It is believed that if you want to get a peek into a person's soul all you have to do is take a look at their bedside table. I am not sure if this is true for everyone but in my case I feel what is by my bed is indeed stuff that is in my head finding its way to my heart at some stage.
I don't read everything in any particular orderly manner. My head is filled with an eclectic mix of knowledge (otherwise known as chaos) and likes to be fed accordingly. I have still not figured out whether it is by serendipity or by pure chance why I pick up one book and not the other at any given moment. Whatever the spirit behind the scheme of things, something always jumps at me at exactly the right moment, leaving me holding on to a particular word or phrase as if it is the magic key to a new insight.
My perfect day starts, after having sent off my teenagers into another day of adventure and doing the domestic rounds at home, with a cup of coffee and 30 minutes with a book. This morning David Whyte winked at me with his Heart Aroused. I opened it up at a page I had marked and came across this passage:
'To create the golden moment we must know where the gold lies in ourselves, but we must not have narrow, tidy images of what makes up our ‘gold’. Without the fiery embrace of everything from which we demand immunity, including depression and failure, the personality continues to seek power over life rather than power through the experience of life. We throw the precious metal of our own experience away, exchanging it for the fool’s gold of a superimposed image, an image of what our experience should be rather than what it actually is, the final element of creation’
The right words to understand emotions can be extremely powerful. I have discovered this not only through David Whyte and other philosophers, poets and writers but recenty in email contact with my friend Salley Knight. She is an artist. Full stop. Not only does she create incredibly beautiful silk pieces but the description of her artistic process is so poetic that nobody really wants her to ever finish it. Her journey is art. And it reminds me how the journey should always be the art. That that is what David Whyte means when he talks about creating golden moments. Not only the 'tidy images' of the process when everything is picture perfect and we know what we are doing and looking confident and in control. But also the moments of doubt, feeling lost in the forest of possibilities. Stuggling with our own limitations. Our fear of not knowing, messing up, even losing interest.
Sometimes the journey to continue working on your art may be looking at a rain drop on a winter day
or stopping to consider that all art is in fact political. Opening up to the magic to feed our soul even if that means not doing anything directly related to what we feel we should be doing.
It is my son's birthday today, he is 17. When I mentioned this is my email to Salley she replied:
'Such a tender vulnerable age all full of not knowing masked otherwise, often.'
Being able to sum up my emotions of a mother looking at her son and seeing him growing into an adult, in 13 words, is art.
Sharing our vulnerability is not welcomed by everyone. Neither is our art. Goethe begins a famous German poem with the admonition: 'Tell a wise person or else keep silent'.
Preciousness is in the eye of the beholder.
~ ~ ~
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(If you are interested in finding out more about philosopher/poet David Whyte you will enjoy this interview from On Being with Krista Tippett. )
When you tell people you are writing a book everyone assumes that the hard part is sitting down and writing. Working on your inspiration, your daily discipline, your storyline and your grammar.
Nobody is more surprised than I am that that is in fact the easy part. The part when it is just you and your words.
Now that my Dutch selection of columns is very close to getting published I am discovering a whole new field. Without wanting to sound dramatic but with the intention of being completely honest, 'anxiety' is the only word that sums it up. It's all very well when my friends and loved ones tell me they enjoy what I write, but what about all those other people that don't get my jokes? can't read between my lines? think I'm a a fraud?
It is not by chance that Liz Gilbert has been on my bedside table with her Big Magic for the last year giving me inspiration when I needed it, trust when I was in doubt or a sense of trickster when I was taking myself far too seriously.
And then there is always the universe when all else fails.
I just came across, purely coincidentally, the life story that my father wrote about ten years ago. He was a great writer and started a book, intended for his grandchildren, about the Netherlands and his life with Dutch history as a backdrop. As ours grew up in Spain and my nephew and niece in Sweden, he felt responsible for giving them the missing links in their Dutch heritage. He never finished it though, I think he got to a stage in his childhood that was too emotional to remember and he blocked. It frustrated him that he couldn't get his pen back onto the paper. That he couldn't finish what he started.
He did however, write a shortened version for a friend he had lost touch with since elementary school. Finding it now, amongst a pile of paper, is so special. I can sense his sense of humour through the lines and feel such compassion for him having grown up in rather harsh circumstances. He was determined to live his life his way, and he did. My mother, as he describes so endearingly, compensated his missing traits. They were a perfect team.
He was a very successful restaurateur in Holland and when we moved to Spain he seemed to have nowhere to go with his ambition. He kept busy but looking back I think he missed the years of business challenges. His main mission was to be there for my brother and I, which he had had little time for when we had the restaurant in Holland. He helped us with everything we needed, inspired us to think big and taught us to not be limited by other people's opinions. The last ten years of his life he was often depressed. This was tough on us all especially my mother, but she always remained by his side.
