Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Joy. Or not. 

Significant thoughts come at the oddest moments. Like when walking across Tesco’s car park about to embark on the weekly trolley-warfare of Saturday morning grocery shopping. Out of an empty sky this thought flew down, perched on my shoulder and whispered in my ear:

There’s really only one reason why my life is not overflowing, this moment and all moments, with joy: I don’t allow it.

Even though I know it’s there for the asking; know that all I have to do is allow joy to flow through me as it wants so much to do. Joy is not something out there, in hiding, waiting to be discovered; it doesn’t have to be earned as a reward; it isn’t achieved by enlightened understanding. Joy is not conditional on the results of anything I do, except one: it simply waits for the door to be unlocked and a channel opened for it to flow.

Joy’s source is within, pouring out to embrace whatever it is that turns the key to unlock the door behind which it waits. Sunlight shining through a leaf, a smile on a stranger’s face, the touch of the wind; even the seemingly mundane – like the warmth of a railway carriage on a cold, wet evening. Everything to which senses are open has the capability to unlock that door, if only we let it.

Joy cannot be contained, cannot be shut in a box and still be joy; joy lives only in flow, and only in flow can we experience and know it.

Joy is conceived within, at the coming together of the inner source and the outer stimulus, but the moment of its birth is critical to its life. If it doesn’t reach expression in the world but stays hidden, with little outward evidence - beyond perhaps a smile - a disconnect is created: two selves, one external, one internal, pulling in different directions. But the outer self has behind it the weight of the whole world, driving to maintain the status quo.

I make joy wear a straightjacket; at the first sign of its stirring I bind and hold it. Or like a frightened animal, I turn tail and run with it for the familiar dark security of my burrow, holding it tight to prevent it escaping, rather than face the awesome brightness that awaits on the burrow’s threshold.

Why would anyone refuse such a gift?

I thought at first it was self-punishment. Not for any specific crime; just an irrational, masochistic desire to seek justification through self-denial.

Then I wondered if it was unworthiness; I simply don’t deserve it.

The true answer though is simpler, more elemental. It’s fear, plain and simple. Fear which lies at the root of so much pain. It’s fear that paralyses - just as fear in the face of danger holds a body physically paralysed, so too fear can hold heart and mind rigid, incapable of expression, constricting the flow of joy until it is strangled to no more than a few sorry drips, soon dispersed.

But fear of what?

Fear of being noticed, of being different, of standing out? Fear of rejection for daring to believe that attitude changes everything? Fear of being mistaken for a happy-clappy, tree-hugging, do-gooding, flower-bearing hippy? (Peace, man...) Fear of being thought a little strange, a little eccentric; even slightly mad? After all, to be mad is only to choose a reality which is different to that chosen by the majority.

Fear of stepping over a boundary, of breaking the unwritten rules that define normal behaviour? Fear of disturbing the ordered scheme of things, of upsetting the applecart? Fear of taking a step that can’t be reversed without looking foolish?

Fear of losing control? Fear that, having been dammed up for so long, unfettered joy will gush and bubble and behave in a generally childish fashion unbefitting one of my apparent solemnity?

Or is it the ultimate get-out: avoidance of being responsible?

Do I dare disturb the universe?

It’s such a fragile feeling; I stand balanced on a knife-edge, knowing that I can tip either way at any moment. If I chose to deny it, the feeling will wither and die; if I choose to allow it – but I haven’t yet. I daren’t.

As a kid, did you ever make a diver in a bottle? His buoyancy set at a critical point – a gentle squeeze on the bottle and the diver plummets to the bottom; release the pressure and he bobs to the surface. I feel like that diver. The bizarre thing is that it’s easier to keep up the pressure – both from outside and from within – to send me down, but so much harder simply to release the grip of those pressures and come bobbing to the surface.

Four days at home over Easter released the pressure on the bottle just a fraction. Back at work again, the grip tightens. But I can begin to see it for what it is, and recognise the choices.

I should probably have worked on this a bit more, but too many posts never see the light of day because I send them down that path, never to return. So let it stand here, raw and unfinished.

Well, if I’m going to leave it unfinished, I might as well add the latest thought that materialised from nowhere: perhaps what is needed is simply channels for the flow to run along.

Oh yeah; one more thing. Substitute love for joy. Or inner peace. The meaning is much the same.

