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 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.

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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.


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.


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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You do not have to be good

You do not have to be good!


Today I was reminded vividly and physically about the value of deeply believing the sentiments of Mary Oliver’s poem Wild Geese. One I have shared many times in teaching and training programs, one that I find guides my life these days. It reminds me when I have the presence to remember: “You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

Standing in the queue this morning at the post office I overheard a woman, a little younger than me, I think, talking on the phone:

“Do you think she’ll be let out this weekend?

I understand…, it depends on her weight tomorrow?

We’ll come by to see her this evening?


That she sees that we mean business.

Got to be harsh sometimes…”

It seemed from the conversation, and this is all conjecture on my part of course, that this woman’s daughter was in a ward, lock up unit, for anorexia.

Listening to the conversation and thinking about this young woman/girl locked away from her family for her own good left me feeling bereft and overwhelmed. I found myself emotionally activated with feelings of distress and sadness, feeling tearful, unable to breath, taking gulps of air as my chest constricted and heart pounded away.

I am not sure what has happened to the thick walls of my emotional protection that I had spent years erecting and keeping up and in the recent past seem to have tumbled down, leaving me with paper thin porous barriers against the insults of this world, especially it’s seemingly ever present insidious violent nature. I often feel buffeted by suggestions of violence and images of aggression, seeing it on screen, in the news, experiencing it in the daily interplay of human beings, or as in this case the realm of institutional care that for the benefit of treatment treats people inhumanely, that resorts to locking a young person away from her family to force feed as a way of dealing with the internal distress of eating disorders, that we find ourselves with few other viable options or solutions. Being intimately aware that this is so much more complex than I can even begin to discuss here.

I found myself wondering if anorexia is the new nervous madness that features its own silent destructive revolution against the hidden power dynamics of our cultural norms, pointing toward the malaise and discontent of modern society, taking over from the hysteria so prevalent in the time of Freud? Have we not progressed beyond the solution of separation and institutionalisation for this position of obstinance? Somewhere in this madness seems an element of revolt against the stereotypes of our times, against the suppression of the feminine voice, the drive to masculinity, metaphors and realities of war, and of violence, a revolt against the shift that keeps us away from vulnerability, intimacy and peace. Perhaps all of recent human history, from before Aristotle and onward through the Christian denial of the feminine Divine, has been to suppress cooperation and compromise, nurturing and nourishment, a sacrifice of horticultural Earth time in the face of the ever more driven needs of self betterment and attainment watched over by clock time. Perhaps this is what distresses me physically, that I find my body inhabits a world that no longer makes sense to me. A world where our need for love and compassion and human connection is seen as a weakness to be fixed.

I realised too today is Earth Day, and here is my pledge of intention:

My intention is to no longer be fixed or rushed or made to feel less than or more than as I attend intimately to being patient and vulnerable and kind, accepting the intuitive wholeness of all beings and things, committing anew to allowing the soft animal of this body to love what it loves.

As I finished writing these thoughts, scrawling them frantically onto a piece of paper as they tumbled out of me into my coffee, having left the post office to find a space to pause awhile, I found I was filled with self compassion for my own traumatic vulnerability, tender compassion for the suffering of this mother who was doing her utmost to help her child be safe and cared for as best she could, and deep compassion for the health care staff who are caring with the best means they have in very difficult situations. Most of all I felt a well of love and compassion for a young person, and many others like her, who perhaps finds herself lost in a maze of darkness and is struggling to find her way through to some sliver of light. As a family we too have faced this darkness and I remain forever grateful for the strength to choose the path of turning toward the difficult together and finding our way out of the maze into the light.

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

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Why are you not a feminist?

“Feminism has fought no wars. It has killed no opponents. It has set up no concentration camps, starved no enemies, practiced no cruelties. Its battles have been for education, for the vote, for better working conditions, for safety in the streets, for child care, for social welfare, for rape crisis centres, women’s refuges, reforms in the law. If someone says, ‘Oh, I’m not a feminist’, I ask, ‘Why? What’s your problem?”

Dale Spender, Man Made Language


“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”

