Those of you who are regular readers of this blog will know that for the last couple of weeks I have been a little testy. I’ve been trying to figure it out, with varying levels of success. And sure, there is some savage astrology around; what with being between two eclipses and reverberating from the final square of Uranus and Pluto, echoed almost exactly in my own chart, it’s been a bit squeezy. I’ve also been picking up the slack at home with the Bear working long hours, and my own work has been more full on than normal in the end of term wind up.
Still, external circumstances aside, there’s been something else, and it’s all me. In my moments of quiet, I’ve noticed an undercurrent of restless, bored futility. This is unusual for me – I normally really enjoy my life. It’s a simple life but a good one, and I’ve filled it full of the things I enjoy – family, friends, community, writing, reading, music, yoga and the odd adventure. I have plenty of space and I make time for myself. So, I asked myself, what the hell is going on here? The answer came back: there is something you need to do.
A couple of friends of mine have been talking about beginning another 40 day practice – Kate Gilson from NepaliGilsons (her blog is amazing – Kate, her husband Dave and their two young children have moved to Dhulikhel, Nepal – life on the frontier – and she writes about her experiences there), and Kara-Leah Grant from The Yoga Lunchbox, author of Forty Days of Yoga and the original inspiration behind my own 40 day practices. So, I pricked my ears up. A 40 day practice! But what should I do? I have a good asana practice – I have been doing yoga 3-5 days a week for months, and I feel good, strong and flexible in my body. I don’t need my 40 day practice to be about asana.
On Tuesday, I sat down for the first time in ages and meditated. As I sat there, on my cushion, legs crossed, I felt my whole body filled with blessed relief. Yes, this is what I needed! The thing is, I knew I was supposed to be meditating. I was waking up early, early, early, with a little voice whispering in my ear, meditate; so I responded by getting out of bed and…checking my emails or Facebook instead. I know. Tsk. ‘
So while I was sitting there in blessed relief I started using the Jin Shin Jyutsu hand therapy I wrote about in last week’s blog. Sooo good, people, so good. Forgive me for this inelegant metaphor, but energetically, it feels like flushing the toilet – all of the negative energy that has been accumulating in my cells, tissues, muscles and bones just ran out of my body. So I sat there, clean, clear and relaxed for the first time in…ahem. Who knows how long? At the end of the meditation, I asked what I needed to do that day. The answer came back as clear as a springtime sky: write.
Ah. So my meditation had brought me to the other thing I knew I was supposed to be doing, but somehow wasn’t. I hadn’t even looked at my book for two weeks. I have been using Automatic Author by Slade Robertson to help me with the writing process, and so far I had done everything exactly as he has said. Each chapter has been planned out on index cards, and when I had 15 chapters with 15 sub-headings, I transferred that information onto Scrivener. It’s been a long process but good. Now was the easy part – the writing! Except…it didn’t feel easy. I was nervous, skittishly avoiding starting the next process, procrastinating like a pro. This is the thing about meditation though – it’s so not about just sitting there. I knew I couldn’t avoid it any longer – the gig was up :).
The process that Slade describes is simple. Pick a subheading from a chapter, set the timer for five minutes and write. When you finish, go onto the next one. So, I do that, and for the first couple, I’m thinking that five minutes is just not long enough to get everything out. I worry and fuss, and wonder if I should increase the time. I decide to go with the process for a bit longer – it’s worked really well for me so far, and I remind myself that Kara-Leah wrote Forty Days of Yoga and The No More Excuses Guide to Yoga using this very same process. So. I went with it. Over the next 3 days, I woke up, meditated and then spent half an hour to an hour writing before my day began. In those three days I finished the first draft of the first chapter. And get this – in less than three hours of writing over 3 days, I had written nearly 4000 words. All in 5 minute increments. As a comparison, I’ve been working on this piece for one hour and I’ve done 700 words :).
And what’s more, that restless, bored futility? Gone :).
I’ve done quite a few 40 day practices over the past three years – my first 40 day practice was 40 days of yoga. It had such a transformational effect upon my life, that I have repeated it over the years with different themes. After 40 days of yoga, I did 40 days of writing to see if I had what it took to sit down every day and write. I did :). After that, I did 40 days of a Heart Chakra opening sequence which blew my heart right open, and last year I did 40 days of meditation, where I discovered that a daily meditation practice is not going to make me nicer, kinder or even enlightened – but boy is it going to intensify my clarity and presence.