Monday, March 28, 2005


The Song of a Man Who Has Come Through

Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me!
A fine wind is blowing the new direction of Time.
If only I let it bear me, carry me, if only it carry me!
If only I am sensitive, subtle, oh, delicate, a winged gift!
If only, most lovely of all, I yield myself and am borrowed
By the fine, fine wind that takes its course through the chaos of the world
Like a fine, an exquisite chisel, a wedge-blade inserted;
If only I am keen and hard like the sheer tip of a wedge
Driven by invisible blows,
The rock will split, we shall come at the wonder, we shall find the Hesperides.

Oh, for the wonder that bubbles into my soul,
I would be a good fountain, a good well-head,
Would blur no whisper, spoil no expression.

What is the knocking?
What is the knocking at the door in the night?
It is somebody wants to do us harm.

No, no, it is the three strange angels.
Admit them, admit them.

~ D.H. Lawrence ~

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Cost of compassion 

Our church services tend to be interactive affairs; this morning’s was no exception.

Find a partner, we were told, and each tell the other about an occasion when someone did something for you, at a cost to themselves. Then each tell about an occasion when you did something for someone else, at a cost to yourself.

It wasn’t easy. The hard part, for me, was simply finding the stories. I’m a little ashamed to say that, off the top of my head, I couldn’t even think of one, either way.

Never mind religion for the moment; this is about how far we go in breaking down the carefully constructed barriers that protect our identities, and living out reckless human compassion one for another.

I came away not very proud, and rather thoughtful.

Saturday, March 26, 2005


I appreciate that you don’t really want or need to know this, but there are some mighty strange goings-on computer-wise around here. Everything works fine except that I can’t send email from my ISP account, I can’t post on Blogger or change my Blogger template, and I can’t FTP photos to my webspace when using ADSL. Data comes in fine, but I can’t send it out.

The odd thing though is that all of these work okay via my old dial-up account, which I keep active for just such eventualities as this. And that is how the last few posts got here.

But even though all things are still possible, until it’s all sorted properly I’m only half present – there’s too much time and energy going back and forth with my ISP trying to get things back to normal. Even posting responses on their user portal has to be via dial-up and the old ISP.


I just realised the irony in those words above. Only half present? I haven't been as much as half present for a long, long while...

Even Later...
Turned out my router was blocking everything outgoing except simple web page requests. Goodness knows why - it didn't show on the configuration. But rebooting the router cleared the problem.

It's surprising though how unsettling it feels, only being half-connected to the rest of you out there...


Pity Photo Friday didn't choose the theme of tiny in a few weeks time, when the tiny frogs appear.

Incidentally, this is where the Benbo tripod really comes into it's own:

Friday, March 25, 2005


I'd have to be mad to compete in this game...

...but what the hec. I just couldn't resist having a go.

Shake out... 

Easter Exultet

Shake out your qualms.
Shake up your dreams.
Deepen your roots.
Extend your branches.
Trust deep water
and head for the open,
even if your vision
shipwrecks you.
Quit your addiction
to sneer and complain.
Open a lookout.
Dance on a brink.
Run with your wildfire.
You are closer to glory
leaping an abyss
than upholstering a rut.
Not dawdling.
Not doubting.
Intrepid all the way
Walk toward clarity.
At every crossroad
Be prepared
to bump into wonder.
Only love prevails.
En route to disaster
insist on canticles.
Lift your ineffable
out of the mundane.
Nothing perishes;
nothing survives;
everything transforms!
Honeymoon with Big Joy!

~ James Broughton ~

Another gem via Panhala

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Awe inspiring... 

This image would be remarkable enough if it had been taken with the Hubble or Hale telescope, but it wasn’t. It was taken by an amateur, without even a “proper” observatory. Admittedly he has some rather nice looking kit, but the results are staggering - as beautiful and awe-inspiring as any astronomical shots I’ve seen. And I rather suspect it takes more than just a lot of expensive equipment to produce shots like this.

Strangers on a train 

One of those little things you suddenly become aware of:

On bad days – days when I’m feeling disconnected from everything – all I see around me are empty, blank faces.

On good days, I see companion human souls.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Fellowship of the Road 

"I was just admiring your levers."

Brake levers. On my bike. He'd overtaken me a couple of hundred yards back, grunting a "Hello" or some such as he went past, but I'd pulled up beside him at the next traffic lights.

