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Beauty

As Joseph Addison, British poet and statesman, once said several hundred years ago:

There is nothing that makes its way more directly to the soul than beauty.

We can miss seeing true beauty because we are taught to ignore everything but its most superficial face.

Movies, advertisements, TV shows and magazines bombard us with ‘beautiful people’. They try to convince us that only the slimmest, sleekest, glossiest, purest or most perfect specimens can be truly beautiful.

Anything less is simply ordinary. Anything much less is a target for laughter, raised eyebrows and even scorn.

We may not accept these ‘rules’ intellectually. After all, this is simply prejudice, is it not? And of course we aren’t prejudiced, are we?

But the intellect can be a fickle thing, betrayed by gut reactions and fuelled by stereotypes. As many folk who are ‘much less’ than perfect – so ‘much less’ than beautiful – can no doubt attest.

Then sometimes there comes a wonderful watershed moment, a glorious battle cry to challenge our society out of its comfort zone of negative judgements.

One of those moments was when Susan Boyle sang on the TV show Britain’s Got Talent.

To sing is to love and affirm, to fly and soar, to coast into the hearts of the people who listen, to tell them that life is to live, that love is there, that nothing is a promise, but that beauty exists, and must be hunted for and found.

(Joan Baez)

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The Gods We Honour

I’ve been reflecting on some of the archetypes prevalent in our society, particularly in relation to ‘mythological’ connections. Even more specifically, in relation to the pantheon of gods in Greek mythology.

Greek God 01If we have any mythological connection at all these days, it seems to be with spirits of Apollo (the god of reason and the clear light of day) and Prometheus (the god of production, crafting and technology).

These, if any, are the gods we honour and the myths we live by. Many – if not most – of the other gods are relegated to our community shadow.

Drawing on Jung’s psychological theories, delegation of any quality or trait into the shadow part of the psyche will cause its influence to explode elsewhere in more unconscious and damaging ways.

The gods we dishonour make their influence felt in pathological ways, and leave us off balance and out of harmony with our place in the world.

Just as the ancient Greeks knew that a balanced life involved honouring a pantheon of different gods, we need to invite other forces and myths back into our society to regain our balance.

A good start might be to re-establish our connection with the qualities of Eros or Dionysos. The positive aspects of these gods are among those crucial to our successful negotiation of our path forward in this modern world.

The myth of Eros is that of creativity – the life-impulse. He is the god of relationship, and we experience him in both the pain and delight of real intimacy. Bringing more of the Eros influence into our organisations and social structures implies improving relationships and interconnectedness.

What’s more, Eros ‘pathology’ – the shadow aspect of Eros – is certainly evident in many areas of our society, in its levels of irresponsibility, self-indulgence, and rampant individualism. Eros is the puer or eternal youth, and unless consciousness recognises and honours this element, unconsciousness can produce an unwillingness to grow up.

Dionysos brings fun, impulse, ecstasy and the irresistible irrational into our lives. He is the ‘great loosener’. Eccentricity, improvisation, personal satisfaction, joy, ecstasy, choice, and laughter are all the realm of Dionysos. He is the god who warns us against taking ourselves or life too seriously – and can provide a much needed balance to the ‘heavier’ aspects of Apollo and Prometheus.

Greek God 02Dionysos’ imprisonment in the shadow is revealed in many pathological expressions of his influence in our society. Where people seem to be achieving personal satisfaction or goals at the expense of those around them, where eccentricity is carried way beyond the bounds of social acceptance, or where the search for joy, fun and excitement turns to self-harm – in all these and more we see Dionysos shouting for recognition.

Perhaps the drug ‘Ecstasy’ was not named by accident – it is a very appropriate symbol for the destructive powers of Dionysos dishonoured!

In the end, Eros, Dionysos and all the other gods will need to be invited to join Apollo and Prometheus as the guardians and designers of our modern destiny. Without them our development – and our psyche – remains out of kilter.

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The Power of Play: Shirley’s Story

I’ve just finished reading Richard Reeves’ great blog post on Playfulness, and it’s inspired me in turn to write.

There’s an an old saying “We don’t stop playing because we get old – we get old because we stop playing“.  It’s certainly true that as folk get older they can tend to forget how to play with the mindfulness, sponteneity and joyfulness of children.

It’s perhaps ironic that ‘fun’ has become an engineered thing in some organisations – a kind of forced group activity that lacks the very spirit of play it’s intended to engender.

Play – genuine, spontaneous, and heartfelt play – is definitely a source of strength, resilience, creativity and inspiration. But it can’t be engineered – only encouraged. It’s a mindset, not a map. And it needs to be a philosopy of life, not some kind of mandated policy.

