Each time we endure and survive a difficult time, be it mental, emotional or physical, we learn to a deeper level exactly how much the dross and periphery of living has taken up our time and energy up to that point.
Each time we come through, we can see more clearly what our true self looks like, feels like, wants, understands and believes. And each time, we may realize we are faced with losing something of these, and it will needs be by choice. Is it an inauthentic aspect of self? Is it repeating situation or relationships, or a habit that results in emotional turmoil or drama you’ve simply had enough of? Desires that no longer interest us, which turned out to be distractions from our path? Or beliefs which turned out to be for beliefs sake?
Shadow experiences ask us to shed inauthentic or superfluous aspects of ourselves, perhaps taken up to impress others, to belong, to be left alone, to stay safe, to be saved from sin, to avoid our own thoughts, to avoid death.
When I had cancer, I railed against anyone who implied I’d become a better person because of it. The very idea I might have been presented an opportunity to evolve spiritually by a higher power via cancer understandably pissed me right off. In fact, for me, experiencing a life-threatening illness reinforced exactly how arbitrary these things are. I will never forget what I saw – and who I met – along my cancer journey, and the people I know who live with it now.
Living with shadow, doing the work it presents to us, committing acts of intentional survivorship, creates a breadcrumb trail of courage and hope we can backtrack on when shadows descend again, as they inevitably do. Avoiding shadow times is pointless, denying them, a farce. We will be asked to walk beside the things we fear most many times in our lives. Many of those things we will come to see are not to be battled, resisted or fought against, but treated with compassion. When be we sit with our shadows, no matter how distasteful or terrifying, we see clearly our fears and flaws are made of us, and deserve not our disdain, but our deepest love and healing.
If you stumble often into shadow, as I do, I would have you consider your shadow is also your refuge. Be close to your self in these times, and don’t hold yourself in judgement because you feel weak or vulnerable, or like a failure. Shame will come, but shame is a trained reflex, and not our natural response to finding a soul faced with pain and suffering. That response is quiet. Accepting. Warmth. Peace. Gentleness.
When I was in the cancer ward, the man in the bed opposite me asked his doctors to stop his treatment. He was elderly, infirm, obviously seriously ill and dying. I panicked, and despite the fact I too was seriously ill and in a cancer ward, felt compelled to find a way to get out of bed and speak to the man and make sure he had made peace with god so he could go to the afterlife I imagined for him. It ripped me up inside for days, because I knew I could not do this thing my “faith” and my fear compelled me to, which I mistook for love, but which was actually fear. I remember crying silently in the shower for ages hating myself for being so useless in that man’s time of spiritual need. But as I later realized, his spiritual need was all in my head. The fear and doom I sensed around his situation belonged to me. I was having a spiritual crisis, not him. I, unlike him, had not faced the reality of being a sick person unto death. I did not know how to be helpless, how to rest, how to surrender, to begin the process of healing. But I did come to learn these things. I learned a lesson there and then about the difference between fear and love.
My surviving cancer and treatment taught me death was close, but was not the enemy, and is to be treated with respect and not fear. I learned I can be alone, and that being surrounded by people can be the loneliest experience. I lived side by side with dying people for two months, while we all shared the shadow, and found such sadness in that place I thought I’d never recover from the grief of it. The best and the worst of people. And I’ll never forget it. It was beautiful. There was no fear there. Most were beyond that, or gathering breadcrumbs back to those things they understood to represent light, and love.
Each time we go through, survive, endure, let go a little more, surrender a little more, have our beliefs or our body or mind broken a little more, something comes away from us that once was part of us. We can grasp it back and cling to it in denial, therefore to carry it forward, unhealed and growing ever heavier until it breaks us again. We can recognize the broken piece as something perhaps that was never part of us at all, and let it go. Perhaps we will hold the broken fragment away from us at arms length, see it for what it is, and then tend to it, deliberately and diligently undertaking the patient process of healing. When experiences happen through you and not to you, it changes everything.