"They're only the cheapest Shimano ones."

"Look the biz though."

Admittedly the handlebars on my bike are a little unusual and getting levers to fit wasn't easy; his bars were the same type as mine, and the levers looked... well... a bit basic.

"I had to file down the housing to give enough clearance."

It's not at all unusual to exchange a few words with fellow-cyclists; there are one or two I see fairly regularly. Even though it's an odd sort of relationship - one that exists just for a few moments on a handful of days a year - there's almost a bond that forms out of the knowledge of shared experience. It doesn't matter that the words are only about everyday cycling trivia - it's enough that two people have bothered to create a link.

I love the idea that it's okay to stop and chat to a complete stranger; a bit like exchanging comments on a blog. Except that of course they're never complete strangers - the very fact that they're on a bike means that there's at least one thing we know that have in common - and in London, like as not that includes the battle against the common foe of London traffic.

It's just a pity that we don't have the same spirit of camaraderie with every stranger that we meet, especially since we all share so many common experiences, including those battles of life.

Been tinkering… 

I noticed a while back that Haloscan now provide an RSS comments feed, but I hadn’t a clue how to use it. Thanks to a lengthy thread in Haloscan’s user forum, I now have a "recent comments" section in the sidebar. It’s not quite right yet - mouse hover doesn’t always show the post title to which the comment refers – but it’s a step in the right direction.

At the moment I can only view it in IE6, so if it looks wrong in other browsers, do leave me a comment to say so.

Credit also to RSS Digest which provides… something apparently essential. I’m not geeky enough to know exactly what though…

Saturday, March 19, 2005

More wildlife 

What the cats were watching:

They have sharper eyes than I have. I was idly looking at this guy's head thinking it was a pebble with a tiny snail on it. Hadn't occured to me that a pebble wouldn't be hanging there in the water; it just looked pebble-like so my mind took it at that. But then perception flipped and the snail became an eye...

Friday, March 18, 2005


Photo Friday's theme this week is glow.

Yeah, I know - this is hardly an original composition; I'm just having fun playing with the new camera. It is rather nice though being able to respond directly to the challenge set, rather than just raking through the slide archive.

"I never said it was going to be easy..." 

Got to start again somewhere, I guess…

What happened? Somewhere along the way in recent weeks I lost a few things – a sense of purpose, a sense of self, a sense of personal worth. Carrying all of those things seemed too much like hard work; too much of a struggle, so I must have ditched them for a while. But without them, I’m floundering. I also seem far more tired that I ought to be, able and willing to nod off to sleep anywhere, any time, which makes it hard to think about writing anything.

After a year in counselling, sometimes I feel nothing’s changed. I know where my hopes lay, but the internal barriers stand as firm as ever.

And yet…

I’ve had glimpses of possibility, maybe even glimpses of identity. I’ve understood, intellectually, how the twists and turns of the path have brought me to where I am. I’ve seen a hint of a reflection of a dream of who I might be. Who I really am, perhaps…

I remember the words of a manager I once worked for: we’d been discussing the difficulties of a long-term plan he’d set out. We’d debated the philosophy (which was his), and as we turned to the here-and-now practicalities (which were mine to make work) his parting comment, with a god-like smile, was: “I never said it was going to be easy”.

It never is.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Garden wildlife 

It's been a beautiful warm and sunny spring day; the frogs have been busy in the pond doing what frogs do in ponds on warm spring days, much to the fascination of the cats who've been spending most of the day frog-watching. I saw this little fella - a common newt as far as I can tell - when I went out to try and entice the cats back indoors for the night. I hope he (or she) didn't mind the flash.

This shot also demonstrated the well-known achilles heel of this camera, namely low light autofocus. This had to be focused manually - and I have to admit I'm pretty pleased with the result.


Still frogwatching...

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

30 seconds-worth 

Feels like I ought at least say something, even if I have nothing really to say. Been feeling the impact of that older part of older-and-growing. Back’s still not right, chest infection is proving tenacious, and powers of concentration have evaporated. Is it something to do with turning 50 last month? Seems recovery – physical and mental – from any injury or malady takes forever these days. Maybe I needed reminding how fortunate I am to enjoy good health for 99% of the time. I just wish the 1% would hurry up out of the way, and the ability to maintain an attention span longer than 30 seconds would return…

Friday, March 04, 2005

Four seasons in one day 

Well, two anyway.