Girl PlayingSpending time with children is always a great reminder of the power of play – it’s almost impossible to remain unplayful in their presence. But there are also grown-ups who’ve not forgotten the magic.

I remember Shirley, a wonderful woman and the mother of a friend of mine, who always brought the light of play into her own and others’ lives until she passed away at 60+ years young. She’d not forgotten her six-year-old self, and she helped others re-discover their own capacity for play.

And at those times she and those around her would become ‘lost in the unfolding’ as Richard so eloquently expressed it.

As I read Richard’s post I found my head filled with memories of Shirley. And I also remember the playfulness she brought to much more serious things. She contracted cancer that proved incurable, so the last year of her life was a time you wouldn’t think would lend itself to playing.

But Shirley’s indomitable spirit meant she created fun even as she fought a losing battle with her illness.

Silly HatShe made herself crazy hats to wear as she lost her hair through chemotherapy, and also made a game of this with friends and family who gave her gifts of ever-crazier hats.

Shirley wore them all, returning to the gift-givers her own gifts of love and laughter.

She even had fun ‘playing’ with arranging her own funeral. Dickering over details with various funeral parlours. laughing over the stuffiness of some, and being as cheekily provocative as only Shirley could be until she found one she liked.

On the day of Shirley’s funeral, there was standing room only for the last folk to arrive. The chapel was packed. Family members and friends spoke of the difference Shirley had made in their lives – and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room.

But at the end of the service, as we were about to leave, the song Shirley had chosen to end the service rang through the chapel. It was Always Look on the Bright Side of Death from the Monty Python Life of Brian movie!

It was Shirley’s last playful gift to us all. And we found ourselves smiling through our tears.

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The Colour of Days

Ever thought of using colours to describe your day? I’ve been playing with the idea and I’ve realised there’s a huge palette of shades from which to choose and every colour has at least two faces.

BLUE days can be sad days – when I’m ‘feeling blue’. But they can also be days that reach as high as the bluest of skies, in which I’m flying after my dreams.

RED days can sometimes be like huge, red STOP signs. Days when warning signals in my body or frazzled brain tell me I’m overstretched and need to take time out.  But they can also be days when I’m alight with red hot passion to change the world and the ‘fire in my belly’ is well and truly ignited!

What about BLACK days? Some of those are full of ‘grrrrr’ moments and dark thoughts. It doesn’t have to be a day of major disasters. Even a string of small frustrations can certainly add a charcoal tinge! But some ‘black days’ can be like the velvety blackness of a silent, moonless night. Those are days when the hustle and bustle of the world has faded away and I find time and quiet space for reflection.Color of Your Day

Not only these three, but many more colours of the spectrum are woven into life’s rich tapestry. And each colour also has its ‘upbeat’ and ‘downbeat’ aspects.

As I think about that, I realise both faces of every colour are equally important and often interdependent.  The bright blue of my dreams can sometimes be tinged with the more sombre hue of sadness or disappointment. A period of passionate, ‘changing-the-world’ days can take so much energy, that I’m brought up short by one of those warning stop signs and need time to rest and recover.

Athough it’s sometimes hard at the time to appreciate the darker days – to see the gifts they bring – they are also a blessing.

As Kahlil Gibran once said:

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.

So I need those darker days too, if my heart is to ‘stand in the sun’.

Perhaps with the colour of my days I can paint the picture of my life. But I need all those subtle differences in shading – from light to dark – to give the whole picture dimension and depth.

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Fence Sitting

Why is it that ‘sitting on the fence‘ is so often considered a bad thing? When people talk about someone who is doing so, they often speak with a curl of the lip, a raised eyebrow, a roll of the eyes or a sigh of resignation.

It seems we’re always supposed to draw a conclusion, reach a decision, take a stand or choose a side.

But let’s face it, from the top of a fence you can see the horizon in all directions. You get a good overview of all the fields or gardens within viewing distance. Jump off that fence, and part of your view is obscured.

One of my favourite poems is by Michael Leunig:

Come sit down beside me, I said to myself.
And although it doesn’t make sense,
I held my own hand as a small sign of trust
And together I sat on the fence.

To me, this speaks volumes about the inner confusion and division that can happen when we’re trying to resolve two (or more) ways of seeing or being in the world. But it also speaks about a need to trust the process.

Not everything has to be an either/or issue and we don’t always have to resolve every division. It’s ok to ‘hold our own hands as a small sign of trust’ and stay right where we are – sitting on the fence. It’s a great spot from which to scan the horizon for those elusive both/and ideas.

So if there’s an issue for you in which the jury is still out, come and join me on the fence.

The view’s pretty good from up here! :)