Tag Archives: Creative Commons

My “invincible summer”: on threat and opportunity

A long family crisis triggered my collapse with severe burnout at the end of 2001. I had to let go of a busy, creative life and rest for years. It took me until 2008 to recover my natural vitality. Five years on, I am still discovering in a variety of ways the benefits of that long period of enforced rest.

Some of you may have come across the Chinese ideogram for crisis which contains the two concepts of threat and opportunity. Energy collapse deprived me of the one constant which I had always relied on to get me through whatever life threw at me – my strong will. I discovered – and this was a brutal, frightening discovery – that my will had collapsed along with my energy.

Thus I had to learn, very slowly, the value of  letting life shape me whilst lying on a couch much of the day, reading avidly and tapping my laptop. I discovered the virtues of passivity, and the creative space that opens up within when of necessity you do very little. I had to rely on the loving support of those closest – my husband, my brother and a small group of close friends, and remain full of gratitude for that constancy and care.

Fortunate to have a strong and rich inner life to draw on, a significant part of what sustained me was knowing that although this long ordeal was mine, it was also archetypal. As Stanislav Grof so vividly puts it, “the stormy journey of the soul” has been a central part of all human experience throughout the ages. I was not alone in my descent into the Underworld. It is a well-worn path.

I also knew that through the tests encountered in the Underworld, your soul grows  into a shape which more closely fits the essence of who you are meant to be. So I hung on, called upon Spirit to guide me, survived, and grew.

Now I am reaping the rewards of that long crisis which was so threatening yet so full of opportunity. Able in a variety of ways to offer out some of the fruits of retreat, I hope that these offerings may inspire others. All my life I have loved and been inspired by quotes. Here are two which I pinned up in our kitchen,  absorbing their energy and wisdom when my own energy was perilously low.

I do hope you find them of value!

“It is far more creative to work with the idea of mindfulness rather than with the idea of will.Too often people try to change their lives by using the will as a kind of hammer to beat their lives into shape. If you work with a different rhythm, you will come easily and naturally home to yourself. Your soul knows the geography of your destiny. Your soul alone has the map of your future, therefore you can trust this indirect, oblique side of yourself. If you do, it will take you where you need to go.”

John O’Donohue, pp 83-4 Anam Cara Bantam Books 1999

(John O’Donohue 1956-2008 was an Irish poet turned priest, whose writing merged Celtic spirit and love of the natural world )

“In the midst of winter
I finally learned
That there was in me
An invincible summer”

This is a popular quote whose original source I have as yet not traced, but have come across a slight variation ie ‘within me there lay an invincible summer’ – different sites have different versions. Come on, detectives out there! Where in Camus’ writings does this quote appear? Let me know!

Albert Camus

( Albert Camus 1913-1960 was a French philosopher best known for his book L’Etranger (The Outsider) whose existentialist philosophy influenced a whole post-war generation)

600 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2013
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

People you never forget….

 

Grandpa Donald

It was a very stormy day, as is frequently the case in the Outer Hebrides in winter. The ferry was tossing alarmingly, the passengers were very scared. Some were lying being sick in the toilets. Others, white faced, were on the cafeteria floor, clinging to the table legs for comfort and support.

Grandpa Donald’s nerves were steady. Despite being over seventy, he was  dapper, and had never lost the sea legs he developed sailing between South America and his native island before the First World War. He made his way with a calculated stagger into the cafeteria full of screaming children and whimpering adults, serenely advancing to the serving area.

“I don’t suppose there’s any chance of a cup of tea?”

He was on his way to South Uist to do a spot of lay preaching, and saw no reason why a force nine gale should come between him and his afternoon cuppa.

Donald died when I was eleven and he was eighty three. Typical of the man, chasing hens up the street was the last thing he did before taking his leave of this world, serene in his faith that he would be re-united with his departed loved ones in the Life to Come.

He used to babysit for me. I have no memory of those occasions, but according to my mother he used to say, every time my parents returned home, 

“My goodness, that child. What questions she asks, what questions!”.

About the stars, and God, and where we all came from, and what life was for, apparently.

I do remember his serenity and good humour, and his kindness. I adored him and was devastated when he died. Donald had always made me feel safe, secure and valued. No one else in my childhood years had done this for me in quite the same way, as I struggled to grow up and get away from my parents. They loved me, but were too damaged in themselves and their unhappy relationship to support me in the ways that I needed.
After Donald died, until I left home, I asked questions only of myself and my books.

Most of us have someone inspiring/challenging we’ll never forget. Who comes to mind for you? It would be interesting to hear.

             400 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2013
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

 

Constructive criticism: can we do without it?

Where would we writers be, without constructive criticism?

One of the most useful pieces of advice I was ever given came from a newspaper editor I once worked for, a crusty old chap who called a spade a spade. “You’re too wordy, my girl!” he observed. (this was in the good old days, before my even thinking he was being offensive might have got him arrested….) “I’ve never known any piece of writing to get anything other than better by the removal of 25 per cent of its wording. Now – take “How I was left on the shelf and found true happiness” away, and chop it!”

