Let’s Begin Again

” Over the many years that I have cultivated a mindfulness practice, I have noticed a growing, embodied stillness that has aided not only me but also my patients during times of great suffering and challenge. I first noticed the capacity for steady stillness during times of crises while I was a medical student…”


I wrote this piece for the Mindful Practice monthly blog. A reflection on the value of steadiness and generosity in the face of difficulty. And the opportunities for all of us to begin again – titled so after a lovely poem written by a medical student and shared with this blog post.

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The tulip trees are flowering

The tulip trees are flowering

In the back yard of my family home back in Germany stands a large tulip tree. My mother planted it sometime in 1994 after seeing one bloom in the US while attending my sister’s graduation in Iowa. So, this year, the family tulip tree is 27 years old – the same age as my oldest daughter. My mother’s love for all things flower and tree related found expression over the years in planting orange, lemon, and fig trees in our arid garden of Windhoek, Namibia, learning the Japanese art of Ikebana while we lived in South Korea, and then from time to time planting beloved trees back in Germany at the family home – including one tiny slip of a Gingko tree, that traveled the skies in a handbag and now takes pride of place in the family home front yard.

A tulip tree needs fifteen to twenty years of growth maturity until the first blooms arrive, and ours would have barely started blooming before my mother died – ten years ago. And just two years ago, on a visit to see my father in Germany, my aunt regaled me with a memory of him calling her one evening and raving about the surfeit of blooms on the tulip tree, in some way a message from my mother, and that she just had to come see it quick! I really had no idea – I imagined large trumpet like blooms, much like the Beaumontia grandiflora or Herald’s trumpet that grew as a large creeper all along the courtyard wall of our home in Namibia – what tulip tree flowers looked like. The year of the fabulous blooms, was the year my father died, shortly before the pandemic began. I am told that the past two summers, the tulip tree has not flowered. Perhaps even trees grieve.

Imagine my joy at discovering a number of tulip trees, and gingko trees, growing in the park near our home here in western New York State. A soothing balm for my soul whenever I feel a little low – a walk through the park, and visit with the trees, lifts my spirits and returns a feeling of belonging, family and home. The tulip tree is native to eastern North America and goes by the botanical name of Liriodendron tulipifera which originates from the Greek: Liriodendron, meaning lilytree, and tulipifera which means “bringing forth tulips”, alluding to the resemblance of its flowers to a tulip. Regular tulips, also a favorite flower, I’ve planted multiple bulbs of into our garden here this past year.

I have been feeling a little out of sorts and homesick lately, and especially tired these past weeks as the academic year grinds to an end, after eighteen months of constant engagement since the sudden abrupt move from in person to online teaching that included a summer graduate coursework learning online course development followed by an intense year of online teaching. An out of sorts that also ebbs and flows with the rhythm of my natural melancholia. Feeling into the newer rhythm of making a life for myself on this strange continent. A life and home far away from the other homes I have had. Away from my children – two of whom live on continents too far away to visit because of the pandemic. And away from my parents who have both passed and I can no longer ask the multitude of questions I find myself having these days. And of course, the tulip tree.

So, this morning, as the humidity of yesterday broke into gentle ground soaking rain overnight I took a walk in the park. A brief loop before my first morning zoom meeting of the day. As I rounded the last corner before heading down the last loop home, I discovered a tree alongside the road I had not fully noticed before. The tree caught my eye as it was covered with greenish yellow and orange flowers resembling short tulip cups. The large four lobed leaves with the top notch identifying this tree as a tulip tree. A wave of joy and recognition broke over me, and I imagined my parents smiling and nodding and agreeing with me that indeed this was a beautiful tree. A tree worthy of planting, of watching grow, of being overcome with joy and excitement when it blooms. Excited enough to go out for a second walk after my meeting, in the pouring rain, to find the other tulip trees in the park and commune with their blooms, and with feeling at home once again.