(C) Jo Hilder
Dear young Australian parent,
Here we are, all about to choose yes or no on a legislation which will impact our children’s generation in ways we can only begin to understand. For many of our generation, the idea that a great many of us are gay is still difficult to accept, let alone that our children may be as well. You may have deeply held convictions and beliefs about what homosexuality is and is not, and what ought to be done about it. We enjoy the privilege of living in a nation where we’re are free to have our beliefs, whatever they are. And I’m not going to try and change them, even if I disagree with them.
But as we move towards this plebiscite on marriage equality they say we must have, I feel as an older women and mother of four it’s my responsibility to drop some wisdom I’ve learned. And I’ll cut to the chase. Whatever your beliefs, dear one, your child may not grow up to share them. And if you love them, want them to be healthy and free, you’ll let them believe their own beliefs, and you won’t take it personally or as a sign of failure if they don’t share yours.
Secondly, as much as this may alarm you, a good many of us are parenting children with a sexual identity we may not understand, like or even believe exists. As they grow, their explorations and questions about that sexual identity will confront us in many ways. And many parents whose own beliefs about sexual and gender identity are underpinned by fear or confusion may project this onto their children, and the child becomes just one more source of fear and confusion. And fear makes us do things often we later regret. Anger, denial and rejection are inevitably actions parents regret when directed towards their child, whatever their justification.
Thirdly, your love for your child is irreplaceable. It is everything in your child’s world, and will be always, no matter how flawed or fragile your attempts at it are. If you allow yourself to be forced into a position where you must choose between your beliefs about homosexuality and whether to show your child you love them no matter who they are, no matter what they do, your child learns something about themselves. And it is not a good something.
Any beliefs you hold so to which force you to reject your child, will not fly across the country to hold your hand in your last moments, will not look into your eyes and tell you they love you, will not name their children for you for the sake of your love. Your beliefs will be like empty chasms at the end, and you’ll see the folly of them. All those others with whom you comforted yourself when you put your child away will go away to their own families and homes, and you will be alone with your beliefs. And your child will be motherless, fatherless, but they will go on in the world they created without you, the world you made necessary for them.
Lastly, in the time leading up to this vote, don’t let them make you afraid. Don’t let them tell you a wave of sin and immorality is coming, and it will swamp your child and you won’t be able to save them, to reach them. Don’t let them frighten you with horror stories of sexual depravity passed off as education. You are and have always been your child’s first teacher. So stand confident in that. See your child as they are, and love them as that, and everything will be fine. Nobody is going to make your child gay. Nobody wants to. If they are, they already are. It may be neither of you know it yet. And that may be terrifying to you. But know this.
Whatever comes, you can handle it. You’re amazing at this parenting thing. You’re great, and your child loves and trusts you. They’re watching you. They’re watching for signs you’ll accept them no matter who they are, by seeing how you accept others. They are afraid they will disappoint you, displease you, disgust you. Make sure they know they can’t, no matter who they are. You can. You can do it.
Don’t let them scare you. Don’t let them belittle you into thinking your love isn’t enough. Don’t let them terrify you with stories about your lack of control over all this, over the future. The truth is, you don’t have it. Not over the future, not over your child. None of us did. Your child will be okay. It will all be okay. You can handle whatever comes. Love wins. Remember that. Love always wins.
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This is my second tattoo. My dragonfly.
I’ve always loved dragonflies. They symbolise new beginnings.
I got this tattoo many years after cancer and the survivor tattoo, after Ben and I separated and he went away to rehab. He was never coming home. Our marriage was terribly, terribly broken. And so were we.
I was on my own with the kids and I needed something beyond surviving to help me start again. I designed this piece and took it back to the same tattoo artist as did my first one. She sighed – again with the scrolls, she said. After I had this piece done, the place where we lived – on acres by a creek – was inundated with dragonflies. I imagined I was their queen, and they were sent to protect and guide on my way to my new beginning.
