Tea in the morning

I wake to a creak on the landing before dawn.

She is standing there.

I don’t know where I am she says.

We go downstairs for tea.

What is your name? She says.

I tell her. I’m Fiona.

That’s interesting, she says, that’s my daughter’s name.

We have tea, and Rich Tea biscuits.

She tells me about her life, her time in the far east, her husband being in the army.

At times I know the timeline is off but I don’t correct. I play the part of a polite stranger. Asking about details and nodding as she tells me familiar stories about her mother working in the bakery and her dad’s time in the catering corps.

I ask if she has family and she tells me about nephews and nieces.

She says that life is unexpected.

But she has no regrets.

What we bind

I have been listening to the Skald song “Gleipnir” on repeat in the car.

Gleipnir was the third chain made to bind the Fenris wolf. It was made by the sons of Ivaldi from the stomping of cats, the beards of women, the roots of mountains, the spit of birds, the breath of fishes and the nerves of a bear.

An impossible list of ingredients, and it was so fine that the Fenris wolf laughed when he saw it. Having already broken through two chains he was confident that this last would be no problem.

He was wrong, and is bound by Gleipnir until Ragnarok.

As I listen I have been thinking about what we bind.

The binding of women’s feet to keep them small and delicate and Viola binding her breast to appear as a man in Twelfth Night.

In the charismatic church I attended as teen it was common practice to bind “demons” to prevent them causing further harm. We were taught we had the power to command them, to cast them out.

In magical practice binding is considered shadow magic. It involves work on the will of another, and it is said you should not bind unless your cause is just. What you send to others will return to you.

Binding restricts, limits, masks, hides, restricts, retains, contains, constrains.

It brings an echo of The Devil card, with figures chained, or, in the Gaian Tarot of the Bindweed card.

Bindweed is a perennial nuisance here in Kent. The roots, some say, extending as far into the earth as the bottom of wells. It emerges quickly and strangles plants, using their strength to support it as it climbs and smothers. This makes me think about the ways in which behaviours and habits, cultural patterns and “norms” slide into our subconscious, and the depth of the roots, twining back through history, suffocating, using the strength of others to grow strong.

With this image I think of the binding of slaves throughout history, chained and shackled; this is now technically illegal across the globe but still a feature of modern life in many countries.

I think of the Atlantic slave trade from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries. I think of the “othering” which becomes normalised in order to justify practices which enslave and use other humans as tradeable goods.

I think of the wealth that grew out of this trade that has enabled my country and others to build their developed world. I think of the benefits this has brought to me, because I am caucasian.

I think of the unearned wealth of opportunity and privilege I gain from the colour of my skin.

I feel for the first time the threads which bind my mind in cultural assumptions, the lack of understanding, despite my liberal, educated, well-meaning views.

I think of the shadows I have permitted to keep myself comfortable.

The skeletons of millions in the collective closet of Western culture.

There is much to learn and it is already late.

Untold

I have tried repeatedly to write about my mum and our current situation.

Each time I get so far.  Then delete the whole lot.

There is so much personal and private.

A desire to preserve dignity.

Yet a longing to honour this time, and her as she travels it.

How can I show you who she was before, and how she is now?

I have no answer to the question; “how is your Mum?”  What do I say?

Confused, frail, funny, frightened.

Smaller.

Her skin is like parchment, soft and fragile.

She needs to rest on her walk from one room to another.

She is changeable; sad, happy, furious, reminiscing, organising.

She is usually in bed by 5 pm, exhausted.

Last night we sat with her in the front room after her supper meal.  We were talking in an incidental sort of way.  She was sharing memories.  These come in snapshots.  They are now blended, so I hear elements of two or three stories in a combined memory blend.  We do not correct her.  We listen.  We make affirming noises and ask interested questions that we know the answers to.  She will tell us the same story each minute for the next hour.

She does not want to go to bed today.  Dad has gone out to water the garden.

Simon finishes work and comes downstairs,  he pours me a gin and tonic, Mum has a small sherry.  We sit with our drinks and a few crisps talking and it reminds me of so many times we have done this, when we used to come for Sunday lunch, when it was a holiday or family celebration.  We would arrive, be offered a drink, snacks, we would share our news.

It must remind her too because she does not want to get ready for bed.  She tells me to help myself to tea if I want to and I must feel free to go home when I am ready.  I say thank you.

We have lived with her now for two years.

Later Simon reminds me that it is impolite to go to bed before your guests leave and I realise why she was so reluctant to go.  She was always an excellent hostess.