At nine o-clock it was as wintry as any day this year, but by four every trace of winter had vanished.

I was careless on Sunday. Lifted a chair, twisted... and twang! An old back injury re-asserted itself. Struggled in to work for three days but eventually had to acknowledge that without resting the muscles this wasn't going to go away quickly. Still, staying at home has it's merits - I get time to play with the panorama funtion on the new camera.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

You know the message is spreading when you hear it coming back 

I was at a presentation yesterday given by Mark Venning, President of ACPI – the Association of Career Professionals International.

His business website is built around a blog.

The book he recommended as being the most important for career coaches: The Cluetrain Manifesto.

Maybe things really are changing out there…

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Good hearts, good minds: blogging as therapy 

It still feels slightly surreal. Getting invited to take part in the 100 bloggers book project, that is. Rubbing shoulders with bloggers who, to me, seem far more accomplished than I am. (And yes, I know that that feeling stems as much from my own self-image as it does from anything else. But that’s all part of who I am…)

I finally finished my piece a couple of days ago. This is the third element of a chapter begun by Chris, continued by Michael , then myself, and closed by Jon, with a common theme of conversation running through it.

Jon said some kind things about me in the introduction to his piece; well, in mine I make reference to being attracted to blogging by the “good hearts and good minds” of the people I encountered here. In saying that, I had two people very specifically in mind. Jon was one of those – his understanding and passion covers such a broad church, encompassing the global, human and personal without compromising any of those. I was attracted to his ways of thinking and speaking, and realised here was an opportunity to connect with people who were saying things that mattered to me.

Euan was the other. And did I have a hard time figuring which one to pass on the last invitation for Chris’ chapter to… It almost came down to flipping a coin. I don’t know a more enthusiastic ambassador for blogging than Euan (unless it’s Jon?) and I felt more than a touch guilty about not inviting him (sorry Euan!) But in the end, I only had the one invitation to offer…

Anyway, here’s my offering for the book:

Good hearts, good minds: blogging as therapy

I was 48, stuck in a rut, and although I didn’t know it, on the brink of a classic mid-life crisis: no longer young, not yet old, now that youth’s drive to create elbow-room in the world had waned, age-old questions such as “Who am I? Why am I here? What is love, really - and am I capable of it?”, long brushed aside, were pushing their way to the fore. My upbringing - a mix of post-war austerity, puritan work ethic and a traditional respect for authority - had largely suppressed individuality in deference to conformity, so after twenty-odd years as husband, father and breadwinner, I existed largely as an outer shell in which all the routine functions of daily living were acted out, and a hidden inner core - ignored for so long it had all but given up the struggle to be heard.

I had a nagging feeling that somewhere along the way I’d abandoned a vital centre of myself, leaving it marooned on an island somewhere, but that was disturbing so I avoided feeling it too often. Occasionally chance would bring my boat within sight of that island, but seeing what I’d forsaken, almost-but-not-quite within reach, created an intense inner turmoil, as though to reach that part of me I’d have to fight my way through the pounding surf surrounding the island, protecting but isolating its occupant. Staying put seemed less hassle, so that’s where I stuck.

It was against this background that, quite by chance, I came across blogging. I sensed something good going on, something worth being a part of – a community of “good hearts and good minds” as another blogger later put it. I felt a sense of attraction - excitement even - as, in the people I encountered, I recognised reflections of that lost soul I’d left marooned. The words and images unfolding before me every day in blogs had a raw immediacy that gnawed away at my detachment, awakening forgotten hopes. Just as half a century ago, TV had brought the world into our living rooms, so blogging was having a similar effect, but in an intensely personal way, reaching in and involving with a power that other media could never manage.

Why should simply manifesting who we truly are be such a struggle? For a while, I thought I’d found a way to reunite those divorced layers of self, but my boat foundered on a submerged reef, in the form of the mask that I’d grown so used to wearing, described in this extract:
“You become who I think you are; I become who I think I ought to be; I appear to be who you think I am. Each locked into a narrow channel of expectation; a universe of possible selves abandoned.

You only have eyes for the image of the person you think you see before you; obligingly, I hide all else from you. I, too, see only the projection of the person who exists in my mind, hear only the words in my head echoing back to me.

Together, our expectations write the script and set the stage; we are characters in our own play; puppet and puppeteer both.

