Monthly Archives: April 2020

When you get that tap on the shoulder

Acrylic montage of human shapes floating in space. Freedom feels like floating in space - falling, rising, and discovering - free to be you.

Sir Winston Churchill once said that to each one of us there comes in their lifetime a special moment when you are, figuratively speaking, tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to your talents.

If I could pinpoint the time I first recognised my ‘tap on the shoulder’, it was when I was invited to speak at a wedding.  My relationship with the engaged couple was through the mother of the bride, and I assumed I would be sharing a few prosperous wishes to cheer them on their future journey. I was astounded, when my friend said, “I want you to talk about love.”. Tap, tap.

Onto my second marriage, I was hardly a shining example of marital success. Nothing has thrown me more curveballs and challenges than the issue of love, or one of love’s many threads, marriage.

Weeks of worry preceded my putting pen to paper What was I going to say?  What could I tell this couple about love that might break through the glorious fizz-pop mix of youth, success, lust, and the feeling of being in-love when my own track record seemed so dismal?  My inner critic had a field day. ‘Hypocrite’, ‘Charlatan’, ‘Phoney’, it screamed. Tap, tap!

So, I did what is now a familiar pattern in my life when life gets tricky – prayed, read, journaled, and reflected.  Technically I was researching for my wedding speech, but in hindsight, the seeking belonged to my own heart as well.

During my research, I was struck by how, when we talk about marriage or long-term relationships, we use the words ‘love and commitment’ as though both words have the same or similar meaning, when in fact they are completely different. They have surely got to be one of life’s greatest contradictions. Little or no thought is given to the paradox that occurs between the two.

Whether a civil union, a de facto relationship, or marriage, everything about commitment suggests togetherness – a partnership, a binding of two people who commit to a relationship. Commitment is where plans and decisions are made that best serve the relationship – the doing part of the relationship; a conscious choice, the ‘outside-in’ framework. And when you feel deeply ‘in-love’, commitment can feel remarkably, albeit mistakenly, like love.

Now here’s the paradox. While commitment has everything to do with togetherness, love, is about letting one another go. Committed to being together while at the same time, as German Psychoanalyst, Eric Fromm says, “preserving one’s integrity, one’s individuality”. The ‘being’ part of the relationship.

Acrylic montage of human shapes floating in space. Freedom feels like floating in space - falling, rising, and discovering - free to be you.
Falling, rising, and discovering – free to be you. Artist: Louise Taiaroa

Traveling with Pomegranates is a lovely story where mother and daughter authors, Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor chronicle their evolving relationship on a trip to Greece.

Ann, soon to be married, recalls a recent event when her mother gifted her a small box – a wedding gift. Inside the box lay three linked pieces of chain with a card that read,

“Years ago, your father and I adopted this piece of chain as a symbol for our marriage. The two outer links represent each of our lives, and the center link, our marriage. It reminds us that we have independent lives, dreams, and journeys, but at the same time, we are joined in a center space where our lives are one.”

And that was the message I delivered to the young couple on their wedding day. Commitment and love – intrinsically woven, yet individually apart. To walk together and to walk alone. One a journey of togetherness the other a journey of self. I stood that day and hoped that what I shared would be as liberating for them as it was for me.  What I did not know at the time was just how tough ‘liberation’, is to attain.

Which brings me to my next question(s). Can a woman remain true to herself when she is in a committed relationship?  The most important relationship in your life is the relationship you have with yourself. But how do we live independent lives, dreams, and journeys? How do we walk alone, the journey of the self, amongst the committed togetherness of a long-term relationship? How do we stay single, AND be married? Tap, tap.

Tough questions I hope to explore in my next few blogs.

Doing nothing is scary stuff

Photo of Margaret Cunningham and 'Dixie' on Papamoa Beach

Day 6 of lockdown (at time of writing), and to be honest, my personal panic button is on high alert.

I have exercised madly, or should I say, madly exercised – both would be correct – I have cleaned, re cleaned, and re re-cleaned my house, baked and test trialed new recipes to the point my family is clearly becoming suspicious in a ‘we want you to take the first bite’, kind of way. And today the dog hid from me when I mentioned the ‘walk’ word.  Clearly I am not doing lockdown well.

My panic is completely irrational. Our household bubble of three adults, no parenting required, is comfortable. We have everything we need. What a great time to relax. To read a book. Be creative. To write. To be still. Instead I find myself being busy, in a super-human way, completing an array of inane, and completely unnecessary tasks.

It’s not the lockdown I’m terrified of. Nor is it relaxation. It’s the opportunity that scares me, the opportunity to be still – to do absolutely nothing.  I’m frightened of what may be discovered in the ‘nothing’ of doing nothing. I’m avoiding the ‘truth’ that may reveal itself in the stillness and quiet.

I’m not surprised I have this panic tussle going on – taking time out to be still, which was a big part of my life, has taken a back seat to a self-imposed busyness. And deep down I’ve felt what I call, ‘a spiritual nudging’ over this; a brief nudge, before I quickly brush it away.

I think we all become habitually busy. The hustle and bustle of the outside world touches everyone. Men, women and children – we’re always on, always connected, talking, always doing. There is little space left for stillness. There’s just so much going on and being still is not what we’re used to.

I have always had a reflective personality and treasured my moments of stillness. It has set the mood for some magical moments of insight and wonder.  But the noise of ‘busy’ somehow snuck in and filled the space I used to sit quite comfortably in. And even though I’ve been doing this reflective thing for a while, even though I know the beauty that lies within it, it still amazes me how much I still avoid, or put off, taking time out for stillness. This conflict is quite a mystery to me.

Stillness is not the same as relaxing – the two are quite different. Relaxation can be quite busy. For some people lockdown is an opportunity to relax and be creative, start/finish a project, read a book or learn something new. But they all require an element of ‘doing’. Stillness, on the other hand, requires doing absolutely nothing. It’s not what you bring to the table – not meditation, or prayer, or brainstorming, or problem-solving. Just you – simply being.

What happens in the ‘stillness’ is beyond my control? I think that’s why I’ve been avoiding it so much. Busy helps me feel in control. And sometimes my own space on the inside is a very vulnerable, exposing place to be. Who am I without my busyness? A question that can only be answered in the silence and stillness within my own soul.

Anything that denies the human spirit of refreshment is ‘busy,’ and the busier you are the more important it is to be still. I’ve been racing about the place as though my energy is endless. If I’m not doing something then it feels like I’m not being productive. To do nothing is often thought of as being lazy or weak, but the reality is, we all need moments of ‘stillness’ or ‘nothing’ in our life. I read somewhere that doing nothing with be the most productive activity you will ever undertake. How did I forget this?

We are all searching for that one thing. It’s what drives our busyness.
Today, as the panic recedes and I reconnect again with my ‘one thing’, I am reminded of a Mother Theresa quote,

“We need to find God, and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature—trees, flowers, grass—grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence. We need silence to be able to touch souls.