I want to sneak in another story here. My very, very first tattoo was actually a teeny strawberry on my back I got when I was in my early twenties. I never showed it to anyone. It was mine and Ben’s little secret 🙂
Some time after Ben was gone and I got my dragonfly tattoo, I was flicking through a magazine and stumbled across an ad for a necklace – with a dragonfly and a strawberry hanging from it. My heart leapt. I cut it out of the magazine and taped it next to my bed. My two totems, in one gorgeous picture. I thought perhaps I might even buy that necklace one day.
But I got something better.
It was many months later when Ben woke from his addiction in rehab and wondered where his marriage had gone.
After six months separated, and after he completed treatment, Ben came home.
The first day, he was unpacking his things when I caught him standing just staring at the picture I had taped next to my bed. “Pretty cool, huh?” I said, smiling. He looked at me, and said, “I want to show you something.” He reached down into his bag, and pulled out the exact same picture, cut from the same magazine, which he taped up beside his bed in rehab too.
Miracles happen, I’m here to tell you. This tattoo reminds me they do.
Love, Jo xxxx
My first tattoo. Got it in 2008, five years after surviving cancer.
I drew this design up myself, and the tattoo artist commented it was obvious I wasn’t a tattoo artist – too many fiddly little scrolls.
I wanted this tattoo more than anything. I needed a permanent reminder to never take my body for granted, and always listen to it when it speaks to me. The non-hodgkins lymphoma was stage 3B by the time it was found, undiagnosed for seven months despite my repeatedly visiting a doctor asking for tests. I knew I was sick. He told me I was just tired and working too hard. I walked into my local hospital emergency department on July 17th 2003 and told them if I was going to die, I wanted to do it in their waiting room, not in my kitchen in front of my kids. They found the saucer sized tumour in my chest within an hour of my arrival. Rushed to a bigger hospital in an ambulance, then airlifted two days later to Sydney. Three months of chemotherapy and two of radiotherapy. I learned a lot about myself in that time.
First thing I learned is my body knows what sometimes my mind and will refuses to admit. I thought I was living a good life, but it was a cacophony of compromises. My body said, fine, go there if you like, but I’m not coming with you.
It took time for me to relearn my body’s signals and to rebuild the trust between it and me. Now, I ask it first before I do anything where it will be required to bear the weight of the consequences. Sometimes it says, hell yes! Sometimes it says, are you kidding? Sometimes my body says, look at your arm, girlfriend. And when I do, I’m sometimes reminded I am not made of iron and stone. I can break. But sometimes looking at my survivor tattoo reminds me I can do very hard things. It reminds me not to expect so little of my body.
And sometimes, my tattoo reminds me becoming a survivor requires one almost die, and then come back from that…..but there be a day when I will not come back. Is this that day? No. This is not that day. Today, I live. Every day, until that day. I live.
Selah, my friends.
Art is the ultimate truth-telling. Creativity is given us so we can speak out the truths laying inside us, unspoken and unrecognised, that we might recognise them. Each word and brushstroke, every step in the dance and note in the song is us tracing over with our body what we see when we look inside our heart.
Art, like all truth, tells us not what it is, but what we are. We know what we know when we see it standing outside of us, looking us back in the face.
The tracings of our heart out in the world are truth, but there is never just one truth. If you close your eyes and listen to a choir singing, you will hear each voice inflected with a unique experience, with divergent timbre, age and accent and emotion. Art shows us the potential for harmony in our difference. It shows us it’s okay to be us, or think what we think and believe what we believe, and possible to be one, all at the same time.
In seeking to tell the truth from our spirit out into the world, we send an irresistible invitation to the unseen realm, from where all making and life and creativity comes. The silent, sublime power who formed us at the beginning will come and join the song with us. This is inspiration.
When the Spirit of truth comes and joins with us in our making, holiness ensues. With inspiration, the Spirit at our side, and a deep knowing of our truth inside, as well as a willingness and will to tell that truth, we can indeed make holy, Holy things.