Honestly, I did write an article with that title, for the Spring Brides feature of a provincial Scottish newspaper a few decades ago. And yes, dear reader, it actually did get published, minus 25% of its wording. Somewhere in my files I have the cutting to prove it….

Another piece of even earlier straight-from-the-shoulder feedback has just found its way to the front of my braincell. Picture the scene. Aberdeen university, the infamous Sixties. I had left my seriously overdue history essay till the very last possible evening before my second exasperated extension from my usually genial tutor had expired.

I finally stopped procrastination and began writing at one am. Many cups of coffee and cigarettes later, at 8am, the task was completed. It had to be handed in by  9am or I would not receive my History class certificate. Without that, I could not sit my degree exam. Serious business.

Burning the midnight oil….

I ran most of the way to my tutor’s office. It was pouring with rain. On the way, I somehow managed to drop one of the essay’s ten pages into a puddle. It was only rendered semi-illegible – and only the bibliography, I thought, thankful for small mercies. Made it by 9. Just.

A week later I visited my charismatic and much loved, but somewhat fierce, history tutor – Owen Dudley Edwards. He glared at me as he thrust the dishevelled bundle of paper that was my essay back at me. I scanned the title page. “Phew!!” I thought with relief. Fifty per cent. A pass!!

“This essay on ‘The Origins of the American War of Independence” Owen Dudley said severely, in words I have never forgotten, “bears all the hallmarks of the triumph of native intelligence and writing ability over little if any credible content.” There was a long pause. ” The bibliography – I had cited Winston Churchill’s History of the English Speaking Peoples having once flicked through it – I assume is a joke….”

There was a frosty silence. I left, not feeling as chastened as the good Mr. Edwards had intended.

“Mmmmmm” I thought to myself as I headed off to the refectory to buy a much needed bacon sandwich, ” maybe I should be a writer if I ever grow up.

That crusty newspaper editor is probably long dead. Owen Dudley Edwards is still with us, and still giving out his straight from the shoulder opinions. I know this because I heard him on the radio a couple of months ago. I am grateful to both of them for their never-forgotten feedback. It was direct, it pulled no punches. It let me know where I stood. Grit in the oyster, it helped me become a competent writer.

However, in recent times, constructive criticism seems to have morphed into something altogether much less forthright, much more timid, much more inclined to dish out indiscriminate praise and affirmation regardless of performance. Is this helpful to young people’s education and development?

What do YOU think?

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600 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2013
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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Not quite what Rudolph had in mind…..great excitement in North Kelvin, Glasgow, UK!

Friday  14th December 2012. It was a dark and rainy night….despite which around one thousand children, parents, aunties, uncles and grandparents all came out to see North Kelvin’s first Reindeer Parade, escorting Santa Claus through The Children’s Wood:

Santa Sets Off!

Santa Sets Off!

(photo: Anne Whitaker)

Festive excitement and pleasure – Santa, Reindeer, spirited recitation from the Stick Man, juggling, delicious cakes, mulled wine (hot blackcurrant for the children) – combined with serious purpose. We were also there to protest, make our banners seen:

Save Our Children's Wood!

Save Our Children’s Wood!

(photo: Anne Whitaker)

Think globally, act locally urges people to consider the health of the entire planet and to take action in their own communities and cities. Long before governments began enforcing environmental laws, individuals were coming together to protect habitats and the organisms that live within them. These efforts are referred to as grassroots efforts. They occur on a local level and are primarily run by volunteers and helpers…..” ( Wikipedia )

May 2012 saw the start of The Children’ Wood – an offshoot of the sterling efforts of the North Kelvin Meadow Campaign, for the last few years the latest in several local initiatives, whose objective over a long period of time now has been to save a patch of local waste ground for community green space use, as opposed to its hosting yet another set of newbuild flats  – in an already built up area –  if Glasgow City Council‘s plan for the space goes ahead.

To give you a wonderful ‘flavour’ of what this land means to our community, DO watch this brilliant short film Dear Green Place made recently by film maker James Urquhart.

Time is now getting short. The community’s formal objections have to be lodged by 4th January 2013. To find out more about this and find out how YOU can help, click HERE.

AND – to sign our on-line petition, go HERE. Thanks!!

Meadow in the City

The Children’s Wood

(photo: Anne Whitaker)

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NOTE: Blog/Twitter followers, Facebook friends, community activists and enthusiasts, please do what you can to pass this post around your networks. Thanks!

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300 words copyright /Anne Whitaker 2012
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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“…. the miracle of the living soul ….”

All my life’s work has been with people: as an adult education teacher in many settings, as a psychiatric social worker, as a private counsellor, trainer and supervisor of counsellors – and as a professional astrologer and astrology teacher. At the core of this apparent vocational diversity has been, I now understand, the same drive. It is that urge to find meaningful contexts for my own tiny, ephemeral spark of life, whilst offering some affirmation to others that their tiny flame matters too: it is worth struggling to get our light to burn with a purer and brighter radiance.