I want to tell you about the funny moments too.  Her wicked sense of humour, or bare faced cheek.  Or those moments when she suddenly offers advice, exactly as she used to before this condition took hold.  Sudden moments of clarity.  Everything changes.  Her voice, her facial expression, her bearing. Perhaps for five minutes.  She is wise in ways she cannot know, and I am pulled back to younger days when she was my oracle.

She loves music, and has learned new songs with repeated playing of the CD, in particular some raucous, saucy sea shanties from the movie Fisherman’s Friends.  She sings along, substituting unusual lyrics where she is unsure.

Saddest is when she wants to go home, to her parents.  We cannot tell her they are gone.  We cannot tell her the house was sold.  She tells us she will ring her mum to come and get her. She thinks we are keeping her prisoner here, in the house where she has lived for the past thirty eight years.

We do the best we can, but we cannot even imagine how life seems to her now.  Our aim is that she is comfortable and as content as possible.

She loves to have her hairbrushed, to have a new outfit, to put cream on her face.  She was always meticulous about her appearance.   Am I tidy?  She says, before we come downstairs in the morning.

She loves the garden she created, the flowers, the sound of the birds.

She loves the cats.  We brought our three when we moved in and so there are plenty of them!  She is delighted when they climb on her lap for strokes.

She loves listening to Mantovani and sitting in the sun.

Last week Dad had some old slides put onto a disc.  He played them on the TV and we saw, for the first time, pictures she had taken when she lived in Malaysia in the late sixties.  There were images of Singapore which was all open fields, the largest structure not more than five stories tall.  There were temples, capped with gold, taken on a trip to Thailand empty apart from a few monks.  A different world.  She was so excited she got up out of her chair and came to find me, telling me about the dollar brollies you could buy to keep you dry when the rains came.

Days stretch out, punctuated by meal times.  I am usually good at seeing the “up side” of situations but there is not much lovely or hopeful here.

It is hard to watch this.  To wait through each day with her.  It is not a path I would have chosen to walk; though I know I need to.

Iit is the last thing I can give.

I am conscious of the pieces of her, flying away, tiny piece by tiny piece, sand on the windswept seashore, drifting.

I listen to the stories, over and over.  There is so much which will remain untold.

 

Priviledged Position

cactus-4427131_1920I have been noticing something, and I want to talk about it, but it is not a comfortable topic.

A friend and I were talking yesterday.  We are both “spiritual” people, both running small businesses in the spiritual world.  We have followers on IG and aspire to support others on their journey of self-development and connection with the sacred.  All these are, I believe, Good Things.

In our conversation I raised the questions I have about priviledge within the spiritual community.  It seems to be that a lot of people (the majority?) who identify as “spiritual” are white, middle-class women.

This brings with it certain givens; a level of education, disposable income, a reasonably comfortable home.  I am one of these people.

My parents were hard up when I was younger but my Mum was a teacher and my Dad had a steady job and they supported me throughout my education, encouraged me to read, paid for music lessons, provided financial aid while I completed a degree.

I was hard-up when I was a young adult, living in a one-bed flat above a local drug dealer, struggling to pay for food while my then partner completed studies and I was a stay-at-home mum to two boys under two.

Yet once they were in school I trained to be a teacher and my husband progressed through a nursing career and we lived in comfortable rented homes and, eventually, took annual holidays.  I can afford to be part of online support groups, pay for healthcare I need, eat a balanced diet, buy books, have hobbies.

As I sit here, aware of people losing their jobs, struggling more than ever to make ends meet I am struck once again by the big questions I have about many teachings within modern new age spirituality.

There is an idea that we can have anything we desire via the process of manifestation.  The process as I understand it is choose your goal, create a vision, work towards it, make it so, reap the rewards.  For instance, I’ve heard in more than one place that you should decide the kind of lifestyle you want, write down the amount of money that will equate to for your earnings and then set out to get that.  Perhaps this works for some people.  But perhaps too that is becuase of a complex set of circumstances; opportunities, personality, background, networks.  But for every one person it works for there must be a million who find it doesn’t.   And to say to people who have a different starting point that they just aren’t trying hard enough, or that there must be some energetic block in them, or they need to do their shadow work, or that they are creating their challenges.  I think that’s bollocks.

Not to say that it’s ok to live in a victim mentality, but often we don’t know we were victims until we are not, and often that means being safe enough to be able to reflect and see what was going on in the bad old days…

To my mind this one size fits all kind of teaching ignores the complexity of different starting points.  For example, the estate where I lived above a drug dealer is about half a mile from my current home.  It remains one of the poorest areas of England.  Council housing built after World War 2 in some places there are four generations of unemployment, a level of deprivation and need which is hard to break out of.

