Shadow work

We all have a shadow side – our fears and brokenness and history that many deny, avoid or run away from.

I cannot think of too many lessons I have learnt in my life. But one thing that my life’s journey has taught me is that we ALL have feet of clay. We ALL have our weakness, our questions, our problems, our struggles, our imperfections. We ALL have those things about us that we think, “If they knew this about me they would not like nor respect me!” It is part of being human. I have shared with you before that one of the struggles in my life is that I am constantly giving retreats or engaging with people about the spiritual journey – the inner journey that we all walk – and as a result people (some anyway) think Damien is a good person and worse – some kind of guru or holy man. Nothing could be further from the truth. While many or most of you are saints – Pricey is far from being any sort of saint. I am – every day of my life – so conscious of my;

  • Contradictions – the difference between what I say and what I do (and think)
  • Feet of clay – that I have aspects of myself that are not of love – that I am weak, broken, not whole – to use a ‘church term’ – sinful. That are aspects of myself and my story that I am ashamed of – these are often my secrets – those things about me that I truly believe that if you knew them about me you would not love me.
  • Projection – that I so often ‘dump’ onto others my anger when it is really MY stuff, my agenda (this is the importance of self-awareness)
  • My stuff – that what so often annoys me in the other is PRESENT in me – when we are really aware – we will know that almost always that which annoys me in the other – is part of me – how often have you heard it said, “Those two clash – they are so alike!”
  • Baggage – the ‘shit’ that I carry around that are like lead weights for my feet – those things about me that I do not like and that hold me back from being my best and truest self.

All of the list above is my shadow. Within that baggage, within that shadow – will be wisdom – the baggage and other aspects of our shadow is actually like manure – when we dig around the plant, when we dig in some manure, the roots of the plant go deeper and produce greater life.

So the next time you look across at someone and think, “They are so wise, so holy, they constantly think noble thoughts – I wish I was like them!” STOP!!!! That person you are admiring may be a wonderful person but in terms of their inner journey and in terms of their totality they are just like you! They too are a mixture of mixed motivations, generosity and selfishness, nobility and the mundane, heroic and coward, petty and magnanimous!

This totality of me (and of each of us) is our shadow. No tree can stand in the sun – and not cast a shadow – the shadow is part of the landscape of a tree on a sunny day. So too – the shadow is part of who we are – the whole me – the complete me. Life’s journey is a journey to;

  1. Come to know that other side of me
  2. Name it – and then rather than trying to ‘tame it’ – embrace it
  3. It – your shadow – those elements of you that you hate, deny, run away from, ignore, rationalise away – will be THE ladder for you to go down to deeper wisdom, deeper love, deeper acceptance of self and the other.

Part of my Shadow

When I was born my father was in Bailey Henderson psychiatric hospital in Toowoomba. Dad had had yet another nervous breakdown not long before I was born. Dad had many breakdowns between 1946 and his death in 1974. So in my first 18 months of life my wonderful mother Zena ‘abandoned me’ and would leave me with the lady next door (Mrs Power) and drive to Toowoomba from Pittsworth and visit dad. It was NOT neither Mum’s nor Dad’s fault but all of this had a profound effect upon me.

Then when I was about 8 my grandmother got ill. We had left Pittsworth (because of Dad’s illness) and returned to Proserpine. So here was little 8 year old Damien with a very sick grandmother, a heavily medicated father and a mother frantically attempting to care for all of this. To make it worse my two older brothers were away in Boarding school. So little Damien began to ignore my normal little boy needs to play and explore and subjugated my needs to the needs of the family. I was the classic good little boy caring for Dad, caring for my grandmother, caring for my mother – not rocking the boat. So ‘good little boy Damien’ was created that ever since has placed his needs below the needs of others – and especially has become the classic helper or saviour of others and their needs – while all the time ignoring his. Again – all of the above was no-one’s fault – it was just the cards life dealt me!

It is not the cards life deals you but how you play with them that count!

These totally understandable habits and patterns are part of my shadow. They explain why I do what I do – how I do it – how I react in certain situations, what I am afraid of, what makes me insecure etc. They also explain other facets of my personality – aspects that many of you are aware of – like how Pricey avoids and especially avoids conflict! This is all part of Damien’s shadow – we all have our version of this.

Of course – the flip side is gift! All that I named above is also part of Damien’s gift – you see the shadow dances with our gift. While I have many many many faults – I do also have a truly compassionate nature – I do have an almost automatic tendency to reach out to those who are hurting. These too – were born from my childhood and are gift. The little Damien saw my father’s compassion for others, especially those doing it tough. The little Damien saw his mother’s practical care for people. So some of this rubbed off onto me.

From the forest floor of winter buds new life!

Growth

So for Damien to grow – to become as complete and whole a human being as I can I must walk the beautiful (but at times painful) journey of;

  • Becoming aware of my shadow
  • Self-Awareness is vital in this work
  • Befriend the shadow – embrace it
  • Listen to the shadow – what does it want to teach me

“Conflict can be good!” “Damien your needs are just as important as another’s” “It was NOT your fault that you were abandoned (it wasn’t anyone’s fault)”

  • Channel the energy of the shadow to enhance and deepen your gift (after all they truly are one)

The shadow is there – it is there in you and it is there in me. It is THE secret – the key to understanding why we do the things we do that we do not like. It is the secret to our deeper motivations and desires. When we name it, when we embrace it – it becomes our most powerful weapon to the more complete, healthy and whole me.

Of course – like all matters of the heart this is a journey. You don’t just one day wake up – just jump out of bed and say, “Today I will come to know my shadow, embrace it and radically change my life from this!” Nah that is the stuff movies are made from. The reality is the wonder and the awe of the ordinary. The reality is the fidelity to get up each day, to be honest with self and to seek wise counsel and mentors and be open to what they say. The reality is day by day choices to believe in yourself. The reality is times of confusion and pain – but hang in there – you will come out the other side if you journey with small steps of courage and listen to the wisdom deep within. The reality is, like all of life, ups and downs, small steps, small choices, small moments of courage and insight. But the journey itself becomes THE Bridge to wholeness, to life and to your best self and in so doing – becomes the bridge to deep inner freedom.

And have some fun on the journey too! I can remember seeing a counsellor one time for them to tell me why I was crazy. After patiently listening to me for some time – they said, “You know Damien one of your biggest blocks is your ego!” Well – how DARE THEY! Damien is NOT egotistical! Damien is humble and caring and nice! Damien is not ego driven! And then, slowly, in some small moments of clarity – my inner voice whispered, “He’s right you know. You are constantly trying to impress others, you are constantly trying to please, you are constantly trying to look good and be admired – all ego driven!” All of this led me to the creation of ‘Ernie’ – ‘Ernie Ego’ that would appear constantly in my life – would sit on my shoulder and whisper in my ear. Now, no one else saw Ernie – but I knew he was there. So, each morning and in every situation where I was working with people, Ernie would appear on my shoulder whispering in my ear. I would laugh at him, greet him, tease him – and most importantly become aware of him. Then, slowly he got smaller and smaller – and less dominant in my life. He is still there – he is like a chameleon (a reptile that constantly changes colours to melt into its environment) that goes away and then reappears in my life. But I made that part of my dance with my shadow a bit of fun!

So, enjoy your shadow work. The shadow is the unconscious aspects of your personality, the apparently negative, the collateral inner damage from our life’s story, the baggage and the ‘shit’ – all of which are the aspects of our inner self that we do not like and want to deny or hide.