Now reading his story again I think: I wish I could just tell him one more time that I understand and that I forgive him…
But mostly it convinces me of the power of our story and that we must share it. I have been suffering with the thought of the amount of criticism I may get from people that don’t get my book, don’t get my sense of humour, my cynicism meant as a wake up call. My emotions and my drama. My stubbornness and my obsession with wanting to understand everything and everyone.
It feels as if my dad is trying to tell me something by just appearing with his text somewhere in between a forgotten pile of papers.
"Tell your story because those that mind don’t matter and those that matter don’t mind.”
Thank you dad, perfect timing once again.
There is always something unsettling about vacation. Don’t get me wrong, I love it, but it always takes me a couple of days to get in the zone. To feel calm, relaxed and at home in my new environment.
I remember when we once did a home exchange with a lovely Italian family and I spent the first two days (secretly!) scrubbing the kitchen from top to bottom. The first evening I noticed everything was sticky and although I am sure my own pots and pans have a sticky edge to them, it is my own stickiness. Which is of course an entirely different thing.
And yes it had to be done secretly, because, hey, I am not proud of spending the first two days of my holidays in an absolute picturesque Italian surrounding, cleaning!
I have noticed that however odd this may seem to others it somehow helps me ground. During my cleaning session I played the cd’s the owners had lying around and it gave me a taste of their vibe. They also had an impressive book collection which immediately made sense to me.
Of course! they spent their free time intellectually feeding themselves. No time for stickiness.
It made me instantly feel like a rather obsessive housewife. But I continued nevertheless. One has a mission you see.
There was something surprisingly intimate about opening another person’s spices drawer. Getting a feel for their tastes, whether is was purely national, focusing on oregano, basel and thyme or whether there was some interesting fusion going on with exotic Indian and Chinese fragrances.
On the second day I as I was dusting off the balsamic vinegar I had an insight. Stickiness is actually a great thing! It is proof of use.
I was imagining, based on the pictures on the wall, the family around the table.
I felt welcome.
It was time to start vacationing.
What is your ritual when you are on vacation? Would love to know!
If you ask my family and friends they will pretty much agree that I am a positive person. I prefer the sunny side of the street, focus on what I like about a person and preferably wear my pink shades. But there is another side to me that comes out now and then and can feel overwhelming.
You see, injustice in any shape or form has me fuming within minutes. Stupidity, thoughtless response, repeating other people’s opinions without giving them a second thought is on top of my frustrations list. Ignorance on social media, people joining in discussions that only contribute to division and hatred, drawing simplistic conclusions without wanting to know the story behind the news. At times I question superficiality and usually get as a response that they don’t care or have time to look beyond what they see. A black and white vision is apparently easier to uphold, to defend and to share.
The sad thing is that we live in a system of political world order which is fortified by simplistic thinking. Bij division. By just accepting things as they are. By not questioning the underlying flaws in our food system, in our sick care, our assumption that economic growth is the only way forward. By not addressing the need for preventing rather than curing economic, social and personal imbalance. By not contributing to solutions which are for the general good.
Why? Because the financial returns of the real structural solutions are, well, let's say they are not as lucrative. We live in an economy which thrives on oil leaks, war and on sickness. How is that for a wake up call? I know, I couldn’t get my head around this either and it almost breaks my heart.
Almost. Because I also know there is an increasing movement of people Changing the Conversation and making a difference. Thousands of small movements started by people with an idea, a vision of how we can live meaningful lives. Of spreading sparks of innovation, creative living and organic farming. They are not demotivated by cynics and system holders. They are committed to walking on the sunny side of the street and inviting others to cross over.
This insight usually sets in after a 20 minute walk. As I wonder at the beauty and the magic of the trees and the grass. The effortless flight of geese in perfect formation. The sun on my face peeking through the clouds. The river flowing, no matter what. It reminds me of Joanna Macy’s words in her interview with Joanna Tippett; "if your mother is dying of cancer next door, would you just let her die there on her own??"
In the same way we can't detach ourselves from the world or from life around us and move into another room. In fact, it is the love for all life that brings out the commitment and passion of joyful living. I would want to spend every precious moment with her and hold her hand, talk, listen to music, laugh, read poetry, eat good food and drink wine. Right until the end.
So that is what I will do.
In the words of the poet Jack Gilbert,"We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world".
In previous posts I have mentioned my admiration for Krista Tippett and her radio programme/podcast On Being. I am reading her latest book "Becoming Wise" (non affiliate link) and savouring every word. It is beautiful, inspiring and deep nourishment on all levels.
