Taxonomical with the Truth

Taxonomy is something I’ve been thinking about recently, because it very much underlies our current world view.  Everything is classified and sub-classified so that it can be put into a tidy little box, marked neatly with a (preferably Latin) name and declared separate from everything else.  We do it with flora and fauna, obviously, but that mania for neat, clear, unambiguous boundaries and definitions has become a mainstay of life in general.  It’s how we understand and make sense of things – their features, their purposes, their very existence.Oxford Museum Of Natural History, Oxford

At times, the classifications have to be tweaked.  Poor old Pluto is downgraded from Planet to Big Rock; some garden plant suddenly gets a new name and all the garden centres have to readjust their labelling.  And don’t even get me started on the labels they use and change around in medical and psychological diagnoses…  Basically, though, humanity clings to the concept that everything that is, can be labelled, and that this is a Good Thing.

Was it always so?  We know our Greek and Roman forebears were keen on this organised labelling idea, but if we go way back to the people who made those strange and wonderful structures that seem to evade neat classification and confound the theorists, I suspect a very different world view was in place.

Teotihuacan, Mexico City, PyramidWe are told by the experts that these creations were burial chambers or astronomical observatories or temples or meeting places or whatever the latest fragments of archaeology suggest.  They dig in the dark and assume that a few pieces of charred sheep bone or potsherds will allow them to make a classification.  The truth is, though, we don’t get it.  We, as 21st century humans, simply can’t see why so many people would work together and go to such enormous lengths to create massive, perfectly aligned and painstakingly constructed edifices such as the Giza pyramid complex, Gobekli Tepe, the Stonehenge landscape or Teotihuacan for ANY of those purposes.  The nearest (relatively) modern equivalents we can find are the great Gothic cathedrals of mediaeval Europe or intricate mausoleums, so, for want of better data, we decide that’s what they must have been ‘for’.

Deep inside, though, we know there has to be more to it than that.

What if our distant ancestors lived in a world where classification was considered counterproductive or, at the very least, irrelevant?

Think of all those folk tales and ancient religious texts where a name was considered to be a dangerous thing – so powerful that it was only to be used by initiates, and then only in the direst of circumstances.  That suggests that categorisation per se was not the way their minds worked.  Did these people see the world, and indeed the cosmos, as something so integrated, that to divide it into its constituent parts would be to destroy, weaken or pollute it?  Was it, indeed, a form of heresy?

What if, instead of saying, “Hey, guys, let’s build a gigantic temple to the gods here,”  or “Oh, this would be a great place to build an observatory,” those wise and distant people would perhaps work together to build something that was not this or that or the other, but something that was this AND that AND the other AND all that they could possibly create as a microcosm of the universe itself?

The current mainstream science-based world view is that everything is a fortuitous accident – evolution and climate, gravity and the tilt of an axis here or there somehow randomly resulted in all this.  As such, it’s very fragile, very likely to dissolve back into chaos and we need to impose order on it, if we are going to make any sense of it at all.

Earth, Globe, Space, Universe, WorldIf we can imagine a society where such a view does not hold sway – a society where the skies above us, the planet we inhabit, the plants, creatures and all of us exist as a conscious, intelligent, unified whole, with each aspect relying on the rest for its existence, there would be no need to separate and divide it.  On the contrary, all that could be done to celebrate its perfect symmetries and unity would be a job worth doing well.  I suspect that such a society would have a language based in something that expands naturally, like mathematics or perhaps musical notation, rather than words that label, define and confine.  Perhaps such a language, were it ever rediscovered, would help us towards an understanding of our mysterious ancestors, and our cosmos.

 

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Stasis – Unlimited

Glass, Heart, Window, Shot, Hole, BulletIt’s been ages since I last did a course.  I chose one of those science-meets-spirituality online ones.  It struck me it would be a good way to settle back into my life, after all the disruptions of last year – allowing someone else to lead me, gently, into my old ways of learning, musing and wondering.

So there I was, following the course leader’s instructions and working my way into an altered state.  All fine and good.  Next, we were to ask questions and allow the heart to provide an answer.  The yes/no queries worked perfectly, but then we were instructed to ask our hearts, “What do you need from me right now?”

Clear as a bell, the answer came back:  STASIS.

Sorry, what?