I feel that there’s a risk of ignoring real and raw social situations in our desire for greater personal development.  The only way out of this that I can see is social action.

Which means getting more involved, enmeshing ourselves in the messy business of being human.

I am uncomfortable with the idea that I am here to “ascend”.  I don’t personally believe this.  I believe I am here to fully experience what it is like to be a human creature.  This includes how I react and interact within my communities, both virtual and actual.  I do not believe that we need to “escape” from our bodies.  I believe they are a gift that we need to appreciate and live and serve in and through.

Then I am conscious of the priviledge I have because I’m white.  It was only recently (working with an undergraduate studying biological anthropology) that I learned that there is no biological definition of race.  Race is entirely a cultural construct, created to “other” other human creatures so that “we” (white Europeans) could steal their land/ property/ culture and spread our own culture because we knew best.  I can’t even begin to comprehend the web of injustice that this has created over the past six hundred years.  I am ashamed and horrified and I admit I have a lot more work to do in this area of my understanding.

There are some parts of my life that I’ve hidden for fear of persecution, my sexuality being one, but despite that I am still enormously priviledged. I have unimaginable wealth simply by being born when and where I was.

I want to face these uncomfortable feelings and I want to work out a way to work from and through this.  I want to be part of a spiritual community which is working for all humans and non-human creatures.  I don’t know how to do this yet.  I have been aware of it for a while but I don’t know how to make the change I want.  I will have to start small.  With my own culture and attitudes.  I will need to be prepared to make changes in my own lifestyle and outlook.  It is not something I relish (I’m a nine on the Enneagram and boy do we love to be comfortable).

But I can’t keep ascribing to belief systems which white-wash over the inequalities and challenges created by poverty and discrimination. If you know how to do this I would love to talk, how do we create  new ways of being?  For my part I will keep reflecting, reading, learning, challenging myself, facing down my discomfort, practising opening my mouth and saying something instead of consenting through silence.

 

Unlock Your Magic

sparkler-839831_1920I believe each of us has a spark of magic inside us.

That spark is our unique gift to the world.

I believe that within all these magical sparks is all that we need for healing and wholing our world and each other.

It took me a long time to believe in this magic.

I mean; I wasn’t tall enough, or gracious enough, or clever enough, or wise enough, or confident enough or enough or enough or enough.

I was moody and scratchy and broken.  My body didn’t always work the way I wanted it to, my family weren’t polished and “normal”, I was divorced, fragile, I carried scars in my spirit that ached, oh and I couldn’t draw.

I don’t know when it happened. Usually its when I’m looking out of the window into a garden, or walking quietly across the fields.

I saw it, like a vision, a web of light connecting around the world, soul to soul, heart to heart. That what I was bringing to the world included all of that mess and ache and confusion.

That it wasn’t about being perfect.  And that I was, and always had been, more than enough, exactly where and how I was.

The magic which unlocked that day was the ability to walk through life in my own skin, in the way which fits around my own heart and soul.

This is our life purpose.  To fully inhabit the life we have.

It can mean breaking out of unhealthy patterns, it can mean a lot of time in therapy, it can mean accepting our limitations, working through grief and facing down our deepest fears.  It can mean doing this again, and again.

It can mean quiet days when we need to tend our own selves, protect and nourish our inner soft spaces.

It can mean being fiercer than we knew we could be, raging, tempestuous.

It can mean drawing lines, creating containers, learning to say no.

It is not an easy path, it isn’t soft, and often it is not at all comfortable.

But in the midst of this journey you’ll find it, the magic you thought you’d lost, or never knew existed.

And this spark will warm you,  it will grow as you tend it, it will flame until it can’t be contained and it shoots right out of your fingertips and eyes, revealing itself in your words and workings, wherever and whatever that looks like.

It is the power at the heart of our very existence, encoded in our cells, burning in our bones, flowing through our blood, rushing like a hurricane in our breath.

It is our own wild magic come to set us free.

Come with me, let us search, let us seek.  With oracles and healing, with spells and circles, under the moon’s glow or in the darkest shadows.  I am here.  Take my hand.

 

Three weeks in spring

Bonfire_FP_03042020
Bonfire with Bats – Fiona Phillips April 2020

You remember when we woke up that Saturday morning and I said we could go for breakfast, and you thought it was a good idea?

And we walked down the road, past standing traffic, rejoicing in our freedom, to choose bacon or blackpudding, fried bread or toast, while the news headlines scrolled past on the wall TV screen and local radio blared, too-cheerful, for so early in the day.

You remember when we went to town; collecting a birthday gift, getting my boots fixed and then how we decided we’d get lunch, talking about what we would do One Day?

