it is the way to warmth and life.

And loving myself allowed me to love him by thanking him and finally letting him - and us - go.

You know who you are: thank you, and may you be blessed on the road that is yours. May the road rise to meet you, may the wind be always at your back, and may God hold you in the palm of His hand.


Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Where Moshe is reminded that Hashem's ways are not our ways...

This morning I discovered that I have 15,001 emails in my Yahoo inbox (that's almost 8 years' worth, for those who want to know), so I've taken it upon myself to delete at least 1,000 a day. Starting with the earliest, which I am deleting en masse, I've paused occasionally to read the odd email with an interesting subject line, or from a guy I later became involved with. As I read one from said gentleman and deleted it, another one from a cataloguing friend popped up to take its place: that became my current status. I saved that one. Then another - this one. As Prince of Egypt came into my consciousness yesterday (I posted Ashira L'Adonai on my facebook wall), I couldn't help but note the synchronicity. Another part of this synchronicity was that I happened to be listening to Chris de Burgh's One world yesterday, and the second verse begins:

I believe there is a God: but it doesn't mean that my God is greater than yours - it only means we all have the right to believe, 'cos nobody knows it for sure, for sure...

And as Archbishop Bloom points out in this story, not even he who met Hashem in the burning bush can define who G-d must be to the rest of us:

One day Moshe finds a shepherd in the desert. He spends the day with him and helps him milk his ewes, and at the end of the day he sees that the shepherd puts the best milk he has in a wooden bowl, which he places on a flat stone some distance away. So Moshe asks him what it is for, and the shepherd replies, "This is God's milk."

Moshe is puzzled and asks him what he means.

The shepherd says "I always take the best milk I possess and I bring it as an offering to God."

Moshe asks "And does God drink it?"

"Yes,” replies the shepherd, "he does."

Then Moshe feels compelled to enlighten the poor shepherd and he explains that God, being pure spirit, does not drink milk. Yet the shepherd is sure that He does and so they have a short argument, which ends with Moshe telling the shepherd to hide behind the bushes to find out whether in fact God does come to drink the milk.

Moshe then goes out to pray in the desert. The shepherd hides, the night comes, and in the moonlight the shepherd sees a little fox that comes trotting from the desert, looks right, looks left, and heads straight towards the milk, which he laps up, and disappears into the desert again. The next morning Moshe finds the shepherd quite depressed and downcast. "What's the matter," he asks.

The shepherd says "You were right. God is pure spirit and He doesn't want my milk."

Moshe is surprised and says "You should be happy. You know more about God than you did before."

"Yes, I do", replies the shepherd, "but the only thing I could give Him has been taken away from me."

Moshe sees the point. He retires into the desert and prays hard. In the night in a vsion, God speaks to him and says "Moshe, you were wrong. It is true that I am pure spirit. Nevertheless, I always accepted with gratitude the milk which the shepherd offered me, as the expression of his love: but since, being pure spirit, I do not need the milk, I shared it with this little fox, who is very fond of milk."

It reminds us that I AM THAT I AM, who is All that Is, lives in relationship with every part of creation - from the galaxies to the tiniest single cell - and that requires an infinite number of presentations to be in relationship: one for Moshe, one for the shepherd, and one for every being He is in relationship with, meeting them where they are.

Friday, 12 November 2010

What would you do if...

I've had reason to think about this lately - if I were on my deathbed, what would I look back and wished that I had been or done or had? Here's a partial list:

1. A childhood - a carefree childhood in which I had just been allowed to be, allowed to play
2. A close immediate family of origin - I would have loved to have had parents that I could have been close to, told everything to, been friends with, trusted - parents I could have been loved by.
3. A crazy adolescence - one where I'd gone clubbing, drank, gone out with my friends, had all the crazy teenage pics so many of my friends have (including the bad hair and fashion choices and stupid moments in heels with my arms around friends)
4. Finding my style - I wish I'd had enough confidence, enough wherewithal to experiment and discover my style, instead of sticking with the practical. I still can, of course, but I wish I'd started playing at 18...
5. Play - That last one reminded me of something I didn't learn to do young and still feel very bad at - play. Just let go and play...
6. Loving and being loved - I have the best friends in the world, but I've always known deep down that I want to be in a deeply loving, intimate relationship. One of my uni friends said, "You're made to go through the world two by two." She knew I was fiercely independent, but she also recognised a deep truth about me - that I work better in close partnership. Never having a man with whom I'm intimately bonded for life - emotionally, spiritually, physically - would probably be my deepest sense of loss along with my not having...
7. Children - I've known since I was a young child that being a mother was part of my vocation. Mothering my friends is great, mothering their little ones is great, don't get me wrong - but I want my own, deeply and fiercely.

Now over to you: what is it that you want, hope, desire to be, have, do? Nothing is too small or too great. Put your answers in comments, and flesh them out if you want: see, feel, hear - give it texture; make it real. Put it out there and start to make it real - and if you want, put down the first step you'd be willing to take towards it.

As for me, it's time to find myself some 40s-style clothing and get a haircut.

Then, I'm going out to play.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

An ode to chav pants

Today, I haven't left the house. Hell, I didn't leave my room till after 12.30. And after I showered, I put on the ultimate symbol of that decadent lounging: chav pants. And as I stared at that bling and felt the velour under my fingers, I felt my creative expression begin to flow, so I grabbed the nearest piece of kitchen roll and began composing. With apologies to Keats:

Chav pants, O chav pants,
Blue velour and diamante,
that lead me into sloth
and possibly
the Inferno of Dante.

O Chav pants,
your various styles
the subject of much discussion:
more bling?
velour? cashmere?
My head feels like I've had a concussion.

But even though my head hurts,
I must thank you, o chav pants:
the comfort of your elasticated waist and soft touch
spare my friends many Facebook rants.

*to non-British readers, definition of chav here.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Dare. Change.

My friend Kenetha posted this on her fb wall. I had noted it, but it wasn't till she nudged me that I watched it. This was last night, and I've probably watched it at least 20 times since, I'm so drawn to it. It's as beautifully put together as the Embrace Life advert from earlier this year, and just as emotive:

One thing that struck me as I watched it - and I don't think it's just that I have an affinity for wolves - is that I can't, no matter how I try, see the wolf as her enemy or obstacle. I see him as her helper: there to force her choice, to make her fight rather than draw back, to make her challenge him: because she has no choice but to move forward. If she draws back, he will follow and give chase and make her face him anyway.

In essence, both are trapped if she avoids him.

Once she makes the choice to accept his challenge and chooses to run towards him, to move forward and fight him if need be, his mission is accomplished - and they are both set free.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Poem for thought...

I've been pulling in a bit recently for various reasons, but mostly for a bit of a life review. In that vein, this poem by Paulo Coelho popped up when I was looking at an FB picture a friend was tagged in, clicked on it to make it bigger, but ended up moving on to the next picture instead, which had this poem...perfectly grabbing at what was at the centre of my musings. I love synchronicity - have I said that a gazillion times yet?

Every Warrior of the Light
has felt afraid of going into battle.

Every Warrior of the Light
has, at some time in the past, lied or betrayed someone.

Every Warrior of the Light
has trodden a path that was not his.

