The girl who lived inside the quiet

 

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She sits in the quiet like a rose petal sits in the gentle rain. Drinking in what is offered from heaven. Drinking and being washed all at the same time.

She notices the motion that lives at the center of quiet. The motion that causes her to peel herself open and look inside. It is irresistable, this desire that the quiet brings, to pry closer inwards; to watch for the rhythms the heart makes; and to find the meaning behind every heartbeat.

The quiet makes her search. She doesn’t want to but her hands, of their own free will, reach for the measuring tools so she can measure things – her growth, her metamorphosis. How wide has it been? How long? Has it been complete? Has she been illuminated?

She picks up the compass, the clippers and the map and follows the the old trails, calculating the miles and the heights. The journey to here has been full and sticky and hard and beautiful.

She has long fought the quiet. She stopped her ears so she couldn’t hear it and closed her eyes so she couldn’t see it. She much preferred the cacophony of the chaos, the discord that would keep her mind occupied instead of picking at itself. Then she wouldn’t have seen all the places where it had cracked.

It is much easier to avoid things. To push them away where we cannot reach for them. Until maybe we feel ready or we simply forget  that those things are there and they get swallowed up in the noise of daily routine.

But her destiny was sealed from day one. She was born in a quiet place, a little sleepy town on the edge of a country where the trees rose so high they could touch the sky. And the wind never shouted, just whispered in soft, hushed tones. Even though this quiet also lived inside of her, she wanted to escape, to run away, to scrap it all out from inside of her. She wanted to change herself.

But one day, sitting in the quiet, she realised the peaceful energy it brought. The nourishment. So she learned to curl into it and listen to all the wisdom and beauty it gave. She learned to honour it. She learned to honour herself.

Kaleidoscope

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Melbourne is steeped in winter at the moment. Her usual elegant lightness is weighed down with cold, her toes wet from the rain and dew. The mist that covers her is refreshing even as it is depressing. You can feel her heartbeat slowing down when you get up in the morning. You want to stay longer snuggled up with your duvets and pillows. She doesn’t seem to mind.

There is something about Melbourne winters. They remind me of the first time I moved here – the strangeness of the days I spent trying to woo her heart, trying so hard to make her fall in love with me. But there is a mysterious magic to falling in love, isn’t there? A mystery because we never quite know when, where or how it will happen. I like when it happens with someone I know. Someone whose heart I have learned and memorised as my own and then one day as I’m sipping hot chocolate with my fingers delicately curled around the mug, I feel everything in me pulling towards the person. It is quiet and strong. The realisation of a love that has been building from day one.

I’m cold every day in winter. My fingers are desperate for autumn and so is my heart. Both always seem so dazed by the cold. As though it doesn’t come every year. I smile watching them because it amuses me and endears them to me. My own being becomes something to encounter, as though discovering it for the very first time. And I swear the nostalgia that fills my heart is like a ball of fire. It should keep me warm all through winter.

And you. I have been thinking of you.

Often when I write I want to say something meaningful to you. I always want to leave words that you can wrap around yourself and know you are loved. And important, and special. I always want to pour my whole being onto the page so when you cradle it between your fingers feeling for its texture you can feel me too. That is the only way I know how to write. I am becoming comfortable in this skin. And I want you to be comfortable with this too. With me. I haven’t said thank you in a long time. The other day I sat down and thought about each one of you behind the names and numbers I see on the computer screen. Real people. And I was grateful that you are here. That you read me.

I remember when I started and I had 3 readers, 2 were my relatives. So know that I am gushing over you. That I pray for you. And that I need you. It is a scary thing to need people you have never met before but if you have been reading me for a while you know I am not afraid of scary things so I will say it as it is: I need you.

Being properly human is a big deal to me. The words and their intent grace the preamble of this blog. I live by those words. They hold together such a simple concept yet it is the hardest thing to put into practice. We can’t hide our humanity. It is something we carry with us no matter where we go. And so all I’m saying is why do we go all out to be the best at everything else but this?

“You don’t find a person being lauded for just being a human. There is no pat on the back for just trying your best to be one”said my best friend the other day. And she is right. But here, in this space, this is what we do. We laud each other for just being human. We pat each other on the back.

I struggle too. Like you, I do.