How we browsed in the bookshops, checking out the local art gallery and grabbing a cocktail, before heading home.

You remember when we’d drive to the coast to walk, comb the beach, shards of sea-glass in green and white nestled between bone-white oyster shells; ending the afternoon with tea and cake in a vintage cafe, mismatched china and the Picture Post?

How we “popped in” to Tesco to grab a few bits for Sunday lunch, driving back across the bridge with the sun setting, a burning rose of fire sinking into grey.

Do you remember when we heard the news?

How we spent the week with routines up-ended, dizzy with the speed of change, the jolt of brakes slammed to the floor, with our inner momentum rushing us forwards through the days, leaving us aching and worn by nightfall.

Do you remember watching the numbers climb, and how we queued, carefully spaced, snaking towards the weekly shop in latex gloves?

Do you remember the freedom of a daily walk, crossing the road to avoid neighbours with a cheery wave; conversations held from opposite kerbs?

How the road stretched empty in both directions, a soft, sleeping snake.

Do you remember when we sat, three generations, everyday, at lunch, and afterwards took mugs of tea up to the end of the garden to bask with the cats in the midday sun and listen for the chaffinch patrolling his domain?

Do you remember that Friday night when we stood under the gibbous moon, Venus showing off in the west, the bonfire high, turning everything to ash?

Sparks flying, we sipped cider and the swift, black shadows of the bats swirled above us.

Do you remember putting your hand on my back, and how we knew we had it all?

That life was rich and beautiful, and we had never known how much until then.

Different and the same

Me in a flood 1
Walking in a watery world Christmas 2019 – liminal space

Life feels different.

I’ve been trying to work out exactly how. What exactly has changed?

The shops are shut. There are less groceries on the shelves. I can’t just “pop” in to get something, I need to plan, and queue. I am doing less driving.

There is nowhere to go.

Surprisingly I do not miss these things.

I am more present.

It is difficult to plan anything, because as yet we don’t know how long this situation will last.

I find that a huge amount of my mental energy has been spent on plans. What I will do in the summer. When I will meet with that friend. How we will organise Christmas with various family members. Whether we will go to that show or see that comedian.

The actual texture of the days is unchanged, waking, dressing, working, chores, meals, evenings of playing cards or watching Netflix, sleep.

This is interesting.

That a lot of my “busyness” wasn’t actual, it was mental, busy thoughts, busy plans.

While I find the uncertainty unsettling I am thankful for the limits on my choices. There has been, though I didn’t notice it, a pervasive “ought” around going out and doing. I am thankful to be here having time to inhabit my actual, present life.

There is something changeless here, the rhythm of days, it soothes me.

I await the unfolding.

What matters

pheasant-3971267_1920It isn’t what I thought.

Not money

Or respect

Or being successful

Whatever that looks like

On a particular Monday.

It isn’t being purposeful.

Achieving

Pushing forwards

In my truest nature

For my highest self.

It is enjoying the gift

Of breath

Walking familiar paths

Enjoying the subtle changes

Of the seasons

Marvelling at the pheasant

Who visits unexpectedly

In his golden coat,

green, iridescent hood shimmering.

It is time with soul friends

Family.

Remembering the small gifts

Of normal.

Making the most of

The time that is here

Today.

 

 

Identity crisis

doorway-1420437_1920

About twelve years ago I decided to leave my job as a class teacher.  I had had a significant health scare and knew in my heart (and gut) that the pressure was not doing me any good at all. I trained as a complementary therapist and got a small part-time job which would support us while I established my practice.

Shortly after this my marriage ended and, as  single mum with two teenagers, I went back to my stock trade as a teacher to support us.

I’m good at adapting, externally at least.  I still hoped to find a way to work part-time hours to manage my health while providing an income, I gained some extra qualifications and began working as a specialist teacher.

After another spell of health challenges I resigned from my then role and began to explore other options.  By this point I had caught the tarot bug.  I loved the way the cards could cut through layers of dross to get to the treasure beneath, the insight and clarity they offered.  This was what I wanted to offer…

Anyone who has ever sought to set up as a therapist in any medium will know it’s a slow process.  It takes time to build a client base, to find connections.  While this takes place the cats (and humans) still need food and the car still needs petrol…

I worked for a local dyslexia centre doing assessments as a freelancer,  I drove around giving tuition to children after school, I found work part-time supporting university students with study skills; how to plan an essay, how to manage time or write a bibliography.

Last year I came up with an idea.  I am one for ideas.  I would sell my services as an administrator.  I’m a good teacher.  I’m a really good administrator.  I needed to work from home to help maintain my own health and provide care for older family members.

