For Anne

We’ll walk again.
We’ve known, between us,
sickness and fear, the madness
that makes friendship loneliness,
mislaid vocations, learned to love,
never quite forgotten that we walked
or that we’ll walk again.

We’ll walk again:
drink wine that springs from roadside fountains,
meet angels, know them by
their wire-spoked wing-umbrellas,
understand the Incarnation
eating sardines on Maundy Thursday,
hear the cock crow mid-Mass, standing
out where hands weren’t washed or wine poured,
toil across endless dusty plains,
follow the stars spread westwards, seen once,
follow the subtle trail of golden shells,
wonder how your great-grandfather
walked almost all the way up Everest
(and then, more, down again)
while your feet dissolve in friction.
I’ll turn out, another seven times,
not to be Irish,
disappoint another seven bands of pilgrims;
we’ll walk west,
catch wandering horreos,
sing psalms in kitchens so new,
so ill-equipped,
there’s nothing else to do there,
we’ll walk,
hug, disbelieving, in the square,
pat St James
on his shoulder,

It won’t, of course, be like that this time,
but even so, we’ll walk.

Reverb, Day 21

Day 21: On our last day

The shortest day is over, and the year turns. I am already three weeks into my new year. I like this way of counting it. No fireworks, no countdown, no midnight stroke; just easing into the long nights, letting time pass, thinking, and watching, and listening. This works.

2014 is going to be MY YEAR because… I’m going to go bravely on, to walk with an open mind and an open heart into the new life that is stretching before me, and reach out and claim everything that is waiting for me.

In 2014, I am going to do… my very best to find an agent and a publisher for the novel that is so very nearly finished. I am going to proceed in my new job with enthusiasm and integrity, and with the joyful intention of moving on sooner or later.

In 2014, I am going to feel… scared, and exhilarated, and eventually, I hope, settled.

In 2014, I am not going to… forget everything that I have learned in 2013 about who I am and how I work. I am not going to pretend that I don’t feel what I am feeling. I am not going to be cruel to myself.

In December 2014, I am going to look back and say… thank you.

Looking back at last year, I am impressed by how right I got it. I do know where I’m going next; I’m already half-way there. The novel is all but done (at least in terms of words on paper; it still needs at least two savage edits). I have been scared, and I haven’t shut myself off.

And yes: that was a good year; it all makes sense now.

Reverb, Day 20

#reverb13Day 20: The way forward

Forward is the only direction.

The mirror never lies, but everything in it is backwards.

Look at what you see in the mirror. How does it change if you view yourself with eyes that can only look forward?

Here it is again: go bravely on.

Once this year I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognise myself, not really because the face was puffy and red-eyed with crying, streaked with unfamiliar make-up, but because I was tired, and heart-sick, and had forgotten who I was.

Today, I see: ruffled hair, undeniably greying but doing it as if it meant it; a half-smile (has my expression of repose become a smile? wonderful, if so); square-framed spectacles, worn enough of the time now that they’ve become part of the way I look; blue eyes, rather cat-like in this particular mirror, because of the way they reflect the double lines of LEDs down the sides of it; much nose, little chin. No make-up today – it’s Saturday – but I’m enjoying playing with it. Can I see that I was crying last night? No.

This is a hard question, because so much of the work that I have done this year has been visiting the past, talking to the people I used to be, talking to the people I might have been. My future self showed up once and told me I needed some new jeans, which I got, and am, as it happens, wearing today.

Looking forward. Looking forward. Days that get longer. This face. Laughing more, listening more, looking other people in the eye. Looking myself in the eye.

Reverb, Day 19

Day 19: Self-compassion

The Buddha said, “You, yourself, as much as anybody else in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”

In the past year, I have been on a mission to understand and practice self-compassion, which is sometimes defined as “extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering,” and what I have learned has made me realize that this practice is at the heart of everything.

How will you practice self-compassion?

Thank goodness: an easy question.

This is not remotely original, but I only learned it this year, and it is remarkably helpful.

The golden rule: treat others as you would have them treat you.

The silver rule: treat yourself as you would like others to treat you.

One can never really know anyone else, but one never knows oneself, either. One doesn’t know the full story, and so it is worth stopping, and listening, and finding out what is really going on.

Reverb, Day 18

#reverb13Day 18: Peace

I am often surprised where I find peace, it is usually in the midst of chaos.