Right now I am re-drafting my PhD dissertation and it is painful. The stretching of the work is like being pulled to the limits. PhDs are like that. They pull taut every part of you that has feeling. I stand facing my fears about finishing, about writing a good dissertation, about the future after I close all my academic books and this journey ends. I am terrified.

Yet there is something breathtakingly beautiful about seasons where you are on the floor huddling yourself, these seasons of winter…they pass. And we grow from what they leave behind. We rise again. And the next time that season comes around we do it better. This is what it means to be properly human – the always reaching for the stars without forgetting the ones we already hold in our hands. This is a phenomenal skill. But it is crafted quietly and slowly through the way we live our life every day.

This winter is brewing things in me. I feel like a kaleidoscope. Sometimes I have moments of sheer awe with splashes of colour and other moments are filled with absolute terror. But when you undress this whole thing it really is very simple for me: I just want to love human beings. I am a big softie and I am at my best when I am loving someone or something. It is the core of me. And so when I grow up I want to give a love that is amazing.

And maybe when I die someone will say:

Wow. To be loved by her was an extraordinary thing.

 

Friday shot: come away with me

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A refuge.

A place to hang up all the ways I try too hard. Where the lines on my forehead give in and rest.

There is a stirring within, yearning and longing for sounds that hum along side the beat of the heart, matching each other in pleasant rhythms.

Where my feet don’t get caught in webs of insecurity and doubts. With the broadness of the way delighting each step.

I want to hold your hand tight in this place. Maybe we can sit on a rock and watch the sunrise in silence, with dawn pouring its gorgeous light on us.

The links I’m searching for are deep – they are multiple forms of surrender. Freedom in all its glittery parts.

I reach out my hand towards the sky and the sea, stretching and stretching to grasp the links. I will pull them back into my body.

And you will be right here next to me, a witness to the transformation that will be my heart.

Come away with me to this place.

You can’t be another person

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“If you really could be another person, you would. But you can’t. You are you. So you have to be you.”

She said these words to me as I spread out all the parts of my heart before her. She was helping me dig through the piles of uncertainty and fear that had collected. It is always a vulnerable place to be in, where you open the door and let someone else see the naked hollows that live inside of you, your heart lying there with nothing to hide behind.

But it is a good place, a very good place.

Her words were like fire. They rushed in and made things gush out – volcanos of fear and doubt scurrying together and falling away.

It was the words. These words. I thought they were the saddest truest words ever spoken.

The veracity of them jolted me out of my fixation on trying to replicate other people’s lives. People I admire who appear to be showing up in the world more courageously than I ever could.

The sadness I felt as the words sank deeper into my bones and spread their salve to every part of my body was not just for me but for all of us. Us, people, mankind. If we truly had a choice ninety percent of us would probably choose to be someone else, “a collection of personality traits selected from an endless automat of characters”. I get disturbed just thinking about it.

I have spent the last few months eating, sleeping and living in other people’s tents. I have rummaged through their stuff and their being trying to find that thing that makes them wield so much influence. I entered their bodies and imagined their sensations. The whole thing left me feeling depleted.

So then I spent the following months looking for methods of owning oneself. I took out all my guidebooks and compasses, papers and scraps of places I had been strewn all over the floor. I unpacked myself and looked underneath, above, inbetween and in all corners but my hands kept grasping air. It was elusive – this magical knowing of how one can fill out herself completely.

I thought it would be a big revelation that would arrive gallantly at my doorstep. I imagined it would announce itself and then proceed to enter me, almost like it was stepping into a pair of soft, comfortable house slippers. Instant possession.

It was none of these things.

It arrived quietly. So quietly I wondered if it really was. Could it be this simple? Could it be that the answer to the question of inner peace and doing work that is mesmerising is choosing to be yourself?

The world is a hard place to be you. I hear you. It is a hard place to be me too. Somehow we are born into a world that claims to value uniqueness but in practice wants us to be like everyone else. So we spend time watching how delicate others are; how long and sexy their legs are and what they wear on their sleeves. And we try to replicate their lives. Here a little, there a little. The project ends in misery because it was never meant to be in the first place.