Space, Ship, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, ScienceAn image of those spacecraft pods you get in sci-fi films flashed into my mind, the ones with rows of people suspended somewhere between life and non-life waiting to be brought back to themselves before landing on some far-distant planet.

To be honest, I didn’t get much from the rest of the module I was studying.  I was too busy thinking about stasis – wondering if it had some other meaning I wasn’t aware of; wondering how and why it applied to me; wondering why my heart would wish me, or itself, to be in that state.

The next question we were supposed to ask was, “What do you want me to know right now?”  We were told that the answers would be brief – a short phrase or even a single word.  My heart is clearly less loquacious than its bearer.  Another single word answer: UNLIMITED.

Since then, I’ve pondered on these odd messages.  I checked ‘stasis’ for other meanings.  There are medical ones to do with veins and something about ancient Greek tyrants, but I settled on ‘a period of inactivity or equilibrium’.

(Yes, my heart is doing that glowy, expanding thing that means ‘yes’ as I type this.  I’m simply learning its way of communicating, the way I did with my pendulum, when I first started dowsing.)

Heart, Castle, Love, Symbol, RomanticMy heart has been through a great deal over the last year – all those dramas and emotional upheavals, anxieties and accomplishments, terrors and triumphs.  It needs, now, a period of stasis to recover, to rest, to relax.  It needs me to wrap up in a blanket, light the log burner and spend these winter days regaining my equilibrium.

After that, our potential together is – unlimited.

 

 

Mama was a rolling stone

I just counted up.  I have moved home ten times in the last two months. Even when I have been at my own place, I’ve had four different people to stay during this time period.

Luggage, Packed, Travel, Trip, SuitcaseNow I know that, I don’t feel quite so stupid for waking at 2am, trying to figure out where I was and who my coughing fit might be disturbing in the next room.  (No one, luckily – I was having one of the rare nights alone in my own home.)

For a mildly sociable but relatively reclusive sole dweller such as myself, the varied company and changes of routines, diets and house rules has been bewildering and exhausting.  Seeing friends and family, visiting and checking on those I’ve been forced to ignore during the hardest parts of 2018 has been a pleasure, but one muted by the confusion and aching throat that is the lot of the soliatry being suddenly thrust into day-long chatter.

As well as covering a geographical area that stretches from London to Liverpool and Wessex to Essex, the family and friends I have visited espoused, between them, a political spectrum ranging between socialist and fundamentalist Conservative-with-a-big-C, with greens, centrist small-c-conservatives and rampant liberals scattered around.  I mention this because, within these past two months, there has not been a dinner table or sofa in Britain where politics has not been at the heart of almost every discussion.

Normally, such conversations can be difficult. Suddenly, though, I find them all of one voice.  From the most ardently politically correct Liberal Democrat to the high Tory, the words have been the same.  All of them despise and reject the politicians – every single one.  They are united in disgust and fury at the farce that is Brexit.  They are bemused and horrified at the prospect of a new election, since there is no one they can countenance voting for, despite wanting earnestly to exercise their right to do so.  They are stunned by the ludicrous, self-serving, power-hungry bunch of clowns who slump around Westminster, on huge salaries and expense-accounts, jeering and jibing at each other like a gang of school bullies, but without a single useful idea in their heads.

London, Uk, Westminster, EnglandI found myself wondering why we, as an entire nation, have so abruptly woken up to this.  We voted for these – our leaders – and heaped power, prestige and money upon them.  Now, quite suddenly, it has become glaringly obvious that they possess no skills,  no specialist knowledge, no creative thinking, no debating skills, no charisma, no wisdom beyond that of any Tom, Dick or Harriet in the street.  The message is clear:

They are no better than us.  They have lost all credibility with the people and they do not, in any meaningful way, represent us.

I feel unqualified to broaden this to the political situation in other countries but my limited knowledge does suggest that the UK may not be altogether alone in this…

So why?  I kept pondering.  Why would all these politicians suddenly be engaging in such a public display of self-destruction?  Why are they metaphorically leaping, lemming-like, over the White Cliffs of Dover?

If we broaden our perspective and take a more metaphysical view of this situation it becomes clearer.  We have outgrown them.  We have, and this is quite a scary thought, reached a point where such a system of leaders and mute followers is no longer necessary.  We have learned a valuable lesson.

