Tuesday, October 16, 2012

As Plain As the Nose On Your Face

I wouldn't have the courage to leap out of a capsule 23 miles up, that's for sure. Hell, I could never even pluck up courage to leap off the high diving board. But one thing I do envy our culture's latest daredevil hero for and that's the chance to see the Earth from that incredible height, to get a greater sense of its curvature, its wholeness, its planet-ness. And to feel in his body, for four whole minutes and at a greater intensity than ever before, that deep strong pull homewards that we know as gravity.

One of the first astronauts to see our Earth from space spoke fervently about his feeling of identification with it. Just as we may see a photo of our own house, our own street, our own town and say "Ah, there's home," he suddenly realized that he was seeing, through the porthole of his spacecraft, the only home that humans have ever known. And exhilarating though that moment was—he said later that it changed his whole life—one can only imagine the profound sense of relief he and his companions felt when their feet eventually touched solid ground again.

Most of us never get further up than 40,000 feet and even then we are more likely to be watching movies, reading in-flight magazines or waiting for the drinks trolley to reach us than we are to be marvelling at our (somewhat) expanded view of the landscape. And millions of our fellow humans have never been inside a plane. However, the concept of flight, the concept of travel, even on a train or in a car, plays tricks with our minds. In fact, just our very ability to move from place to place on foot rather than being rooted in one spot for life, like a tree, gives us a false idea of who and what we are.

We talk about being on the Earth, as though anyone except Neil Armstrong has ever actually been on anything else. Religious people sometimes talk about being 'stewards' of the Earth, as though our planet hadn't managed perfectly well for millions of years before we turned up, a few cosmic seconds ago, to be its self-appointed 'stewards.' We talk about 'Mother Earth' and ourselves as her children, but most children grow up and leave home and that is one thing we cannot do. Nor would we want to.

We have no difficulty in seeing rocks and mountains, sand and sea, rivers and stones as being an intrinsic part of the fabric of our planet. Even plants, we can imagine as part of that fabric, since apart from tumbleweeds they mostly stay where they are. But moving creatures, the ones with feet and hooves and wings and manufactured wheels, those seem different to our literal, childlike minds and it takes a leap of intellect—a leap that many people seem unwilling or unable to take—to understand, to really get it, that we, too, are just as much a part of the Earth as a mountain, a pebble or a mushroom. The molecules and atoms we are made of have been here since the Big Bang and the energy forces that formed those molecules and atoms were here even before that, part of a vast mysterious universe that is beyond the grasp of our finite minds. 

Yes, it is an intellectual leap, but it is a leap worth making because it is a leap that can change your life. Some people can go even further than that and are able, even if only for a few seconds at a time, actually to experience that oneness and have a total knowing and bodily feeling of it that is way beyond all thought or concept. I long for the day when we can all do that. 

I want to say to everyone: you are part of this planet in the same way that your nose is part of your face. Yes, theoretically you could chop your nose off and hurl it out into space, beyond the sky, beyond gravity's pull…

But why would you ever want to?

Monday, October 08, 2012

September in Sardinia

Here we are, home again after a marvellous
month spent exploring Sardinia.

It was our first trip there but I think - and hope - that it will be the first of many. 
What a beautiful island and what warm and wonderful people we met, everywhere we went.

I just finished creating a report of the whole trip,
with lots of pictures. 
You will find it at:

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Self-Therapy Made Easy

Today, instead of my usual musings, I am going to do some shameless self-promotion. It's something authors do, I'm afraid. In fact these days our publishers not only expect it, they require it.

Why today? Because here comes another new book! This is another in the 'Made Easy' series from John Hunt Publishing. The 'Made Easy' books span several of the publisher's different imprints, so while  the last one I wrote, Downshifting Made Easy, was under the Earth Books imprint, this new one is under an imprint called Psyche Books.

Readers of my book The Lilypad List, may remember that there was an appendix in the back of that book with some ideas about self-therapy and quite a few readers said they found this useful. Those ideas are greatly expanded upon in this new book. I hope people will find this one useful also.

Here is a post from me on the Psyche Books blog that explains what the book is all about and why I wrote it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The 'Right' Path of Relationship

Last Tuesday Margaret Wheeler Johnson, an angel-faced young journalist from New Orleans, now based in New York City and editing the ‘women’ section* of the Huffington Post (*they call their sections ‘verticals’ but I can’t yet bring myself to accept ‘vertical’ as a noun) published an interesting piece on relationships.