Our call is to bring this into consciousness, for when we are aware of the total ‘me’ then I can grow deeper, stronger, more complete and whole! Then the shadow will not be in the driver’s seat as often. Then we – the real me – will take more ownership of our lives. There will be less blame and dumping and self-loathing. Shine a light of awareness on the totality of who you are ‘warts and all’ and you will know a deep freedom. Enjoy the journey! Find companions to walk it with you (though there are aspects you can only walk alone) and rest often to take in the vistas around you!

One

My friend Thomas Hahn looking out over Auckland – helping young people know that they can make a difference.

Recently we had the anniversary of the famous Martin Luther King, “I have a dream!” speech. Regardless of your politics or world view it would be difficult not to agree that it was a powerful speech.

One man – a journey of courage and commitment to make the world a better place, a more just and more place for his children and their children. This journey led him to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC:

“I say to you today, my friends. And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!”

One woman – just an ordinary person who was tired of racism, of injustice, of been treated as lesser than, of not having her dignity respected. So this one small woman got on a bus in Montgomery Alabama on December 1st, 1955 and rejected the bus driver’s order to relinquish her seat in the coloured section to a white passenger because the white’s only section was filled. Arrested for her act of “civil disobedience” Rosa Parks fought the case in the courts and won. But the young seamstress at a local department store lost her job as a result and lived under death threats for years afterwards.

One step – some of us are old enough to have sat around grey, white, black TV screens and watched as Neil Armstrong took that first step onto the lunar surface in 1969, “That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind!” That one step represented humankind’s ingenuity, adventure, determination and courage and led to one photo – that first photo of Earth from the moon, a small blue and green jewel in the middle of a universe of dark – so fragile – our home, home to all who have lived and died and dreamed and endeavoured to be the best they could be.

One moment of courage – it was August 1941 and a polish Franciscan friar – Maximilian Kolbe stepped forward and volunteered to die in place of a stranger in the German death camp of Auschwitz. Kolbe in the time leading up to his arrest had used his monastery to provide shelter for refugees including hiding some 2,000 Jews from German persecution. When arrested by the German Gestapo he was sent to Auschwitz. There after only a matter of weeks a group of men were chosen to face death by starvation to warn against escapes. Kolbe was not chosen but volunteered to take the place of a man with a family. Of the group placed in confinement to starve to death, Kolbe was the last of the group to remain alive after two weeks of dehydration and starvation. Eventually he was killed by a lethal injection of carbolic acid.

One moment – Edmund Hilary with Sherpa Tensing on the last assault to the summit of Mt Everest comes to a sheer rock wall. After only a moment’s hesitation Hilary reaches for a metal spike and begins the almost impossible climb – exhausted by both the altitude and the effort. Today we call it Hilary’s Step!

Image courtesy of Associated Press

One image – that of a 9 year old Vietnamese girl – Kim Phuc – running down a highway at the height of the Vietnam war after a aerial napalm attack had killed many and burnt her clothes. The photo was taken by 21 year old American photo-journalist Nick Ut from Associated Press. What very few know is that immediately after taking the photo Ut rushed her to a hospital, which initially refused to help her, considering her too badly burned to save. Ut’s flashing of his press credentials and insistence on them treating her saved her life. The image did much to bring home to many the reality of war.

One decision – with the end of the Apartheid era in South Africa many were calling for revenge and justice – to “right the wrongs” of the decades of racism. Nelson Mandela picks up the phone and invites Archbishop Desmond Tutu to head the Truth and Reconciliation Commission – where over several years thousands of victims of violence and abuse were able to tell their story – and have it heard and honoured. Both victim and perpetrator were able to encounter one another’s story in the hope that by sharing story, by naming wrong, by admitting fault – there was some chance of forgiveness and reconciliation.

One small boy – on the shoulders of his older brother. The brother knocks on the presbytery door in a parish in Nebraska in the middle of a fierce winter’s night. The priest opens the door to find them both shivering and alone. “Ain’t he heavy?” the priest asks! “He ain’t heavy – he’s my brother!” That moment and the response of an Irish priest – Father Flanagan led to his work with homeless and youth and eventually the birth of Boys’ Town.

One man – William Wilberforce who rose in the House of Commons in 1789 and argued for the abolish-ion of the slave trade and slavery itself which the British Empire was heavily invested in. Wilberforce eloquently argued that those who filled the hulls of slave ships, were chained together and often died in ocean storms and who, if they survived – were whipped and sold as ‘cargo’ into a life of servitude, poverty and pain – were human and therefore had the inalienable rights that every human being shares!

One step – the first in every journey, even if it be that of a thousand miles.

One smile – perhaps all it will take to give another hope.

One touch – if gifted with respect and love may say beyond words, “You are lovable!”

One word – sorry – may be all a hardened heart needs to hear.

One hand – reached out in friendship, to lift another up, to wrap around rather than strike – may be the beginning of a ripple that will touch a thousand shores.

One glace – with soft and knowing eyes may heal the deepest hurt.

One friend – to sit with you in silence in the midst of anguish and pain – may be a jewel beyond all price.

One laugh – may be all it takes to bring someone out of over introspection and into the beauty that surrounds them.

One choice – to be gentle with yourself in a myriad of ways – all small, all ordinary but creating an energy that will lead the Universe to smile!

Today and everyday may we never forget, nor take for granted the power of one. Today and everyday may we know deeply that we too can be that one!

Drum

That small seed of courage to make the choices to be the best ME I can be.

There is a beautiful freedom present when you meet someone who ‘marches to their own drum beat!’ This last couple of weeks I have had the honour of working with groups of fifteen year old boys on a ‘Crossroads Retreat’. The basic concept of the retreat has been to invite these young men to consider that they are now quickly leaving adolescence and are increasingly been asked to make adult decisions.

When I was fifteen my life was much more simple than the lives of our young people today. Growing up in a rural sugar cane growing town here in Queensland and going to school in a small rural city I certainly was not challenged by decisions about drugs. Sure there was alcohol about and some of my peers may have been sexually active at fifteen but not too many of them.

The whole focus of our retreat was to suggest to the young men that they are now increasingly been faced with quite significant decisions; do they use drugs, do they become sexually active, do they drink to excess, how do they engage with increasingly fractious family situations, depression, violence, use of pornography, on-line bullying and more. The question we constantly challenged the young men with was,

“What man do you want to be the other side of the Cross-road?”

The other facilitators and myself suggested to the young men that the decisions they make – often after mid-night – in the next couple of years will determine the man they will be in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s! I truly believe that many of the patterns of behaviour, our moral compass and our core values are established – or certainly reaffirmed in that crucial time between 14 and 22. But having said that – on the journey which is that heart to be your best self – there is no day when you cannot begin again, begin anew and pick yourself up and dust yourself off – regardless of age.

There is something truly sacred, truly special when we make decisions that make us proud of who we are; the person we are. Those decisions are often small three second ones. That decision about the group of friends we will associate with, that decision not to pretend not to see an unjust act, that decision to name that which is not right, that decision to simply and yet powerfully say, “No!”