But even a Holy thing is still just a thing.
Truth is confronting, challenging, even terrifying. The Spirit, always acts from love, but the truth she inspires in the teller can be confronting, challenging, terrifying. Not all prophets are inspired, many are mere fortune-tellers; our fortune and our truth are not the same thing. However, all artists and creatives are prophets, and, unlike fortune tellers, true prophets are seldom very popular.
Artists, creatives, prophets and truth tellers have long been persecuted and assassinated for their truth telling. Their Holy works and art and words have throughout history been dismantled, reinterpreted, appropriated and distorted to validate and defend all manner of things. The makings that come from our truth telling are powerful, but too fragile to be used as foundations, weapons and shields. When we attach our agenda to them, when we refashion them from mirrors into altars, into objects of worship and a foundation for culture or ideology, power crumbles and falls away like sand through the fingers. Truth is not out there. It is in us. Always, always in us.
Art is a mirror. Expression is a reflection. Even we are a merely a canvas upon which inspiration makes her marks. God knows this, and thus, in desiring to show us both who we are, and who God is, gave us the Most Holy Words in a work of art, accepting fully the risk every single word could be misunderstood, distorted and misused. Love is letting go. Besides, God knows when we are able to undo the cipher of who we are, seeing ourselves reflected in the inspired work of truth, we will then see and understand God, the ultimate creator.
And hopefully see and understand ourselves.
Love is a story worth telling, it’s a dance, a prophecy, your words, a song. It is the ultimate truth telling, and the ultimate truth is love.
Ahem. A quick interview with myself about Small and Pure, off the cuff. Just a chat with author-me so you can get to know my littlest protagonist a little better.
Q) Jo, how did the story of Small and Pure come about?
A) Thanks for asking me about that, Jo. One day, when we were living on the farm in Victoria about eighteen months ago, I was daydreaming as I worked around the house, and felt an urge to write a short story about a little person – a small, pure someone – in fact, it was her short-life story.
So I sat at my desk – it was an easy desk to write at, as we were at that time living inside the 1850’s built mansion/homestead on the Victorian-era property, filled as it was with the shadows and ghosts who resided there, and my desk faced a nine foot tall window which looked out through the bluestone walls across the croquet lawns towards the creek lined with agapanthus and pepper trees – and the story just seemed to tumble out of me. It was almost as if a small, pure person had climbed into my lap, and was telling me what to write.
And I looked, and behold, there she was.
She told me her name was Small and Pure, so I started with that, and just allowed her to guide the pen with her words. As we worked together, she snuggled into my belly, and I noticed her hair was wild and tangled, and her toes were crusted with dirt, and her arms were smudged with muddy streaks. Her clothes were frayed and her hair smelt like pine needles and honeycomb. All the time we were together that morning, she sat in my lap as if we hadn’t just met, but had known each other for many, many years.
I think we have.
So I wrote. I did as I was told. After all, wild things don’t climb into your lap and ask you to write down their story very often, do they?
That’s how the story of Small and Pure came. It literally came. I wish it was always that easy to write stuff.
Q) What, in a few words, is the book of Small and Pure about?
A) It’s about you. It’s about me. It’s about the Small and Pure self who resides with all of us. It’s about the truest, most essential part of our spirit and soul and self. Small and Pure is like us – she is us. But something happens to her in the book, and it’s something I think we will all relate deeply to.
Q) What happens?
A) I can’t tell you. That would be giving it away. 🙂
Q) Where is Small and Pure now?
A) She will never leave me, but as to where she is now, I don’t know. Sometimes I close my eyes, and I smell pine-needles and honeycomb, and I know she’s close by. I feel her. She is safe, and she is well – I know this, and it gives me great joy to know it. But she’s a wild thing. It’s her work to remain elusive to me, and my work to seek her. I wouldn’t have it any other way, by the way. 🙂
Q) What message does Small and Pure have for the readers of your book?