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VaccineDay#1 and an aquifer of memories

My father loved to regale us with stories. Often at dinner time when everyone was present. He would tell stories from his childhood in Germany, his family, meeting my mother in Alsace, her family, or early memories from the 60s when he and my mother were in Mwanza, Tanganyika, where brother#1 was born, or when we had moved back to Oberwürzbach where brother#2 and I were born. More often than not these were lighthearted stories, ones that gently chided and taught us our family history. The less lighthearted ones were kept for more private times – always unexpected, the sudden release of a story, as if from an overflowing aquifer of stored memories. Two such stories bubbled to the surface of my memory today. Stories from my infant days in Oberwürzbach, from the days before, before the incessant travel carried me away, as if on a great wave, from the shores of my birth, never to return. Stories from a time of understated belonging, from before I had a sense of how important to me that feeling was, and how different from one of exile I came to know the feeling of my later life to be.  A life of privilege that would become one of pilgrimage.

The first remembered story of today was one my father told often, and falls into the category of lighthearted, funny tales, even as it speaks of uncertainty and anxiety – the story of brother#1 visiting the village doctor to be initiated into that necessary rite of childhood – vaccination day. And asking the doctor at the visit, moments before the needle would go into his arm – ‘Doctor, doctor, does this hurt?’ My father would always chuckle when telling this tale. I was never quite sure why it remained so vivid a memory for him.

The second story I heard only once. A story my father told me after my mother died. Of him coming home late at night after a long day on the road, to find me standing up in my cot. Not because I was waiting up for him – I was far too young for such purposeful behaviour – but because it was easier for me to breath that way. And how he would walk about with me on his arm until my struggle to breath settled and I could go back to sleep. I have often wondered how long I had stood there, waiting, struggling to breath, and where my mother was? Probably asleep, tired out after long days on her own with three young children. Often alone as my father traveled far and wide throughout Germany selling engineering supplies – one time even inadvertently getting to see the Beatles play in a basement bar in Berlin before they were famous. She also spent hours with me at the hospital, sitting in an oxygen tent, hoping my breathing would improve. When in 1967, my family moved to Johannesburg, my father was hoping to get off the road, spend more time at home with his family, but also the doctor advised my parents that the dryer Southern African air would be better for my lungs. And that it was. I don’t remember struggling to breath as a child. I didn’t remember it at all until my asthma came barreling back down on me 20 years ago, like the great wave that had carried me out to sea, far away from the shore of my birth, returning and threatening to drown me, while I struggled to float and learn to breath anew. A story for another day.

Today, a year into this pandemic, these two memories erupted, colliding with one another, as I received my first shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine. A moment of lighthearted bantering with the nurse who gave it to me, mixed in with deeper reflection as I sat out my fifteen minutes before I could go home. Be sure to get yours. In this way we protect each other from drowning in this great wave.

Today, a year into this pandemic, these two memories erupted, colliding with one another, as I received my first shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine. A moment of lighthearted bantering with the nurse who gave it to me, mixed in with deeper reflection as I sat out my fifteen minutes before I could go home. Be sure to get yours. In this way we protect each other from drowning in this great wave.

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Thoughts on dying in two chapters

Take me home

He takes my hands in his, and at the same time waves them away in frustration.

He brings both his hands up, his arms shaky with effort.

He uses them to show us what he means. What he imagines we do not understand.

We are here, in this house, he says. Indicating to his left hand. Now closed over into a fist.

And I want to be in this house in front, he says. Indicating with his right fist, abutting it onto the left.

I am here (left). I want to be here (right).

He imagines we do not understand. Our reluctance to take him home to the front house is due to lack of knowledge he needs to help us regain.

In his dying desire to go home, to be untethered from this life, to be home in the old house, he has himself forgotten. Forgotten that it is no longer open to us, that others live there momentarily. Forgotten that he is no longer able, with his remaining physical strength, to make it to the house in front.