By then the war within us would have already began. And it lasts forever. Or until the day we wake up to the evident truth; that you and I are unique for a reason. And it is an exquisite reason – we are to find pleasure and delight in each other’s individuality, as well as our own. Delight doesn’t live in allotment houses where worth is measured out in teaspoons and cups. In its most raw and true state delight is immune to these careless renditions of value.

We breathe so much energy into competing and comparing that delight feels soiled. She huddles in a corner and dies. She is a delicate thing, delight. Like porcelain dolls she thrives on intentional care and attention. She is all about seeing the pulse in each person, whether it be faint or arresting.

We were made to fall in delight with each other. I am convinced. And this steers us away from the path of wanting to be someone else. It has everything to do with being ourselves. It grows from there and steeps its roots into the very core of who we are, holding it resolute.

Being you is a big deal. You cannot be another person. And because that will never, ever happen the best and most beautiful thing you can do is to just be you.

This is the simple revelation that came to knock on my door. And I welcomed it in with open arms. It wants to infiltrate everything I own. And I say to it my body is yours.

I have wasted so much time already trying to be another person. I have to stop. You have to stop. We have to stop. Right now. Immediately.

 

* photo courtesy of Jo Chin. Check out her awesome work here*                                                             

Friday shots: mandate

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Don’t break to pieces.

You are stronger when you are whole.

When all the dam walls break and the waters come rushing at you, you will need to be brave. For you.

Because they will not always come. Sometimes they will stand afar off and watch from the comfort of their assumptions. Glances and whispers behind backs.

You need to stand then. You need to strengthen those limbs and plant your feet firmly on the ground.

Don’t shake. You can do it. Puff up your chest like you mean it. You are the door to yourself. You are the place where the buck stops.

Don’t break to pieces, beloved. You are are beautiful when you are whole.

Dear 33

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Dear 33,

I will start with a need, a need so strong it is pressing against my ribs and the only thing keeping me upright in this moment. I need you to hold me. To hold me so tight it doesn’t matter if I won’t be able to breathe. Reach your hand from the future and grab me. Clasp your fingers with mine. Intertwined and sacred. Trace this moment and outline it, for I cannot make sense of this path. This part of our life is called uncertain.

Remember that childhood knowing that sat so dominantly in the chest? That we were somehow meant for great things? I think I remain unconvinced. The dots should have aligned by now and our empire taking shape. But instead we went walking through deserts, barefoot on the blistering hot sand. We climbed in and out of trenches. This has been no straight path. Nothing at all like the flower garden trails I imagined as a girl. The pictures in my head were crystal clear and full of vibrant colour as I skipped through girlhood and through that long, dry grass that covered miles of space behind the house. My body was 6 years old but my soul was ancient.

33, beloved, I know where I’ve come from, how far and deep that place is, and so forgive me for the doubts now. It’s just that…it’s just that nobody said how hard it would be, how scary it would seem to put one foot in front of the other on a road less travelled. A path everyone secretly and publicly thinks you shouldn’t be taking. Certain roads should only be taken by certain people – this is actually a rule in this world. Nobody will own to it but nobody has to because everybody knows that is the way it is.

I know you think this is a load of crap and that is why I love you. Why I need you. You are a woman with the wind beneath your sails. Your eyes are grown and wise. You see life’s beauty and her sorrow and you find a place for both. You are a celebrator of life, the drumbeat that vibrates at the core of her.

I need your courage and strength more than ever. That little girl skipping in the long, dry grass with an old soul keeps calling out to me. The dreams we had then cemented in ink and yet I feel so far from them now, so far from the sap that energised them and sweetened them.

This is a hard job – expressing what many are afraid to acknowledge as being their very own thoughts, echoing the cries of other people’s hearts, reflecting them back to themselves. Sometimes I want to tell you that we should have picked an easier job but I know we didn’t choose this work. It came imprinted on the heart that beats in the chest. The same heart that beat in our 6 year old self.

And what is more beautiful than words? Words have the power to bind wounds, to nurse the place where it is broken and to heal the things that need to be healed. Words give wings to fly. They pour courage into our hearts and hope into our laps. And when we extend our words into action, they literally save us. What higher power is there?

“In the beginning was it not only the WORD and from the WORD worlds born?”