So, I’m on day four of this 40 day practice. I haven’t set a duration for the meditation, but it’s been about 15 minutes so far. For the writing, my only specification is that I write. There is no set task, although I expect that the majority of the time will be spent working through the first draft of my book, now that I am more familiar with the process. Blogging also counts, as does writing poetry, writing tasks for my writers group or journalling, all of which are forms of writing that I do and enjoy. Writing for work – newsletters, blog posts and that kind of thing do not count.
When you know that there is something you need to be doing, but are not – how do you get past your resistance?
Best Short Read
Neil Gaiman – why our futures depend on libraries, reading and daydreaming for The Guardian
Well, of course, my ears prick up when a headline contains Neil Gaiman, libraries, reading and daydreaming – four of my favourite things :). I haven’t read any of Neil’s books, but when I have come across articles, quotes and essays by him, I am always struck by his wisdom and sensibility.
Two things really leaped out at me when I read this article, taken from a lecture Neil gave at the Annual Reading Agency conference:
I was once in New York, and I listened to a talk about the building of private prisons – a huge growth industry in America. The prison industry needs to plan its future growth – how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds couldn’t read. And certainly couldn’t read for pleasure.
I was in China in 2007, at the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention in Chinese history. And at one point I took a top official aside and asked him Why? SF had been disapproved of for a long time. What had changed?
It’s simple, he told me. The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls.
There is so much in this wonderful article: click here to read the rest of it.
Best Pagan Festival
Yes, I’m talking about Easter, the word Easter coming from Eostre, the name of the Teutonic Goddess of the Dawn (also known as Ostara, Ostare and other similar variations). Her name was taken in turn from the ancient word for Spring, eastre. I am going to come clean here – Easter is my least favourite time of the year. It doesn’t make any sense to me – no matter how many times I roll it around in my head – and if something doesn’t make sense to me, then that thing and me are going to be in perpetual discord. I don’t like the religious significance, I don’t like the consumerist over-packaged crapness of it, and to really offend me, I don’t like the fact that it’s a Spring festival held in our Autumn. Maybe if I lived in the northern hemisphere it would make more sense to me, but here in the southern hemisphere, it makes about as much sense as a White Christmas (don’t get me started).
Just to make the whole thing more difficult, there’s this:
My daughter and her altar to All Things Easter.
My daughter loves, loves, loves Easter. She loves the whole bunny thing, the sweet little baby chicks, the Easter hat parade, the pretty wrapping, the egg hunt, the chocolates (even though it doesn’t love her at all). She has been busily doing Easter craft, making little cardboard baskets, colouring in bunnies and eggs. We even won a prize at the school Easter raffle, which is kind of ironic on lots of different levels. Sigh. So, what’s a mama to do? What she does every year – get up early while it’s still dark, hide eggs, lay out a little trail, write messages, draw maps. She sucks it up and makes it magic. She buys white chocolate for her daughter because any other type transforms her into a screaming, tantrum-ing lunatic. She makes sure her family has a great day. And privately wishes the whole goddamn festival would vanish off the calendar, never to be seen again.
Tell me, how do you make Easter meaningful?
I came across this the other day on Facebook, and it really struck a chord with me. This country I live in, anchored in the Pacific Ocean down near the South Pole far away from the rest of the western world, is pretty special.
AUSTRALIA – AN AMERICAN’S POINT OF VIEW
There’s a lot to admire about Australia, especially if you’re a visiting American, says David Mason. More often than you might expect, Australian friends patiently listening to me enthuse about their country have said, ”We need outsiders like you to remind us what we have.” So here it is – a small presumptuous list of what one foreigner admires in Oz.
1… Health care. I know the controversies, but basic national health care is a gift. In America, medical expenses are a leading cause of bankruptcy. The drug companies dominate politics and advertising. Obama is being crucified for taking halting baby steps towards sanity. You can’t turn on the telly without hours of drug advertisements – something I have never yet seen here. And your emphasis on prevention – making cigarettes less accessible, for one – is a model.
2… Food. Yes, we have great food in America too, especially in the big cities. But your bread is less sweet, your lamb is cheaper, and your supermarket vegetables and fruits are fresher than ours.Too often in my country an apple is a ball of pulp as big as your face. The dainty Pink Lady apples of Oz are the juiciest I’ve had. And don’t get me started on coffee.
