About 16 months ago, I and Tim left an entire way of life behind. About 13 months ago a friend of mine, Stephen, left his entire life behind because he died. Within the space of 4 months, three friends of mine died. On the day I was told that Stephen had died, 13th August 2018, I had just spent the morning reflecting & brainstorming, ‘what is my deepest wish?’
In writing down the thoughts, the most repeated phrase was ‘I do not want to be afraid’. It finally formed into the following: My deepest wish is to play – to allow myself to make different patterns in the sand of my life and then allow the tide to wash them away.
As I finished writing , the phone rang and a voice said ‘Are you sitting down? Stephen has died.’
PLAYING LIFE AND LETTING GO
I will play in the sand of my life
because it is sand
Through my fingers
Let us play together,
Let us build strange structures
and fill with them water.
Let us create
Extraordinary shapes in
the sand and delicate
Patterns with shells and
Let us play together
Then watch the sea
In leisurely fashion
And let them go
And let them go.
Over the coming year I played. It was very serious play. I discovered what it was like to be the executor of Stephen’s will, to become a mindfulness teacher, to live in a home that was not public property (ie belonging to the church), to live without a car, and many other things. I also discovered Extinction Rebellion.
What I kept finding was that I’d appreciate something valuable and then get carried away into planning, angsting, plotting or being utterly overwhelmed and then lose touch with the original experience. Meditation would eventually bring me back. That is one of the beauties of mindfulness.
So, with Climate Change and Extinction Rebellion. I feel a deep love for this good earth: my dog’s hairy face, the hundred different shades of green in the garden, the crunch and taste of cox’s apples, the view from a hill I’ve just climbed… Then I get caught up, rushing, worrying about whether to get arrested or not, becoming in turn furious, despairing and weepy over the burning of the rainforests, the destruction of the coral reefs and more. That is not to be avoided but I also need to keep coming back to what matters, to let ‘the soft animal’ of my body love what it loves (see below: Wild Geese, by Mary Oliver).
In April, Tim set up an Extinction Rebellion Meditators Group, a group of meditators who want their action to come out of their meditation, and in keeping with the ethos of Extinction Rebellion, want to respond deeply to this climate crisis, not react by pursuing a narrow ‘solution’ or finding enemies to hate.
It’s quite a challenge! The group helps anchor me and keep me coming back to what matters: connecting with the earth, myself, others, – discovering what contribution we can make, not only in relation to the climate crisis but in relation to what sort of people we want to be, what sort of society we want to live in.
Last year, two weeks before my friend Stephen died, I visited him in the nursing home he was in. He was only 63 years old but by now he was an invalid. He was in a wheel chair but he’d survived so much, it didn’t occur to me that he’d be dying anytime soon. I had to travel 100 miles to visit him and was going to ‘fit in’ a visit to someone else as well but just in time, I recognised that push to ‘efficiency’ and chose deliberately not to do that and therefore not be rushed.
In the event, we sat on the porch outside his nursing home for nearly 3 hours, mostly in silence, as the sun slowly went down. He’d had a lifetime of mental health issues and was struggling with his ‘voices’, I was struggling with the desire to ‘get on’ and with the irritation of having to light his cigarettes every 15/20 minutes by walking over to my car where there was fixed lighter. Yet still, for large chunks of time we sat peaceably together. When the nursing assistant came out to collect him, I said with feeling, ‘Thank you Stephen,’ meaning, thank you for the space to sit in silence together, to watch the sky change colour, to be present, to be here. And Stephen said ‘Thank you for sitting with me’.
That was the last time I saw or spoke to him before he died.
What is your deepest wish? Or wishes.
What is it that matters most deeply to you?
Make time to remember
Wild Geese – by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.