A) Ah, people will have to wait and read the book. But I will tell you she wants those who will listen to know their own stories matter, and need to be told, as hers does, and will be.
Q) Thanks Jo!
A) Hey – no problem!
Small and Pure – A Cautionary Tale is due for release on June 1st 2016.
Today is a very exciting day.
This morning, I am delighted to announce my picture book for grown-ups, Small and Pure – A Cautionary Tale, will be released by Rhiza Press in early June, and is now available for pre-order!
But first, let me introduce you to the tale of Small and Pure, a story for all ages.
“Many years ago, when children loved to hear fairy stories and parents loved to read them, cautionary tales were used to teach us about choices and consequences. These most beloved fables brought to life long-known sage and moral life lessons. It’s in the tradition of these folk tales of old we learn the story of Small and Pure.
Small and Pure is little girl; a symbol of our most pure, untainted self. She grows up as all of us do, adapting to the world around her, subject to the expectations and conventions of those who keep her safe and into whose care she is entrusted. But something tragic happens to Small and Pure. She comes to us now with a sobering message, one she hopes we will learn before it’s too late.
The story of Small and Pure encourages us to seek and hold onto our most authentic truths, lest we become burdened with identities that disguise, bury and eventually cause our very essence to disappear, perhaps forever.”
Would you like to meet her? I am so excited to bring her to you.
Please click the link below to visit the Rhiza Press website and pre-order Small and Pure right now!
And keep close – I’ll be adding more products and delightful snippets to this page in the coming weeks so you can bring Small and Pure into your home and into your heart.
She’s ready to share her story with you, and she’s coming.
People on a spiritual journey are going somewhere. They grow. They shift. They change. They move. They may live physically in the same place their whole lives, but they will not stay the same person. They do not ever arrive. If you have disembarked at some fixed point in your pursuit of recovery, healing and wholeness, then it’s unlikely to be a spiritual journey you were on to begin with. It is fitting to be content with your looks, your home, your belongings, and your relationships, but spiritual self-satisfaction is something to be remedied rather than pursued.
Your Holy self is made to seek, not to cling. She does not live in your body any more than smoke could live in the fire. Your body is a temple to her, your heart, an altar for her. She owns no furniture, owes no mortgage, requires no chattels. She outlives the fleshy box you carry her around in, outlives it many times over. She dances always, arms outstretched, in the heavenly spaces between herself and God.
Spiritual sojourners transition, like seasons, like the earth, like the moon, like wind, like water, like a flame, like dust. They understand things of spirit are not static. They are ecstatic – extra-static. They appreciate there is a time for every season. They know when to hold on and when to let go. They know there is a time for birth, and a time for death. A time to sow and a time to reap. A time to dance, and a time for mourning.
Do not fear the sense we all have at times of being spiritually unsettled. Be wary only of spiritual colonialism. Of ownership, occupation and consumption which calls itself a spiritual enterprise. Of taking and not letting go, of gathering without attrition. Be wary of those who claim to be the God-people, who claim to be spiritual, but who do not exercise the principles of seasons, resisting the cycles of birth and death, accumulating, accruing and growing exponentially without allowing natural processes of detachment, death, loss and grief. There is a name for the living cell which forgets how to die in the appropriate season, and remembers only how to live, stay, grow, and consume and colonise. Those cells are called cancer.
Spiritual sojourners need not fear death of the body. We are not merely our physical selves, and to be awake to Spirit is to understand we can never truly die. The journey towards healing and wholeness will encompass many deaths, many lettings-go along the way. Attrition and rebirth are as familiar to the brave-becoming as our own hunger and thirst. Our pangs neither direct nor enslave us. We pay attention to them with friendliness and care, without allowing ourselves to be redirected from our purpose. Moving is our purpose. We are always walking forward on the path.
A brave-becomers work is not arriving, it is becoming.
From The Book Of The Brave
(c) Jo Hilder
Image credit: bruniewska (stock image)