Every Warrior of the Light
has suffered for the most trivial of reasons.

Every Warrior of the Light
has, at least once, believed he was not a Warrior of the Light.

Every Warrior of the Light
has failed in his spiritual duties.

Every Warrior of the Light
has said 'yes' when he wanted to say 'no.'

Every Warrior of the Light
has hurt someone he loved.

That is why he is a Warrior of the Light,
because he has been through all this and yet has never lost hope of being better than he is.

--Paulo Coelho

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday

I bet we never thought a cylinder coming out of the ground would hold us entranced, united in our willing it to safety as it descends empty, and our relief/joy when it emerges again with its precious cargo. Campamento Esperanza goes worldwide.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Come as you are...

Whatever your sexuality, imperfections, shadow - come out of the dark closet into the light. Come as you are - it's National Coming Out Day in the US and tomorrow in the UK. As a straight woman, I've never had to fight this battle, but I've had to fight plenty of others - and I've seen friends in the closet suffer what no one should ever have to. So, whilst this isn't my struggle, the battle for LGBT rights IS my battle. Come out, come out wherever you are - and to my fellow heterosexuals: whilst you may not understand being attracted to someone of the same sex and the struggle that ensues, you DO understand what it's like to want to be free to be - and love for - who you REALLY are. So it is incumbent upon ALL of us to create a world where it is safe for everyone to be real, whatever that means.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Waltz therapy

"Let him HOLD you! Trust him," I finally shouted at the screen in utter frustration as Patsy Kensit yet AGAIN refused to let go and let her professional partner, Robin Windsor, lead. Her refusal to do just that meant she'd lost her frame any number of times and in this particular moment, as he dipped her, it looked horribly awkward and jerky, as she refused to give him her weight. What made it worse is that it was clear that Patsy had a great deal of talent.

But as frustrated as I was, my heart went out to her. Her fear would have been palpable even if it hadn't shown so clearly on her face. I also knew that her marriage has just broken up and that faith in men must be in extremely short supply - and that in a dance as intimate as the waltz, a dance in which the man has almost total control as the lead, that faith is absolutely essential.

I learned to waltz informally, in the house of folks who were so into ballroom dancing they built a ballroom onto their house instead of a garage. Every Sunday night, 7-10pm, was ballroom dancing night. I was never as consistent a participant as my housemates were, but I had loads of fun and learned a great deal.

One of the things I learned was that my favourite dance was the waltz. There is nothing, nothing, like letting go and just BEING in the arms of a man who can dance the's dancing on air, flying, a taste of utter freedom.

But to get there, you have to trust; you have to let him lead. And I owe my ability to do that to one of the expert dancers who insisted on holding me by the small of the back (I far prefer the waist hold for the waltz to the 'oh my hand is just on your shoulder/side' standard closed hold. I want to be held, damn it) as the ONLY hold - no hands extended, nothing. If anything happened, I had to trust him to catch me.

I cannot even begin to tell you how terrified I was. I kept waiting for the back of my head to meet the parquet dance floor, even though I knew just how good he was. It didn't.

My waltzing improved astronomically as of that episode.

Watching Patsy and being simultaneously sympathetic and frustrated, wondering why the feeling was so familiar, I suddenly realised that this was how I often feel when my counselling hat is on: I understand, but I want them to realise that at this point, nothing but themselves is preventing them from moving forward. But 'moving forward' in those terms is so abstract, so vague. By contrast, moving forward in waltzing or dancing is so much more concrete, so much more rewarding, because you can see the improvement, see that you're ready.

Would it then, be possible to make 'moving forward' in therapy more concrete, clearer? If so, how? Listening to the judges say to Patsy almost exactly what I'd yelled at the screen, pairing the awareness of just how intimate the waltz is and the sense that Patsy Kensit's problems on the dance floor arose from her head space made me wonder...

...could something like the waltz be used to help *clear* one's head space, to move therapy forward?

We do a lot of talking in therapy. We talk through ideas, feelings, experiences. We make verbal realisations, huge leaps forward in emotional and cognitive understanding. We start to heal.

But far too often, our ability to make changes in the physical world lag far behind our cognitive understanding. That might be natural. But watching the waltz, I wondered: is it?

Is it that we're missing something; we're cutting something off? That we don't involve the body? I can emotionally understand that when a man touches my hair or tells me that it's beautiful, as my uncle used to, he intends no harm, but may well be trying to compliment me or show affection. But when a man touches my hair, the reaction is *visceral*, not cognitive. It's like a spinal reflex: it doesn't go to the brain; I don't consciously process before I react.

I needed to learn to be still with men touching my hair, stroking it. To let it happen. To PRACTISE it. Over years, I did - and found the joy in it, even if I tensed first. And so, when the day came that a good male friend cheekily tugged my hair as he came up behind me, I felt nothing but surprise and 'Who?' till I turned round and relaxed into it as he teased me in greeting.

It wasn't till later that day that I realised how far I'd come - and how much of that reaction had depended on practising the physical enactment of the cognitive understanding that a man touching my hair could be a wonderful thing that represented genuine affection, not something creepy.

And so I wonder if it is the same with trusting and intimacy: even as we talk about it, understand the reasons why we do what we do, do we need to find safe ways in which to practise it so that we can learn - or re-learn - it? So that we develop what is essentially a 'muscular memory' for it?

If that is the case, then could something like the waltz - a dance that is the epitome of partnership and trust - be used to help build/rebuild those qualities in a non-threatening, almost sideways manner? Could something that is essentially play (and non-threatening, unlike 'your homework is to place your profile on an internet dating site') with someone who doesn't trip our defences against intimacy (the way a love interest might) help develop a muscular memory of being held, of not being dropped - abstractly, trust - that could then be carried into a relationship?

If we married cognitive and physical in therapy somehow - whether we send clients off for massage, dance, practising certain skills in the physical world in ways that feel like play, rather than work - would they move faster? Be less stuck? Could learning go both ways?

My inclination is to say 'yes', because cognitively processing your feelings and physically processing them are two very different things: there's a reason we use 'visceral' to describe incredibly strong emotion. One of the things Donald Kalsched, a Jungian psychologist, says about trauma is that it splits an archetype along the intellectual/affective axis - I can't help but wonder if the physical might not be a quicker, more powerful way into affect - and if, alongside talking, it might not reunite the two more quickly.

Another side benefit of this might be teaching clients to listen to bodies they may have dissociated from for various reasons. This may allow them to pick up emotions earlier than they might have done before, and allow them to know when they are going against their integrity rather than with it.

I'm not sure about this; it's only a fledgling thought. But something resonates - something feels right.


For Patsy Kensit, I hope that her time with Robin Windsor helps her heal from a difficult year, and though she's done the waltz, here's hoping that the rhumba, tango and salsa bring a spring to her step and a smile to her face again.

As for you, wherever you are - physically or emotionally, remember:

Life's a dance you learn as you go
Sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow
Don't worry about what you don't know
Life's a dance you learn as you go keep dancing.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010


בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֶלוֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הַעוֹלָם שֵהֵחְיָנוּ וְקִיְמָנוּ וְהִגִיעָנוּ לַזְמַן הַזֶה

Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha'olam shehehiyanu v'kiyemanu v'higiyanu lazman hazeh.