Following the lazy writer’s fashion for quirkily numbered lists masquerading as articles, hers was entitled ‘31Ways To Know You're In The Right Relationship.’
And I, being a lifelong sucker for quizzes, went through the list. Not that I needed a checklist to know I am in the right relationship. I knew that already. But 31 criteria? Goodness me!! I diligently checked them off, all of them, happily confirming what I already knew. 

I aced the test. And ended up wondering how Margaret devised it. Did she figure it out, based on her own experience of good relationships (even though she looks too young to have had much of that) or did she do lots of research, talk to marriage counsellors etc…or what?

At first I found myself wondering if there were any other criteria that I, as a psychologist with many years experience in couple counselling, might have added to her list. But then I decided that for me the ‘right’ relationship isn’t based on lists at all. The right relationship is the one you are in now. At a spiritual level, every relationship is the ‘right’ one because we are each other’s teachers and our most intimate partners are the greatest teachers of all. It is from them that we learn most about who we are; it is through them that we grow. The learning and the growing might sometimes be painful. All relationships are destined to change over time, simply because we change over time. Sometimes that change may involve conflict, estrangement, separation and/or divorce and always, somewhere along the time line, it will involve death. But no relationship ever actually ends: it merely changes form. The first man I married eventually became my ex-husband and then he became my deceased ex-husband but at some level our souls are still connected and always will be. It was never the ‘wrong’ relationship even though it ended in divorce.

 For that young journalist, being in the ‘right’ relationship probably means that you and your partner get along so well that you have a good chance of remaining partners till death doth you part. Her 31 criteria are perceptive and accurate. Combined, they could be seen not only as a good prescription for ‘success’ in relationship but also as a good diagnostic tool for anyone experiencing problems in this area. Topics, if you like, in a curriculum designed to teach us how to behave with our significant others—something most of us learn through trial and error. Because relationship is not about success vs. failure or rightness vs. wrongness. It’s about learning. There are no mistakes. Only outcomes. Only lessons. When we embrace this we are ready to enter into a conscious relationship, i.e. one in which in which both parties understand their relationship as a path of spiritual growth

I have one of my former teachers, John Welwood, to thank for this awareness. His teachings on conscious relationship have been my inspiration and my guide. As he says in his beautiful and seminal essay ‘Intimate Relationshipas Transformative Path’, “If relationships are to flourish, they need to reflect and promote who we really are, beyond any limited image of ourselves concocted by family, society, or our own minds. They need to be based on the whole of who we are, rather than on any single form, function, or feeling. This presents a tremendous challenge, for it means undertaking a journey in search of our deepest nature. Our connection with someone we love can in fact be one of the best vehicles for that journey. When we approach it in this way, intimacy becomes a path— an unfolding process of personal and spiritual development.”   Yes, oh yes. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Sunshiny Days

How very hard it is to stay indoors when the sap is rising, the birds are singing and the garden is calling me to dig and weed, and rake and sow. Who wants to sit at a desk, staring at a screen when they can sit or walk or work outside and feel sunshine on their skin? Well, some folks might, but I don't.

My skin craves sunshine. I know this is not just because I spent forty years of my adult life living in sunny parts of the world like Australia and California and got accustomed to it, because I remember how I craved sunshine as a child. It was as though there was some ancient piece of programming in this English brain of mine that made it well-nigh impossible to remain indoors on a sunny day. Whenever I awoke to a morning of blue sky and slanting sunbeams I would experience an immediate and powerful urge to leap out of bed and run outdoors. 

I can still remember, vividly, the power of that bodily urge and I remember how quickly and surprisingly it left me when I moved away from England. So much so that I forgot all about it for decades until, the first spring after I came back here to live, it reasserted itself with the same force as ever. 

There was an item in the BBC news yesterday about the importance of Vitamin D to our health and about how we poor denizens of the northern latitudes who don’t get enough sunshine on our skin need to take Vitamin D supplements to keep ourselves healthy. Those same health authorities who fussed and worried and sent us all scurrying for shade and slathering ourselves from head to toe with SPF 15, are now suggesting that maybe they went a bit too far overboard and a little sun on the skin is actually a Good Thing  (just a little, mind). Not that I ever took much notice of those warnings in the first place, except that I was always careful not to burn. 