I shall be telling this with a sigh, somewhere ages and ages hence, two roads diverged in a wood – and I, I took the one less travelled by, and that made all the difference. Robert Frost

At each retreat we invited a couple of young past students from the school to share some of their story of cross roads that determine the person they wanted to be. Several themes came up constantly;

a. The decisions are often the ‘after mid-night’ ones

b. The hardest decision – in choosing to be your best self, the person you really want to be – is made the FIRST time you say “No” or act true to your heart – it gets easier after that.

c. Replace the energy that would surround a negative behaviour – with energy focused on a positive behaviour.

d. Find some reflective practice that works for you – where by you can go deeper and know the kind of person you seek to be.

e. Surround yourself with people who share your core values – who want you to be your best self and invite you to do the same for them.

f. Behind the bleating of the sheep is an admiration for the person you are choosing to be but they will often, rarely admit it.

g. One of the common and most significant crossroads will be what you do when you fail – for you surely will. The person you have grown to be the other side of failure will be perhaps the greatest litmus test of character.

h. Stop and reflect on WHO you want to be – the kind of person – the “content of your character” BEFORE you enter the situation.

i. Don’t over complicate the cross road decisions to be the person you want to be – just ‘nike it – just do it!’

j. Ask not for the courage for the thousand mile journey – just the courage for the next step!

As part of the process we used a Russian Doll – a ten piece Russian doll. The final piece was little bigger than the size of a grain of rice. The young men were in awe as the 7th and 8th and 9th pieces were opened up – to finally reveal that final 10th piece. We then suggested that that small piece represented that tiny moment of courage which draws a line in the sand, which flickers the ember into a small flame, which sprouts the tiniest new leaf of hope – which grows and grows and leads you to be your best self. We invited the young men to find that tiny small moment of courage at those cross road times. As I looked around the circle of young men looking down on the ten pieces of the Russian doll from quite large to miniature I could see in their eyes that they ‘got it’!

During the process we invited a refugee or an asylum seeker to share their story with the young men as well. We did this because we suggested that part of being an ‘adult’ was to begin to claim responsibility for the kind of world you leave to your children. It is no longer a case of me me me – and of having those around you fuss over and respond to your every need. The young person facing those all so vital cross road moments is now being invited to claim their birthright as a citizen of planet Earth – OUR world, OUR planet, OUR global village.

The world is not as it should be. No God wishes the rich to grow richer and the poor poorer. No love energy dances when one grows strong or rich on the backs of the poor. Each of us shares the noble calling to build and nurture, heal and create, plant and cultivate, grow and initiate a world that is increasingly just, loving and whole.

We concluded our day together by planting trees – as a symbol of all that we had done and shared. We used the words that I have often referred to in my blogs;

One of the greatest things a person can do is to plant a seed that will one day grow to become a great tree that will shade to people they have never known.

Yes, as each of us picks up our drum and plays our beat – we do so not with the wilful selfishness of those who care little for the music of the orchestra. As each of us marches to our beat – we are listening ever more deeply to the dreamer voice that is particular to our own hearts. Our drum and our beat are sacred – and combine and compliment that music of hope and love and peace all around us.

We concluded the day with a poem by Dale Wimbrow – the Man in the Glass!

The Man in the Glass.

When you get what you want in this struggle for self,

And the world makes you king for a day,

Then go to your mirror and look at yourself,

And see what that man has to say.

For it isn’t your father, your mother or wife,

Whose judgment of you – you must pass,

The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life

Is the guy staring back in the glass.

He is the man you must please – never mind all the rest,

For he’s with you clear up to the end.

And you have passed your most difficult and dangerous test,

When the man in the glass is your friend.

You can be like another and chisel a plum,

And think you’re a wonderful guy,

But the man in the glass says you’re only a bum,

If you can’t look him straight in the eye.

You can fool the whole world, down the pathway of years,

And get pats on your back as you pass,

But your final reward will be heartache and tears,

If you’ve cheated the man in the glass!

As I returned home tonight from the retreat – it dawned on me – that there was not one thing we had done – nor one thing in this BLOG that does not apply to all of us – myself included. Oh for the courage to emerge the other side of the cross roads of my life a better man, a crazier dreamer, a more compassionate and caring brother and an ever love risking lover of life!

Dad

Today is Father’s day. I live the most wonderful and privileged life. Each and every week I am blest with many ‘encounters’ of the heart that give my life purpose and meaning.

Some three weeks ago I was out at a sports day at one of the schools I used to work at. I was there to watch some students play football – students that I had had on a retreat about a month previously. As I walked from one football field to the next I met a man I had taught almost thirty years ago. Danny had his 16 year old son with him. I turned to the son and said, “Your father is a fine man!” The son immediately responded, “Yes, I know, I love him!” I smiled and after recalling days long gone where I would drive Danny and his mates to the Gold Coast on a Sunday so they could surf for the morning – and I would sit on the beach with a coffee and read the paper – we parted ways. Not fifteen minutes later – while watching another game with a dear friend and his wife and their 16 year old son another dad I had taught – again, almost thirty years ago came over and claimed me. At the end of the game I met young Henry and I bathed for some time in the warmth of these loving father – son relationships.

I have few prized possessions. On the wall next to the desk where I write there is a large photo of my Mum and Dad on the Chrysler Building in New York back in 1949 on their honeymoon. That photo means a lot to me. But my most treasured possession was a small, yellowed piece of writing paper with a scrawled letter from my New Zealand grandfather to my father – studying in Canada, sent to Dad about 1947. We were are poor family. My grandfather had sent dad off to Canada (via Sydney, Melbourne, Johannesburg and Munich) some time around 1936 for dad to learn about printing and journalism. Sadly the Second World War intervened and dad ended up being trapped in England for the duration of the war. After the war THE place to study journalism was the University of Toronto under Marshall McLuhan and then the University of Missouri. To pay his way through University dad would wash dishes in restaurants and his ‘income’ was supplemented by my grandfather sending dad packets of New Zealand stamps to sell in America. The letter that I referred to above accompanied such a packet of stamps. The letter reads;

Dear Son,

Mother and I wish you a happy birthday on May 21, and very many happy birthdays to follow. We send you all our love. Nothing will ever change that. We pray for you always, that you may reach your goal, even through you have “hitched your wagon to a star”. Keep well and keep cheerful. Dad

Such a short letter but oh – so powerful. I can only begin to imagine how it was for dad on the other side of the world, pursuing his dream and to receive that simple little letter. “We send you all our love – nothing will ever change that!” My dad died when I was 17 and I found my grandfather’s small note while looking through one of dad’s old books. Dad had kept that letter for almost thirty years.

I have taught thousands of boys. I have never to this day heard a boy say, “I wish we had a third TV in our home” or “I wish we had a fourth car!” or “I wish we had a second swimming pool!” But I have walked beside hundreds of young men who would dearly have loved their fathers to have spent more time with them. I have sat for hundreds of hours as young men have shared how their father’s have taught them to surf, gone hiking with them, taught them to play guitar, kicked a footy with them, shared their first beer with them and more. The sons glow.

We men are a funny lot. We don’t so much SAY love, we don’t so much preach it – we do it and show it by our doing. Sadly too many men don’t even do that. Our actions speak what our heart longs to say. We ruffle our sons hair as we walk past. We give the pat on the shoulder, we pretend not to see the blush the first time we see our boys with a teenage girl, we freeze as we fish together, exaggerate the size of the wave we rode and enjoy the mischief of keeping our secret men’s business secrets from she who must be obeyed.

The father – daughter relationship is special too. We can be the balancing act when it all gets too much. A compass point, a rock, a point of stability and wise counsel. Not as involved in the day to day often but there when the emotions run wild and the ups and downs are all too much. We are there for them too on the special days that really count. About a year ago a good friend of mine, a beautiful young woman, lost her father suddenly to a heart attack. As she shed tears part of her pain was that HER man, her dad, would not be there to walk her down the aisle, to hold her children in their precious first hours and grow old as the wise grandfather figure we all crave.