Eventually he lets go, collapses back into the pillows, and shakes his head at his children by the bedside. In his mind, we are ignorant of what he wants, in ours, deeply unable to fulfil his wish.

A sudden sadness envelopes me – after a lifetime of moving, of globetrotting, of engaging with curiosity everything the world had to offer, he truly is ready to go home, ready to rest in the silence of eternity.

A reframe was needed.

Dad, you are home. You are safe. We are all here with you. We love you. You can let go. 

I don’t know if it registered. At half past midnight on the night he died I found him still efforting his fragile dying frame out of bed, willing himself up, and perhaps still determined, to get to the front house to die.

Something or someone there was calling to him, he never could say, but as his spirit soared free I imagined he passed through the front house to answer the call of whatever it was that drew him there.

And then all was quiet.

And an eternity of silence followed.


Tectonic shifts

How are you? they ask. So many people enquiring. Demonstrating they care. Showing that I matter. I am okay, I say, not really sure yet. Things are slow, and I am being slow with how the year unfolds. Slow with how quickly I venture out again beyond myself. I know this time is important. And not to be rushed. I am not so much feeling intense grief than rather large and deep tectonic shifts in how I now inhabit the world. Not much rippling on the surface, but deep ocean surges bringing their own tidal waves with them, in time.

With the death of my father, both my parents now, and having these past two years moved across the ocean to a new land, I feel cut adrift like never before. Somehow find myself completely disconnected from the ‘old countries of my soul’ and wondering about the land I now find myself standing in. It may finally be time to be a grown up, and step into my own creative power. But for now I often feel lost and sad. That too is okay.

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Who am I

Who am I now

Who is this person I call me

Who is she


Is she the baby leaving the shores of her birth and first footsteps

Never to return to it again as home

Never to see the grandfather hanging onto the last breaths of his silicosis hardened lungs ravaged by cancer

Until she is safely deposited onto far flung shores

The one learning to substitute without thought the original language of her dreams

With the mother tongue of empire builders


Is she the toddler sitting on the Lombardy East wall

Smiling hello to anyone that passes

The young child paddling in the pool of the local convent play school

Lining up for the daily lunchtime soup

The one awakened in the night by an invisible hand suffocating her in the dark

Only to realise the sheet wrapped up under her pillow, the only thing holding her down

The one watching the nightly play of lights wandering the midnight bedroom hallway


Is she the primary school child running barefoot through the hot dry veld under the Windhoek sun

Growing up carefree in a world of friendship, athletics meets, flapjacks, Eisteddfods, sleepovers, movie night birthday parties

Swimming in the blue pools of privilege

Glistening against a darker background of Apartheid, Swapo, parent discord and depressive absence

Maternal attachment disrupted by pregnancy, hospitalisation, birth, illness, surgery, demands of new baby sibling

Relegated to school lifts home with parents attached to others

Afternoons distracted and enchanted by the treasure trove of costume sewing, of substituted warmth and care


Is she the one on the cusp of teendom transitioning through her land of birth

Out east, almost as east as one can go before being west

Transitioning out of childhood

Beyond the borders on the map

From innocence to a new land

Rendering her illiterate, culturally bereft, emotionally challenged

No ready guide points for this journey of identity and developing personhood

Negotiating the world between parental home and new frontiers bounded by hangukmal, GIs, new friends, school at the army barracks

The seashore not far from the front door not for sun bathing but walking

Arm in arm cobbling together unformed untranslatable sentences, ideas and questions


Is she the sporty teenager

Ahead of herself at school

Yet to discover how it is to fall

The youngest newly exposed to sexuality and drugs

A closeted Catholic upbringing never prepared her for this

The budding confident youngster stepping into an offered ride

Shamed for belonging to the nation of the Holocaust

Forever haunted by unfolding knowledge and the never to be forgotten spectre of suffering

And the ever present nonchalant brutality of humanity

Propelled onto a search for meaning, service,

A journey for the truth never to be found


Is she the teen at seventeen leaving her parent’s home

Traveling across another ocean eastward, to the west

Exploring the edges of loneliness, marginalisation, never quite finding comfort at the university by the star-spangled lake

