NOT the Xmas Round Robin….

At Christmas time 2004,  having read about a dozen round robins arriving with their respective cards, all eulogising each family’s travels and achievements in the year just ending, I became seriously fed up.

The “Not the Xmas round robin” concept was born in that moment.

Life is not all sunshine and achievement as depicted in the standard end of the year card insert, I thought to myself. So why not produce something a bit different – a piece of reflection conveying some shadow as well as light, something more honest, something offering a bit of inspiration from our common experiences of being human ?

Since then I have written a “not the Xmas round robin” piece of end-of-year reflection for inclusion in my Xmas cards every year. People like it. So this year I thought I’d share it with you – my increasing band of loyal readers here at “Writing from the Twelfth House”.


“not the Xmas round robin 2009”

……a quotation from “Simple Abundance” by Sarah Ban Breathnach for  8 December states……

“ Gloom we have always with us, a rank and sturdy weed, but joy requires tending.”
Barbara Holland

As you legions of devoted fans of Anne Whitaker’s Annual Thought for the Day will be well aware by now, Ian and I have had a pretty hefty allocation of family and health difficulties in recent years although our overriding feeling continues to be one of gratitude for my full recovery from what I now think of (with a characteristic tinge of melodrama, but not that much!) as my Descent and Return from the Underworld, 2001-08.

There have been many consequences flowing from this experience, and I am very slowly beginning to appreciate what riches one can bring back from the Underworld – provided that the experience of Descent and Return is understood as part of “the stormy journey of the soul” and accepted in that spirit. (not easy, by the way!!)


Ian and me, Dartmoor, August 2009
Ian and me, Dartmoor, August 2009

One of the gifts for both Ian and myself – and probably the most important development of 2009 – has been a growing understanding of how vulnerable we all are behind our carefully crafted defences, how ephemeral this life is, and how quickly and brutally all that we thought we had can be taken from us.

Thus we have been learning to live as fully as we can in each day, never being too busy to stop and appreciate the many small but pleasurable moments in life therein.

The still watchfulness of the herons on the nearby River Kelvin. The delightful smile on nine month old neighbour wee Lauchie’s face, as he leans over to rub noses, his latest favourite trick. A peaceful cup of coffee whilst listening to children rehearsing carols in Princes Square, Glasgow’s elegant city centre shopping precinct, magically decorated at this time of year, during a pause in Xmas shopping on a wet and dreary Glasgow day. Having a good laugh, either at our own or the world’s stupidities (have you done your risk assessment before digging out the Xmas tree lights yet?!)

So the quotation above means a lot to me. It is easy to moan and buckle under life’s many pains great and small. But cultivating joy (if you can – I appreciate that life is simply too hard for many people in this world to be able to manage to do so) and living in the moment as much as possible has recently been confirmed by research as being the route to happiness.

So – let me and Ian confirm this truth for you for free. It works!

In conclusion, lest you are beginning by now to think I am losing my sardonic edge in the declining years, I leave you all, especially the over-50s, with this observation recently made to me by a rather cynical but witty person I know:

“Anyone over fifty who is not in pain for one reason or another, is dead!”


650 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2009
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

Favourite quotes: surviving crisis

As regular visitors to this site will know,  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, once more able to re-connect with the world from which I had had of necessity to retreat.

However, 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 beginning to reap the rewards of that long crisis which was so threatening yet so full of opportunity. Offering 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 2009
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page