The podcast is brilliant, you can download it on your phone and listen in the car/when you are cleaning/ironing or (please do!) lounging on a Sunday afternoon :)
Her interview with Joanna Macy "philosopher of ecology...translator of the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke" particularly touched me and I listened to it a number of times yesterday in the car. In this interview she is in her eighties and sums up everything that I believe in a way that I hope I will be able to do when I am that age.
She talks about a "pivotal time in the landscape of her life" when she realised that "our difficulty in looking at what we're doing to our world stems not from callous indifference or ignorance so much as it stems from fear of pain", "that dance with despair, to see how we are called to not run from the discomfort and not run from the grief or the feelings of outrage or even fear and that, if we can be fearless, to be with our pain, it turns. It doesn't stay static. It only doesn't change if we refuse to look at it. But when we look at it, when we take it in our hands, when we can just be with it and keep breathing, then it turns. It turns to reveal its other face, and the other face of our pain for the world is our love for the world, our absolutely inseparable connectedness with all life."
"So that is what keeps me going, Krista. The Great Turning is a revolution that is underway, the transition to a life-sustaining society, that this is sprouting up in countless ways, new ways of holding the land, new ways of generating energy, new ways of producing food, some of them very old ways that we are going back to, wisdom of the ancestors and of the indigenous people, often, new ways of measuring prosperity and wealth, new ways of handling differences through nonviolent communication, through restorative circles instead of outside the dominant punitive penal system now. There’s a tremendous energy."
I leave you with this truly inspiring woman and her beautifully translated Rilke poetry.
This way, when I go out, swim and absorb the sunlight I can let all my new thoughts find a place until I feel I want to share them. Usually, first with my family over a delicious lunch or dinner with fresh fish and lush salad. I did notice a bit more eye rolling from them than usual on this holiday. It may have to do with the philosophical reading I was doing (The Path, Michael Puett)
Admittedly I think it increased my usual analytical look on life, seeing symbolism in practically everything. For teenagers, parents tend to be ridiculous most of the time anyway so this only proved their point. "Yep, she's gone bonkers, it's official" was the look they were giving each other. Needless to say, I was dealing with it in a very philosophical manner :)
I have always been a lover of words. It literally feels like warm honey for my soul. So you can imagine how excited I was when I discovered Krista Tippett and her podcast "On Being".
"On Being opens up the animating questions at the center of human life: What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live? We explore these questions in their richness and complexity in 21st-century lives and endeavors. We pursue wisdom and moral imagination as much as knowledge; we esteem nuance and poetry as much as fact."
On her podcast she has interviewed all the inspiring minds you can imagine in a way that is second to none with so much respect, grace and intelligence that you come away after 50 minutes feeling infused with hope and desire to pay forward the energy. So far I have listened to The Conversational Nature of Reality with David Whyte, Listening to the World with Mary Oliver and Your Life is a Poem with Naomi Shiha Nye. I am not sure if it was by chance or intentional that they are all poets but it made me realise something about myself, I love poetry.
The last time I read poetry before this must have been in 6th form, preparing for my A'levels. I remember loving the symbolism but never felt inspired to pick up a poetry book until I discovered David Whyte a few months ago. (See my last post on that here.)
I find that it is true what he says, poetry finds a way of saying things prose cannot achieve. Besides, it is so magically universal.
So I leave you with my discoveries and hope they do the same for you; sweeten your soul and invite to share because the world needs more poetry.
Do the test and read the poem below by Naomi Shihab... :)
Love & Joy,
I have a thing for conversations.
Why do some go smooth without any effort and others, with all the effort in the world, never seem to get anywhere.
A conversation takes two people. That is part of the problem and all of the magic. But it takes a lot more.
Of course shared interests can help, curiosity is a must and respect a prerequisite. But even then it is not a guarantee.
When going beyond the chit chat, small talk and entering real discussions we all tend to do the same:
We listen with the intention te reply.
We have our opinions ready on global issues, the meaning of the threat of terrorism. Why GMO’s are the only solution in feeding the world or why they are absolutely not. What the world will look like without banks. Or why the world will always be led by them.
However intelligent our conclusions, and in depth our reading, it is never too late te learn. To learn to look at things with a different viewpoint including other horizons and considerations.
The thing is, meaningful conversations become connections. And connections are at the basis of the meaning of our existence. I came across this speech of Dean James Ryan at the Harvard University and felt an immediate recognition of the essence of real connection:
-Asking TRULY essential questions-
Turns out they aren’t very complicated or philosophical.
Anyone can ask them and, really, everyone should.
If you have a remote interest in success and happiness that is.
And I’m guessing that may be the case.
Funny thing is asking them makes you as happy as being asked. Showing true interest in the answer shows true interest in your conversational partner. As per James Ryan: "I would urge you to resist the temptation to have answers at the ready and to spend more time thinking about the right questions to ask”.
