Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Light me up

I am ambivalent about being told which day of the year I am to express especial love to my beloved. This Valentine's, though, I got to thinking about the different seasons of love - that first flash of intensity, that flares again at different moments; that slow-burning flame that burns low but long; the light that we share in so many different ways at different times of our story, that is the light we make between us.

Along these lines, I scribbled a poem into my journal. 

Our love is light

Our love has been the flare of singular blinding light
That causes the world to reposition;
A light that blinds, and yet rescues.

In this light I have leapt into the unknown;
I have raced to shady places in grassy fields;
I have lain, and rocked, and danced.

And our love has been the beam of a lighthouse,
A regular, turning shaft across the rocks;
Holding back from shipwreck, and destruction.

In this light we have stood strong;
We have been brave, we have been faithful;
We have held firm, and shone bright.

Our love has been the flicker of a candle;
A warming glow that draws, it beckons ever closer;
A circle of invitation, a comfort in the night.

Into this light we have welcomed,
Made room for warm bodies around the table;
We have held hands, and shared stories, and laughed.

I’ll take the bright but short-lived flare
That lights up the night, 
And lodges in my heart.

I’ll take the sweeping beams
That cast dangers into shadow
And bring courage to my eyes.

I’ll take the candle’s flicker,
Step towards its humble flame
Feel the life it offers.

And I will trust that any ember
Will respond to our breath
And spring forth, in time, with hearty flame.

Our love is light, in all its bright guises.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Life is an Adventure ... sometimes packaged small

Some time ago, an old friend complained that Tim and I seemed to be having too many adventures. They wanted adventures too, dammit! 
Well, I wrestled for a while. Do I make out that life is too much fun? Should I speak more openly about the tough stuff? Is it a mistake to find beauty everywhere, and ways to enjoy that beauty?

This was early in our time in Spain and I am happy to say that, rather than ditching our adventurous side, it has brought us to a new level of embracing who we are made to be. We are hard-wired for adventure! While it is not true to say that we are following adventure where it takes us - that would be to negate all the other reasons why we live where we live, and do what we do (if you need a refresher on that, I will post more another time) - it is true that we make adventure wherever we are.

Of course, when we were young we had heaps of adventures. Like many young people, we hiked, and climbed, and hitchhiked, and biked, and built fires, and snorkelled, and kayaked, and whitewater-rafted, and camped, and abseiled, and para-glided, and swung off bridges, and ran mountain trails, and drove through some pretty hair-raising places.

Now, of course, we are in mid-life. We have two kids, we have bills to pay and a house to maintain; cars to fix and work deadlines coming out of our ears. It’s time for the adventure to stop, surely?

I’d like to say a great, fat NO to that sort of thinking.

Life is what you make it. Adventurous escapades recharge us and keep us young. And there are ways to keep the adventures coming, even through the years of raising kids and building a career. Tim and I find adventure in the beauty of wild places, so we’ve learned to combine something a little out-of-the-ordinary with fun places and good food, for an adventure that’s manageable for the whole family.

Here are some of our ideas for injecting adventure into the everyday.
1. Ditch that extra episode on Netflix
Years ago we bought a little Trangia spirit stove. You can buy one for 20 quid and they are brilliant - easily portable and can be used anywhere. One thing we love to do is pack a day sack with this little gem, a few teabags, maybe some South African rusks or a couple of muffins. We’ll hike somewhere for 30 or 40 minutes, then brew up and sit and look at the view for a while before hiking back. Such a simple thing, but the perfect mini-adventure in the middle of a busy week. The kids love it and I guarantee you’ll feel more connected with yourself and your hiking buddies on your return.

Other ideas: No Trangia? Take a flask instead; go for a trail run; sit around the fire pit telling stories and toasting marshmallows; lay outside at night and look at the stars.

2. Give your spouse a lie-in, or head into work late one morning
One thing having kids teaches you, and that’s to make adventure manageable. Small people may not be able to hike for 3 hours, but they can hike for 45 minutes to an hour, set up camp while you fry up breakfast on a small fire or stove, and make their way home again on full tummies. This is a great one for giving your other half a lie-in on the weekend! Or why not get a few buddies together and agree to head into work late one morning, after a hike and a full English in the great outdoors? Making breakfast al fresco gives you the feeling of having had much longer outdoors; it gives you time to share meaningful conversation while rustling up those eggs; and it adds that sparkle of adventure to an otherwise ordinary day.

Other ideas: Go for an off-road bike ride; head out for a picnic somewhere where you can boulder or free-climb; brave an outdoor swim and make tea to warm up afterwards; go running at night with a head torch; hike somewhere quiet where you can string up a hammock - take a book to read aloud.