Clasp your hands with me, dear 33 and remind me of the sacredness of this work. Remind me that the art itself is bigger than my doubts. If you say it I will keep showing up on the page. I will keep showing up to work. Until one day I morph into you, and you into me. I will become you. You who are full of grace and wisdom. And even when you cry and are pierced with sadness, you keep walking. You get what this is all about. It is not about building castles and altars to oneself. It is about service, about faith and about love. Man can never reward you for these beautiful things.

So clasp your hands with mine and walk me though this. I need you so.

 

Yours forever,

32.

Post India – seeking light

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com

We went to see a musical, my best friend and I.

It was a musical about seeking light. Sitting in the dark next to her, this girl whose heart beats as full as mine, images of India came flooding back.

I had left Delhi two days earlier. Boarding that plane that would take me far, far away from India was the easiest thing I had ever done.

See, India broke my heart.

She knocked the wind right out of me. She took my beating heart in her hands and squeezed. It hurt. A pain I will never find full forming words for.

From the start, my intention was pure and my mission clear:

I was going to India to observe, to listen and to learn. I was going to India to experience her. An old land of history and culture. What I ended up experiencing was myself. In all my folds and crinkles. With all the light gone out of me.

I had the audacity to go with my candle. The moment I landed at the airport and stood at the immigration counter, my light was forcefully snuffed out.

“Where are you from” they demanded to know. That was the question that started it all and the question that I have tucked underneath every corner and every furrow of my body.

They wanted to send me back. They did. On account of my passport. My Zambian passport. I had become a spectacle even before I had opened my mouth. And it went downhill from there.

When we took to the streets, in the nooks and crannies of new and old Delhi, I was a walking, breathing anomaly. With my dark flesh and brown eyes. The stares I received were dehumanising. Constant accusations of why I wrought myself in this body. It was suffocating. It was overwhelming.

I found myself walking around with my head bowed as if in mourning. I was unsure of how to hold my body upright. Every ounce of confidence in me had been sucked dry.

But sitting in the dark of a theatre in Singapore, next to my best friend who holds my heart in her own breast, India close yet so far, I watched as the characters on stage danced the story of seeking light. They sough it from themselves and from each other.

It suddenly dawned on me that I had allowed the world to crowd in, to become so intimate with me. I had allowed myself to accept the ugliness it works so hard to reflect onto me: tales of dark flesh that was wrought in dark coalmines. Deep underground. Where light does not reach. Years and years of hearing this had stencilled it onto every fibre of my being. It had made me walk like a slave, my knees buckling the deeper I went into the core of the world. I had folds on my skin to prove it. Scars on my heart. Bundles of hurt hooked to my shoulders.

The world. The way it is structured. The way it moves. The way people view people who look like me. The perceptions. The stereotypes. They have tried hard to convince me and everyone else that I am part of the darkness.

But the truth is even more frightening for some, uncomfortable for others:

I am part of the light. I am part of the rainbow that forms because of the light.  I am created to belong in the spectrum. It is not your choice or mine whether I stay or go. I was created.

I have work to do in this rainbow. My job is to be here. To exist. To disrupt your fantasises. To make you think. To make you uncomfortable.

My job is to be light.

Light.

It is the most silent yet most powerful thing in the world. When it arrives, there is no noise, no drum rolls, no fuss. But it holds the whole floor by its presence.

It penetrates the murk.

It chases away the darkness.

It forms molecules of beauty that match every part of its essence.

Light is life giving. It is nourishing.

And this is part of what I have been called to be. I knew this, yes, but I did not understand it. Understanding means I lift my chin off the ground and I let this light unfold all the folded parts of me. It means I tell you when we are not being properly human.

It means I say NO to the darkness the world wants to shove into sacred spaces of human beings.

To be part of the light, I must seek it. This I know for sure.

When the search is over

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2013.

I want to trace my fingers over these numbers. To reach every nook & cranny of them, taking them apart and building them back together again. To pause at those moments when life felt unbearable so I can whisper to myself that it will be ok, that the end of the moment would be better than the beginning. Promise.

I want to linger at those moments when my heart was bursting at the seams with abundance so I can take it all in again & again & again.

I want to freeze those numbers, etch them into my skin & into my bones so I can remember always that I can never, ever go back to the way things used to be, that this is the end and at this end only one thing is clear – God & all the parts of Him.

In the beginning there was me. I was born.