I set up my website, put out my shingle, sat behind my stall with pencils sharpened and ready and waited.

Tumbleweed.

For all the reasons noted above I had to take on more work in education.  It wasn’t what I hoped for, but the cats were grateful.

And then.

A phone call one Saturday morning introduced me to a client interested in my admin services.

This work is now, thankfully and wonderfully, growing.

Now here (finally) is the point.

This means I can let go of some of the education work I have been plodding away at, release some contracts, put down commitments.  While I won’t put all my eggs in the one basket I could make a considerable shift and reduce this element of my “muggle” work.

After almost twelve years of seeking to “get out of” education (the world’s longest ever escape plan) I may finally be on the verge of doing it.

But.

I realise why I have found it so difficult to make this break.  On the one hand the work is there, it is something people need, it’s a safety net.  Nothing wrong with a safety net on one level.  In our gig economy it’s a good idea.

On the other hand there’s the realisation that this is my identity.

Core parts of my identity are; that I’m a mother, that I am “spiritual” and that I’m a teacher. 

To let go of this, alongside letting go of my role as Mum as my two children transition to adulthood, feels big.  Really big.  What do I look like if I’m not a teacher?  If that’s just a fraction of what I do, how will life be?  I’ve been saying for several years that I no longer need to work term-time only.  There is no one any longer who needs care in the school holidays.  I could work the year round.

Yet it is an established pattern.  It is what I am used to.  And I hadn’t realised until today how much.  What does the year look like without the “end of term.”

Teaching for me (in the context of “working in education” rather than teaching in other contexts) has been a toxic relationship.  I love the idea of the regularity and form, but the pressures, the boxes we put ourselves and others into in our education systems, are unhealthy and stifling.  I have longed for an ordered and regimented life, one which is predictable and safe.  Yet when I try and create it something in me goes wild and starts to run away.  My body reacts with symptoms and I cannot sustain the work.

Which makes me think maybe I was never that person anyway.  Maybe that was an attempt to fit.  Trying on your mother’s shoes and playing at being “grown up”.

Or maybe it was just my best attempt to be a working mum, the constant challenge of contributing and supporting the family financially, while being the primary carer.

What’s clear is that the time has come to get ready to face a new way of being and doing. 

I am, in all honesty, perturbed.  I have often wondered why I was finding it so hard to make the break from working in education…this new understanding helps.

I still have to make the shift.

I am mentally taking a deep breath as I face this new truth.  Then slowly raising my foot to take the next step.

The doorway to “what next” is open.

After the harvest

nature-3126513_1920I did not find pregnancy comfortable.

Physically I was perturbed by the changes taking place, the way in which my body (always seen as separate in those days) “took over”.  I felt I had become host to an alien life form.  Emotionally and mentally I fought the loss of control, despite it being of my choosing.

I was a youngish mother, twenty three when I had my first child, and it would be another twenty years before I finally befriended my woman’s body.

I do recall the sense of count down.  Waiting and waiting for the due date, ticking off the days…

The sense of impending arrival comes, it turns out, with creative projects too.

I completed my first project  last week when the oracle deck I had been working on arrived.  I put off listing it in my shop because this was the last thing, and once that was done, there was nothing else to do…I wasn’t prepared for how I would feel when it was finished.  I was so pleased on one level and yet on another I felt sad..the journey was so much fun.

It was a time of unexpected delight.  I had always told myself I’d never make a deck, I am not an artist, I don’t draw or paint.  It was the regular, insistent messages from the natural world which inspired me in the end.  I began taking and collecting photographs of the garden.

Once I had them all I went into lock down.  Who, after all, did I think I was?

They sat saved in a folder on the computer.  It took almost three months before I was ready for the next phase.  And then the flood gates opened!  There is a point when the process takes over, moving of its own accord.  Once the decision to get it done happened it was like a flood gate opened.

The energy this project generated was unexpected.  I have spent a large amount of time juggling my energetic needs, since a viral infection at aged eighteen left me with fatigue.  There are spells of better health and then an inevitable crash.  But this energy was different, it felt warm, loving, hopeful.  It gave me the power to get through mundane days at work, to put new projects into place, to step up and out, it was my own inner sun.

With its completion I am going through a mini grief.  It is done now…and I don’t know, yet, what will come next.  I have been fishing around in my mind this week for fresh ideas, but they’re not here yet, or not willing to show themselves.

I suspect this means that this is the time to allow the ground of my creativity to lie fallow for a while, to replenish its nutrients, to give myself a break!

And that inner sun is still here, lurking just below the horizon, I know it will rise again when the time is right.

I am so looking forward to seeing the first shoots, the tiny green spikes of the next idea 🙂