3. You want a weekend in the middle of the week
A couple of years ago, Tim and Keziah invested in a bivvy bag each. These little beauties keep you warm and dry overnight without the need for lugging a tent around. A perfect micro-adventure is to leave after work one evening with your pack loaded with supper, breakfast, and enough warm stuff for a night outside. Hike to a spot you’ve identified as being safe, and off the beaten track but relatively accessible. Transform the time you’d be at home - making supper and doing just one more load of laundry - into a mini campout that turns an ordinary week into something special.

Other ideas: Spend an evening at the local climbing wall; pack up your supper and head somewhere where you can see the stars.

4. Half your weekend is filled with chores
If you live near water, you’re bound to find places to hire a kayak. There’s nothing better than paddling for a couple of hours, and stopping to swim and picnic. Even inexperienced paddlers can find a calm stretch of river or a lake and give their arm muscles a workout on the water. The addition of food eaten outside and a wild water swim can make a single day feel twice as long. If you can't get to water, you can grab a group of friends and head out to a spot where you can light a campfire and have an all-day camp-out without the overnight - take games, hammocks and your sense of adventure.

Other ideas: take an all-day hike or bike somewhere new; stand-up paddle boarding is a great alternative and easy to pick up.

like to think that our sense of adventure has prepared us for the life we lead, when sometimes the challenges loom large. And in the midst of the challenges, a manageable micro-adventure recharges our batteries and fills up our joy tanks.

Outdoor fun might not be your thing ... but what do you find life-giving and where do you seek it out?

Monday, 6 February 2017

All of me, more of the time

Do you ever feel like your life is a funny jumble of assorted realities? As I lay on my back on the living room carpet, trying to combine a pre-run stretch with listening to an audio meditation I’d been wanting to find time for, I had to chuckle to myself. Life is such an odd assortment of weird juxtapositions.

Any parent knows this well. We are constantly being batted from one level of conversation (“Mom, I’m thinking of turning vegan; do you know our stomachs don’t even have the right sort of enzymes to digest animal products?”), to another (“Babe, did you think about whether we should use our savings for that trip?”), to another (“Mom, I’ve lost my football boots!”). Quite frankly, any single family conversation could be fuel for a cartoon strip.

Recently, after some months of sharing little quality time together and with no prospect of suddenly having chunks of free time, Tim and I agreed to simply make the most of the moments we have ‘between things.’ We’re making a point of grabbing a coffee in between dropping the kids at their activities, or meeting for lunch on a workday instead of just having lunch at our desks. Of course, this does mean that there are times when one of us is hastily re-dressing while the other stifles their smiles in order to answer the Skype call they have scheduled about some regional crisis! As I said, life is a jumble.

I guess it should come as no surprise, then, that at times it is difficult to reconcile these disparate realities. Right now, I’m aware of the irony of feeling called to create times of contemplation and reflection for others, when my life leaves very little time for me to be reflective myself. Surely my work lacks a certain authority when I am struggling to slow down enough to live reflectively in the midst of an over-stuffed daily life?

Maybe what I am really asking is this: what do you do when you feel like a fraud? 

It is easy to present to others just one aspect of who we are. But is it possible to live as an integrated whole in some ways that bring health to all the elements of what our lives look like? I don’t mean that everyone needs to know everything about us - God save us from Facebook levels of self-disclosure - but something more subtle might be achievable, surely? 

Is it possible for me to more consciously bring all of who I am into my various interactions? 

In many ways, we learn from a young age not to do this. We swallow our sorrows because we’re told to put a smile on our face. We fake breezy insouciance when we’re dying of anxiety. We laugh with our spouse at the dinner party, having just had a big row in the car on the way over. And, perhaps most deadly of all, we pretend we have it all together for the people at church, because we think that’s the requirement for fitting in there.

I’m not saying it’s not appropriate to put certain emotions or experiences to one side for a while. But I do think it’s easy to become fragmented, with multiple, slightly schizophrenic versions of ourselves being called on for different contexts. Somehow I want to learn to bring all these parts of myself together as I go through life.

So I’m choosing to embrace the life that I have, with all its busyness and challenges, and to press into my calling to contemplation, reflection and art-creation. And it goes both ways; what I’m learning about living reflectively and creatively must be infecting my day-to-day reality too. Even when that means getting up an hour before the kids because it’s the only time I can be sure of being undisturbed as I sit with my coffee and journal. 

And even when it means listening to an audio meditation while I stretch, before dashing out the door for a run.