I was born into love & poverty & struggle & peace & discontent & deepness & God & doubt. And I didn’t know what to do with all this stuff so I did what any normal human being would do – I started searching.

For answers. Why was the most pressing question for me and the one I asked over & over & over when I was a child. I asked it of family, friends & strangers alike. I wanted to understand the wiring behind things, why they happened the way they did. It was an obsession, a craving whose origins was as mysterious as my own soul.

Why is the sky blue? Why won’t those kids play with me? why does it hurt in the chest when you are sad? Why, why, why?

The answers given were always short & simple – the kind you give to pacify a child. But I was not a child; I was an ancient soul in a child’s body. So I continued searching.

It became thick and complicated.

Now I was searching for significance, validation, value and for my place in the world. I was looking for love, depth, richness, passion, realness, authenticity. I was looking for God, even though I had Him. He was too big for my small hands, I wanted to handle Him, taste Him. I wanted to feel Him.

I was deluded & on fire.

I was searching for identity, I was searching for myself.

I’ve spent the last 30 years of my life searching. I’ve left no stone unturned. Everything in me that can be cracked open has been cracked open. There has been no holding back here, not on my watch. I laid myself out in the open, through rain & sandstorms and I looked my flaws in the face, dined with them & then sent them off on their way. There was clinging, there were tears. It has been painful. It has been scary.

I searched like an insatiable lover & the very idea of searching was like a tall, dark, brooding man always desperate for my touch, my skin, wanting me, consuming me. I became good at him. It was a thrilling love affair.

Then I went to Malaysia.

My humanity came under scrutiny. It was simple, really. There was nothing new about this experience. I have had this questioning of my humanity in other places in the world. But there was everything new about where this experience took me.

The despair was blinding. & the darkness, suffocating. It was in my in veins, in my sinews, everywhere. It soaked right through my skin & it covered me until that was all I could see, feel & taste. So I did what any normal human being would do – I stopped fighting.

There was nothing left in me. I had no grace to offer the world or myself.

Coiled up there in the darkness, I realised this was the end. This was the place where the search & I went our separate ways. I wanted to hold on to Him, to feel his warm breath on my skin just one more time but this was it. This was goodbye.

It has taken me weeks to understand what this means. And even then I cannot be eloquent in words with it. So, instead, I want to show you. From here on end.

The search comes to an end when you find what you are looking for. It must. Mine has.

I will now enter the arena, with all my gold nuggets in tow to reflect back to the world, to take on the work of being properly human.

 

The wonder of it all

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Fill my cup with hot chocolate. Fill it to the brim. Let the rich, sweet & decadent froth run over. And I will sit here & love your face off.

We can sit quietly, hands on lap & listen to each other breathe. Or you can tell me what’s on your mind. It doesn’t matter how small. If it’s on your mind then it must be important to you. Put it on the table, I will listen.

I will trace your heart for you. Maybe not like Da Vinci with the Mona Lisa but I will be this way with you.

You & I walk the streets of the earth. Winding roads of pleasure & pain that burrow us to the edges of the world, winding roads that still bring us back here;- to this moment, sitting here, facing one another wondering what it’s all about.

We wonder why it hurts; why the fear finds a home inside our heads & we can’t feel the skin that delicately hangs over our bones. Somebody convinces us that there is room only for those who are good looking, thin or smart. We take their definitions & run with them – up & down the winding roads of the world & still we end up back here.

Staring at each other.

What if this whole thing is about you?

What if what you think & do is what makes this world a littler darker or brighter? What if you mattered, in all the best & worst parts of you? What if I told you that you are the wonder of it all?

Don’t look away. I meant it. It’s just you & me here, you can take off the layers. I can take off mine. I will trace the beauty of your heart for you.

It means so much to God that you wake each day & try, that you don’t give up when the world is screaming in your ear to do just that. It means so much that you can see…at least the sanctity of your heart – that well-spring of all the stuff that makes you, you.

I will trace it for you –

There is no one like you.

This sounds cliché, as old as rags because it has been uttered & uttered for millennial. Motivational speakers beat it over our heads without mercy. Like you, my instinct is to turn away at the mere sound of it. It disgusts me, it fills me with nausea.

The words have attained celebrity status & have been milked dry.