"Blessed art thou, Lord our G-d, King of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season (also translated as 'moment' or 'occasion')."

This gorgeous prayer is known as the Shehechiyanu, a prayer said in moments of great joy or upon experiencing something good for the first time. So it is said at the beginning of a holiday, the first time a ritual is performed in a year or a lifetime, the first time food is eaten in a season.

But most Jews I know use it at so many other times - when a child is born, when a difficult time is over, at any moment where they feel moved to thank G-d.

It is one of the prayers said over the lulav and the etrog at Sukkot - it was as I was looking these up last week, as Sukkot began, that I really started thinking.

What if, even in the most difficult moments, when it seemed darkest, I recited the Shehechiyanu - as a reminder that whatever G-d has brought me to, I am grateful that He has brought me to this moment, that I am not alone - no matter how painful, no matter how hard the moment may be?

What if I said it EVERY DAY - no matter how ordinary the day, no matter how frustrating, no matter how simple the pleasures? No matter that I wish for much that I do not (yet?) have?

Would life look different? What would shift, change? How would I live? Who would I become?

I've decided to give it a try. I may not have everything I want, but I have so, so much. It's time I said, "Thank you": because to everything, there is a season - and I have, through countless others, been brought to this one - whatever it may hold.

Baruch atah Adonai eloheinu...

Thursday, 23 September 2010

In response to a pro-life blog entry

The entry is here.

My response:

Beautifully said, Cloister.

I grew up in a country where 'pro-life' meant clinic bombings, murder, frenzied abuse of women entering clinics. What pro-life really meant was "Once you're born, we don't really care what happens to you. We're pro-war, so we're happy for you to be cannon fodder; we'll cut social services, so we're happy for you to abused or neglected; we'll make sure you can't get proper health care or schooling if you're not affluent, so we're happy for you to have no opportunity or die early once you're out of the womb; oh, and if you get arrested - we're happy for you to die via injection or electric chair. And if you're not like us, we don't want you near us: we're pro-segregation, anti-gay, anti-anyone who isn't our clone."

So the real definition of pro-life is thus: "We're pro-life if you're white and middle-class; if you're not, you can have as many abortions as you like - we don't want more of you."

The shrillness, bullying and lack of integrity with which the campaign is run is breathtaking. You see the same with SPUC and its like: lovely to people who agree with them, abusive to those who don't. And pretending to be 'advice services' when what they do is force women to do what they want is just despicable.

I AM Catholic and pro-choice. I don't sit here easily, but I sit here with absolute conviction. As a cleric with far more empathy than you show here once said, "I don't agree with you - I don't think abortion is part of God's plan. I think we need to love and support the women who are considering this."

Ah. A *truly* - and far too rare - Christian, pro-life stance. And one that allowed us to lean on the fence and really talk - and discover that our values are, in fact, extremely similar, though our expression of them may not be. Unfortunately, reactions like yours shut off conversation and encourage polarity and entrenchment in extreme positions.

It occurred to you to be smug and self-congratulatory, patting yourself on the back for your orthodox stance. It occurred to you to be rigid. It occurred to you to question her right to be in God's Church - which is not YOUR place or business, but Christ's - but it never occurred to you to find out what her story was. As Cloister says, making a decision about abortion is difficult and heart-breaking. No woman does it for a good time, and the last thing she needs to do is be bullied. She needs *love*, *support* and someone who will *listen without judgment*.

That is something that will be your job as a priest. You need to reflect deeply and decide if you can do it. If not, then you have some hard thinking to do. Because let me tell you, if you find that response 'horrendous', you are in no way ready to deal with what your parishioners are living through.

Perhaps you need to go and learn from some of your Dominican brethren who, in my experience, are exemplary pastors - thoughtful, compassionate, orthodox, always charitable - and above all, ever aware of the spirit and nuance of the law.

Remember - For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
To assume you know God's will for anyone - and whether or not they are 'imperil[ing] their supernatural destiny' is the ultimate in arrogance. None of us has any idea of the mind of G-d; how He is choosing to work out His plan for any and all of us. To assume so is to worship an idol by creating Him in our image.

Instead, your encounter with that girl's comment should have been treated as holy. As a moment of meeting, as a moment to wonder what her story might be, as a chance to reach out to her with compassion and show her that the pro-life movement may not be the monolith of intolerant, misogynist religious weirdos she may imagine them to be.

That was a missed opportunity. Don't, in your need to be right, miss the next one.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Fragrance and self

It was nearly 2pm by the time I managed to prise Mazz off my arm.

I met her in Debenhams at 10.30 on a day when I just felt fat and ugly. I couldn't bear to look at myself in ANY of the mirrors I passed (it didn't help that I was wearing a sweatshirt that made me look the size of a house). I was happy to walk around with her as she chose clothes, but I was utterly uninterested in anything but her company. I HATE shopping, but that's another post.

Things started to perk up when she decided she was looking for a fragrance: that, I could get behind. I grabbed Obsession, which I haven't had since March and sprayed it on my wrists. Mazz really liked it on me, but she was going after Dior Addict - a new version that a Saffa friend had worn and she had loved.

We were disappointed in Debenhams, so we went wandering. We were on our way to Primark when we passed The Perfume Store in the Clarendon Centre and I suggested we give it a whirl. It looked like a cheap discount outlet with sales clerks who knew nothing about the product. She shrugged and we went in.

We couldn't have been more wrong about the sales clerk - perfume, heartnotes, basenotes were clearly her passion. She made it her mission to move Mazz from her single-minded pursuit of Dior. When Mazz demurred, she said, "Ah, I thought the same - until I tried..." She took bottles off right, left and centre, trying to find ones Mazz would like. She hit it right on the nose with some, less with others; Mazz finally settled on one of her usual faves: Armani Code.

Then it was my turn. *I* wanted to see if I could move from CK Obsession - or at least have another choice. Again, she sprayed several, some of which were options, including Armani Code. "You'll love the Gucci," she said. Finally, as she rang up Mazz's purchase, she was by the Gucci and sprayed it on a card.

Mazz loved it; I was less sure, so she sprayed it on both our skins. On Mazz, it smelled like soap. On me...

OMG. Sharp at the top, then settled into the lovely smell of fruit stew wafting through the house, with a lilac bouquet undertone. Slowly, amber and patchouli (though not as strong as I'd like) bubbled up from the bottom.

It smelt like a rich sunset. I'm still a nighttime girl, but this is gorgeous. There's a great review of it here.

Mazz wouldn't stop sniffing my arm, saying, "This just makes me want to hug you all day." Considering that neither one of us would kick Chris Evans (the seriously hot American actor, not the Brit git) out of our bed for eating Death by Chocolate, that's saying something.

Then she said something that made me think: "I can smell the Obsession on you, but I can't keep smelling it. It's sharp. This [Gucci Guilty] is so you. I can just keep smelling it all the time."

"Sharp?" With an implied 'hard' and an explicit 'edge'? Hmmm. That was very much how I wanted to project myself - not to be messed with, dark, with an edge. Wearing a scent that projected such an image was, in part, intended to do what wearing baggy clothes does for me: warn you that if you can't get past the packaging, you don't get to find out what's inside. Move on. Don't waste my time; don't ask me for anything; do NOT touch me.