A few years ago, the politicians decided to let the people – all of us – make a choice.  They made it sound simple.  They told us they trusted us to vote on whether or not to leave Europe.  They’d done it to the Scots just before, in an independence referendum, and the people of Scotland had voted to stick with the status quo.  They assumed that, when we stopped and thought about it, we would do the same.

Flag, United Kingdom, England, LondonSome of the politicians, though, expertly exploited the racial prejudice and economic concerns of certain down-trodden and less-educated members of society.  Others created bogus claims of assumed huge financial benefits of leaving, painted these in catchy slogans on the sides of a bus and travelled around the nation lying to the populace in honeyed tones.  The rest of the politicians did very little.  They mumbled vaguely about uncertainty and hidden costs and trusted to the natural conservatism of the people to leave things as they were.

It all, of course, went horribly wrong.  No one knows what to do.  They have revealed themselves – what passes for both government and opposition parties – to be entirely unfit to govern and we the people have proved ourselves unfit to make such far-reaching choices without being fully and honestly informed of the implications of each option.

Perhaps we need and deserve a country run by a council of wise and experienced elders – the kind of people from industry, health care, diplomacy, education, the emergency and military services, banking, social work, conservation and the like who currently get given CBEs and OBEs for their services to the nation.  Perhaps we need to vote for such people to hold office, based on their record of expertise and success – in terms of wide benefit and happiness – in their specialist fields.  Perhaps we are ready to dispense with the bickering and taunting and arguing that plagues our political system and allow free debate amongst those who know what they are talking about.  Perhaps party politics has had its day.

In any case, I’m glad now to finally be settled at home, and looking ahead to a new year of musing on whatever comes my way.

I wish each and every one of you a peaceful, safe and joyous 2019.

 

 

Home?

Box, Sheet, Saying, StorageHere I am then.  Back in the strange little 17th century stone cottage I own in beautiful Somerset.

At least, my body is.  My possessions are here too – many still waiting to be unpacked as I try to remember where on earth I used to keep them.  The rest of me, though, hasn’t quite landed yet.

These two lives I’ve been living this year are so utterly different.  When I moved to the East, I had to adjust instantly; there was so much to do.  Here, there is no urgency.  The days are not planned for me.  I don’t need to be in specific places at specific times.  I don’t have a list of tasks with completion dates.  I just have Life – and I can choose how frenetic or leisurely to make it.

Then there’s the space.  My house is tiny by most people’s standards, but after seven months of single-room living I’m finding it strange to have a separate room for almost every activity.  It feels almost decadent.  I will readjust, but I haven’t yet.

Oh and the people!  I am a solitary soul by nature – quite happy with my own company.  Living alone suits me well and there were many occasions when, at the end of a frantic day with the grandchildren, I could shut myself into the little studio flat and unwind.  They were always nearby, though, and while I didn’t see them every day, there were never more than two or three days without company.  Here there are friends, and no doubt I’ll see all of them soon – when the missing bits of me have landed…

So what is it that is really bugging me?

Home.  That’s what.

‘Home is where your heart is’, so they say.  Trouble is, my heart is one of the bits of me that hasn’t landed yet.  It’s scattered in several different places.

You see, the town I’ve been living in for the last half-year is the town I called home for over thirty years.  It’s where I gave birth to and raised my three children, where I taught hundreds of others, where I forged all the most significant relationships in my life.  It’s also the place I ran from when my job and my marriage and my wellbeing became so compromised that I knew I needed a new start.

I ended up here, convinced that I’d found what I grandly called my ‘spiritual home’.  Glastonbury is a powerful place.  People say it chooses you, rather than the other way about.  Certainly, over the ten years I’ve lived here, I’ve seen many arrive with plans to make changes and give the place what they decide it needs.  Within six months, they are scuttling off, tails between their legs.  Glastonbury chews that sort up and spits them out.  Me?  Oh, it tolerates me well enough.  It shares it’s history and beauty and energy with me.  It accepts that I refuse to join any of its tribes (Pagans, Sufis, Goddesses, Christians, Buddhists, Wiccans, Alternatives etc.) and quietly plough my own furrow, but it doesn’t welcome me into the fold.