Ten reflections on being a great father

Firstly what I would like to conclude with are my reflections – not from personal experience for one of the sacrifices of my own life is that I am not a father – but my reflections from watching hundreds of wonderful dads.

  1. Presence more than presents
  2. Love expressed through action, through doing together, through simple thanks and simple acts more than words
  3. Words of love and encouragement after building of relationship through seeds sown, time spent together, a relationship built on honesty and integrity
  4. Honesty more than heroics – so many crave the honest and there father more than the hero
  5. Beyond the hero to the faithful friend
  6. The ordinary rather than the extraordinary
  7. Fidelity more than a flash in the pan
  8. Feet of clay – it is not about perfection – and sharing that you too fail, have failed and will fail – but we walk this journey together
  9. A sense of humour that can laugh at yourself, muck around, play and just waste time with each other
  10. Profound respect for the women in their lives
  11. Ops – I can’t count – not ten but eleven – “Be there always, in the good times and the bad, sometimes up front, sometimes in the background, there but not there – dance the tango of their journey sensitive to the rhythms and seasons that they are walking – guiding and sometimes being guided, leading and sometimes being led, sensitive to your dance partner and always – yes always – trusting the music inside you!”

Happy father’s day! And yes, Francis David Price – thanks for dreaming your dream when so many others would have given up hope!

Why?

A group of my friends from Callan Services in Papua New Guinea. Callan Services is a network of 19 Inclusive Education Centres and is PNG’s biggest provider of support to children and adults with disabilities. This extraordinary community through years of advocacy and asking ‘why’ were able to have the rights of the disabled recognised in the PNG Constitution.

I can remember as a young teacher visiting the family of a boy I taught. The lad had a young brother who was about 4 years of age. Little Matthew kept on saying his ‘new word’ – the new word was ‘Why?’ Why did daddy have to go to work? Why was the policeman wearing blue? Why did he have to be nice to his brothers and sisters? The list of ‘why’ was endless.

Sadly our world does not like people asking ‘why’. Too often we see situations where dissent or even asking for an explanation is seen as radical – and not nationalistic. If I, as an Australian ask, “Why do we continue to lock up thousands of asylum seekers for year after year against every tenant of the United Nations conventions that Australia is a signature to?” I am ‘un-Australian’, a ‘radical’, a ‘trouble maker’ – one of ‘them’! We must never be afraid of ‘why’! Truth has nothing to be afraid of.

It is important to hold our truth ‘lightly’. By that I mean – be open to change, be open to the fact that you may be wrong, that you may not have all the information, that you will have bias, that your viewpoint is a view from ONE point.

I love it when I see people – especially young people asking why. I love it even more when they continue to ask why and that it has become a habit of the heart and not just a ‘fad’ they are going through. I love it when we do not take our freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom to protest, freedom to march and more for granted. I love it when we cherish and grow our democracy.

What follows are some questions – you will have your own. These are the questions that I believe, if asked from the heart, if asked with fidelity and courage – if asked from an authentic space – can make ours a better and more just world for all. What are your questions?

Questions to grow a global village of love and justice!

Who is voiceless?

Who’s needs are ignored?

Who makes decisions?

At what level are decisions made?

Who is unseen?

Who is ‘out of sight’ and ‘out of mind’?

Who has the power?

Who influences the media?

Is there a gap between the truth and what the media portrays? Why?

Where is the individual in all of this?

Whose voice counts?

Who is impacted directly by this decision?

Who pays?

Who really pays?

Who sets the agenda?

Who wins? Who loses?

If it does not work – why do we do it?

A friendly greeting and smile during my work in the Philippines.

Does ‘punitive’ punishment work?

Rehabilitation or punishment?

Who is excluded?

Who is included?

Who has a seat at the table?

Power or empowerment?

Economic rationalism?

User pays?

Who are the key players in this situation?

Who is taken for granted?

Who sets the rules?

Who says ‘what game we will play’?

Who has become an ‘it’ – of no consequence?

Who feels powerless?

Who is trapped?

Who is empowered?

Who has claimed their voice?

Who is robbed of their dignity?

Who is a pawn on someone else’s chess game?

Who is the puppeteer and who are the puppets?

Who is the outsider?

‘He’ calls the shots – why isn’t it ‘she’?

It is all too much – where do you begin?

Who holds the purse-strings?

What can you see?

What do you sense is there but you can’t see it?

Why can’t you see it?

Who allows you to see what?

Who are the gate-keepers to this situation?

Whose voice is a whisper?

Why is that voice a whisper?

How do you change the system?

Can you change the system?

What is the politics of fear?

Why is the politics of fear so effective?

Does Religion play a role in poverty?

What role can religion play in keeping people poor?

Who is the outcast?

What is blocking people’s voices?

What are the roadblocks?

What is fuelling the fear?

What are the causal factors?

What piece of the jigsaw do you think you have to understand this situation?

What labels are limiting?

What is ‘unfree’ in this situation?

Who is ‘unfree’ in this situation?

Who is blinkered?

What are the blinkers?

What voice does and what voice does not count; the feminine, the earth voice, the indigenous, the peasant, the worker, the disabled, the child ….?

Who does not want to see?

Who is afraid?

Who is truly free?

Where is the ‘face of God’?

Where is the ‘face of love’?

Who are the hands of Jesus?

Who reached out?

Who has clenched hands?

Who is blind?

Who is crippled?

I look forward to hearing the symphony of your questions!

One Step

Afternoon walk on Tugun Beach

A dear friend of mine – Denis Hernon – used to say to me,

“Damien, can you leave that which is essential and attend to what is important?”

In the midst of life’s challenges – can we choose small ‘one steps’ that make a difference? Can we choose small ‘one steps’ that leave this world a better place, that invite another to smile, that build up, that create, that build bridges, that break down walls, that calm racing hearts, the en-courage, that ally fears, that build trust …..and all without expecting anything in return? Can we? Why not?

What would happen to me and within me if I managed to do half of the litany I have written below? Here’s my 100+! What would be in yours?

Smile

Gift someone with a smile – no strings attached

Smile when you stuff up – who cares!

Plant a tree

Tend a garden

Walk in the woods

Stop and really listen to that bird song

Admire a flower

Check in with a fragile friend

More importantly – spend time with that friend

Really look at the beauty of a flower

Go walking with a friend

Plant a flower garden

Phone a long lost friend

Write a letter to someone you need to say ‘sorry’ to

Write a letter to someone you need to thank

Express your love in the smallest of things

Set the alarm and rise early – greet the first glimpse of the new day

Look up at the stars

Write a poem – who cares if no one ever reads it – write from your heart

Dance when no one is watching you

Dance when someone is watching you – just dance

Pray

Forgive self (one tiny little step at a time)

Forgive another (one tiny little step at a time)

Let go of hurt (one tiny little step at a time)

Let go of anger (one tiny little step at a time)

Listen – really listen to the heart of another

Listen – and expect nothing in return

Listen to the sound of rain on the roof

Listen for the sound of birds in the dawn

Re-watch your favourite movie

Bake your favourite cake

Bake a cake

Greet a stranger – the response does not matter

Snuggle up tight to a loved one

Say thank you – you don’t need a reason

Look at the name tag – call the shop assistant by name

Pick up that litter

Deliberately notice the small things – look and look again at the people around you, gift them and honour them as your eyes Namaste

The morning raindrops on our roses!