Gucci Guilty smells, as 'The Scented Salamander' says, of a cornucopia - the gift of the Mother. It is a generous, warm, inviting scent of fruit with a hint of naughtiness in the amber and patchouli foundation. It says, 'Come closer, touch, nestle,' whereas Obsession says, 'Go on, I DARE you.'

It's not an either/or for me; it's a both/and. Beneath the prickliness and the edge, you find the nurturing and warmth - and beneath the nurturing, well, I'll leave you to guess at what you might find - hinted at by Guilty's touch of overripe blossom and the strengthening patchouli about 3 hours in.

I'll always be an Obsession girl.

But for now, I give in to sin...

...because you have to make this life livable.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The Rosary

"Woohoo!" I thought, as the 4B stopped next to me in the High Street. "Hi ho, Hi ho, off to Littlemore we go!" It had been a full day - talk to the Research Induction School; Dean's Forum; the usual first week frustrations with a new intake. Now off to a 7pm case study.

It was just after 6 when I got on the bus (I like early, especially in rush hour) and was rooting through my pockets for gum (which, of course, I'd left on my desk) when my hand came upon an odd texture.


I have a ROSARY in my pocket? Since when?

She is eternal:

Curious to see which one it was, I surreptitiously pulled it out - and found myself smiling. It was the one brought back for me from Israel by my beloved teaching colleague, Helen Raucher, and her husband, Steve, shortly after I'd converted. Blue crystal beads, silver chain, 'Terra Santa' where Our Lady's image usually is. Yes, I'm a wooden bead girl, but a rosary given with love - especially from Jewish friends acknowledging and wishing me joy in my conversion to Catholicism - trumps that a thousandfold. It's my favourite, and was a particularly appropriate one to find as Erev Rosh Hashanah was about to begin.

I gazed at it with trepidation. Anyone who reads this blog knows of my deep love for Our Lady, the dream I associate with her, the fact that I said the 'Hail Mary' long before I was Catholic...

long before nations' lines were drawn - when no flags flew, when no armies stood, [her haven] was born

...but I have a shameful secret. I DREAD saying the rosary. I would rather dental floss an army of cats without body armour than have to say the rosary, especially in congregation after the 10am mass (sorry, guys!).

But I feel torn. Our Lady is what holds me in the Church, and this is really THE form of prayer that focuses on her, and I can't abide it. I know I'm not alone; that doesn't make me feel less guilty. "Ok," I thought, "Let's give it a go. Best way over guilt is to stop avoiding it. You can do it for an intention, right? Just...start."

I tried the Apostles' Creed, but got as far as..."We." Hey, at least I got that far.

I looked at my phone as soon as I got off. 18.30. Not due in till 19.00. Maybe try it walking through the church graveyard at St Mary's and St Nicholas'? Had time to spare, what did I have to lose?

I wiggled through the gate and turned left, starting the Apostles' Creed, as I tried to remember WHICH mysteries...Tuesday...sorrowful. Crap, it's been so long, what ARE they?

Our Father, which art in heaven...

I passed the grave of the lad who died at 19 yrs and 6 months in France in September 1918, and though I continued reciting the rosary, my heart broke with sorrow for one lost so young, so near the end of a war.

And you ask me why I love her - through wars, death and despair. She is the constant; we who don't care

And as the beads slipped through my hands...

Hail Mary, full of grace

...I finally got it. Fr Richard told me ages ago, when I told him I couldn't do the rosary at home or in bed, that the rosary was a prayer of motion. I kind of got it at Walsingham and on Newman night walks.

In the graveyard, I *got* it. It's what any Buddhist or Hindu or Muslim would have told me. The rhythm of repetitive prayer allows your mind to let go and drop deeper into prayer - even if that prayer is the fact that the plumber needs to come and fix the sink. Even if it's about a 19 year old boy I never knew. It's all prayer.

Glory be to the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit...

As I wandered amongst the graves, beads rough against my fingers, slipping from decade to decade, I thought about love, life, loss, being forgotten and remembered, what I'd left behind and where I was going, the constant, deepening struggle between the institutional Church and my unfolding faith.

You wonder will I leave her - but how? I cross over borders, but I'm still there now.

As the sun lowered in the sky, I could feel the internal stillness deepen, and a sense of peace came over me.

Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of, crap, how does the rest of it go? Fuck it. Salve regina, mater misericordiae...

Then I turned the last corner, and the gate came into sight again...and I had the answer. Well, I'd always had it; I'd just been letting too much get in the way, too many well-meaning people decide what KIND of Catholic *I* had to be: you'll be a good Catholic when you receive on the tongue; if you fall in line here; if you stop thinking about this, it'll be so much easier, dear, won't it? And if you stop looking too hard and too deeply and seeing what's really going on, it'll all be fine. Will it, fuck.

I can't say the rosary just like anyone else: others prefer kneeling, saying it together, in bed, in the car, wherever. But that's not for me. The rosary works for me when I'm walking in a graveyard: maybe it'll work when I'm walking on the railway line at Walsingham or somewhere else. I don't know. What I DO know is that tonight, I made the rosary mine. Now, it is always mine.

I need to do the same with my faith: stop looking around; stop listening to even the most well-meaning when they try to change me; stop trying to fit in a mould that doesn't work for me. The other thing I need to stop doing is getting infuriated/drawn into politics, ideological arguments, hard as that is for me, since I love a good argument. But this isn't genuine argument; it's polarisation. And I can only imagine Our Lady's sorrowing eyes as she looks down on it.

How can I leave her? Where would I start? Let [the Church's] petty [factions] tear themselves apart...

Not too long ago, a friend said that I was 'a mix' when it came to my faith. He's *right*. My faith is what it is - it's ME. Complicated, light, dark, sharp, tender, angry, loving, sad - all of it. Take it or leave it. I suspect - or rather, I hope - I know which one Our Lady will choose.

...[Mother Church's] only borders lie around [her] heart.

Happy birthday.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Ancient divination cards and sand dune mountains (Dream log)

I dream vividly every night. Most nights, I can remember parts of several dreams, often all of more than one. But even amongst the vivid dreams, there are dreams that stand out, that are like being completely in another reality. Last night was one.

I was sitting outside, Indian style, looking out at a dark, surreal landscape. Trees were silhouetted against an eerie blue-green glow in the distance as I looked down at the cards in my hand, which looked like Tarot, but weren't quite. The artwork almost lived. That they were very old, I knew - and I also knew that though I had never used them before, I *knew* them. Knew them as if they were a part of me.

And I knew without a doubt that they were more than just cards as they slipped sensuously through my fingers - that as beautiful as they were, there was a dark side to them.

I heard a voice say, "Every mage across time has owned a set of these. If you have found them again, then you were a wizard, a sorceress, a witch, a priest or priestess - someone who worked with magic, and worked with it deeply."

Suddenly, I was flying over the most beautiful landscape, part the dark lush landscape, but increasingly one of deep blue sky and sand dune mountains. I knew I was flying over inland South Africa, and as I passed over a dune mountain that seemed as high as Everest, I noticed that some of my people were trapped on the narrow summit of one of them - a summit that was like a razor's edge, with barely enough room to hold one's balance.