In the East, there are tribes, too, of course – the famed ‘Essex girls’ with their madly manicured nails, immaculately tinted hair, fake tans and glitzy fashion; the overweight mothers, bulging out of skin-tight lycra and screaming obscenities into their phones or at their children; the young men with smart suits and fast cars, chattering into their bluetooth headsets as they scurry hither and thither, and the cheery but dreary housewives, who have always lived there and always will, and thank providence for their uneventful lives.  I feel a stranger amongst them, too.

I often wonder if there’s a place where I’d fit – where my tribe can be found.  Certainly there are places I’m drawn to – places whose beauty leaves me gasping, and this is certainly one of them.  Is that a sufficient reason to stay here?

Well, why not?

After all, if this strange year has taught me anything, it’s that my body and my possessions will happily settle anywhere.  Maybe my heart and soul just need to float for a while longer…

 

 

 

 

Equinoxing

Equinox Sun Moon Landscape Mystical CloudsI revel in the magic and symmetry of the equinoxes – those two occasions in the year when darkness and light occur in absolutely equal quantities.  They mark a shift, a subtle but important tipping point in the year.  Here in England, the Autumn Equinox that falls today is the time when we shift from more-light-than-dark to the reverse.  From tomorrow onwards the days will be shorter and the nights longer.  They won’t equal out again until next March, when the spring equinox heralds the start of the long summer days to follow.

And so, today, I find myself equinoxing – pondering the wonder and timefull/timelessness of this seasonal ebb and flow and the perfection of this perfectly poised day when neither night nor day holds sway.

For me, the six months since the last equinox has been a time of special significance.  In late March, I was packing my bags to move across the country to be with my child and grandchildren at a time of great need.  Now I’m starting to pack again, ready to leave them in their new home and return to my own home in beautiful Somerset.

Here in the East, life simply goes on from day to day.  Few people remark on the changes beyond a shake of the head and a comment on how the nights are drawing in.  Back in Glastonbury there is no shortage of people wishing to mark each nuance of the natural year – from robed and garlanded goddesses, through drum-bangers, chanters and pipers to those who will joyfully strip off and cavort in the buff around sacred groves and hills.

Me?  I’m somewhere between the two.  Equinox is a time to stop, to take stock, to consider the lessons, blessings and memories of the past six months, when Summer ruled.  It’s a time, too, to contemplate the darker months that lie ahead; long evenings curled up beside the log burner with candles twinkling and a good book, peace and quiet after the frenzied activity of the summer and a chance to dream myself into the next phase of this amazing little drama that is my current ‘life’.

Equinox greetings and blessings to all.

 

Old Friends – sat on a park bench like bookends

J and I met in our teens.  We enrolled as student teachers together, we lived just across the corridor in hall, we learned the realities of teaching kids in tough London schools, we partied, we got drunk and we hitchhiked around the country at dead of night.  One of us owned the Bookends album.  We’d listen to this track and feel uncomfortable at the lyrics – How terribly strange to be seventy… 

We passed our exams and got our first teaching posts.  We shared a flat for a while, then I left to get married and move somewhere rural.  She was my bridesmaid.  I had children; she didn’t.  We met up a few times, then just exchanged Christmas and birthday cards and hastily scribbled once-a-year notes about how that year had been.  Hers would tell of exotic holidays on far-flung islands; mine would tell of family budget ones in Devon.

This year, as I wrote her birthday card, I added a note to say I was back in the East for a while.  We were both retired now, and living not too far apart, after all, so might we meet up?

What a crazy idea.  We’d lived a lifetime apart, doing different things.  College was a distant memory.  Would we even recognise each other now?

Yesterday, we met.

Yes, we did recognise each other.  It took a moment to work our way past the portly bodies, the white hair, the sensible shoes and wrinkles, to spot the familiar old friend who shone from behind all that.  Thirty years, we worked out, since we’d last met.  The thirty years of experiences, pains and joys we had gained from life flowed between us.

Not quite seventy, but only a very few years off.  So were we the old people Paul Simon had imagined in his lyrics?  Perhaps – to any twenty-somethings passing by, that was how we’d look.  Those lyrics, though, are a young person’s idea of old age.

We did share a park bench for a while, but not quietly.  We talked of what we’d done, children we’d taught, how we railed against the education system with its focus on exams and fact-learning, fought for the rights of the kids and parents, struggled to open the young minds and encourage free-thinking and creativity.  We spoke of how we’d shared our ideas and experience, mentored young teachers.  We spoke sadly of how the government-controlled education system had finally driven us out, as the job we’d loved and devoted our lives to was subsumed by paper-pushing and statistics.  We’d both taken early retirement and headed off to educate in different, freer ways.  And now, we decided, was a time for pride and reflection, a time for relaxation without clock-watching, but not – oh so definitely not – a time to stop learning and wondering, thinking and discovering.