Pulling up fresh pegs, starting anew on the continent of her childhood

Amidst the vibrant welcoming sounds and smells of a familiar land

Finally to have her eyes pinned wide open

To the exclusion, the bias, the hidden curriculum

Keeping out all who look unlike the ones occupying the ornate chairs

The student who rallies, falters, is lost along the way

Losing connection, a year here and there, almost herself to the depths of the abyss


Is she the one falling in love still unconsciously frozen by the fear

Seeking adventure yet sacrificing ideal to conformity

Finding death and loss amidst the beckoning transition points

Despite the joyous call of small hands, feet and sparkling curious eyes

Tugging persistently at her refusal to care

Her refusal to be called mother, until mothering finds her

The one lost in the cold loneliness of the internal tundra

Finally to thaw with the warmth of just one hand

The courageous one diving the deep well in search of the glittering coin

Thrown there long ago knowing one day to be found


She is woman

She does not break

She is fierce

She is unexceptional

She is here

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hibernation and possible migration

So I haven’t written for awhile.  My writing is taking on a new form and this blog will take a break for some time, perhaps be retired.  Thank you for your faithful readership these past three years. It has been a journey;IMG_4775 still to be continued.

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Take a risk, what is there to lose?

  1. A year for taking risks. For leaping into your own life, into your own unfolding future. When did you last risk everything for a chance to live your life, this life that the soft gentle voice whispering in the depths of your soul is calling to you with?

It’s a leap year. Meaning February has 29, not 28, days in the month. Since the time of Julius Caesar. In 45 BC he simplified the calendar opting for a 365-day year with an extra day every four years. Further refined later into the Gregorian Calendar we use today. If your being likes to breath in historical stories as mine does, it is further said that the month of February may suffer with the fewest days of the year as Augustus Caesar stole two days from February, adding to the tally of 29 days that was his given month of August so not to be outdone by his predecessor, Julius Caesar, who in July had a month with 31 days. And in the presence of a leap year is a tradition of women having express permission, enacted into law in Ireland sometime in the 1200s, to ask their intended to marry them on the 29th of February. Apparently in Scotland a woman with such intent had to wear a red petty coat. Perhaps giving the beau time to hide should she be spotted so clothed, was he not intending to accept. It is said a spurned request could be expensive with the man having to gift the woman twelve pairs of gloves should he decline.

So while this is not a post to uncover the wisdom of such actions it does raise the question of taking risks. Of challenging traditions. Of going against understood and accepted norms. Of course these days one may scoff at the thought of woman waiting until that one day in 1,460 days to propose, to ‘pop’ the question, giving men the other 1,459 opportunities to make that decision. To embark on that path. Although, come to think of it, one still does not see women all around us asking these questions. The engagement photos that circulate on the Internet are still 99.9% men asking women, same sex engagements aside. So what does it take to challenge tradition, take a risk, take a chance on being rejected, on getting the impulse wrong? And what would it take for you to be spontaneous and brave and step into a future of your own making? Especially if you have a chance of stepping into a completely different way of engaging with your life? Of not doing the expected.

So this leap month, in this leap year, perhaps consider being spontaneous and taking risks. Even small ones to begin with. Be courageous. Be curious about what it is that you may be putting off, not engaging with. What anxieties or fears, real and unreal, are holding you back? For me this is a month of staying close to that which I been putting off, that which I have not been turning toward. Being curious about these things, and even getting over some inherent residual procrastination that habitually resides in the month of January for me, and getting things done, started, engaged with. It does not need to be a large external journey but could be a quiet internal turning toward whatever it is that is calling me. Taking on this leap month in terms of taking risks and doing those things I would not normally do, or am held back from doing by habit or tradition or the multiple voices in my head. As Mary Oliver’s in here poem ‘The Journey’ below so beautifully articulates – But little by little,/ as you left their voices behind,/ the stars began to burn/ through the sheets of clouds,/ and there was a new voice/ which you slowly/ recognized as your own,/ that kept you company/ as you strode deeper and deeper/ into the world,/ determined to do/ the only thing you could do–/ determined to save/ the only life you could save..