My own experience tells me that sun-craving, for people who live as far north as I do, is actually an adaptive mechanism. I am convinced that, just as the food cravings of pregnancy signal a shortage of some dietary element or another,  sun-craving is a natural and evolutionary response to insufficient levels of Vitamin D. So, as with everything else, if we remain fully tuned to our bodies and fully receptive to their messages and requests—which, by the way, tell us not only when to get out into the sun but also when it is time to move to the shade—they will serve us faithfully and with much gratitude.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Productivity Rules (Forever, dammit!)

When I look back and muse upon it—which I frequently do each evening as I draw the curtains—the very best kind of day is one that has contained all the following ingredients:

● I created something

● I exercised my body

● I spent time outdoors

● I completed something

● I enjoyed myself

● I felt fit, healthy and in love with life 

Some days are like that. But how to deal with the ones that are not? How to deal with the days when I feel like Stephen Leacock’s character who “… flung himself from the room, flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions.”?
How to deal with the days when, as I draw the curtains, I cannot even remember one single thing I actually did except for eating meals, going to the bathroom and checking email?

How to deal with days when, despite all my good intentions, the piles of paper keep piling up and all efforts to bring order to my chaos fail (again)?
How to feel OK about a whole day spent sitting in an armchair reading the latest Michael Connelly murder mystery when I really should be out there doing Something To Save the Planet (or at least pulling a few weeds in the veggie garden)?

Over  the years I have convinced myself that it is perfectly OK to be erratic, perfectly OK to have quiet days and doing nothing days, perfectly OK to please myself from moment to moment as regards what I do with my day, especially now that I am retired and officially an old woman. Besides which, I’m a writer and writers need quiet gestation time as well as busy scribbling time, right? Yes, I have convinced myself of all these excellent arguments. And yet…

Something I have noticed is that it is heaps easier to feel good about a doing nothing day if it happens to occur on a Sunday. Interesting, isn’t it? Interesting to notice how deeply our childhood conditioning  sinks into our psyches, how it is reinforced throughout our lives by twelve or more years of schooling and half a century's exposure to the industrial culture* and how hard it is to eradicate entirely. Kind of like couch grass.

Anyone else noticed this?

(* not everyone is paid for what they do, more's the pity, but we're all conditioned by the so-called 'working week.')

Monday, January 30, 2012

All Our Relations

Have you noticed how so many of the ways that we talk about Nature and about our fellow creatures drive a semantic wedge between ‘it’ and us, between ‘them’ and us? So much so, in fact, that it is quite a challenge to talk about other life forms without falling into the trap of separating ourselves from them with our words.

There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that our species Homo sapiens is a member of the Kingdom called Animalia (we are animals), the Phylum Chordata (we have spines), the Subphylum: Vertebrata (a special sort of spines), the Class: Mammalia (we suckle our young), the Order: Primates (along with apes, and monkeys), the Family: Hominidae (one of the so-called ‘great apes’) and the Genus: Homo (men and women, boys and girls). Yet to listen to the way we speak about ourselves—and the way we think about ourselves—you would never know it.

After all these centuries of imagining ourselves as separate from the rest of the animal kingdom and forgetting that all of these other life forms are our relations, our language has been shaped by our beliefs. So yes, it is hard to avoid the linguistic traps. But I really wish we could all try harder. It really bothers me when I hear people say “humans and animals,” as though we weren’t animals. We need to reverse the trend and re-shape our language to fit our new realization of who we really are—one organism among the billions that make up the body of the living Earth.

It bothers me when I hear phrases like “walking in Nature,” as though there were any place on our planet were Nature isn’t. Nature is us. Nature is in us and everywhere and in everything. Even in the heart of the city, Nature is not just the pigeons and rats and cockroaches and mice and the slivers of living green that grow up in the cracks between the paving stones, but all-pervasive. The air is full of unseen creatures; our own bodies have other creatures living on and within them, creatures in their millions. We are Nature and Nature is us.

For all of my adult life I have consciously and delightedly revelled in the experience of being woman, being human, being animal. So when Stephanie Sorrell, one of my fellow authors at John Hunt Publishing, told me she was thinking of co-ordinating a new publishing imprint called ‘Animal’ I was delighted. If any of my readers are interested in Stephanie’s proposal, you will find it here.

So if you have a book in you and it is about other animals and our relationships with them, contact Stephanie. The email address, in case you can't read it very well in the box,  is animalpub(at)hotmail.com (just replace (at) with the @ sign)