Who Can You Trust?

It’s bothering me, this question, and I feel it shouldn’t.

Eye, Couple, Love, Betrayal, DesireTo explain why, I need to touch on some very personal stories.

When I was a student, I thought I had a boyfriend.  To all intents and purposes, I did.  He was a fellow student, but older than me and far wealthier.  We had a great time together and the relationship lasted two years.  He was in hall during the week, but each weekend went off, as I understood it, to visit his elderly mother.  Just before our final exams, he told me that in fact he had another girlfriend, whom he’d been living with at the weekends.  Now she was pregnant and he’d decided he would marry her.  He told me not to worry, as he was quite prepared to buy me a flat in North London and keep me as his mistress.  He actually seemed quite shocked when I told him where to stick his flat and stormed off.

Fast forward many years to the day I walked into a room of the home I shared with my husband of 30 years and found him on the phone to his lover, planning their next meeting.  I’d had not the remotest idea that this was happening under my nose.

In both cases, it wasn’t the betrayal that upset me as much as the ease with which my partners had led this double life and consistently and adeptly lied to me.  They both apologised and said they knew it was ‘wrong’, but that didn’t help.

I was chatting this through recently with a relative who had had a similar experience.

“I was at home with young children,” she said.  “I KNEW something was going on.  I found little notes in his pockets, but somehow he always managed to explain them away and make me feel bad for suspecting that he’d do such a thing.  He kept it up for two and a half years – a relationship with a woman at work.  They even planned a holiday together, with her feigning illness and having to be taken home from work by a colleague, while he was waiting at the love nest.  When it was finally discovered, he started trying to date his secretary instead.”

I’m not saying it is always men.  Another relative discovered that his girlfriend had been cheating on him for six months, while they shared and renovated their first home.

Now I’m watching another member of my family suffer similar torment.  For five years her partner has been caught up in a double life, lying and cheating and finally putting his family in mortal danger through his misdeeds.

Our stories are far from unique, I know.  Almost anyone reading this will know of, or have experienced similar horrors.  Some may even be living a double life, but somehow justifying it to themselves and feeling that it’s fine unless the partner finds out.

Despite all that, though, there are countless caring, trustworthy people in the world – people who, if they are no longer happy in a relationship, would have the courage to say so, rather than seeking solace elsewhere.

Because of my own beliefs, though, I’m not content to blame the erring partners.  I’m not even prepared to mutter the truism that no one is blameless in such a situation.

I believe we create our own lives.  I believe that events show up in them to teach us more about ourselves.  I believe that – at some level – my family and I invited these situations into our lives because, painful and heartbreaking as they are, they enable us to become stronger, wiser and more resilient.  They add to our Knowing.  Our experience adds to the Akasha which is all Knowing.

I still don’t know who to trust, so I keep very much to myself.

I still don’t know if trusting is something we should try to do.  We attempt to bind others to us with vows and promises, assurances and agreements, but such things are torn up and broken all the time.  We can’t hold and keep the love of another in our hands.

Perhaps we should just be our authentic selves at all times and trust Life/God/The Universe to help us to make our choices and move beyond such things.

I don’t know and, as I said, it’s bothering me.

Do you?

An Open Letter to The Universe

Dear Universe,

Here we are then – another morning, another day in the Life.  Let’s decide how this one is going to go.

I have to give you credit.  I opted into this particular Lifetime in order to expand and learn through experiences and requested from you that I should have some, er, interesting scenarios to work through in order to achieve that.  You, dear Universe, certainly delivered.

Here I am in the middle of one of them.  It’s arguably the most complex, challenging and painful of the lot.  Am I learning from it?  Certainly.  Is it allowing me to expand my consciousness and understanding?  I suppose it must be.  Am I flailing about, totally out of my depth and panicking for much of the time?  Definitely.

So back to basics for a moment.  Life does not happen to me; I happen to Life.  It’s very easy to forget that when I’m in the middle of a Life drama.  It’s easy to sink into victimhood and wallow about there yelling, “This isn’t fair!  This isn’t my fault!  Someone else caused all these problems.  I didn’t choose them.”