I landed in the valley with others to make a plan, and suddenly Saffa Greg was there, trying to tell me something essential to the rescue effort but I couldn't hear him over the wind. He repeated it several times and I finally caught it, though I can't remember what he said now. Using that information, we managed to bring the others down - though that part of the dream was sketchy.

Then, as suddenly as it began, the dream ended with me in a library, looking at the cards in my hand and the same voice saying, "The challenge and the difficulty is to use them - without controlling what happens through them. Very few have managed it."

Then my eyes opened to a familiar magnolia ceiling, sunlight and the rush of wings flapping outside the window as I was jolted back into my body. And I wondered.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Pakistan - a personal reflection

The sky is nearly black and thunder echoes overhead. I sip orange juice as I gaze out the back door, watching fat droplets crash into vividly yellow flowers, sharper in colour because of the charcoal grey sky.

But though it's what everyone else would see, I'm not looking out at an English back garden. My eyes - and heart - are elsewhere. Somewhere where the sharp smells of woodsmoke and duputtas being dyed mingle in the summer air.

Somewhere I haven't talked about in a while, though everyone else is.

Hazel was first, followed by a slew of friends. "I've heard about the floods in Pakistan, do you have any relatives there? Do you know if they're ok?" I made vague answers; said what little I knew. Trying not to face the fact that I DON'T know how the people I really love are.

I'm not one for avoidance. In fact, my friends would probably tell you I'm relentless about seeing the worst possible option as a reality: someone I've trusted for years might be a sociopath and I could be totally wrong (almost always false); if a guy seems interested, he's either a player or gay (ok, yeah, he's staring at my chest, but he's faking it); a pillar of society is a liar/sociopath (that one is far too often true).

My favourite word? Look. Look at what's real. Look towards, don't look away. Look at the shadow. Look into the darkness.

When it comes to my world, it's one of my few unbreakable rules: things AREN'T what you hope they are. DON'T pretend. Look. Look. LOOK.

But every single one of us lacks integrity in at least one aspect of our life. Welcome to one of mine.

I should have known. Should have known when my answers were short; should have known when I felt defensive; should have known when I couldn't speak. I'm the one who always modifies the triage rule by saying that what one refuses to speak about is where one is most traumatised, that which most needs to be expressed. I, who turn my face towards everything, force myself to watch programmes on some of the darkest parts of human history, have turned my face away from Pakistan.

I have refused to look. Refused to watch its descent into anarchy. Refused to know about the daily bombings in Lahore. Refused to look at the natural disasters.

I can't look.

Why? Pakistan is...not this. Not this failed state, not this horrible mess, not this mass of suffering nor this inevitable descent into chaos. Not this, please. Not this.

Pakistan is...being greeted at Lahore by as many of my mother's brothers and sisters who could make it. Being wrapped up in big uncle bear hugs. Laughing till I'm sick at my mother's cheeky, smartass younger brother who probably had far more to do with forming my love map than my father did.

It is being surrounded by a gaggle of cousins; playing 'Pitu garam' barefoot on a hot brick backyard; time on the train; whispered conversations under the razai; cricket on the television. Sudden torrential rain; trips to Shalimar Gardens and Anarkali; blinking sleepily, then rolling over and snuggling further under the razai as the Azan cuts through the dawn sky.

7UP cubes; Enid Blyton; crap Punjabi pop music; trying on Aunty Razia's burqa. Grandpa's twinkling green eyes and white beard and sheer gentle presence. Laughter, parathas, Mom and Aunty Razia in the kitchen making chapatis. Pakistan was a trip to the Kaghan Valley, the breathtaking gateway to the Khyber and Hindu-Kush Himalayan subrange, with one room housing ten of us snuggled under razais as Uncle Javed regaled us with stories that kept us in stitches till well after midnight...and waking to the same uncle being shaved with a straight razor.

Bright sun, bare feet on dusty roads, golguppes from street vendors, the smell of Imperial Leather and sandalwood on men, the scent of food mingling with...

...woodsmoke and duputtas being dyed.

Pakistan was family. Pakistan was love. And its rawness, its place on the edge of life, clicked with its counterpart in my personality, changing me forever - meaning that I ever seek people and places that resonate with that.

That's where I want to freeze it - in that time, in that place - where aunts and uncles were young, strong adults who could carry us easily and hold us safe; where cousins were carefree and dreaming of the life they might live. Where one knew what the political reality was from day to day. Where the kids could walk down to the market without fear. Where international arrivals at Lahore airport was full of young faces shining with love and expectancy.

Don't make me look.

Don't make me face an international arrivals area at LHE that's far too empty, with far too many of those I love gone too early. With uncles and aunts who need my assistance to walk; with cousins careworn from unhappy marriages, infertility, or babies who died too early and a land falling apart around them. Please, don't ask me to look at cousins who are now strangers - in part, because of family choices I've made; in part, because of thousands of miles.

Don't make me look at the fact that the choice I've made with my immediate family means that I have no idea how people I love are doing in this time of bombs and floods.

Because if I look, my heart will break. Break for those I love; break for a people suffering and dying by inches and by the millions; break for a land birthed in so much pain. And I'm not sure it'll ever be whole again.

Yet look I must, and break it must- frozen may be beautiful, but it denies life: the life I've lived and the lives they've lived. To love them truly, to heal, means I must look. And eventually, I must go, hold them and know them again - as they are now, not as I've kept them imprisoned in my heart. Eventually, perhaps I can even take the trip that might symbolise healing for all of us - a trip from Lahore, Pakistan to Jalandar, India - the reverse of the trip they made during Partition.

But I must remember the line from Contact I quote to my friends when they're working things through: small moves, Sparks. Small moves.

First, open your eyes, turn your head - and look.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Speaking up for freedom

Thank you, President Barack Hussein Obama, for these words:

Let me be clear. As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.

A Capetonian Facebook friend posted her support of his words. An American from South Carolina posted the following: More see it as a personal stance then [sic] a politcally correct one since his father was Muslim. Too bad for him that he couldn't keep his opinion to himself.

I BEG your pardon? Since when is supporting someone's right to freedom necessarily narcissistically tied to YOUR history? I support gay rights, rights for prisoners held anywhere in the world, the freedom of speech for the BNP (so I know what they're saying, of course) - but I am NONE of these things. And I would hope that every single one of us supports the rights of those not like us.

Why SHOULD he keep it to himself? It is his SWORN DUTY and moral obligation (as it is for all of us) to stand up for the freedom of ALL Americans, everywhere, whether it's popular or not. How does creating an 'Islam-free zone' and further alienating moderate and relaxed Muslims help anyone?? Marginalising people will radicalise them - trust me, that's the last thing you want. We would do well to remember that there is no exception under the First Amendment: all religions are allowed to practise freely.

And if anyone is to epitomise my favourite poster, which states, 'Stand up for what's right, even if you're standing alone' - it should be the head of our nation, who speaks for all we stand for - our president.

Frankly, I am *ashamed* of the political climate in the country of my birth. That is NOT what America was created for or what it was about when I was growing up. Be against something, fine. But be civil, gracious and empathetic. I do NOT remember this sheer ugly, nasty, shrill narcissism pre-GW Bush. And I'll call a spade a spade: it's evil.