We do not take risks in our lives for so many credible reasons that hold us tethered and then have regrets of not having done them. Our greatest regrets often are not the things we have done, but the things we have not done. So this month, be courageous. Do the things that have been put off. Take chances. Begin journeys. Forgive. Tell people you love them. Risk ourselves and our lives for love and the chance to live fully. We only have this one life. Take a risk to live it now and have no regrets doing so. Risk greatly and regret nothing.

2015-12-24 12.46.00

And on this year’s Valentine’s Day don’t just say “Happy Valentine’s Day”. Say “I love you”. Not only to your partner, your spouse, your lover, but to your parents, siblings, children, friends, colleagues, and anyone who has had an impact on your life. Tomorrow may be too late. Take some more risks for the sake of your own lives and thank you for reading this post whether by intention or chance. I love you all.
By Mary Oliver
The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

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Look left Watson

A Google search this morning using the words Sherlock Holmes “look left” came up with a scripted walkthrough of an online Sherlock Holmes game called ‘The Awakened’. A most apt falling into these musings. An awakening of sorts. An attending to and opening into the filtered view of the world that we inhabit daily. We unconsciously fall into routines of being, of doing, of following set paths and habits that take us to the exact same habitual places each day. But perhaps allow yourself at times to look left rather than just right, allow your gaze to hover, to wander, to have no purpose at all. Take time noticing your habitual surroundings, and allow yourself to be surprised by what you see, hear, feel, taste, touch. Perhaps you may even notice that statue you’ve been walking past for years.

2016-01-08 08.56.22

I met up with someone this week who for years has been exiting the Baker Street tube station on her way to work. Many of us know of that the famed fictional detective Sherlock Holmes who was meant to reside at Baker Street and would not be surprised by a large statue dedicated to him there. This was the meeting point I suggested to my friend, for us to rendezvous at the statue. She asked, surprised: “What statue?” “Why the statue of Sherlock Holmes of course”, I answered. Silence and then incredulity followed. She had never noticed or known about the statue. Had always left the station in a hurry focused on the path ahead to crossing the road at the traffic light on the right of the tube station exit, and had not, in all those years, looked left. Looking left she would have noticed the statue, a larger than life replica of the fictional man himself.

This begs a question: how often have you arrived somewhere or have walked past something in your everyday life that you have failed to notice? How often have you not looked left? How unaware are you of your surroundings and what might you be missing out on? Now not having noticed the statue does not make a huge difference in my friend’s life but one may wonder what else has not been seen or become aware of by keeping her focus only on what she knows and is walking toward, not allowing the possibility for distraction, new seeing and perchance awakening to darken the threshold of her day. And she is not alone in this. We all are highly focused on our to-do list, on what we know to be true, loathe being disturbed by the uncertainty of change and the annoyance of disruption, are wary of starting a new conversation with our daily lives.

I attended a morning workshop with David Whyte recently who spoke eloquently about being in conversation with others and oneself, about the starting of new conversations, and with the starting of a new conversation of the necessity of first stopping the one we are already in. How often do we start a sentence or conversation or way of relating that may not be the most skilled for that moment finding ourselves too stubborn and embarrassed to stop and start again? How often do we stay with the habitual course because change challenges our comfort zone, even if we are unhappily settled in it? To start a new way of relating we need to first stop the way we are on, even mid sentence or mid judgement or mid action if need be. Pause and allow the unknown to creep in, waiting for a new conversation to arise. One that meets the power of this moment. Learning comfort and patience with silence, with stopping, with ambivalence, even with breaking promises if they serve old believes that have become untenable, supports the starting of new conversations. Starting a new conversation, awakening to the unnoticed requires a certain comfort with the unknown, with the messy chaos of creativity, with the un-explored path and the un-opened door, with looking left more.