Woman Desperate Sad Tears Cry Depression MWell no, in everyday terms I would never have chosen to have people I love suffer what they are going through.  It is all too easy to blame the perpetrators.  If those people hadn’t done those things, Life wouldn’t be this way.  If those people hadn’t done those things, I wouldn’t be here, having to deal with the fallout, day after day.  If those people hadn’t done those things… something else would have shown up in my Life to allow me to learn and expand and find ways of dealing with the issues here, because that’s what I asked for when I began this Lifetime, and that is true for everyone involved.

So let’s dispense with all the victimhood and blame and anger – the easy stuff – and move on to happening to my Life.

This is what I’m learning, you see, Universe.  You’ve given me some real humdingers to deal with in the past and I’ve often seen myself or – worse yet – people I care about, suffering, and been willing to blame others for that.  It is hugely difficult to see that every single individual concerned acted from what he or she considered to be a reasonable or practical perspective.  They each carried out what they considered to be the best or most expedient response to a difficult situation.  It’s not my task to question their actions or to blame them.  It’s my task to take steps forward and move myself and my loved ones into a safer, more secure and comfortable situation.

My little family – the woman, the child and the toddler – are in a safe, though temporary, home.  We are making plans to move them into a relatively safe and secure permanent home.  We are taking steps to make that permanent home safer and more secure, but that is still not reaching to the nub of it.  Security devices, high fences and locked gates may help to protect against physical intruders, may help to make people whose previous home has been violated, whose lives have been threatened, whose trust has been destroyed feel slightly better, but the real work is to build up inner protection.

Tunnel, LightEach of them is traumatised.
The smallest is terrified by loud noises, raised voices or passers by who remind her in some way of the ‘bad men’.
The child has just built himself a dreamcatcher – a wooden pop gun beside his bed that ‘shoots’ nightmares into a hoop, from which they are projected into a baked bean tin across the room.  For him this is serious work – serious self preservation.
For the mother, who seeks to protect and nurture the little ones while dealing with her own loss, grief and traumatic stress, there is a long, slow and painful journey.  I can see the glimmerings of a stronger, wiser, truer woman emerging.  I can see tiny steps towards the rebuilding of shattered self confidence.  I can see a brighter, clearer future that far surpasses the web of lies and deceit that were lurking and waiting to sabotage the past.

My task is to hold that image and project it to you, Universe, because then you will mirror it back to us.

Yours in love and gratitude,

Jan

 

 

Am I where I want to be?

Yesterday someone sent me an email.  If the photo the sender attached was to be believed, it was a smart, squeaky-clean young American.  He told me I’d been accepted as a member of an organisation called the Association of Spiritual Writers or some such.  Can’t remember the exact wording, as I deleted it pretty quick.

For a start, I hadn’t applied to join any such group.  For an end, he quickly moved into an unabashed sales patter, telling me that in order to get top price ticket sales at my talks, I needed to enrol on his training course, which would maximise my earnings.

Sorry to disappoint you, young Sir, but I have not the slightest interest in making money from spiritual writing or talking.  Sharing ideas, having dialogues, learning and discovering, yes – those things are hugely important to me, but that’s where it stops.

It made me think, though.  Do I have what I want now, in the autumn of my life?  And the answer seems to be that yes, I do.

I own a very small, sweet, though slightly damp and crumbly, old cottage in a beautiful part of England.  I get enough money from my pension to pay the bills and live each month and although I don’t run a car, have expensive holidays or buy luxury items, I have all I need to be comfortable and to give a little to charities I care about.

I still do some private tutoring, charging less by the hour than I pay a handyman to chop and stack my logs.  I’m fine with that, too.  I do it because teaching was my first love and I enjoy keeping contact with it and helping children who would otherwise be struggling.

I spend vast amounts of time making 1/12 scale miniature figures and room settings by upcycling mass produced and junk items.  It’s a brilliant hobby for me.  I can be creative, inventive and gloriously messy.  It involves constant problem-solving that keeps my mind active.
People say, “You must have such patience,” but for me it’s a kind of meditation.  I do my deepest meditating when I’m hand-stitching a minuscule white shirt or sticking tiny tufts of hair on to a wig base.
I display and sell the fruits of my labour at craft sales, get smiles and lovely comments and have fascinating conversations all day.  I make modest amounts of money – which I pass on to my son and his partner, as they are saving up for a deposit on their first home.