Take the phone off the hook – or put the mobile on silent

Waste time with another

Visit an elderly family member

Sit in silence with another

Share a joke

Record an elderly family member’s story

Just do that Random Act of Kindness – RAK

Take a risk with love

Reach out

Go within

Meditate

Spoil yourself

Spoil another

Tick off a bucket list item

Cook a creative meal

Bake scones

Be lovingly silly

Hug

Teach someone to truly hug

Tickle someone you love

Hold hands

Brush off the cobwebs on the dancing shoes

Savour a glass of wine – do it with a friend

Host a meal with friends

Go walking at sunset – enjoy a twilight

Read THAT book

Listen to your favourite sonata

Go out on a date – your age does not matter

Be romantic

Be spontaneous

Journal

Tell the people of your heart that you love them – and if necessary – use words

Teach yourself a new skill – learn a new skill

Volunteer your time

Be kind to the Earth

Slow down – take your time doing something you love

Take a bath – enjoy a leisurely shower

Sit in silence

Text a friend your favourite line from your favourite movie or poem

“Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Mary Olive

I just did it!!!!

Gift that special book that you no longer need to another – no reason, just do it

Be kind to yourself

Dress up when you next ‘hit the town’

Be kind to your body

Accept a hug

Challenge injustice

Spend time with a baby or the elderly – enjoy the presence of both

Wander in nature

Build a sandcastle

Write a letter to the editor in defence of the powerless

Take a random photo that shows the beauty of nature

Attend a rally for a cause close to your heart

Attend a vigil – light a candle

Begin a new family ritual

Begin a tradition of story telling

Spoil yourself with the long lost art of saying ‘no’ when you really need to

Do a crossword with an elderly neighbour

Give a shoulder a squeeze or ruffle some hair

Face a fear

Do something that scares you but whispers ‘yes’ to your crazy spirit

Be grateful

Make a list of all the things you are grateful for – stop when your heart has got the message

Look closely at the beauty around you – appreciate your eyes

Listen deeply to the sounds of life – appreciate your hearing

Touch gently the face of a loved one

Walk tall

Walk with courage

Attend to what is important

March to your own drum

Break bread

Take this journey – like all journeys – one step at a time

Make your own list! Set out on the adventure of doing some of them if not many of them and write a book about your journey to a better world for all!

Relationship

New life – New Zealand fern!

Recently – with Spring not that far away I was out in the garden digging away, weeding, planting, pruning and it dawned on me that I was happy. Similarly I was out walking late one afternoon this week and the sunset was stunning and I discovered myself smiling. Yes, you can imagine the passers by thinking that that old man has ‘lost it’ as he walks along with a smile from ear to ear.

From an early age Zena taught me a love of nature. My wonderful mother took me all around the garden teaching me when to prune a rose and how, when to prune the Lagerstroemia (Crape Myrtle) and how – what signs nature sends us to tell you that rain is on the way (other than droplets falling on your neck), why the mango leaves dropped more leaves at certain times of the year and more. But Zena also got my hands dirty; planting, weeding and mulching. I loved it and it – along with Zena’s example – gifted me with a love of and respect for nature.

But for Mum it was more than just gardening. It was caring for mother Earth. Zena had a profound sense of the oneness of all of life – of the interconnectedness and the interdependence of all of life. Zena (a life member of the Wildlife Society years before the Green Party even came into existence) would go out on field trips, work with others to clear areas of land along creeks of invasive species, work to save habitat and write her letters to the local paper about the cutting down of the beautiful large river gums beside our local river – apparently to help water flow in times of flood.

This great love gifted Mum with a sense of awe. I can still remember as a young boy Mum pointing out different constellations in the night sky, the magnificent Ulysses butterfly as it made its way on pilgrimage from the rain-forests of North Queensland to – I don’t know where, and the sea of grey as the sugarcane came into flower. All of this fascinated Mum and brought a smile and a sense of wonder and awe to her face – and yes, something of this all rubbed off on me.

I have no doubt that this love of nature naturally led me to a love of hiking – or as my New Zealand cousins say, “tramping!” I still can’t work out why people go to gyms and walk or run for an hour on a treadmill when they could be walking beside a river or through a forest. Now, I will lose some of my few friends – I still can’t work out why people treadmill or forest walk with ear pieces in – either on their phones or listening to loud music – when the crystal clear greeting of the butcher bird or the crack of the whip bird or the busy chirping of the fairy wrens is all around them.

I am truly at home high up on the Kepler Track in Fiordland New Zealand, deep in an Australian Eucalypt forest or walking along a beach. In those places there is a goodness and a oneness that wraps arms around me and gives me hope. I am one with – I am not separate to, separate from.

All of the above leads me to my point. I have a deep love of the environment, of nature, of eco-spirituality. I feel at home in nature; it is my cathedral of awe and meaning. But this love comes from relationship. It is when you are in relationship that your heart is transformed. It is when the other shifts from ‘them’ or ‘it’ to a personal name and thou – that our hearts will be transformed, our eyes clear, our ears un-block and we will be motivated to protect and cherish and honour the life around us. I am transfixed and taken along for the ride and lost in wonder as David Attenborough – with hushed voice – talks about spiders or reefs or deserts of mountain goats! I am equally moved – but to tears – when I see the destruction of forest for greed, reefs and their eco-systems sacrificed for the stock market and too many trapped in the rush, noise and hustle and bustle of concrete jungles.

Sadly for the share market buyer and seller – the ‘shares’ are simply a financial transaction and they never meet – truly meet – the victims of their profit whether those victims be the local fishing village whose reef is now polluted or the rain forest that has now gone and become cheap timber for a housing development. If that same trader had met – had built relationship with either the people of the village or the rain forest itself – they too may have stood in-front of the bulldozer or protested, risking their lives to protect THEIR brother and sister’s reef.

Looking out from Dili to Barry’s place on the island!

I have an old boy Barry. Barry lives on a beautiful island off the coast of Timor Leste. Several years ago the reef adjacent to the village where Barry lived with his wife and family had been denuded by over fishing by foreign fishing fleets and tourists. So Barry worked with the people of the village to form a cooperative. Together they built relationship and shared a dream. They invited the politicians over from Dili and took those same politicians to the reefs and waterways – helped them see the lack of life in the eco-system and helped them experience – first hand – the effects upon the local village. By building relationship at all levels Barry and the people of the village were able to lobby the Government to declare the adjacent reefs a marine sanctuary. In the years since this has happened the marine life has returned and re-populated. The tourist industry has boomed but now NOT to fish and fish but rather to snorkel and dive and look with wonder at the beauty of those reefs. Each tourist now pays a fee to access the reef for recreation and the monies go to the local village school and to support the income of the village. Relationship – a win – win for all!

But those not in relationship with those garden worms I discovered as I weeded last weekend, or put fresh straw around the base of the strawberries or the compost that I turned over this morning gifted with some fresh coffee residue, or the family of lorikeets I observed coming in and out of their gum tree hold nest as I was out walking the other day, will not see what I see nor feel what I feel. Just as the commercial fishing trawler and the foreign tourist with their ‘catch of the day’ do not truly see the reef and the natural world in all its beauty and wonder – for they are not in relationship. Relationship – getting your hands dirty is everything!

When we are not in relationship we will label. I am probably being labelled a ‘greenie’ or soft or weird – who cares? When we are in relationship we go beyond labels to story, to meaning, to perspective and more. When we are not in relationship we will blame or do battle, ignore or use. When we are in relationship we will seek to understand, stand with and beside, waste time with and find ways to dream together.