Martin Luther King

 On this day I am often think of my mother, an intelligent generous vivacious women who never got the chance to finish high school and was pushed out by the patriarchal system of her family to be a domestic worker. She may not have agreed with this perspective but this is her story too. In the years after the end of the war, with Alsace having reverted back to France from being subjugated under Germany during the war, my mother found herself faltering at being the best in her class at school. Before war broke out she was easily the best at her neighboring village high school and loved the challenge of education. During the war schooling in Alsace was forced back to being taught in German and then reverted back to French after the War. Alsace has been a region historically disputed over for centuries, influenced by the Celts, Romans, Franks, annexed by Germany after the Franco-Prussian war, ceded back to France after WW1 with the Treaty of Versailles, and then invaded again by Germany during WW2. With this war time schooling disruption my mother, also convinced to jump classes, found that she was no longer the best and this difficult to tolerate. With much discord at home and post war turmoil abounding education seemed less of a necessity at the time so she stayed home to help in vineyards and re-establishing the family business. Simply did not go back to school one day. No one at home seemed to notice or encourage her to return. Her parents were divorcing, the first in the village, that would see her mother shunned from the only church in the village, her older brother was getting married, her uncle’s young wife also busy in the family business, her younger sister still too young to contribute, her grandmother still an active family member. Suddenly there were too many women in the family home and without an education or any further plans her presence seemed a burden. A position was found for her to be housekeeper for an elderly couple in Zürich. There she spent a few happy years, learnt how to drive and was generally treated with respect by her employers. But in essence she felt herself a glorified servant, was not happy for her future to unfold in this way and missed Alsace. Eventually she found a position as assistant to a psychiatrist in Colmar and returned closer to home where she worked until she met my dad finally to leave Alsace forever with him to far-flung shores she had never even dreamed of. And would recount years later to her own young daughter incredible tales of working for that psychiatrist, a woman, one of the few role models of my childhood of a working professional woman.

International Women’s Day, the 9th March, has been celebrated every year on this day since 1914. Its first iteration was in 1909 in New York in remembrance of the 1908 strike by the International Ladies Garment Worker’s Union but was subsequently associated with women led strikes and riots in March1914, and in Russia in 1917 women led marches initiated the February Revolution as women demanded an end to war, food shortages and czarism. Yet women’s rights are not just something of the past, even though this past week one of my young fellow classmate’s blithely commented to me that she has never felt any discrimination as a woman in her life and couldn’t relate to the life of Tsitsi Dangarembga whom we had read that week and who wrote a ground breaking narrative on post-colonial patriarchal Zimbabwe in Nervous Conditions. I was amazed at the world she lives in or does not notice. That indeed is still a rarity, as my own teenage daughter would not say the same thing. She has felt many a time that being a girl impacts many aspects of her life, from dress and looks, to being harassed on the streets of London, to food and body politics, to acceptable passes given to boys over girls – the sexes are not equally valued or supported within the greater societal perspective. For female teenagers growing up into this world there is still a significant wage gap, slut shaming, feeling lessor than, pressure to perform according to gender norms, and still experience ‘housewife’ jokes and teasing.

In their online Time blog an article today identifies four areas where great strides in the wellbeing of women and girl children worldwide have been made – education, maternal mortality, water access,  and leadership. One may think these are just issues for the so called lessor industrialized countries but as an example a country like the US, with about 28 pregnancy related deaths per 100,000 woman, has a maternal mortality rates worse than Iran, China and Russia, significantly worse than a recently war torn country like Serbia, and three times worse than Germany. Comparable developed countries like UK and Europe have numbers below 10 per 100,000 women. This is a shocking indictment for an advanced nation and its commitment to developing rights and care for its women. Perhaps a complex issue to solve but much to do with access to health care for everyone, as well as pre-natal care and post-natal visits for reasons that seem to very narrowly linked provision of care only to a model of profit making within health care. New leadership models that seek to care for its workers rather than put profit first are paradoxically finding it may be good for business, may be of interest to the health industry of the future in tackling access to health not just with a profit motive in mind. [] I find it difficult to accept such a narrow economic view of care and success and happiness which defines it only according to our own success. We need to advocate that all women can have similar advantages and access to education, to good maternal and child health, to water, low risk of death, ability to be leaders in their field.

And for my son who continues to challenge my own narrow understanding of gender, violence, trauma, priviledge and social constraints with his thoughtful investigations I would like to share the story of Sojourner Truth, a women born into slavery around 1797 of parents from Ghana and Guinea  in New York and when escaping her own slavery was not able to take all her children with her.  When she found out that her young son of 5 had been illegally sold to a slave owner in the South she became the first black woman to successfully challenge a white man and win in a US court, understanding how to challenge the constraints of society from within itself.  She went on to become a well known abolitionist and women rights activist speaking at the Women’s Rights Convention of 1851.  But even in her lifetime she was considered a radical as she advocated civil rights for black women as well as for men and openly expressed concern that these would be paused when rights for men were realised.  As she feared women’s rights would lag behind that of others and the vote for women in the US would only be realised in 1920, nearly forty years after her death.

This International Women’s Day remember those close to us, our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, our sons, and our friends, the lives they may have sacrificed for our privilege today, and continue to raise our voices in support of women everywhere. Let us do our part within our own lives every day. And in so doing this not only benefit women but all people, men and women alike. It may be as relatively small a daily intention as being respectful to women of difference around us, refraining from shaming, belittling, and blaming others for a life they may have little control over. Let us be compassionate for their journey. It may be our journey too.

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