In American small towns it tastes like water flavoured with burnt dirt, but the smallest shop in the smallest town in Oz can make a first-rate latte. I love your ubiquitous bakeries, your hot-cross buns. Shall I go on?
3… Language. How do you do it? The rhyming slang and Aboriginal place names like magic spells. Words that seem vaguely English yet also resemble an argot from another planet. I love the way institutional names get turned into diminutives – Vinnie’s and Salvos – and absolutely nothing’s sacred. Everything’s an opportunity for word games and everyone’s a nickname. Lingo makes the world go round. It’s the spontaneous wit of the people that tickles me most.
Late one night at a barbie my new mate Suds remarked, ”Nothing’s the same since 24-7.” Amen.
4… Free-to-air TV. In Oz, you buy a TV, plug it in and watch some of the best programming I’ve ever seen – uncensored.
In America, you can’t get diddly-squat without paying a cable or satellite company heavy fees. In Oz a few channels make it hard to choose. In America, you’ve got 400 channels and nothing to watch.
5… Small shops. Outside the big cities in America corporations have nearly erased them. Identical malls with identical restaurants serving inferior food. Except for geography, it’s hard to tell one American town from another.The ”take-away” culture here is wonderful. Human encounters are real – stirring happens, stories get told. The curries are to die for. And you don’t have to tip!
6… Free camping. We used to have this too, and I guess it’s still free when you backpack miles away from the roads.
But I love the fact that in Oz everyone owns the shore and in many places you can pull up a camper van and stare at the sea for weeks. I love the ”primitive” and independent campgrounds, the life out of doors. The few idiots who leave their stubbies and rubbish behind in these pristine places ought to be transported in chains.
7… Religion. In America, it’s everywhere – especially where it’s not supposed to be, like politics. I imagine you have your Pharisees too, making a big public show of devotion, but I have yet to meet one here.
8… Roads. Peak hour aside, I’ve found travel on your roads pure heaven. My country’s ”freeways” are crowded, crumbling, insanely knotted with looping overpasses – it’s like racing homicidal maniacs on fraying spaghetti. I’ve taken the Hume without stress, and I love the Princes Highway when it’s two lanes. Ninety minutes south of Batemans Bay I was sorry to see one billboard for a McDonald’s. It’s blocking a lovely paddock view. Someone should remove it.
9… Real multiculturalism. I know there are tensions, just like anywhere else, but I love the distinctiveness of your communities and the way you publicly acknowledge the Aboriginal past. Recently, too, I spent quality time with Melbourne Greeks, and was gratified both by their devotion to their own great language and culture and their openness to an Afghan lunch.
10. Fewer guns. You had Port Arthur in 1996 and got real in response. America replicates such massacres several times a year and nothing changes. Why? Our religion of individual rights makes the good of the community an impossible dream.
Instead of mateship we have ”It’s mine and nobody else’s”. We talk a great game about freedom, but too often live in fear.
There’s more to say – your kaleidoscopic birds, your perfumed bush in springtime, your vast beaches. These are just a few blessings that make Australia a rarity. Of course, it’s not paradise – nowhere is – but I love it here.No need to wave flags like Americans and add to the world’s windiness. Just value what you have and don’t give it away.
David Mason is a US writer and professor, and poet laureate of Colorado.
I have made this twice in the last week – once for the pop up cafe that the P&C ran on Election Day, and again yesterday for a friend’s BBQ. Both times it has been a raving success, and it is, like all things that I make, very simple.
Melt and Mix Chocolate Brownies
200g dark cooking chocolate
2 tbl cocoa powder
1 cup of rapadura/coconut/brown sugar
1 1/3 cup flour (I used organic spelt flour)
1/4 tsp baking powder
A handful of frozen raspberries (optional)
Melt chocolate, butter and cocoa in a small saucepan over a low heat. Put sugar, flour and baking powder into a bowl, add chocolate mix and eggs – mix well. Pour batter into a 20cm square cake tin, sprinkle raspberries over the top if using and bake at 180º C for 55-60 minutes. Let it cool in the tin so it is easier to handle. Yum!
Joni Mitchell has been in the news lately – she was found unconscious in her apartment. She seems to have recovered well, although her health is still delicate. I love Joni Mitchell. She has travelled my whole life with me: she is one of the few things my parents agree on. This song in particular has special meaning for me.
It does seem like an extra long Weekly Inspiration today – let us just consider it a gift from me to you for the long weekend. Have a beautiful time, whatever you’re doing <3.
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