What I have reflected about the environment relates to every aspect of our lives. I am contemplating going on a TV fast as I am not looking forward to the next couple of months leading up to the US elections with a constant stream of Republican V Democrat, Democrat V Republican diatribe in the daily news – mud slinging, name calling, labelling par excellence!

In every aspect of our lives the call – when faced with the ‘other’ – especially when the other annoys us, threatens us, challenges us, scares us is to find a way to build relationship. In my very first blog I spoke about the power of story. Story and story shared is the ultimate bridge builder. When we share story, when we gather around the camp fires of life and share our stories connections are built and understanding grows. I said in that first blog;

Know the story – tell the story – become the story teller!

The story teller is the wisdom figure. The story teller is the one who can hold the sacred texts and sacred stories of our tribe close to the heart, can sift through the rubbish and the chaff to the real wisdom. The story teller will have deep respect for the other story teller regardless of tribe and will see through the different badges and colours and nationalism to the core of the heart and issue. The story teller is deeply ego aware and is not hooked by the energy of the ego looking to win over – to win and you lose.

Pretty well every issue facing our world today; refugees and asylum seekers, racism, sexism, the failure of institutions, physical and sexual and emotional abuse, the treatment of Indigenous peoples, reconciliation, care for the planet and more – all of these have the seed of resolution, healing and movement forward to a better world for all through the building of relationship.

When the refugee becomes ‘Ahmed’ the energy changes. Many years ago I was working in Melbourne. One of my good friends – Liam – began a drop in centre for refugees and asylum seekers in Richmond. Liam asked me one day would I connect with an Iranian family that had not long come out of a detention centre and were placed in accommodation close to where I was living. I made contact with the family and on a regular basis would go shopping with them and take them to the drop in centre. Over the weeks and months the family become good friends of mine. No longer were they ‘the asylum seeker family’ – they were Hussain, Nader, Baldhais and Ali. As I built relationship with them their issues became real – beyond the politics of fear. As I built relationship with them they were concerned about my day to day struggles too – they looked out for me just as I was attempting to look out for them. When the issue of refugees and asylum seekers now came up in conversations with friends I was no longer talking about ‘them’ – talking in theory – I was sharing about real life people with hopes and fears, gifts and human frailities.

My Persian friends who taught me so much with friends at the asylum seeker centre.

There are so many issues that tug at our hearts. Chesterton once said, “Life is not easy my child, but take courage – it can be delightful!” If our Covid world presents us with anything it is the need for great courage at this time. When the ‘village’ or the ‘tribe’ is under threat – the great danger is to close the door, build higher walls and dig a moat – to keep ‘them out’. If Covid has taught us anything it is that we truly are a global village – we truly are global brothers and sisters. The courage we are called to at this time is to pick up the label ‘them’ – cut it up and use it to help light the fire of compassion and understanding. In this time when we feel insecure and under threat – lets reach out – build relationship – build relationship with anyone and anything that is different to us, that we fear or feel uncomfortable with – share story around camp-fire and when we do this we will discover and power and a strength that we never thought possible. It will be the power and the strength of solidarity, of brotherhood and sisterhood, the power and strength of the pilgrim, the cosmic pilgrim on life’s journey.

So – let’s get our hands dirty. Build relationship! Spend time with! Listen! Sit with! Hold the racing thought in your mind and make your first step one of listening with an open heart to the other. Then the planet will become friend and partner, mother and guide. Then the ‘other’ whom we fear will become wisdom bearer and teacher. Then we will leave an ever more beautiful world for those who come after us!

Journey

Bilinga Beach on the Gold Coast

Recently a great friend of mine gifted me with a journal. Now in my life you have to have a sense of humour. So the journal sets off from Melbourne all flush and new in all its Australia Post glory. My good mate tells me to expect a ‘gift’ for my long awaited Sabbatical time in Italy to arrive. I man the ramparts of my castle ever on the lookout for the postman; like my attempts at a sense of humour said parcel does not arrive – the hours to my departure are ticking by. On the Thursday, a voicemail arrives on my phone – sent on the Monday – to say that a parcel is at the local post office because of a wrong address and would I collect it. I mount my sturdy horse and gallop off to said post office only to discover that since I did not claim said parcel it has been returned to Melbourne the day before.

My friend who resembles a modern day Yoda was philosophical about it – no worries – we’ll get the right address next time (right street just wrong number – the number does not exist in this street). So I then give out with graphic and microscopic detail the address I will be at in Italy – down to the colour of the flowers at the entrance to the compound. Off I set on my winged chariot to said Sabbatical. Upon arrival I post sentries and lookouts throughout the district to be on the lookout for an Italian version of the postman bearing said ‘gift’. The hours become days and the days weeks and the weeks almost become months (because I was only there 5 weeks). In week 4, having despaired at every receiving the ‘gift’ the monk in charge of the Retreat Centre comes to me resplendent with a very formal Italian Postal Service form for me to sign saying that a parcel has arrived at a mail centre close by and would I sign for it – giving my ID to the monk and indicating that it was not contraband. I sign with a flourish and wait with glee.

My final week in Italy flashes by with no parcel arrival. Because of my hastily arranged, Covid inspired, return flight to Australia I ask the local staff at the Retreat Centre to give the gift to a friend of mine who was returning to Australia later in the year. No worries! Over the coming months I inquire several times, “Has the parcel arrived?” “No, no, no!” Finally I give up only to get a call from my friend in Melbourne to inform me that almost six months after he has posted said parcel to Italy it has arrived back at his home “Return to Sender”! To make this excruciating story shorter – my friend puts it into another Australia Post satchel correct with correct address and sends it off. This last week with trumpet blast and balloons and streamers the journal arrives!!! Yippie!!

Many years ago I was conducting a retreat for some young adults and in the first session one of the young men said, “This isn’t going to be all about journey is it? I’m sick of hearing about journey!” I blushed and quietly changed the title slide of the Power Point from ‘Journey’ to ‘Steps to becoming our best ME!’

Each of us is continually on a whole series of journeys within our life. Physically, emotionally, psychologically, intellectually, relationally, spiritually ….! As I have quoted before it was Baz Luhrmann the Director of the movie Strictly Ballroom who once said, “You do not live for the opening nights but rather the richness of the journey!” Sure it is important to have a goal, an end point, and a destination in mind – otherwise our wandering can become aimless. Sure goals and sub-goals, short, medium and longer term goals are important. But ultimately it is what we learn and who we become on the journey to that destination that matters. Even the mindset of ‘being on a journey’ helps us. So what would a sifting through of the journals that I have filled over my life tell me?

  • Life’s journey has its ups and downs – its good times and its bad, it’s difficult and its joyous times!
  • Rarely is the path ahead straight and clear – and just when it is you know that there will be a corner and then a twist, a climb and then a valley.
  • Regularly you will come to Cross Roads and these times and the choices therein are vital for who you become and where you ultimately arrive at.

Crossroads: To journey with awareness – with ever growing awareness is vital for these crossroad times. Sadly some avoid the crossroads, some are not even aware that they have encountered one, others walk on through and have not changed while others surface on the other side of the cross road wiser and stronger for having walked that adventure. We all have them – these crossroad times.

