Self-understanding, acceptance and love

It’s a little unsettling when a complete stranger can tell you more about YOU than most people that know and love you. Here’s what a remarkable stranger had to tell me. Can you guess how she knew all this, without ever having spoken to me before?

“You are mutable: changeable, adaptable, moving with the times. This means there are often two sides of you, but that doesn’t mean that you’re two-faced. There will usually be two main passions or two main things in your life – sometimes more because you’re busy-busy all the time, but at least two things that pull you, never just one. You are very interested, very curious, very young: you will stay young longer than most people. You have a curiosity about life, a sparkle in your eyes. You like to learn, to communicate, and to be out there having fun.

You have a lot of air in you – air is the communicative element; it needs space, it doesn’t like to be contained. When you put it in a container it forms a bomb; if you put it under a lot of pressure it can explode. There is a dislike for too many boundaries and rules; the need for freedom, and to be a free spirit. The focus of your life is learning about you, and a sense of personal freedom is very, very important to you. You are learning about your independence of thought, independence of speech, and finding your identity. Continue reading

Memories and poetry

An evening of forgoing plans in order to care for a unwell child, and instead sorting quietly through my many boxes of cards, letters, and correspondence dating back two and a half decades – line after line of appreciation, connection, joy, and love.

One of the treasures that resurfaced is my old file of poetry, many of my own creation but a great number of others gathered slowly over the years, painstakingly transcribed. I sat and read poems out loud just to feel them slip joyously, buoyantly, softly off my tongue. Ah, how I have missed reading poetry! I thought I would share an old favourite by e.e.cummings, who I always most appreciate when I read his words aloud, and let their rhythm speak perfect sense from sometimes nonsense, straight to my heart:

all nearness pauses, while a star can grow

all distance breathes a final dream of bells;
perfectly outlined against afterglow
are all amazing the and peaceful hills

(not where not here but neither’s blue most both)

and history immeasurably is
wealthier by a single sweet day’s death:
as not imagined secrecies comprise

goldenly huge whole the upfloating moon.

Time’s a strange fellow;
more he gives than takes

(and he takes all)nor any marvel finds
quite disappearance but some keener makes
—love!if a world ends

more than all worlds begin to(see?)begin

breathing in the fullness of the moon (the fullness of my heart)

Dusk, and the full moon rising.
Birdsong all around;
traffic in the distance
cicadas flexing their tymbals in between.

Breathing in the soft breeze, grass-scented and subtle.
Stillness, after a day of constant movement.

Open-hearted, I am suffused with peace, gratitude, awe, joy.
Perfectly content to breathe in this moment,
each second flowing seamlessly to the next:

Ready to put even these few words aside
and simply breathe it all              





Drawing in; feeling fully; letting go.

quietening the mind

The stillness of a moment
Of just being.
Breathing into inner silence
Without the incessant chatter of my mind
(judging, approving, and constantly narrating);
Seeing what is around and within me without need to hold onto, change, react to or filter it.

Peace sits within my heart
(so deeply familiar, yet it became so rare) –
Accepting what is
Without demand or expectation;
Noticing the absence of edgy dissatisfaction
or desire for distraction.

Knowing without thinking that all I require for happiness
sits gently within my heart
       (as it did all along)
Waiting for me to pause in my searching
(quite simply)

In Memoriam

(I wrote this on Thursday 13th November, scribbled on the programme for my mother-in-law’s cousin Jenny’s memorial service, while we waited for the official proceedings to begin)

Each funeral, memorial or cremation now evokes for me vivid memories of previous such occasions, as well as recollections of those now dead whose formal commemorative events I was unable to attend. The first clear memory I have of a memorial was as a young teenager in an overflowing Church in Pietermaritzburg, where I shed tears alongside many others for a handsome, vibrant young man killed at sweet sixteen on the motorbike he so loved. I remembered the first time we had kissed, when we walked along a road in the moonlight and he recited a poem about the stars as if he had just composed it, although his best friend later told me it was one he had memorised to impress impressionable young ladies such as myself. I recalled our final kiss with even greater clarity, only months before his death, when his family immigrated to New Zealand. I can summon up the image of standing in that Church so vividly, yet I don’t remember what my reflections on death were at that time, eighteen years ago.

I remember how, after days of being focused on practicalities, I broke down and sobbed when I saw a photograph of my mother at her cremation (“I will send a full report on mom’s cremation as soon as possible. For now, let it suffice to say that it was as positive an event as is possible in the circumstances. Beautiful words, beautiful wild flowers picked by Andi, the kids, Brian and Vusi and woven into a wreath by Anna, lovely music, and many, many a tear. It was such a relief to sob and sob and sob until I could barely breathe.”).

Tessa's coffin

Today, each time I look up at the photo of Jenny with her family at the front of the Church, I feel the tears spring up again. These images of those we love, so full of life, just as we remember them, brings the reality of what we have lost to our emotional awareness in a unique way. There she is, so real, so ALIVE – how can we even begin to grasp the absence of that in our lives, not as the memories we will always carry with us, but as some solid and present in each moment from here forward?


My mother once wrote, during a discussion about relationships and my marriage, “It’s a huge boon to have something like “kindness” in a relationship. You have that between you; it is valuable, and not soooo common.

My sister Elin recently shared an article by Emily Esfahani Smith entitled ‘Science Says Lasting Relationships Come Down To 2 Basic Traits’, which highlights just how crucial such kindness is to the sustainability of relationships. One of my favourite paragraphs in the article is:

“There are two ways to think about kindness. You can think about it as a fixed trait: either you have it or you don’t. Or you could think of kindness as a muscle. In some people, that muscle is naturally stronger than in others, but it can grow stronger in everyone with exercise. Masters tend to think about kindness as a muscle. They know that they have to exercise it to keep it in shape. They know, in other words, that a good relationship requires sustained hard work.”

For all the challenges our marriage has faced over the years, I can see that our mutual commitment to this work, over many years, has paid off in gradually-increasing connection and intimacy – and I believe we are stronger, fitter, and more committed to continue staying in good shape than ever. It’s always interesting to reflect on how the findings of research compare to our own experiences, and can reinforce the lessons we have learnt through the events and choices within our lives. Continue reading

On Angry South African Expats

Laurel's Reflections:

Two years after moving back to South Africa, after nearly eight years in London, with so many people asking why we were moving home, this was great to read. Ah, Africa sure gets under your skin, and I LOVE this beautiful country! (That said, I loved London too).

Originally posted on The Disco Pants Blog :

What I’ve come to realise, over the past few weeks, is that there can be no angrier, more unreasonable person on the planet than the South Africa expat who is told that the country has not gone up in flames (yet) and that we actually spend a lot of time camping, hiking, hanging out on the beach and drinking very nice, inexpensive wine on our expansive lawns in the sunshine while somebody else does the ironing. I think it is fair to say that a goaded bull with a punctured testicle being shown 42 red flags simultaneously could not be more enraged than the (ex) South African who sold up, spent all their money on relocating their family to Wellington before the Swart Gevaar put a torch to the entire country only to find that it’s not quite the utopia they imagined and that their life is actually kakker than…

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