Strangely, at almost every sale I’m approached by some smartly dressed young man who eagerly tells me how I could make masses more money from my crafting by doing this on Instagram or that on You Tube.  I smile, thank them politely and carry on doing what I do.

I’ll happily trade the lack of stress, deadlines and problems for the lack of wealth and material goods.  I’m happy, I’m still learning every day and I have a wonderful life.

 

 

 

Always will.

Glass, Shattered, Window, DestructionTen years ago, I was just finishing the most terrifying, exhilarating, exhausting and arguably the most successful year of my life as an educator.

I’ve spoken about it before, but not for a while, and a few things have happened this week (like the message from D) to make me want to look back at it.

Briefly:  I worked in a primary school at a time when everything was controlled by THEM – the curriculum, the standards, the targets, the methods.  As educators we were under stupid amounts of pressure to conform and jump through all THEIR hoops.  The alternative was Special Measures.

Ours was a smallish school and – as sometimes happens – in that particular year, we were struggling with an above average number of, um, challenging pupils.  The reasons for the challenges weren’t hard to fathom – parents in prison, parents who had died or were seriously ill, parents with substance abuse issues, violent and abusive siblings and step-parents, family break-ups, history of sexual, physical and emotional abuse.  Those are just the bits I can remember.  There was also peer influence and imitation; children would pick up on the behaviour of others and copy it.

Run Riot, Anarchy, City, Urban, GraffitiEvery class in the 7-11 age group had a few hard-core rebels and several who copied their behaviour.  Teachers felt their standards slipping as they struggled to deal with daily disruption.  Some were refusing to teach certain children or to have X and Y in the same class.  Exclusion of these youngsters wasn’t an option.  It was frowned upon by THEM, and anyway, we wanted to help these kids.

As a senior management team, we pondered long and hard on how we could organise classes for the next academic year.  No combinations worked.

Until I had my crazy/wonderful idea.

I opted to teach a mixed-age class of just 16 pupils, containing every one of the challenging children and a few others who had their own issues and difficulties, despite not being disruptive.  My conditions were that the National Curriculum would not be followed, testing would be optional – and then only at the very end of the year, targets would be replaced by frequent ‘look how far you’ve come’ reviews, the education would be holistic, with a different programme of study for each individual based on their personal circumstances and emotional needs as well as the educational ones.

Luckily, I had a brave, supportive head teacher and some brilliant, visionary and courageous support staff.  I was also able to buy in help from a very talented play therapist/counsellor.  Annoyingly, the local authority insisted on adding in its Behaviour Support Team, who tried to get me to run the class along the lines of Pavlov’s dogs or Skinner’s rats.  Not helpful.

My curriculum was, very broadly:  Term 1 – learn to tolerate and begin to like yourself.   Term 2 – like and take some responsibility for yourself and begin to tolerate one or two others, so you can manage to work in a very small group.  Term 3 – take responsibility for your own behaviour and actions and begin to tolerate and work with larger groups and the whole class.

Girl, Boys, Children, DevelopmentEach of the 16 who stayed at the school (such families travel around a fair bit, so some moved away) went on to rejoin a normal mainstream class the next year.  All of them opted to take part in the end of year tests and did as well or better than expected.  In the final term they did a whole class project and cooperated as well as any group I’ve ever taught.

Obviously the hardest bit – so hard I still have to fight back tears as I remember – was to get these lovely young people to tolerate and, later, like themselves.  Once that was achieved, the rest flowed relatively easily.

As I mentioned earlier, several synchronicities have turned up recently, drawing me back to 2007.  Some will have to wait for another post, but I will mention D.

He was one of the oldest in that class – an intelligent, painfully sensitive, deeply troubled young lad who somehow transformed during the year from having always been the class weirdo to becoming an excellent and much admired role model for the younger boys in our group.

Last night – as he does from time to time – he messaged me.  Said he hoped I was doing OK.  We chatted briefly.  I told him what was happening in my life; he told me a little about his.  Then we signed off.

“Thanks for remembering me,” I said.

“Always will,” came the reply.

I’ll always remember him, too, and the rest of the class who taught me that once you can like yourself, there are no limits to what you can do.