Chasing the Light

You were born into a strange world,

Like a candle, you were meant to share the fire.

I don’t know where we come from, and I don’t know where we go.

But my arms were made to hold you, so I will never let you go.

Cuz you were born to change this life.

You were born to chase the light.

You were born…

 

Cloud Cult

 

On Saturday we went to the winter edition of the Cape Town Folk and Acoustic Music Festival. It was a magic evening; I felt so privileged to experience the music and the passion of the musicians themselves. It was clear that this was not just a performance. Each one sang and played with their whole heart and mind, with obvious delight in their craft.

I often find myself moved by art and music. A couple of years ago I had the privilege of viewing the art of Rembrandt at the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam. Tears flowed as I stood in front of The Jewish Bride. I was overwhelmed at the thought that Rembrandt himself had worked on the painting in front of me, that each brushstroke and carefully chosen colour had flowed from his imagination onto the canvas. I know as a writer that whatever you put onto the page: a word, a picture or a series of notes, is in some sense a piece of yourself, that you risk vulnerability every time you open your heart and give expression to what you find inside.

Any creative act is an invitation to some kind of relationship, even if it is just with yourself. As I write I am challenged to explore more deeply my own experiences and responses to them. In sharing that, I am inviting you to explore along with me. When I watch a musician play, I feel that in some way they are welcoming me into their life, to see the world through their eyes. Sometimes this changes me, changes the way I see the world.

A few months ago I listened to this podcast, an interview with Craig Minowa, the lead singer of Cloud Cult. In it he speaks of the way the audience connects with them as they play. In sharing himself with people through his performances, he creates a space in which people feel that their own struggles and joys can be embraced and acknowledged. It’s well worth taking the time to listen. (You can find a video of Cloud Cult, performing the song I have quoted above, here.)

I love the idea that we are like candles, so here’s to a week of looking for opportunities to ‘share the fire’.

 

A Timely Reminder

But I am one of those people who thinks you have to let go of your scarcity for good things. You have to let go of the addiction to fantastical good, big things, like the ones that make the papers. We have to let go of that definition and instead believe in small, good things or we don’t get free.

I count them like money: my small, good things. They are money in the bank: flower scents and aromatic oils and kind moments and garden fresh meals and skills we’ve learned and friends who apologize and brave people who reach out to the world and say, “This is what I can do, to help.”

This is what makes the world make sense again, when terrible things keep happening. This is what makes it possible for me to feel my feelings in a world where good things and bad things live right next door to one another.

Small, good things matter.

Esther Emery.

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I came across this post by Esther Emery a few days ago. It was perfectly timed; the past few weeks have felt blurry and scrambled. There is so much going on in the larger world, so much pain and brokenness. And there is so much change going on in mine. Sometimes it feels as though I have a thousand voices  in my head, shouting for attention, and I cannot unravel them from one another long enough to make sense of it all. I want the big picture; I want a clear road ahead.

But I cannot have this clarity now. I can only choose to give myself to each moment, and for that I need a smaller field of vision. I need to focus on what is right in front of me: the mushroom I picked in the forest on Saturday, the sound of my horse’s breathing, the music of the poem I read this morning. And when that something in front of me is hard or painful, I need to attend to it with an open heart and do what I can, then let it go.

Small, good things matter. I have been reading a book by Robert Macfarlane called Landmarks. In it he speaks of being a lover of mountains, living in the flatlands of Cambridge, of learning to love a landscape devoid of dramatic beauty. He says, “Becoming a father altered my focal length and adjusted my depth of field. Children are generally uninterested in grandeur, and rapt by the miniature and close at hand (a teeming ants’ nest, a chalk pit, moss jungles, lichen continents, a low-branched climbing tree). From them-among countless other lessons-I have learnt that the magnitude of scale is no metric by which to judge natural spectacle, and that wonder is now, more than ever, an essential survival skill.” I like that, the idea of wonder as a survival skill.