In the midst of living, did you find moments to breathe? Were there moments that held you in the embrace of peace and quiet and pure contentment?

Did these moments catch you by surprise or did you create the space for peace to find you?

How will you make space for greater peace in 2014?

This was a good year for peace. Long strolls at lunchtime; the ten minutes between arriving at choir practice and beginning to sing, while the boys are rehearsing; walking to the station before sunrise; long evenings mid-move, sitting among the ever-dwindling furniture and boxes, with a few good books; wandering around Wells and doing as I pleased, so long as I was on time for choir practice.

Some of that was deliberate; some was inadvertent. Some was experimental; some was taking advantage of situations over which I didn’t have much control.

Some things that have worked: Hanging around on The Fluent Self. Making and using a Wreath of Christ. Reading The Cloister Walk.

What I would like for 2014: to find a way to work more peace into my morning train ride. To put things away so that there is space for me between them (thinking here how remarkably peaceful it was at the end of each day during the move). To spend more time out of doors, to get some really good long walks in.

Reverb, Day 17

#reverb13Day 17: It’s your word

What word did you select to be your travelling companion in 2013? What gifts did this word bring?

What word will you choose to guide you through 2014? What do you hope it will bring into your life?

Last year’s word was love. I got everything I asked for. I learned how to treat myself with compassion, remembered how it felt to be eighteen, found friends, discovered friends I didn’t know I had… There is still work to do – mainly around my relationship with various family members – and of course next year will call for loving readjustments, but even so 2013 has been far more about love than I expected. It has mostly been wonderful and only occasionally painful. I would like to keep on with love.

This year’s word is freedom. I have been working, this year and last, on breaking free of the mind-forged manacles, of the shoulds and oughts, of other people’s expectations of me, and of what I think other people’s expectations of me might be. I want 2014 to be a year where I am free of vicious circles and limiting untruths, free from fear, free from shadows, free from the lies I tell myself about myself. I want to be free for endless exploration and going bravely on. I want to be free to live in the real world.

I want to live in freedom. I want to work towards freedom, for myself and everyone else.

Reverb, Day 16

#reverb13Day 16: Habits and addictions

Habits and addictions, some are silly, some serious; when we have issues without answers, they can hold us so tight that we stop moving forward with the life we intended.

Were you able to loosen those fetters this year, and if you were successful, how did you manage it? Did you accept outside help, or work alone?

If you still feel that grasp of addiction or hurtful habits, what will you do differently in the year to come?

Content note: discussion of habits in general; also eating habits and deliberate variation of same

I am not really a creature of habit. I am more, I suppose, a creature of enthusiasms. I fall into them fast and hard, and out of them just as easily, and then, after months or years, remember about them and fall just as hard as I did the first time. Since this appears to be just the way I work, I’ve decided to let that happen, ride the waves when they come in, and enjoy the beach when they don’t.

Conversely, I seem to be fortunate enough to be largely indifferent to commonly addictive things. I can drink every night for a month and not miss it when I stop, give up chocolate or coffee or whatever for Lent without a struggle. There are little irritating things that I do, on and off: nail-biting, finger-chewing, hair-pulling. Like a bored budgerigar pulling its feathers out, I suppose. Largely these seem to be related to how happy, or at least diverted, I am. The answer would therefore appear to be to keep myself occupied; but I’d rather be doing that because I enjoy whatever it is that’s keeping me occupied than because it’ll keep my eyebrows intact.

One thing that has been of significance this year, however, has been finding and turning off the thing in my head that says uneaten food is wasted food: it is your duty to eat this. I am not entirely sure how I did this, but here are two things that helped:

– ordering a weekly veg box delivery, which stopped me having to shop when I was tired, hungry and cross, and cut out most of the ‘wandering glumly around the supermarket wondering what on earth to cook’ aspect of it. A supermarket contains all sorts of things I don’t want but will buy anyway, and then have to eat; the veg box engages my brain, challenges me, makes me find out what one can do with chicory or chard or celeriac (all the tricky ones seem to begin with C) and then do it.

– getting myself a money box, and, every time I had a piece of cake or leftover sandwich from the staff room, putting a quid in it. Every time there was cake or sandwich there that I didn’t have, I put 20p in. It seemed to work largely by making me more aware of what I was doing or not doing, by assigning a more obvious consequence to my actions; also, it was quite handy to have a ready stash of pound coins to go into birthday card whip-rounds.

The remaining contents of the money box went into the kitty at my leaving drinks.