post

10 Lessons From Cats

I’ve been watching my two beautiful Tonkinese cats this morning and reflecting that the way they live holds great lessons for life.

Here are some of those things for which cats are such wonderful reminders.

  1. Creamy and Hershey Be sure to make time every day for play.
  2. Look for sunshine in your life and, when you find it, take the time to stretch your soul into it and enjoy.
  3. Develop the art of stillness.
  4. Take care of those close to you. Watch out for them, spend time with them and share life’s fun as much as you can.
  5. When you’ve had a spat with someone, forgive and forget. True friendship dwells above and beyond those differences.
  6. Explore new spaces, new places, and new things with insatiable curiosity – but gently and safely, taking care of yourself at the same time.
  7. You don’t have to be tense to stay alert, so relax those muscles. You can remain alert and completely, totally relaxed at the same time.
  8. When life seems cold, look for the warmest spot you can find and stay there. It’s ok to curl up under the doona sometimes and stay hidden for a while.
  9. When you know what you want in life, be sure to ask for it – loudly if necessary – in the certainty it will come to you in the end …
  10. … but most of the time you don’t have to put your claws out. A soft touch may be all you need to gain attention. :)

I have studied many philosophers and many cats.  The wisdom of cats is infinitely superior.  (Hippolyte Taine)

post

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.

post

On Time and Tesseracts

time_and_tesseractsRecently, thanks to Daniel Brenton, I was reminded again of Madeleine L’Engle‘s book for children, A Wrinkle in Time – one that intrigued me as a child. Daniel also wrote a wonderful piece on Madeleine L’Engle and A Wrinkle in Time on his blog.

The title of the book refers to the ability to travel through space and time by means of a ‘tesseract’. This is described as a ‘fold’ in the space-time continuum – as if a piece of cloth were folded so two segments usually some distance from one another are adjoined.

The idea of being able “to tesseract” (for some reason the concept stayed with me as a verb) has continued to fascinate me.

As a child, I thought wistfully of the tesseract on many a weary walk home from school. Even as an adult, it’s jumped into my mind when there when there have been far too many things to do in too short a time. The idea of being able to complete different tasks synchronously within parallel universes definitely holds great appeal!

For the curious who are unfamiliar with L’Engle’s books … the dictionary definition of a tesseract is the generalisation of a cube to four dimensions – a hypercube. It comes from Greek – tésseres meaning four and aktís meaning ray.

A web search for “tesseract” produces a large number of maths and science websites, amongst others, as it is primarily a mathematical concept.

However I discovered it is also the name of a progressive rock band from the San Francisco Bay area, currently on ice, and of an Australian company called Tesseract Research Laboratories which was an artistic collaboration exploring electronica + visual media within environments and performance, from 1997 until 2004.

Amazing! I’m sure you’ll be as fascinated as I was by that that information. :)

But for me, under the influence of L’Engle’s books, the whole concept of the tesseract remained as a way of being in two places at once – of exploring parallel universes in space and time.

I find myself reflecting that perhaps the fantastical and magical sense I had about the tesseract as a child has been transferred in adulthood to discovering magical parallel universes in different people and places. That fascinating experience of both similarity and “otherness”. And who knows, maybe web travelling is also a kind of tesseract into a parallel universe? :)

post

Widdershins

Growling thunder this morning reminds me of my childhood. I was no longer frightened by loud crashes of thunder, when I knew it was just the gods playing a raucous game of bowls.

As a child I devoured every book of myths, legends and fairy tales I could find. My journey through these tales was one of fascination, delight, awe and mystery. My favourites were not the sanitised versions, but those which held sadness and wistfulness or which spoke of risk, of wrath and exploring beyond the edge of safety. I even preferred the version of Cinderella in which the wicked stepmother and stepsisters are finally put into spiked barrels and rolled down a hill. It seemed so much more apt than ‘they lived happily ever after’.

One of my favourites was Childe Rowland – originally a Scottish legend, but found in a book of English fairy tales. It’s the story of Burd Ellen and her brothers, the eldest of which was called Rowland. When they were playing ball together one day, Rowland threw the ball over a church. In running to fetch it, Burd Ellen accidentally ran ‘widdershins’ around the church so was snatched up by the King of Elves and taken to the realm of faerie.

The rest of the story tells of Rowland’s quest to fetch her back – a journey that also involved running ‘widdershins’ around a hill to be transported into the Elven Kingdom and then beheading everyone he met on the way to the King of Elfland’s Dark Tower!

For some time after reading this story, I eyed the local churches wistfully. The only problem was I had absolutely no idea what widdershins meant. But what a delicious mystery! I knew if I could only solve this puzzle I too could travel into the unknown world of elves and fairies. I knew the Elven Kingdom could be dangerous and dark, but I passionately wanted to go there. And I trusted I’d be able to return safely if I followed the advice given to Rowland and had nothing to eat or drink while I was there.

On one occasion, when there was nobody else around and no other kids within mocking distance, I even tried running as ‘weirdly’ as I could around the outside of a local church near my house. I spent what seemed a long time trying different ways of running, pausing at the end of each triple circuit to recite  ‘Open door, open door, and let me come in!”.

As far as I knew, I was safe from prying eyes – but I’m sure if anyone was watching it would have been an amusing sight. I’m sure John Cleese’s ‘funny walks’ were nothing compared with my weird and wonderful attempts. :)  But it didn’t work – the Elven Kingdom remained stubbornly closed. And I was never game enough to try it again for fear of being seen.

Much, much later I discovered widdershins means in a contrary or counter-clockwise direction or facing against the sun. Sadly for my earlier ambitions, by the time I learned this I’d grown past childhood. My belief in fairyland had gone the same way as my belief in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came, painted by Thomas Moran in 1859

Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came (Thomas Moran, 1859)

But, although I didn’t manage to work out how to ‘run widdershins’ into the fairyland of my childhood, maybe there is an adult parallel? There are certainly times in my life when I feel the need to be contrary – to travel ‘counter clockwise’, so to speak, when compared with everyone else around me. And I’m sure this is an experience shared by most folk – I think it’s part of the human condition really.

Maybe we should celebrate these times, rather than feel uncomfortable about them?

After all, aren’t there times when we need to be contrary – run counter to the norm – in order to glimpse the magic of new possibilities? And don’t we sometimes need to face against the sun and look into the shadows to discover the best of who we are?

So next time someone suggests you’re being difficult or contrary, just tell them you’re running widdershins to reach the realm of new ideas. Perhaps running widdershins is really a kind of magic for grown ups after all. :)

And if you’d like to be inspired by the original story, I’ve managed this morning to find the full text of it on the web. So read the story of Childe Rowland for yourself – and celebrate the magic of contrariness.