I had plans for my morning, plans that didn’t materialize quite as I’d hoped. So I tried to be present to the little piece of them that I was able to salvage. I attended to the words on the page in front of me, and found a kind of spaciousness entering the tightness in my chest. I breathed a little easier, and realized that I could hear the birdsong outside, the birdsong that had been there all along.

Acting with Beauty and Courage

We have no reason to distrust our world, for it is not against us. If it has terrors, they are our terrors. If it has an abyss, it is ours. If dangers are there, we must try to love them. And if we would live with faith in the value of what is challenging, then what now appears to us as most alien will become our truest, most trustworthy friend. Let us not forget the ancient myths at the outset of humanity’s journey, the myths about dragons that at the last moment transform into princesses. Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act just once with beauty and courage. Perhaps every terror is, in its deepest essence, something that needs our recognition or help. 

Rainer Maria Rilke

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I’ve always loved fairy tales. It often seems to me that they hold the memories of all the stories and experiences of our journey as human beings. They stir up echoes of things we know, but have forgotten. They remind us of who we are, and of what is necessary to be alive and awake in the world.

How do we act with the beauty and courage Rilke speaks of? How do we approach brokenness with recognition and help, when anger and frustration at the pain in the world and in our own lives threatens to engulf us, or keep us numbed in an attempt to function? It’s as though there is something in us that wants to meet fire with fire, to blaze into the hurts and challenges with force, with the armour that anger or disengagement provides.

I like that Rilke uses the word beauty, a quality so often seen as superfluous. Years ago I sat in a small, box-like room at university for a lunchtime lecture. The man giving the lecture spoke of the room we were in, of its sparse, utilitarian nature, its ugliness. He said that there was a sense in which that room was evil in its complete lack of beauty. He said that form and beauty is as important as function, that we need it. And for all our talk of the brutality of nature and survival of the fittest, creation is saturated to the point of overflow with it.

Can we believe that at the heart of every struggle there is the possibility for renewal? Can we reach into our individual and collective fears with a vulnerability that enables us to acknowledge what we find beneath the surface? And from that place of acknowledgement, can we act with kindness towards ourselves and others?

These are hard questions, without easy answers. I wonder if part of the solution lies in an ability to be softer, to believe that God is at work and that in our willingness to enter into vulnerability, we can be part of that work.

 

A Singing Stream

Doubt

 

Perhaps not

this winding road

is out of course

drifting

disconnected from the memory

of an imagined end

unknown

and full of the sounds

of questions

 

Carri Kuhn

 

The Real Work

 

It may be that when we no longer know what to do

we have come to our real work,

 

and that when we no longer know which way to go

we have come to our real journey.

 

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

 

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

 

Wendell Berry

 

SAM_5022

 

I used to look at successful people and think they had it all together. It seemed to me that they must be a special category of human being, less prone to the insecurities and struggles of lesser mortals like me. I have always battled with confidence, and assumed that those who were making their way in the world with such eloquence and apparent self-assurance must be of a different essence. It was a discouraging but oddly comforting idea. I would never be a ‘success’ but since I was not cut from that cloth, I didn’t have to make the attempt to grow beyond my particular set of competencies.

I think differently now. I realise that successful people are those who reach into their vulnerabilities and recognise them as stepping stones, as ways of becoming aware of themselves in order to move forward, towards their goals. It’s hard work, of the inner self and of the outer world of learning skills and applying oneself to being better at what you do, every day.

A few weeks ago I listened to a very well respected author say that he doesn’t think his writing is good. I remember, several years ago, watching a trio of A-list actresses talk about how nervous they feel on the first day of a film shoot. One of them even said that she often calls her agent just before shooting commences, to say that she doesn’t think she can do the film. Knowing that others face these fears helps me to see that I am not alone in my battles.

It’s tempting to give up. I can find a lot of excuses for not doing things. My mind is a very effective generator of reasons for ‘why this will not work’. But the truth is that this kind of thinking only feeds my fear and keeps me stuck.

I love Wendell Berry’s thoughts on ‘The Real Work’. When I apply my mind to solutions rather than problems, and I take the leap and do something, I develop resilience and capacity. This is when my life really does start to sing.