FierceRising

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.

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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.

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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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WORLD AIDS DAY 2015

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.

Shazam-Blog-Post-29-Dec

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.

arrien

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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.

Image

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.

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What I learnt at 50

This past week marked the end of my fiftieth year on this earth.  A journey that has taken me from a small village in Germany to South Africa, Namibia, South Korea, Indonesia, the US, South Africa again, Australia and back to South Africa.  The last few years I find myself in London with an ever growing diverse career, more work travel than I could have imagined, a dissolved marriage, deep joy in watching my children grow into wonderful young adults, and the safe harbour and passion of an all enveloping love.  It has been a life long journey back to myself and my own heart.

A warning though – If you are averse to strangely introspective posts, expect rationality in life at all times, and are deeply mistrustful of the gift of intuition or of the mysterious, I suggest you stop reading now.

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There have been many surprises and curiosities along this journey.  My greatest re-discovery recently has been the gift of friendships, and specifically of female friendships, and of being able to shift my perspective toward gratitude for the positive values and gifts that have been present throughout my life, but I have not been able to see or label as such.  Somehow growing up I felt an internal survival sense that I needed to be strong, forceful, assertive and anything less was not valued. Perhaps it had something to do with having two older brothers and growing up surrounded by boys.  I could climb trees and cliffs with the best of them, often better and I could run fast, it was not so easy to catch me.  I did not easily succeed at being a boy though – all my brothers had to do was dunk me in the pool and I gave up.  I also loved playing with all the girlie things at my friend’s house – trying on the dresses of her older sisters and playing with barbie dolls, something that was not approved of at home.  The feminine at my home had more to do with being of service to patriarchy – even if it was not understood as such – cooking magnificently, keeping a well kept house, being well mannered and looking presentable at all times.  Much to my mother’s dismay I did not always succeed very well in the looking feminine department. She had fabulous taste. I rebelled internally against the perceived weakness and tears of my mother, but was not sure how to always be resilient against the labile forcefulness of my father and brother.

arrien

A few years ago I visited my son at school in New Mexico along the southern tip of the Sangre de Cristo mountains.  It was a precious few days seeing where he was, meeting his friends, and exploring with him a little of the area. On the last morning I spent some time in the small meditation sanctuary on campus and found myself part of a group of women who met early every Sunday for a Divine Mother Earth session.  Something I had never experienced but was not about to miss being a part of once invited. Each one of the group took turns at leading and this morning it was the turn of a woman who had brought angel cards to share.  After some meditation, singing, chanting, and chocolate eating – which all women’s meetings should include – a pack of cards was handed around the circle and everyone chose one.  There were seven of us.  The cards drawn were body care, intuition and integrity, enchantment, power, divine guidance, support and serenity – in that order.  My own card was that of divine guidance.  The whole circle was anchored by a woman who reminded me strongly of another woman at that time in my life that I was fearful of, but sitting in the circle I was able to work with my understanding of this relationship and my own impact on this other woman, and realised how we both were reacting from positions of deep vulnerability.  By inviting her vulnerability, as well as my own, into the circle, I was able to transform my understanding of the relationship and ground my capacity to be fully present in the circle with these women that day.  The angel reader shared with me that the angel card of divine guidance was about trusting one’s own intuition and inner knowing whilst also strongly paying attention to the other cards that had been drawn in the circle, especially those to the left and right of me – power and support. The power card invites trust in one’s own capacities of strength and presence, and to stand firm and powerful in that knowing.  The support card invited accepting support from family and community, both past and present, in order to be able to receive fully that which is already here. The other cards invoked playfulness and childlike wonder with the enchantment card, care of self with the body care card, letting go of what does not support one’s positive strengths and personal integrity with the integrity card, and an offering of opening to stillness and peace into one’s life and those close to us with the serenity card. Intuition, inner knowing, trusting myself, standing firm in what I know and who I am, giving and receiving support from those close to me, being playful and light hearted, taking care of myself, being positive with integrity, and allowing greater stillness to permeate my being – all themes I was working with at that very moment of my life. How synchronous and timeous this circle.

Now I am not sure I believe in angels, or even in any particular god for that matter.  I have lived in too many diverse places, with diverse cultures, met too many good caring people who adhere to many different religions, as well as known unkind hateful harmful people associated with that of my own childhood religion, to be certain about one true knowing. But I believe in mystery and virtues and a divinity that guides all of us from the inside out. I believe that there may be more to this world than we understand and that some things are worth paying attention to, even as we may feel they are less worthy of our attention or care; that being open and curious and having a kindly receptivity to all that unfolds for us is a passionate positive way of engaging with what comes our way.

What I felt very strongly sitting in that circle that morning was that here were some very beautiful, intuitive and grounded women who were willing to allow themselves be their own guides.  And that they were supporting each other in this journey, and had invited me a complete stranger to join them.  For too many years I have felt I had been fighting the male establishment of patriarchy in my personal, home, work, family, political, social, cultural, and economic life.  Perhaps it was time to let go of the fight.  Perhaps there was not even fight.  Perhaps it was just my own perception and perspective, and it was keeping me stuck in a very old loop.  Perhaps this circle and these women and their angels were inviting me to recognise my own oppressive patriarchy and allow the divine feminine in me to show up and be known.

In some small way that circle marked a turning point for me.  Beyond that moment I chose to show up and be present, to respond to what my heart attaches meaning to, to tell my truth as best I could, and let go of any perception I may have of how the outcome should be.  Indeed let go of the fear of hurting others by following my own heart.  What I have learnt is that there is no easy way around hurting others at times through simple being oneself when they are attached to a view that is different, but that one can continue to show up and be kind and be present and speak from the heart.  Somehow that journey has allowed me to connect now with more sisters and girlfriends, and even mothers and daughters, past and present that I could ever have imagined. Even re-connect with my own mother though she is long gone.  Almost as if all our angels are in community too. I find myself fully embedded in and grateful for a community of women, connected strongly to my own being, and feel completely at home within my intuitive feminine heart.  It it like I have finally come home at fifty.

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