  • Often the signposts on the journey are broken and difficult to read. At times like that you really need to go within and deeply trust the sense of purpose and sense of direction that is your truest you – it will guide you when all else fails.
  • There are easy and attractive side paths that will take you and your adventure away from its true purpose. These side easy paths often lead to short term pleasure, compromised wisdom, a loss of integrity and confused identity. Go back, find YOUR path again – and step out with courage.
  • And step out one step at a time. Never ask for the courage to run the marathon but rather the strength and courage to firstly step out and then to get to your first short term goal – repeat this step and the rest will take care of itself.
  • Gift yourself with time to enjoy the vistas and the people who accompany you along the way. Sure there will be times of fog and times of rain – but these only make the clear air sun drenched mountain vistas even more glorious. These times are to be savoured and enjoyed. Make deliberate choices to claim these times.
  • Regularly on the journey gather your fellow pilgrims around you for camp-fire times of story shared, sometimes tears or laughter shared – but always heart memories.
  • Be prepared for the unexpected – Francis of Assisi on one of his many journeys encountered a leper! The unexpected can be embraced and learnt from or avoided and hardening of heart – always choose the first.
  • Travel light and light-heartedly. As Gandhi reminded us – “Live simply so that others can simply live!” Hold things lightly – don’t read too much into things.
  • It is as it is – accept, celebrate and find meaning in the now. Rain, hail, snow, flood, and drought, cobwebs …whatever – it is as it is but this does not give you an excuse to not venture forth again.
  • Each stage of the journey – childhood, the adolescent years, young adulthood, mid-life, old age – has its joys and pain, its questions and adventures, its wisdom and its questions – enjoy the ride.
  • Choose daily, constantly, again and again – to frame and re-frame things with love and a positive, open mindset and heart set.
  • Grieve, dance, rest, struggle, love, let go, dream, risk, paint, create, allow, forgive, commit, birth, and embrace those little deaths that are a part of all journeys so that when the final journey arrives – and it will – you will walk it with freedom and no fear!

A Religious Sister – a Presentation Sister Raphael Considine put all of this far better than myself when she wrote;

Travers Saddle New Zealand

TRASNA

The pilgrims paused on the ancient stones

in the mountain gap.

Behind them stretched the roadway they had travelled,

Ahead, mist hid the track.

Unspoken the question hovered:

Why go on? Is life not short enough?

Why seek to pierce its mystery?

Why venture further on strange paths, risking all?

Surely that is a gamble for fools … or lovers.

Why not return quietly by the known road?

Why be a pilgrim still?

A voice they knew called to them, saying:

This is Trasna, the crossing place.

Choose! Go back if you must,

You will find your way easily by yesterday’s road,

You can pitch your tent by yesterday’s fires,

There may be life in the embers yet.

If that is not your deep desire,

Stand still, lay down your load.

Take your life firmly in your two hands,

(Gently … you are trusted with something precious),

While you search your heart’s yearnings:

What am I seeking? What is my quest?

When your star rises deep within,

Trust yourself to its leading.

You will have light for your first steps.

This is Trasna, the crossing place.

Choose!

This is Trasna, the crossing place.

Come

Laughter the best medicine

A Kookaburra on top of the front porch where my mother laughed at her youngest son’s singed eyebrows!

I come from a crazy family. Genes are an extraordinary thing – in some ways my two older brothers and I could not be more different. A very uncharitable friend of ours remarked at a family wedding that we were ‘the hippie, the drunk and the priest’! I’m still trying to find out which one of those is me. But in so very many ways we are similar; all three of us like a story, we all love to read, we all enjoy writing, we share the same views on politics (much to the shame of our mother), we all are at home with both Kings and Paupers, we all love family and we laugh at similar things.

There is an English TV show, ‘Keeping up appearances’ and my wonderful mother Zena would almost wet herself with laughter watching it. It is one of those shows where the writers juxtaposed characters against one another – well mainly Hyacinth against Onslow, Daisy and Rose with the ever patient Richard looking on. As children and on into our teenage years we would laugh our way through the Carry On movies, Steptoe and Son, Dad’s Army, Love thy Neighbour and years later – Yes Minister. My two brothers and I would probably be dragged away now for being politically incorrect in our taste of humour as youngsters – but laugh we did – and long and often.

I have a very bad stutter / stammer especially when tired and on the phone and reading a prepared text. It has got me into no end of trouble – when pulled up by the Police I am invariable breathalysed – and in introducing people those being introduced are still not sure after five saliva flung and flowing minutes whether the person opposite them is George or Mildred or Maple or Harold or Mick! As a young Brother we used to renew our Vows on the Gold Coast on Christmas Eve and I would make my way to a phone box (think Dr Who) praying to all the holiday gods that my brother Tony (who also had a stutter) would not answer the phone. Arms with my five twenty cent coins – I would slot them in and dial the number. Nine times out of ten, at the end of the long distance beeps I would hear, “Hhhhhhhhhhhellllllllo Prrrrrrice residence!” (or words to that effect) “Oh shite!” I would think! By the time Tony had said hello and I had replied and he had wished me a happy Christmas and I had wished him – I would be down to my last coin! By the time Tony told me “He would gggggggggo and gggggggget mum!” the red light would be flashing. Zena would come on – I would attempt to wish her a happy Christmas – and the line would drop dead. You have to laugh – otherwise you cry!

Mum dancing with either the hippie, the drunk or the priest at my nieces’ wedding.

It took me years to work out how people always knew it was me on the end of the phone line when I would call a family to discuss their son’s progress, “Hhhhhhhhhello Mrs Ssssssmith!” “Oh hello Br Price!” How did they know!?

My family deny the story but I clearly remember at age 8 having the butter in front of me at the breakfast table. Now our wonderful father Frank also had a stutter. When you stutter the ‘b’ and ‘p’ sounds can be difficult as they are bi-labials and your lips come together to form the sound. God had a sense of humour making me, “Brother Price!” Anyway – at aged 8 with the butter in front of me, Tony asks, “Ppppppppppass the bbbbbbbbutter!” To which I being half asleep reply, “Wwwwwwwwwwwhat?” To which he replies, “Pppppppppass the bbbbbbbbbutter!” With his toast now cold I go to pass him the butter and my father turns to Tony and with total seriousness says, “Ttttttttttony sssssssay pppppppppppplease!” The only time in my childhood I can remember Zena swearing, “Have the blessed butter!” as she picked it up and thumped it in front of Tony. There were times when our family meals seemed to resemble the parish meetings in ‘The Vicar of Dibley’!

We no longer live in our old family home town of Proserpine. But when we did our Christmases as a family consisted of hundreds of hours of sitting around under the mango trees drinking beer, eating prawns and telling story after story after story. And each year the fish got bigger, the tackles more huge, the girls friends more beautiful and the crocodiles that we wrestled more like hump-back whales! They were great times – plenty of laughter, plenty of singing and as I just said – lots of storytelling.

I know those reading this who are not from Australia may be struggling to understand the imagery and I apologise for that.

Oh and could my mother laugh – at me!!! I am still in therapy because of it. One year my brother was turning 40 so I made an extra effort to be home in Proserpine for the big party. The party was huge and despite my brother having heaps of mates we were struggling to get someone to give a speech. So in desperation my sister in law asked me would I say a few words? So I begin – again stuttering away, salvia going everywhere – and one of my brother’s mates in the front saying, “Core blimey we could be here all night!” Anyway – we all got to bed in the wee hours.