This is my task for 2016. Paying attention to new conversations and staying still long enough within each of these moments as I awaken to what has not been noticed before. To look left more often and allow my focus to wander off the path.

What is yours?



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She was still a young woman. She told me that she was having pain on her side, that she was not feeling well, that she would struggle to pick up the baby that day. That she thought her side was red and painful and felt hot. I was due to go to the practice that morning and this young woman, who came in three days a week to care for the baby while I worked, my first born who was still only six months old, had just arrived. I asked her if she wanted to show me her side. She lifted her top to expose an angry bubbling rash, like a quick sweep of blotchy red paint, across the whole side of her chest. With that one glance I knew what this was, I feared what it heralded for her and dreaded the death sentence that it brought at a time when treatment was not yet available.

Ten years before that day I vividly remember sitting in a clinical lecture hall waiting for the lecturer during my third year of medicine discussing a very new, still unidentified, disease that was impacting many communities internationally and now increasingly being seen in our own country. Those very first whisperings of an unknown illness, spoken about with concern in every forum and corridors of the hospitals, made a lasting impact on my memory. That nascent unknown disease became a tsunami of suffering, illness and death, and came to occupy almost every bed in the hospital, almost to exclusion of all else. And with it came a companion wave of funerals, of orphans, of panic, desperation, fear and isolation, one that my family has felt intimately with the death of three housekeepers over the years. Kind, generous, and patient women who cared for my children while I gave time to others. Women whom my own children viewed as surrogate mothers and still deeply feel the loss of, and whom I wish to honour today.

Each year, since 1988, we have commemorated and celebrated World AIDS Day on the first of December. Remembering those who have succumbed to this disease and renewing our commitment to the continued work and caring to be done. This year is no different. Progress has been made. We now know the cause, the transmission routes, are able to protect against this and treat effectively when discovered early. UNICEF and ICPCN, like many other international organisations, commemorate World AIDS Day today with the following statement.

At the turn of the century, and the beginning of the Millennium Development Goals, and HIV diagnosis was equivalent to a death sentence for most children and their families in low income countries. But now, an early diagnosis paired with treatment and care can ensure long healthy lives, regardless of location, and helps prevent transmission of HIV to others.

Much progress has been made and while better treatment and prevention is making an impact there is still cause for concern, especially amongst adolescents, and especially for the age group from 15 to 19. In Africa AIDS is the number one cause of adolescent deaths and worldwide the number two cause. Seven of ten new infections are amongst girls. HIV prevention efforts have shown little impact for adolescent transmission rates over the past 15 years. We need to envisage new and creative ways to engage adolescents in this discussion while also challenging, acknowledging and attending to the power and gender struggles impacting this age group. With most new infections being amongst adolescent girls this speaks to on-going gender struggles, abuse and powerlessness of young women in patriarchal societies.


This World AIDS Day make a commitment to being a difference in your own lives, in your own families, in your own work and communities, in teaching and embodying for your own children and the young persons you have contact with to have mutual respect and honouring of their own and each other’s bodies and personal power, as well as safeguarding them from abusive relationships and situations. Silence has often been a killer with this disease. Don’t be afraid to speak out and speak up.