The United States was created as the antithesis of narcissism. THIS is what America is about: Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Not 'only allow the people like me to breathe free.'

I'm with The Independent: It is regrettable that Mr Obama felt he had to underline the need for religious tolerance as he did, but admirable that – despite the sensitivity of the mosque's location – he nonetheless went ahead and gave it the seal of presidential approval.

It is more than regrettable, it's HORRIFIC and UNTHINKABLE in a country with America's constitution.

You know, Europe 'kept it to themselves' in the 30s and 40s - and six million people died. I'm not willing to take that chance.

Are you?

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Assumption Sermon

Today's preacher, close friend and confessor, stopped by my pew before mass. This is a usual weekly face-to-face catchup, and I always keep my head tilted for his familiar tread up the side aisle. This time, he mentioned that he was thinking of ad-libbing the sermon, as he had done at the 09.30. I firmly came down on the side of him taking the risk.

He did. And how it paid off.

I'm not sure if he was aware of the elegant completion his sermon brought: on this same feast a year ago, another priest spoke of suicide from the point of view of doctrine. Today, so did he - in a way that made it clear that he understood the fear and hopelessness that underlies that drastic decision, in a way that held those who had either been there or are there. His point was that the Assumption is a feast of hope - and we all *need* hope, even when it is the tiniest silver thread through the darkness which we find ourselves in. One of the most powerful points he made was that when we are in that darkness, it is impossible to see past the present moment: but it is in THAT moment that we most need to look beyond that moment - which brought him, most naturally, to Our Lady.

I wasn't sure whether to cry or cheer - maybe both. What had felt sharply poked at or necessarily hidden now felt safely held.

He also talked about how we tend to emphasise soul over body, but that we are both - and we need to remember that no matter how our bodies can seem to hinder us, they ARE part of us and we can't disown them - and that we need to bring body and soul back together, using Our Lady as a template and a sign of hope.

And in that hope, in that looking to Our Lady, we - as she - need to renew our 'Fiat' to God, with life and our faith every single day of our lives.

It was, without a doubt, one of the best sermons I've ever heard.

Weaving the threads of his sermon, he held us, his flock, compassionately whilst offering orthodoxy, which is what shepherds must always do - from the public pulpit to the private confessional. But it was the fact that he ad-libbed it, which allowed him to be really present and emotionally engage with us, that moved it from great to one of his best.

The person I saw in the pulpit was the person I see across the table at La Cucina.

He was practising what he preached - integrity of body and soul.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Integrity and darkness

Today, I got a brilliant email question from a clerical friend, which arose from a note I sent him. As I wrote, I thought, 'Blog post!'

So here goes:

By the way, why does integrity involve seeing the dark side too?

*Tilts head, wondering where to begin*

If we think of integrity as wholeness, then by definition, it has to encompass everything. It doesn't mean integrity has to EXPRESS everything at all times, but one needs to know everything intimately and *integrate* it.

I'm going to use myself as an example because it's what I know best - I'm not saying I'm the only one like this or that I'm better, it's just that I live in my own skin and can best explain it that way.

Yesterday, when I asked you [that question], I asked you in full awareness of the fact that sometimes, my triggers with men and kids are hair triggers and might well be wrong. I can't remember if I made it explicit, but I hope I did - and I consider that tendency part of my darkness. Now, I don't ever NEED to express that hair trigger by jumping up and accusing someone - in fact, my being aware of it and allowing it to be what it is makes it less likely that I will.

On a deeper level, I know what my darkest fantasies are - and they're not covered by BDSM, LOL. My darkest fantasies involve what I would do to every member of the Taliban if I got my hands on them, or as I said to Nick once, "Do you KNOW what I would do to protect a child?" I also know that there are occasions, like last November, where a dark night of the soul is SO dark, I have considered suicide - and that coming back from that, recommitting to being here can be very difficult.

But it's only through KNOWING those fantasies and that dark emotional landscape intimately, knowing that THAT darkness is me as much as my light; acknowledging it and loving it enough to integrate it, rather than exile it, that I can actually create a solid foundation built on truth and love and what I AM - not a shaky foundation, a lie based on what I think I should be or others think I should be or some limited concept of a relationship with God.

It's only through that absolute truth/honesty that I can have a real relationship with God or anyone else.

I can't hide that darkness or eradicate it or imprison it: it will always leak out. I see it in myself and - to use our common landscape - I see it leaking everywhere in church and Church - because so many see a relationship with God as one where they have to be a 'Procrustean bed' good, rather than whole. Running from our darkness, repressing it, makes us rigid, unable to see clearly, unable to live. It makes; a shadow of what God dreamt and meant for us to be.

Good, if it doesn't emerge from the whole, is a self-serving lie: it is a quest for approval; it is a need to feel good about oneself; it is a way of denying one's darkness. Me, me, me. Only when it arises from the whole can it be goodness for goodness' sake, with no agenda or need attached.

If I embrace the dark, it becomes available to me with all its gifts: empathy and the ability to sit with anyone as they struggle through any darkness; compassion; it gives me depth, even as I can be wild, chaotic and fiery*; it gives me nuance and texture; it affords me myriad ways to deal with anything life brings my way; it allows me to trust God through the most difficult of times; it allows me to love wholly, deeply and in all sorts of ways (e.g., unresolved grief makes us numb/hardens us) through all sorts of things. It gives my relationships, my life, authenticity, depth, colour. It also means that I'm in control of HOW the darkness is expressed: as a thread in a more complex response, to strengthen/nuance it or in cases where necessary, on its own.

If I integrate everything, move towards wholeness, it makes me utterly trustworthy; a sanctuary; a clear, strong vessel for God to fill. There is nothing hidden, no lies to make me weak. I can hold any space and anything God chooses to pour through me.

Do I manage it? Maybe sometimes, if I'm lucky. But God created an alive, diverse universe moving towards dynamic equilibrium. It's about relationship and process. And knowing that we're all in process and all of life is holy ground...

...well, that's integrity too. Why?

Because it's what's real.

*Three adjectives Ari used for me last night. Integrity is also giving credit where credit is due. :-)

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Losing my tattoo virginity

I can't remember when I first went from "EWWWW, tattoos, pool room sleaze!" to "Tattoos! I want one!"

When I made the switch, I REALLY wanted one. But I'm not really good at lifetime commitments. We could say that it's because I'm a Gemini with tonnes of planets in Gemini. Or we could say it's my family history. But I prefer Eric Foreman's take on it:

"People who avoid commitment are people who know what a big thing it is."

And having seen people in (or in the process of making) lifetime commitments that destroyed their soul, I am most certainly aware of that.

So I wasn't going to make this lifetime commitment without being deeply in love with the design I was marrying. I knew I wanted a wolf and a moon. Liked this, considered that, until one day, early in 2009, I came across this and fell in love: a wolf that was PART of the moon, looking out at the world, veiled in mystery by wisps of cloud.

But having been messed around by lust at first sight before, I needed to be level-headed about this affair. It was a bit early in the relationship for a declaration of love. So I did what any woman would do: I talked about it. I posted it on my facebook page; I sent it to friends who didn't have fb and asked their opinion; I talked about where, when, how size mattered, anything.