The next morning – me being the good and loyal son – I am up at the crack of dawn cleaning up. My brother and his mates – leaving the front yard of our house looking like a battle field are off playing golf. Young Damien is about to clean the old BBQ – and it being so old the ‘on’ and ‘off’ gas switches are no longer able to be read. Damien, thinking the jets are turned off, lights a match to clean the BBQ plate and reaches over to turn on the gas – WOOF – the gas takes to flame and Damien is blown back with singed eye-brows. Meanwhile Zena has come to the landing to observe it all and I pick myself up off the grass to the sound of my mother’s raucous laughter! Aren’t mothers supposed to be nice!!!???

Joy

There is a famous Jesuit priest – Teilhard de Chardin who used to say, “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God!” Now for those who might struggle with the ‘g’ word just replace it with love! Love lived to the full! Life lived full of love!

Have you ever met a truly happy person? They laugh, they smile, they see the positive in things around them. The truly happy person is ALWAYS loving and compassionate and free. They have a bounce about them. They have a sparkle in the eye. Sure, like all of us they have their share of pain in their lives – we all do – but it does not take their lives over. The truly loving person will find meaning and purpose in life – and where they can – they will find cause to laugh, to share story, to smile and to be grateful.

So, this coming week, in the midst of the tension and anxiety all around the planet;

  1. Treat yourself to an old movie or book that is one of your favourites – especially if it makes you laugh
  2. Recall a time when you and those around you laughed
  3. Share a story or two
  4. Spend quality time with a loved one
  5. Don’t take yourself too seriously
  6. Dance or skip or paint or garden or …..whatever is YOUR thing
  7. Gift a stranger with a smile even though they may think you are crazy (who cares anyway)
  8. Send a joke to a friend
  9. Sleep in OR get up early for the sunrise
  10. And when you stuff up – which you will – laugh at yourself!

Covid Courage

Sunset over Auckland – light in the darkness

Courage is a fascinating thing. There are all types of courage. I am quite odd. Put me in front of a football team or any physical challenge and I lack courage. But put me in front of a large crowd and invite me to challenge them and I am quite at home – while always a little nervous. So physical courage is not my thing – but I do chip away at growing my moral courage. But then, even after saying that – I struggle with relationship courage. I avoid conflict big time and am only now at this stage of my life find myself getting slightly better at it.

These Covid times have given us tens of thousands of examples of courage. I will never forget those week living in Italy back in February and March when the TV news was filled night after night with scenes of ambulances, graves and tired medical professionals and too often – grieving families trapped outside, unable to be with their loved ones in their time of need. But what courage the medical professionals displayed over and over again. For weeks on end, exhausted to the bone, they would commit time and presence to their noble profession and in spite of the fear of catching the virus were there for the most vulnerable. Often one of the greatest fears is that of the unknown. So often, especially in the early days of Covid we did not know just how virulent this virus was – all we knew was that so many of our elderly were so susceptible to its reach. Despite all of this thousands of doctors and nurses and medical support staff, ambulance drivers and staff, priests, ministers and pastoral workers put their bodies on the line for their brothers and their sisters in the human family.

I have been in awe of the commitment of so many of my friends in the teaching profession too. During this Covid time that have gone way and above the call of duty. They were teaching classes – when so many other ‘professionals’ were self-isolating at home and then society asked these same teachers to work huge un-paid hours by reaching out to students virtually.

That type of courage and commitment does not get medals. That type of courage and commitment is ‘under the radar’. That type of courage and commitment is sadly – too often – taken for granted. That type of courage and commitment just gets in and gets it done. That type of courage in the midst of crisis does not clock on nor off, has a union nor puts conditions around service. This type of courage is totally other focussed. As you know I belong to a Religious Order. Early on in Covid one of our Brothers was desperately ill in a hospital in New South Wales. Hour after hour, day after day while he was in a coma the staff treated him and took turns at turning him over on to his side, then front, then side, then back to keep fluids moving and his lungs from filling. It was extraordinary generosity, great risk, great dedication and love and yes – great courage. Because of extraordinary dedication our Brother is on the mend and taking small daily steps to full recovery.

And what about the courage of all those in services industries – often especially those who are not that highly paid who have worked so hard – in the midst of Covid to keep services up to those of us who ‘expect it’! What about the courage of parents who have been struggling to put bread on the table and yet have gone beyond the call of duty over and over again. What about those who have lived for weeks on end in the midst of the grey of restrictions and yet financial pressure, family pressure, huge demands, risk and yet, and despite it all can still smile and in so many cases – reach out in care to others.

Real courage is so often displayed by the unimportant, no name ones among us. There are no TV cameras around when the tired parent gets out of bed in the wee hours to care for a crying sick child. There are no accolades for the parent of the disabled child who does all they can, never counting the cost, to ensure quality of life for those they love. The carer in the dementia wade, the one charged with changing sheets and emptying bed pans and the one who comforts in the midst of fear are rarely noticed and even more rarely celebrated. No Hollywood movie script is written about the school bus driver, the canteen helper nor the grounds keeper who make a school more of a home. Yet all of these choose selflessness time and time again. They give and give and so rarely do they count the cost.

Covid does not discriminate by colour, culture or creed. The barrios of San Paulo, the slums of Nairobi or the shanty towns of Johannesburg know Covid just as have the boroughs of New York. In each of these and a million other places around the world courage, commitment, fidelity, unconditional love – have shone like beckons in what has been months of darkness.

Let’s light a candle!

Amnesty International has a saying, “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness!” So let’s light a candle:

  • for the doctors who virtually slept at their hospitals
  • for the loved ones who could not hold their dying parent’s hands
  • for the nurses who risked their lives for the frail, the vulnerable and the elderly
  • for the ambulance crews who responded with haste, with dignity and respect
  • for the pastoral care workers who sat with those in pain
  • for the young children confused by the fear in their parents’ eyes
  • for those politicians who did not blame but only sought to serve
  • for the poets and writers, the singers and the musicians who have helped us find hope
  • for the story tellers who have woven a narrative of hope in the midst of the doom
  • for the ordinary people – who in the face of the extraordinary put others first, comforted and consoled, encouraged and gave hope despite their own feelings of fear or dread

Another form of Courage

Perhaps this time on planet Earth a new type of courage is being called forth! Have we the courage to ask ‘why’? One of my greatest fears is that when Covid comes to an end – and it will – it will be ‘business as usual’! Sadly in that ‘business as usual’ it will take the poor years and years to crawl back to some sort of living wage. In that ‘business as usual’ the businesses that survive from day to day, from one good week to one bad week – where the gap between making ends meet and going under is never that great – may well be the expendable on the agenda of the ‘haves’ – for they are the ‘have nots’! So:

  • Why must it be business as usual?
  • Can we pause and reflect and learn?
  • Why can’t we do things differently?
  • Why can’t all have a more equal share of the resources of our beautiful planet?
  • Why must species die to satisfy the greed of a few?
  • Why must children cry and live in fear because of the ideological ego trips of wealthy and powerful men?
  • Why have we built a world order that is so at the whim of market cycles, stock markets, banks and big business?
  • Why must we play ‘God’ with nature and abuse and use our very mother Earth until its very lack of health spreads and touches all – especially the poor?
  • Why should the very asking of these questions be labelled the rambling of a dreamer rather than the birthright of all who call our planet home?
  • Why?

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

Robert Kennedy

Like the ‘Me Too’ movement, Black Lives Matter, refugees and asylum seekers, climate change …like all of these and a thousand other movements of the heart – can we find the courage to keep on asking the questions, keep on marching, keep on dreaming, keep on being that fragile, flickering light in the darkness! Can we too find a little Covid Courage!