But forget those people who have used them; people who are wealthy, people who are successful as the world defines success, industry people & experts, writers & young millennials, who have thousands of likes on Facebook because let’s face it – they can afford to say it. Forget them.

Listen to me – this girl who is nothing & has nothing to offer you.

There is no one like you.

As common & washed out as that sounds, it is true. It is so because this is how God designed it to be. We should not build towers to it, thrones or altars. Instead it should fill us with humility & gratitude that we get to live out an existence that is purely unique, purely ours; that we get the chance to be ourselves.

It should fill us with peace. That quiet knowing that all is & will be well because the One who runs the show is in charge. That we are not extras on a movie set – we are the cast, the real thing. This, is the wonder of it all.

Sit here quietly by me. Let me watch your beauty. Let me be mesmerized by it. Let me remind you that it’s there, that I see it, that I can trace it.

To me, you are like a cup of hot chocolate, my favourite thing in the world – rich, sweet & decadent. The wonder of it all is in the tasting of it, the outpouring of it.

Sitting on the sidelines

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My CD finally arrived in the mail yesterday.

I was like a little girl with her first doll, tearing the package frantically so I could behold my treasure & hold it close.

When I carefully set it into the player, I had to hold my breath to steady my excitement. The music & lyrics washed over me, beautiful & real.

I love my music. I have moments of obsession with certain songs & artists. I lose myself until the song becomes one with my psyche.

One of the songs on my new CD talks about waiting for tomorrow; about sitting on the sidelines, waiting. It’s a thinking song.

I don’t know any person who would be willing to simply sit by & watch their life pass them by. There is a desire that burns inside all of us – we all want to be worthy participants in our lives & of those we love. This is what gets us out of bed every morning.

You want to do something. & you want to do it brilliantly. With gusto & purpose. This is one dream we all have in common. & even if the commonality ends here since our paths & journeys diverge in all sorts of direction, we are still carried on that single current of wanting to do beauty for ourselves & for our loved ones.

You cannot live a meaningful life without taking the whole thing seriously & by serious I mean sincere, aware & rendering it important.  I’ve had people tell me time & time again not to take things too seriously. I never know what they mean exactly  because taking things seriously doesn’t mean walking around with a sombre countenance all the time nor does it mean foregoing the having fun & enjoying what was intended to be a joy.

We tend to mistake awareness for seriousness or sombreness. The two are different, miles apart even. Awareness is about self-knowledge, other people knowledge & understanding precisely where you fit in the circle of life. & how your life is interlinked with other lives. It’s being mindful of the unravelling stuff that may one day touch our lives. It’s about putting everything that travels around us into perspective. It’s about balance.

Life is beautiful, no doubt. But we also have to be honest & acknowledge that it can also be tricky & difficult. Painful & heartbreaking too. We aim for balance & that is what awareness does for us. It pours stability into our souls & keeps us from being overwhelmed & pulled to either extreme.

I still struggle with this. I’m prone to extremes. Intense in my thinking & doing. What I’m learning & practising now is the art of softness & gentleness which is just as powerful.  We don’t have to fight all the time. We don’t have to be wound up.

I know it’s easier to feel small &unimportant in this big world. But you’ve got to believe that you were made for so much more than sitting on the sidelines, waiting for things to align themselves before you can start living. You’ve got to know & believe that you are important & let that fact move you to the centre of your story.

Here are a few things to get you started:

1) Know. Get to the nitty gritty of yourself. Know what lights you up & connect to the energy source of that. Celebrate the you that is uniquely you as well as the you that is like everyone else. It is something special. Use it.

2) Do something lovely everyday. There is no end to what you can do to bring a smile to someone else or to yourself. The act of random kindness & loveliness strengthens the belief that you can do this life thing & you’re building the skills to do it fabulously & fearlessly.

3) Protect yourself. You will be amazed at how quickly your resolve to live meaningfully can be unravelled. By other people, situations, the world, information overload, & even by yourself. Not everybody is pure-hearted as to want the best for you. Remember that & surround yourself with people who love the core of you unconditionally & want you to succeed. & hold the things that keep you sane close. To the very heart.

This should get you going. You are the hero of your life. You don’t want to look back one day & think “it could have been better.”

Now is the time to do it. You got this. I know you do.