In June 2009, I made my first visit to Evolution Tattoo to talk about it with someone briefly. Didn't have the £20 to make the appointment, but meant to do it shortly thereafter. Never did, thus convincing most of my friends that the affair was over and that I didn't have the staying power for this relationship.

But I kept looking at it: through the summer and the slide into darkness in the autumn. As I moved out of the land of the dark sun and recommitted to the world above, things started changing. When Sophie K-S wanted to get her tatt done and suggested we go together for an initial consultation in July, I looked at the picture again, realised I was in love, and proposed.

When we got to Evolution this time, and it was time to make a firm appointment, I went out to get the £20. Whilst Soph still hadn't decided on her Arabic script, I was ready to go. Funnily enough, Soph got hers done a fortnight before I did. C'est la vie; all good things come to those who wait.

On the eve of my lifetime commitment, I had an anxiety dream where I told Saffa Greg (who just materialised next to me, as friends in dreams do) that I'd given blood and had tested HIV-positive. He hugged me, told me it would be all right and asked if I'd checked whether it might be a false positive. I was doing that when the alarm went and woke me.

Nervously, I skipped breakfast, decided what to wear, put up my hair and hopped on the bus so I was there about 30 minutes early. Small waiting room meant I moved a lot as people walked in and out around me, including my tattooist (known to one of my colleagues/friends at work). He clearly knew what he was about as he printed off the tattoo for the stencil, asked if that was the size I wanted and moved smartly to his studio. But I didn't relax till one of the artists slipped behind the reception desk and said to one of the others, "I'm not taking her back this time," and received a sympathetic response and a 'go ahead' head tilt.

And I thought, "Yeah. People who relate like this are people I want doing something like this for me."

Finally, Jack called me into the studio, with his stencil ready, his dark inks lined up and needles at the ready. Having at first thought shoulder blade, the size now made me think midback, so I asked him his opinion. He said, "I like things centred," which went with my instincts. "It depends on what else you want done."

"I don't know," I responded.

We agreed, and he placed the stencil on my back, had me check it in the mirror and then it was time.

I had brought a magazine with me to read, but decided not to, in the end: if he wanted to chat, I wanted to have a conversation; but far more importantly, it was essential that I do something I don't usually do - be in body and be in the experience.

In went the first needle: it felt like vibrating sandpaper. It ached, but it didn't really *hurt*. Early on, I asked Jack how he got started as a tattoo artist and was rewarded with the coolest story ever: he used to draw all the time, and first wanted a tattoo at 13. He couldn't get one, so he MADE a tattoo needle himself: using the innards of his walkman and a guitar string. He did tattoos for himself and friends until his mother helped him with a loan for proper equipment - and then his room at home became a tattoo studio. And now, he works in England (he's originally from Poland), doing what he loves.

We compared opinions on cold coffee and discovered that my home state contained a number of his relatives. Others came in to borrow his camera or to ask him to fix a machine - many of which he has made. At one point, the artist who took my booking popped in, looked over Jack's shoulder and went, "Cool."

I couldn't resist. "That sounds like the ultimate in male approval."

Pause. "It is." He perched for a few. "How is it?" the tattoo veteran asked the tattoo virgin.

"It's ok. Not bad," I responded.

Respect flared in his eyes. "Really? I find my back the worst. Jack is gentle, but even so, it hurts."

"It does in some places, especially along the spine." And, as I was to discover shortly, with smaller needles that I had to breathe through. He must have known, because at one point, when he paused, he said, "Almost finished."

Then, like a proper Catholic nuptial mass, 1.5 hours later, the lifetime commitment was made, and the honeymoon had begun - with slatherings of salve and cling film...and Bepanthen.

Sometimes, you discover things living with a partner you didn't know before: you need to shower facing the shower head, because your partner hates getting soaked. Your partner needs soothing regularly, and you can't forget and scratch (brief moment earlier today, just at the edge). No swimming for a month, but you want a beach holiday.

Then you discover that you actually enjoy taking care of your partner through the high-maintenance period - taking the time to slather on Bepanthen, the soreness, the no soaking. The tradeoffs - that it's your choice for your body; having an excuse to take care of yourself; the 'oohs' and 'ahs' of others when they meet your partner; and most importantly, the sheer pleasure of HAVING your partner are more than worth the early graft.

You've met me. And so, without further ado, meet my partner:

Don't worry, he doesn't bite...except when asked.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

His truth is marching on...

Today, it's just a link. Well done, Judge Walker.

California, congratulations. I couldn't be happier for you.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Selfish much?

Every so often, I pick up a women's mag and indulge one of my little guilty pleasures.

Equally often, I remember why I don't do this more often. Today was one such day.

I made the mistake of reading the agony aunt column (which I can never resist). Most of the questions were *amused eyeroll* questions.

And then...there was the *WTF-my-blood-pressure-just-hit-the-roof* question:

I have two best friends and we've been very close for years - I've asked them to be my bridesmaids. Last year, one of them lost a baby and then her partner, and we were there for her. But now she's never there for us. She didn't turn up for my birthday party and if we arrange a night out, she either turns up for five minutes or not at all. I want her as a bridesmaid, but I'm not sure she'd even turn up...

And if THAT QUESTION wasn't WTFable enough, Irma Kurtz's response is even MORE of an epic fail:

She can't be depended on as she can't depend on herself. Misery overrides her best intentions. You could uninvite her as your bridesmaid, using the excuse that it's too much for her. That puts the ball in her court and you may or may not lose her as your friend. Or you could go ahead as planned, giving her time to cheer up or drop out - perhaps even at the last minute. But what difference does that make. All that matters is your loving marriage ahead.

Yes, of course, that's all that matters. Because Irma is feeding the idea, you selfish waste of carbon molecules, that all that matters is you.

Why don't I take the time to do you a favour and tell you like it really is?

Your 'best friend' - in inverted commas because you are clearly no friend of any kind - has just suffered two of the *most devastating losses anyone can suffer* (even if the partner left rather than died - the latter being what is implied). You and your friends were, of course, 'there' for the requisite - what? fortnight? - till the funerals and then expected her to buck up and be the person she was two years ago, before she lost her child (read that again, her CHILD) and the partner she loved.

And of course, equating her not being able to attend your little 'birthday party' and the odd social gathering with 'not being there for you' makes so much sense. Because you need her to be there for you and support you whilst you're eating, laughing and necking shots. She, of course, doesn't need YOU whilst she's grieving (oh, I'm sorry - you think she should be over it), trying to fathom a life without her baby and her beloved, whilst she's struggling to keep her head above water. She has to show up, happy, chirpy, thrilled for YOU. I mean, how DARE she continue grieving eight, ten, twelve months on? It's impinging on YOUR perfect little life. So what if your marriage reminds her, like a knife twisted in the heart, of what she's lost? Who cares about her? You've done your 'pat her on the back and hand her tissues' quota, now she should forget about it all and be there for you as you eat, drink and get merry.

Bite me and every woman who knows what being a real friend is about, c***.

Let me tell you what a real friend would know, so maybe you can be one someday.