Something ineffable and charged can on occasions arise in deep communication between one person and another – those in the helping professions and their clients are by no means the sole partakers of this context. There is a moment in which the feeling of safety, intimacy, trust, empathy and openness of exchange becomes so intense that the level on which two people are interacting shifts from ‘ordinary’ to numinous.

The Diamond Soul

The Diamond Soul

In that moment, (to my subjective recollection) both souls are held, in a state of grace, in the palm of some vast invisible benevolent Hand. Both sparks of life are suspended in a sense of the sacred….

Such a state can never be evoked. It can only be bestowed – fleeting, memorable, perhaps life changing.

Coming across the following quotes recently thus struck a profound chord:

first, from Carl Gustav Jung

“ That is why I say to any beginner: learn your theories as well as you can, but put them aside when you touch the miracle of the living soul. Not theories but your creative individuality alone must decide.”

Carl Jung from “Contributions to Analytical Psychology”quoted in Self and Society Vol 27 No 1 March 1999, p 22.

second, from ‘Gilead’by Marilynne Robinson, p 51 –

“ When people come to speak to me, whatever they say, I am struck by a kind of incandescence in them, the ‘I’ whose predicate can be ‘love’ or ‘fear’ or ‘want’, and whose object can be ‘someone’ or ‘nothing’ and it won’t really matter, because the loveliness is just in that presence, shaped around ‘I’ like a flame on a wick, emanating itself in grief and guilt and joy and whatever else …. To see this aspect of life is a privilege of the ministry which is seldom mentioned.”

(‘Gilead’, winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, is a wonderful novel in which, towards the end of Rev John Ames’ life in 1956, he begins a letter to his young son, setting down all that he wishes to communicate which impending death will otherwise render impossible.)

I urge you to read it for its humanity and its wisdom.

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450 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2012

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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Samhain: A little flare of magic in the night!

If you went down to The Children’s Wood, North Kelvin, Glasgow, UK  tonight, you’d find this:

a little flare of magic....

a little flare of magic….

photo: Anne Whitaker

in the centre of the photo, a tiny flare of fire: a long IPhone shot of a beautiful, leaping bonfire on a crisp, cold, dry autumn night. Fireworks going off all round, sparks and whorls of vivid colour in the dark. Dozens of parents and children: children entranced, parents sipping mulled wine, enjoying the first mince pies of an extended winter season which now seems to begin at Hallowe’en. Yes, The Children’s Wood hosted a stunning event then too….fairy lights, food….and five hundred neighbourhood folk.

The local community has proved over the last six months that we need and want and use this  green space. Support us by signing the North Kelvin Meadow Campaign petition. I have recently discovered that most of my blog followers live in the USA and Canada, followed by the UK and a healthy sprinkling of readers around the world. Can you help make this campaign international? If you can, sign the petition and circulate the link. Thank you!

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200 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2012
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

“If you go down to the woods today….

….you’ll sure get a big surprise….” as the old children’s song, ‘Teddy Bears’ Picnic’, goes.

Think globally, act locally urges people to consider the health of the entire planet and to take action in their own communities and cities. Long before governments began enforcing environmental laws, individuals were coming together to protect habitats and the organisms that live within them. These efforts are referred to as grassroots efforts. They occur on a local level and are primarily run by volunteers and helpers…..” ( Wikipedia ) ….and they are surely taking great shape in our local neighbourhood, North Kelvin, Glasgow, Scotland, UK.

May 2012 saw the start of The Children’ Wood – an offshoot of the sterling efforts of the North Kelvin Meadow Campaign, for the last few years the latest in several local initiatives, whose objective over a long period of time now has been to save a patch of local waste ground for community green space use, as opposed to its hosting yet another set of newbuild flats  – in an already built up area –  if Glasgow City Council’s plan for the space goes ahead.

To find out more about the The Children’s Wood click HERE.

Meadow in the City

Meadow in the City

photo: Anne Whitaker

You will see from checking out the above site that there have been a whole series of  imaginative outdoor activities at The Children’s Wood this summer and autumn. These have captured the imagination of  parents and children alike, as well as local residents whose own children by now have grown up and moved elsewhere. More events are planned!

The most recent event, yet again organised by local mum and community activist, Emily Cutts, was terrific fun and really well attended. Sunday 23 September 2012 saw a world music premiere!

The Little House of La – the children’s version of Indie pop group House of La gave its first live performance at The Children’ Wood.Three band members were originally members of the well-known and popular Scottish Indie pop band Aberfeldy. Fortunately, one of their lively and catchy numbers, The Ape Man by The Kinks was captured on video and posted on YouTube.

View it  HERE  –   to see community action, participation – and sheer FUN!!

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NOTE: Blog/Twitter followers, community activists and enthusiasts, please do what you can to pass this post around your networks. Thanks!

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400 words copyright Emily Cutts/Anne Whitaker 2012
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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