Who are you? Who am I? Will we ever know; each other or ourselves?

In the face of Expectation, truth flees behind a mask. All around me dance characters at a masked ball; I no more know who hides behind their masks than they know who hides behind mine. How can they, when I have forgotten myself? If, indeed, I ever knew. ”
I needed to look behind that mask, that outer shell, and for that I needed dialogue: self expression, shared meaning, fresh insight.

Blogging is self expression. As open or as circumspect as you choose, it’s never not self expression.
As a dialogue with self, the discipline of putting words to feelings and seeing them reflected back from the screen helps to crystallise thoughts, which in turn helps break free from the endless treadmill of the voice-in-your-head self-talk.

True dialogue has been called a flow of meaning; the more I am able to speak from the heart, the more I find meaning flowing between myself and those who read and comment, freeing up my inner dialogue:
“To heart and soul, experiences occur whole and undivided, but mind works mostly within the confines of words, so to reach you across space and time, I divide these experiences up, package them into little parcels called words and send them streaming off to you. You unwrap them, and with a touch of magic reconstruct an experience. I do the same with your words too, and if the magic is particularly powerful, for a brief moment each of us knows the thrill of experience shared; our isolation is broken and we connect - understanding or love or fear or pain or happiness or sorrow crosses a chasm that may be inches wide or spanning the earth.”

Best of all is the kind of meaningful dialogue that feeds the soul. I brush up against more strangers on the way to work than I read blogs each day, but there’s precious little interaction with them. I don’t see into their hearts, nor they into mine; we’re not invited to share in each other’s lives. Jammed shoulder-to-shoulder on a train, we’re universes apart. But suppose instead it were like this: imagine seeing someone on the street; something about their manner holds your attention, as they approach you make eye contact and feel a sudden sense of familiarity, recognising a kindred spirit; as they pass, they offer you a few words, a message that strikes to the heart of an issue dear to you. It might happen in the movies, but not in real life. Or does it? Fanciful as it sounds, encounters like that are almost commonplace in blogging. Doubtless there’s a statistical explanation involving six degrees of separation and the huge number of immediately available connections with others, but the synchronicity seems almost magical – proof of the adage that when the student is ready, the teacher appears.
"What lies before us and what lies behind us are small matters compared to what lies within us. And when we bring what is within us out into the world, miracles happen." - Henry David Thoreau

My blogging continues to be an exploration into the un-sailed waters of what lies within, in the company of good hearts and good minds. Sometimes scary, sometimes battling against inner resistance, often with surprising, insightful discoveries. And that, I guess, is what therapy is too.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005


A while back, these three poems were posted on consecutive days at Panhala, a Yahoo group I subscribe to. Individually, they are powerful; taken together, they cut right through to the core of so much that is my mind at the moment. So much so, that any explanation I can give will be a poor shadow of the meaning they hold for me; I keep returning to these words - there's something here I shouldn't ignore.

The Winter of Listening

No one but me by the fire,
my hands burning
red in the palms while
the night wind carries
everything away outside.

All this petty worry
while the great cloak
of the sky grows dark
and intense
round every living thing.

What is precious
inside us does not
care to be known
by the mind
in ways that diminish
its presence.

What we strive for
in perfection
is not what turns us
into the lit angel
we desire,

what disturbs
and then nourishes
has everything
we need.

What we hate
in ourselves
is what we cannot know
in ourselves but
what is true to the pattern
does not need
to be explained.

Inside everyone
is a great shout of joy
waiting to be born.

Even with the summer
so far off
I feel it grown in me
now and ready
to arrive in the world.

All those years
listening to those
who had
nothing to say.

All those years
how everything
has its own voice
to make
itself heard.

All those years
how easily
you can belong
to everything
simply by listening.

And the slow
of remembering
how everything
is born from
an opposite
and miraculous
Silence and winter
has led me to that

So let this winter
of listening
be enough
for the new life
I must call my own.

~ David Whyte ~

I believe in all that has never yet been spoken.
I want to free what waits within me
so that what no one has dared to wish for

may for once spring clear
without my contriving.

If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,
but this is what I need to say.
May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children.

Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,
these deepening tides moving out, returning,
I will sing you as no one ever has,

streaming through widening channels
into the open sea.

~ Ranier Maria Rilke ~

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 ~