Irma is wrong. Your friend is not going through 'misery', she is going through deep, intense grief that is complicated because of the depth of the ties, the fact that she is suffering more than one loss, and that the losses are unexpected, at least in terms of order. She can't 'cheer up or drop out' (WTF, Irma??? 'Empathetic' in your vocabulary at all?). Children don't die before their parents. Partners don't die young. She has lost her FAMILY.

Grief doesn't have a time scale. It's not 'a few months and it's over', or 'after the funeral, she'll be back to her normal, tequila shot drinking self'. It is a cycle that can take YEARS - her life is completely, utterly shattered. She has to accept the loss, go all the way into it and feel the pain, then begin to re-organise her life. That is going to take time.

And even when she re-organises, she will never again be the carefree friend you had two years ago: she'll be deeper, stronger, darker - she'll know a pain that most people will likely never know.

One of the things she'll need to get there is more than a little help from her friends: friends who will let her grieve; who will gently guide her to CRUSE or therapy if she gets really stuck; friends who will understand when she can barely stay for a night out; who will listen. No, it won't be all girly giggles and drinking; but then real friendship isn't, is it?

Sorry, what was I thinking? You don't know what real friendship is. Selfish much?

My agony aunt advice to you, which Irma - whom Cosmo needs to fire before she can do any more damage - apparently couldn't think of?

Listen to her. Love her. Be there. Yes, your wedding is coming up, but guess what? Even at a time like this, the world isn't all about you. Because what's your wedding really about?

Relationship - for better for worse, dark and light, laughter and tears. It would behoove you to learn how to do that.

Right now, you need to start with your best friend.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Reflections on August at the O and the Missa de Angelis

1 August - Lughnasadh, the beginning of the old autumn...and, if it's a Sunday, the beginning of a choir-free month at the Oratory.

Pure and utter bliss.

I'd forgotten how much my blood pressure drops when the choir leaves and we get to sing the Missa de Angelis. Normally, I'd dismiss it as being because of a mediocre choir and an annoying choir director. Today, for the first time, I finally went deeper: what is it about that first Sunday in August that makes my heart lift when the single priest, the MC and a minimum number of servers come out of the sacristy during the first hymn?

First of all, it's the sheer simplicity: there's space on the sanctuary; there's space in the liturgy. During the year, there's NEVER silence: either the choir is singing the mass setting or a motet. It's never STILL; the choir, though not present on the sanctuary, crowds it more than the 12-13 altar servers who can sit on it in addition to the MC and clergy at any one time.

That lack of stillness and space inhibits the natural movement of the mass, since liturgical flow - indeed any flow - needs an ebb. The extra music stops movement on the sanctuary dead, making it hard to start up again. E.g., at the end of the Gloria, it's difficult for the MC to know when to bring the collect up. My preference is that it is in front of the celebrant on the last note, so there's no pause, no kerfuffling, just a smooth transition. This is a dance; any break in it is jarring. Most of the year, the MC is late, which has everything to do with not knowing when the interminable 'Amen' is going to finish. Today, it was perfect - on the last note of the 'Amen', the missal was there, and liturgical flow was as it should be.

If we talk about the liturgy as flow, pattern and dance, then we cannot ignore the fact that there are partners: this is not something happening in isolation. And it's also important that the partners be fully engaged in the dance; fully present. The mass is a dance between sanctuary and nave. When the choir dominates, as it does 11 months of the year, the people aren't engaged and the dance falters.

Today, you could feel the shift in energy as the people remained standing to sing the Kyrie and the Gloria. I couldn't stop smiling: you could feel something click into place, an emotional engagement, a real dance partner, a presence. And the whole was more than the sum of the parts. For the first time in a long time, it felt *real*.

As you can tell from what I've written above, I resent the choir's domination of our service: I am coming to this mass to be a part of the worship, not a bystander. The Kyrie is OURS to say; the Gloria, OUR praise to God. It is NOT for anyone else to sing it for us. It's OURS - and singing it with those in the sanctuary creates the prayer, the mass, that rises like incense to its destination.

And then...and then, there's the Missa de Angelis. I'm sure the Oratorians will roll their eyes when (if) they read this, but I absolutely adore it.

The Missa takes me back to my pre-Catholic days, when I would visit my (soon-to-be sponsor) friend, Anni, at Catholic University on a Sunday. At 13.00 in the crypt church (don't waste your time looking at the basilica, go straight down to the lushly dark crypt), there was a Latin mass, most often sung by the ponytailed Fr Marc-Daniel Kirby, O.Cist. Not only did he sing beautifully, but he was absolutely on fire with the love of God - his sermons were passionate pleas for love of God and neighbour, for compassion, for mercy towards one another. And it didn't hurt that I often saw him in his biker leathers around campus, which just made him utterly cool.

If it wasn't Fr Kirby, it was often Msgr Renato Volante. OH. MY. GOD. OH. MY. GOD. There is nothing, NOTHING so sensual as Latin spoken by an Italian. Every time he said mass, I went weak in the knees. And I'll tell you, I peeked through my hands during the Eucharistic Prayer just to watch those Italian gestures. His sermons were almost always wistful ones about loneliness; more often than not, as I passed him on my way out, I just wanted to wrap my arms around him and tell him I was sorry and that I wish I could make it okay.

So, occasionally in August, the church seems to dim and there seems to be a black marble overlay over the late Victorian interior with which I am so familiar.

Then, there's the Kyrie. For me, it will always be THE Kyrie - no other will stick in my head. My first brush with the phrase 'Kyrie eleison' came with Mr Mister's haunting, emotional, opening cry of their song of the same name. I remember having to go look it up, loving the meaning and loving the fact that it made sense in their chorus. I used it as a prayer years before I converted. Even now, when I'm lost for words in prayer, their chorus comes back to mind:

Kyrie eleison - down the road that I must travel,
Kyrie eleison - through the darkness of the night,

Kyrie eleison - where I'm going, will you follow?

Kyrie eleison - on a highway in the light.

Only the Kyrie in the Missa de Angelis approaches this for me: plaintive, yearning, reaching. Maybe it's because it's stripped right down, like the mass in August; maybe because it's the first liturgical Kyrie I ever heard; maybe because it's the one I get to sing. But I put my whole heart and soul into it when I get to sing it, and it's the one that will move me to tears every time.

And the moment I do that, I'm there. At mass. Totally and completely - which allows me to be part of the whole mass, even my little idiosyncrasies, like watching the MC - which today left me in fits of giggles as I watched him use 'Achmed the Dead Terrorist' eyebrows in an attempt to get hapless servers to perform the most basic of tasks. At one point, when he was trying to get them off the sanctuary after communion, the expression was so pronounced, I could hear 'SILENCE! I KHEEL YOU!' - which just made me completely useless. I also engage with the sermon, rather than shutting it out, because I can't afford to be irimtated by one more thing, since the choir has used up my irimtation quota. Good thing today, as the sermon was well worth engaging with.

That engagement and that laughter is part of the holy experience - because you have to be fully present, fully engaged, to worship and be in relationship with God. That is the gift of August at the O for me.

I'm thinking of suggesting an Indian summer, and extending August till the equinox - at least.

Rock on.