Watch his part on 5 Essential Questions HERE on YouTube (6 mins), you really don't want to miss it, trust me. The questions have been worked out by Garr Reynolds and can be read HERE .
So just to sum them up:
At the core of Joyful living and creativity is curiosity. More on that in my next blog...
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How the languages you speak change your world view
Having grown up trilingual I have always found it difficult to explain to monolinguals just how grateful I feel for being able to look at the world through different eyes depending on the language I am speaking at the time. Even when I write I feel the difference.
I came across the article below published online in www.theconversation.com and found it really resonated, I think a lot of you will feel the same.
The icing on the cake besides all the other "perks" is that dementia, is likely to kick in 5 years later.
Then again, when it does, the gibberish I will be fabricating is likely to be triple Dutch ;))
Thank you Panos Athanasopoulos (Professor of Linguistics and English Language, Lancaster University) for this excellent article.
"Bilinguals get all the perks. Better job prospects, a cognitive boost and even protection against dementia. Now new research shows that they can also view the world in different ways depending on the specific language they are operating in." Read the complete article here...
In preparation for an evening with David Whyte at the School of Life in Amsterdam on the 9th of June I came across this talk:
Life at the Frontier: The Conversational Nature of Reality (20 min)
The theme: "Inevitably everything is waiting for you" is highly promising and at the same time overwhelmingly scary. Finding the edge between your own particular signature and genius and the surrounding world is where astonishing conversations occur. After all, as David Whyte so eloquently puts it in his poem "Working Together", everything is a conversation "The visible and the invisible working together in common cause...".
There are still some tickets available here (non affiliate link) for his topic on "Courageous Conversations".
The funny thing about real conversations, according to Whyte, they will occur with or without you. "You can choose to look away but the conversation is still going to happen. The real choice is, will you look it in the face?"
An interesting invitation for creative minds...
We shape our self
to fit this world
and by the world
are shaped again.
and the invisible
in common cause,
I am thinking of the way
the intangible air
passed at speed
around a shaped wing
holds our weight.
So may we, in this life
to those elements
we have yet to see
and look for the true
shape of our own self,
by forming it well
to the great
intangibles about us.
There is something about Art that brings people together. Particularly amongst artists there is a common ground of recognising each other's process of passing everything through your heart after it comes out of your head.
A humanising filter, the vulnerability of making your emotions visible and opening your heart. Pretty scary actually and quite a process. Not surprisingly therefore a great conversation topic at the table where we all shared our lunch at the Heart for Arts Event in Marbella, Spain on 28 & 29th of May.
For whom do you make Art? is another good topic. Although believing that making art from your heart should be the only way to stay true to your own convictions, is in fact not a guarantee for success. Clearly integrity becomes a lot easier once there is some sort of recognition. Because, as Martin Stellar states, the days of aspiring to being a starving artist as the only way of staying true to oneself, are over. Not that they have seized to exist, mind you. But it has become clear that starving, doesn’t do your art any favour. The importance of art, of beauty, for its own sake is becoming increasingly essential in sterile, brick, city environments for the sterile and brick minds.
So yes, let’s have a great mural by George Kowzan by MacDonalds, sculptures by Lieuwke Loth in communal gardens, symbolic messages in the paintings by Anouk Slegers, hidden truths in the photographs of Mena Sambiasi and inspiring emotions in the portraits of Paul Arts.
Art is a human necessity, an inspiration for the senses which are otherwise overloaded with facts & figures. Artists deserve to get paid for what they contribute. Agnes Torok is becoming an inspiration for her generation for not accepting the gradual shift that we are all part of by becoming so preoccupied with finding a “job” that we may end up living a life which is unfulfilled and uninspired.
There is no shame in keeping yourself financially alive as an artist, in fact you are doing the whole world an enormous favour by feeding starving souls.
The event was a great success for the artists for precisely that reason. Coming together and realising that we are all fighting the same battles and that it is time to stand up and do something about it. Learning from each other not only by sharing painting techniques but also by planning joint events and connecting on a personal level.
I have subscribed to Martin Stellar’s newsletter for “ambitious creators”, a refreshing approach to turning your passion into a business. I have pledged Agnes Torok via Patreon which is a great crowdfunding way to support artists financially so that art can continue to be accessible to everyone (check Agnes here on Youtube).
What will you do to make your own art or other people’s more accessible?
Have a good think about it and then do something. And for those of you thinking “I’m not an artist!”... have a look at “The Icarus Deception” by Seth Godin in which he says: “Being an artist isn’t a genetic disposition or a specific talent. It’s an attitude we can all adopt. It’s a hunger to seize new ground, make connections, and work without a map. If you do those things you’re an artist, no matter what it says on your business card.”
So, go make some art.
Inspired by everything that matters and convinced that creative living is on top of the list.