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I stopped writing at fifty

I stopped writing at fifty. It seemed I had nothing more to say. Me! Who always had an opinion, could give lectures about the state of anything with confidence. Especially to my children. Had no more words. Nothing. Empty. The blank pages of my journal stared back at me, my blog stayed un-updated. Weeks, months have gone by without recording any thoughts or moments bar the list of to do things to remember and brief notes from conferences and workshops attended and led. Where there used to be dotted throughout my journals personal reflections and memories and making sense of things there were now blank pages with only the whispered hope of filling them one day with beautiful, if heart-wrenching, prose. It did not seem so. The pages stayed blank. Open. Waiting. Waiting for what, I am not yet sure. Perhaps waiting for a new life, a new beginning, a new way of recording. One I cannot imagine or create a picture of in my mind. I find myself at the precipice, the jumping off point. Ready to step out over the abyss, trusting that as I step all will unfold – the bridge will appear, the colour will fill in, the landscape will take form. But until then the pages stay blank, open and waiting. Breathing, with a life of their own. A life I am not yet privy to. It is as if I must first learn my own teachings of how it is to stay and be with the unknown. How it is to be close up and intimate with the not knowing, as the haunting title of an essay by John Tarrant informs us – ‘not knowing is most intimate’. Not knowing what is ahead, yet trusting myself enough to step out into that unknown. Just as David Whyte instructs, in his beautiful poem, to take that first step, the step that we do not want to take. Start close in, don’t take the second step or the third, start with the first thing close in, the step you don’t want to take.

The abyss, however, I already have intimate knowledge of and perhaps it is in the writing of that story that new words and new life will come. That the path over the abyss will light up. It has taken years to see, recognise and fully know the abyss, to stand close enough to the edge to look over and see what has been patiently waiting all these years for me at the bottom. Despite a childhood of reckless and exuberant cliff and tree climbing with little fear of heights, I suddenly one day at twenty-one, on the side of a mountain, panicked, froze, and could no longer go on. I felt immense fear of literally falling off the mountain. A relative gentle slope it was. I had to sit, turn back and scoot off the slope on my hands and bottom, until I reached a level path below. From that day I was fearful, even phobic, of heights. No longer able to easily stand close to or look over the edge. That state lasted for the next fifteen years until the moment I recognised that on that other fateful day I had indeed, contrary to what I had always believed, fallen over the edge into the abyss. That day my psyche shattered and split and a part of me went into hiding, protected from the world in order to survive. That day I no longer belonged anywhere or to anyone. Not even to myself. How wise we are, and how enormous is our capacity for survival, to protect our own fragile knowing until we are ready to see. I continued as near normal, even thriving on many levels, until I finally recognised myself at the bottom of the abyss and was able to spend increasingly longer moments close in, peering over, before eventually climbing down and offering myself a loving embrace and helping hand out. A recognition of my aloneness and loneliness and inability to let others in, a moment of standing close in and being intimate with the not knowing.

It has, since then, been a journey through the shadows of the valley of death. A journey close in with death, mine and that of others. A falling apart and rebuilding of my physical health that I had blindly trusted would always be there. A coming to terms with my shattered self that shame and fear of vulnerability had kept me aloof from. A close friend told me years back how intimidating she had found me to be at medical school. My passions and protests kept me aloof. This reflection, knowing how I had felt on the inside, surprised me, perhaps they should not have. They were some of the loneliest moments channelled into supporting the causes of others. Early adulthood naturally is a time of confusion and pain and growth. Yet not everyone gets to look into the abyss and contemplate how it would be to simple let go into the forever depths of its darkness.

Now decades later, having climbed back into the abyss and loved myself out, I am finally experiencing the growth of my wings. Intimately knowing that when I step out into the unknown a bridge will appear, no longer afraid of heights and increasingly curious at every edge. Stepping close in. Leaning over for the long view toward the horizon opening beyond, full with colour, colour emanating from the splitting of the light as it enters the dark. Perhaps it is time to step out, trust and truly belong to life, to myself, to others. Perhaps it is time to find the words that will open the abyss to and for everyone. An abyss that is not purely my own but one that runs through the history of time, of my time, of my family’s time, of my heritage, the world I have been born into and need to share. And into that abyss the light shines not just for me but for all of us.


At fifty I stopped writing, stepped close in and intimate with not knowing.  And through this deep vulnerability step beyond the abyss into the unknown to create new stories.

May we all see, recognise and love ourselves to live in the light with gentleness, clarity and kindness.

Posted in Courage, difficult emotions & death in every moment, life | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments