Archive for the ‘journeys’ Category

The end of some things and the beginning of more

March 30, 2008

I woke in the morning in a room of straw. Sunlight glanced through the wide window, and I rose, rested and glad of the day. The last day of my last Young Friends camp for the rest of my life.

I should feel sad but I just don’t. I don’t even feel quite the sense of completion I thought I might. I simply feel content, sure and happy with the experience having unfolded exactly in the way it did.

This path I began in 2004 has filled my life with love I had never envisaged or expected. The connection to these people has become not so much an experience, or something I posses, but just part of who I am, part of the fabric of this wonderful life.

To me this camp felt gentle, warm, calm as a slow moving river in the middle of summer. We sang, ate, worked and worshiped. I laughed with these beautiful people in the springtime of their lives.

Meeting the son of my first love and getting to know him as a friend was an unexpected pleasure. Seeing him instantly accepted by others as if he’d been coming for years filled my heart with a sense of joy I find it difficult to describe.

Even as some things come to an end new things begin.

Meeting Emily from Canberra and realizing we have a whole lifetime of Quaker events, conversations and sharing ahead of us made saying goodbye the start of something rather than the end. It seemed fitting that she was the last person I said farewell to at the airport.

I know now that ending my participation in YF business and YF camps doesn’t mean ending these friendships, or being in some way part of this community as it flows into the wider Quaker world.

When YF Camp finished four of us cycled to the train in Masterton. The day shone as we rode through the rolling hills, and I could think of no place I would rather be. Riding with friends in the sun, sharing our journey for a way, and knowing that in time we will share it again.

We are all immigrants

November 25, 2007

There is mounting geological evidence that at one time, the whole landmass of New Zealand was completely submerged. About 85 million years ago, the continent ‘Zealandia‘ broke away from Gondwanaland. It was about half the size of Australia. Over tens of millions of years it slowly sank beneath the waves until it was completely under water. About 23 million years ago, due to the movement of the tectonic plates, it emerged from the sea, and slowly became the shape and size it is today.

This makes the legend of Maui fishing the North Island up from the sea seem to ring very true. It also means that all life on this land arrived here, rather than evolving from the beginning of life on Gondwanaland. The seeds of plants would have arrived by dispersal on the wind, and carried by migratory birds. Those birds over 20 million years evolved to the flightless moa, kiwi, and many other species that are here today. Lizards travelled on floating logs over the sea (almost every rock in the sea is covered by lizards, they are such hardy mariners). Even the ancient tuatara, for which there are 100 million year old fossils in New Zealand, have more recent fossil relatives (35 million years) from South America, and it seems likely our tuatara came from there. The theory would also explain the complete lack of ‘native’ terrestrial mammals, for they would have had no way of surviving the journey across the sea.

I like the idea that all living species in our country are travelers, all immigrants. Some of us arrived 20 million years ago, some 1,000, some a few human generations ago, and some very recently. None of us ‘own’ this land. Some, perhaps by arriving earlier, have a greater claim to the right to exist here. The right to live, in freedom, without the threat of physical or cultural extinction by those arriving later. But all of us are descendants of travelers, the courageous, the hardy. Those willing to chance a journey into the unknown, across the oceans.

I hope that this knowledge will help us to see each other (human and non-human) as equals. All valuable, unique and alive with the spirit of adventure. I hope that it will help us to respect and love each other, and to share what we have. A canoe is a small vessel, and we must take care to get along, if we are to stay afloat.

Journey’s beginning

September 23, 2007

Tonight we’ve got four Young Friends and two Junior Young Friends at our place, playing singstar 80s.

Tomorrow we’ll have twenty two JYFs (13-15 year olds) to be responsible for, for a whole week. We’re going to a place called Journey’s End, in mid Canterbury. The site is beautiful and we’ve got a great programme planned. The theme of the camp is ‘walking in the light’, and the focus will be on living Quaker values in this world that is saturated with technology, media and fashion. How do we participate in that world, but still be as patterns for truth, equality, integrity and peace?

I’m tired from the planning, and excited and energised by what could happen.

Wish us luck.

Wellspring of laughter

August 31, 2007

Avon’s baby was born at home, in the beautiful Kahuterawa valley. In Christchurch the first blossoms are on the trees, pink and tentative against the last grasp of winter. Around the seat where my mother’s ashes were scattered, yellow fingers of daffodil shoot from their green stems, ready to unfurl as the weather warms.

In the mountains the ice thaws and cold water babbles over the river stones, soft and gurgling like a baby’s laughter.

July gripped my heart with the rough wound of loss. I ran in the dark, arms needled with the shooting pangs of fear. Yet here, the city’s getting smaller behind the boat, and as the sea expands the hold of winter on the land lifts in me.

Night never lasts. Fast and free life springs quietly awake in the light.

Today I held the baby of my first love, warm in the sun on this island in the sea. And she, small and new and clean, smiled up at me.

Letting each other fly

March 17, 2007

Nasrudin found a weary falcon sitting one day on his window-sill. He had never seen a bird like this before.
‘You poor thing’, he said, ‘how ever were you to allowed to get into this state?’
He clipped the falcon’s talons and cut its beak straight, and trimmed its feathers.
‘Now you look more like a bird,’ said Nasrudin.

To me, each person’s journey inward is unique. The path to truly knowing ourselves, to connecting with all that exists, is totally individual, and completely right. It cannot be conveyed in words, it can only be experienced directly.

Some people call their inward journeys spiritual development, some refer to it as the path to enlightenment, others call it their growing in their personal relationship with Jesus, and some simply call it finding themselves. When people experience a profound connection to the eternal they call it samadhi, or transcendence, or nirvana, or God’s love. Scientific atheists talk of experiencing a sense of awe or wonder and the beauty of the universe.

I think that all of this is one. I think we’re all talking about the same thing. It doesn’t matter if you believe in a god, or the wonder of the universe, or the goodness of the human spirit, or nothing much at all. There is absolute truth. This universe, in all its current mystery, is utterly real. What is, is. It cannot not be. Because it exists, it is true. We might not yet understand it, but it still is. How we experience it is unique to every individual, but it still is, changing and complete, present and vast, immediate and eternal. We only perceive tiny fractions of this ‘allness’.

During our lives we have infrequent glimpses that move us closer to understanding the truth. And so we continue on our internal path to connect to that which is. The journey is hard and confusing. So we often group together to support each other. We learn from those who have taken the path before. We create structures, rituals, texts and experts as guides on the path. These become religions. Sometimes we become convinced that our way is the best, that all others should follow it. Sometimes we lose sight of the inward journey in our obsession with the external guides and signposts, and we clip the falcon’s wings, and stop it from flying.

When we impose our inward journey on someone else, when we expect their experience to be the same as ours, when we believe our way is the only right way, or insist they use the same words as we do, we risk doing what Nasrudin did to the falcon.

So Friend, how will you follow your inward path? How will you share your inward journey with others, how will you support others in their journey, without clipping their wings?

The middle way

February 11, 2007

It was still dark and cool when I rose. 5:15 am in a house against the bush on the outskirts of Greymouth. Half an hour later my mother in law Trish, her sister in law Marie and I walked out into the misty air, got in the car, and drove to Westport. The sun rose part way along the journey, with the blue crashing sea on the left, and the dense green forest on the right.

We drove up the Buller Gorge, past the buses dropping off half marathon runners, to the start of the full marathon. There were not many people when we got there but the crowd increased quickly. Trish and Marie said goodbye and headed into Westport. I was alone, nervous and excited. A couple of hundred runners stood in groups or walked around stretching. The sandflies were terrible, but the people were positive and friendly. As I queued for the portaloo I got chatting with a guy in his early 50s for whom this was his 13th Buller Marathon. He was warmly encouraging and told me a bit more about the course.

With a few minutes to go we gathered at the start line, the air charged with energy and people grinning at each other excitedly. Then we were off. The runners stretched out quickly, with none of the jostling and pushing in bigger city races. I ran at what my legs new was the pace I’d planned, but it seemed so slow. My blood was pumping and I wanted to sprint off, and pass people. I felt unstoppable. I heard Dad’s voice in my head “at the start you’ll be jumpy, but just stick to your own pace, stick to the plan”. Each kilometre I checked the clock, it felt slow but it was 5 minute kilometres, exactly what I’d trained at. The adrenaline was coming under control but I was still a bit hyper.

We ran up the Gorge for 8k, then turned and started the 34.2k back to Westport. There was a man just up ahead of me who had been keeping the same pace for a while. I drew even with him and said gidday. We started to chat. His name was Kim, he had long curly grey hair, four kids, and this was his second marathon. We ran together for about 10k, he had a GPS watch and we were hitting bang on 5 minute ks. We talked about a whole range of things and he was such an enthusiastic, friendly guy I was really enjoying myself. He was over from Christchurch with a running club. Most of his mates were faster than him, but he was just happy to be there, running to finish and to enjoy the day. It was warming up, the sun coming over the hills, the cicadas chirping in the bush and the magnificent Buller river swelling and flowing to the right of us. I couldn’t imagine anything better in the world to be doing right then.

A women in her early 40s with short blond dreadlocks joined in with Kim and I and we all got talking. They had both run the Kepler track before and decided I should do it next year (it’s 67k, over a mountain…). Not long after Kim decided to drop back, so the woman and I agreed to run together for a while. Her mother had just died and she was running the marathon for her. We talked about death, and grief, and faith as we ran in the sun, the lush West Coast bush on the hills around us.

At about 24k we parted company. I was sticking to my pace and she wanted to go just a little slower. Alone again I let my thoughts and feelings drift, seeing where they’d go. I bounced between feeling unstoppable, and being terrified I wouldn’t finish. I was right on the pace I’d set, but the course was hilly, and I’d trained on the flat. At about 30k my calves were starting to feel sore. We came out of the Gorge and into more open country. At 32k I was in uncharted territory. I’d never run further than this before. The water in my backpack ran out. My toes started hurting and it felt like a blister was forming on my right foot.

I stopped and put a plaster over the sore spot. As I started back up another hill I got a strong sense Dad was thinking about me. He’d trained me, told me how to run the race, and now he was encouraging me. It felt like his body was overlapping mine, his strength and experience flowing through me. I kept at it.

Earlier on I thought that once I got to 5 or 6k to go, if I was feeling good I’d pick up the pace a bit. Out in the open fields, the sun beating down and the road still hilly I passed the 8k mark. I was still at 5 minute ks but I knew there was no way I was going to go any faster. My thighs were hurting now and my thoughts were getting fuzzier. By 6k to go I couldn’t do the sums in my head to see if I was on pace anymore. I was worried my legs would give out and I wouldn’t be able to finish. I stopped caring about what time I ran the race in. Everything else feel away but one question I kept asking myself “what am I looking forward to?”. The picture I got back was getting back to Greymouth and seeing Bridget and the kids. Then even that fell away, and there was just the running, just the pain, just the fear I wouldn’t make it, and the belief that I was going to do it. In the last two kilometres coming into Westport there were groups of supporters clapping and giving words of encouragement. It really helped. Then suddenly we went round a corner, through a big gate, into a park, and there was the finish line.

I’d run the marathon in 3 hours, 32 minutes and 31 seconds. Bang on 5 minute kilometres. Some of the way I’d shared the journey, some of the way I’d run alone. I’d trod the middle way, between exuberance and dispair. When I’d needed it people had been there, handing out water, cheering me on, running with me, or holding me in the light. And when I’d needed it I’d been there for myself, afraid but steady, excited but patient, taking it one step at a time.

The centre of the storm

February 9, 2007

There’s something about this week. Hannah got back from Antarctica, Dad and Margaret are leaving to go to Antarctica, Pete is climbing Mt Kilamanjaro, my kids (with both excitement and trepidation) started a new school year and I’m running a marathon tomorrow.

I recently said why I think people do these things, and the role that faith plays in them, but I haven’t said much about just what I’m doing and why. I’m going to a part of the country (Buller) I’ve never been before, where there will be hundreds of runners and thousands of supporters all trying to be doing the right thing at the right time. I’ll have to get up about 5 in the morning, drive 1.5 hours to Westport, and then find where I’m supposed to be. I think I’m less confident about getting to the start of the race than I am to the end!

Then I’m going to try to run 42 kilometres without getting injured or exhausted, without falling over or stopping. My body feels ready for it, through the training it’s gotten used to running long distances. But the training hasn’t prepared me for running with hundreds of other people in a place I’m totally unfamiliar with. There’ll be lots to distract me, the excitement of the runners and spectators, the new scenery, a different climate. Despite this I can’t afford to get caught up. I have to run my own race, at the pace that I’ve chosen. I have to put everything else aside, and just stick to the plan, amidst all the chaos.

There are lots of other reasons I’m running this race, but I think this is the main one. Because to do it successfully it’ll require me to be completely present in the moment. Because I’ll have to be aware of everything going on, but not distracted by it. Because it might just take me to that still point, where everything is clear.

Wish me luck.

The ends of the earth

January 29, 2007

Today I’ve had an email from Hannah from Antartica, and a text from Pete from Zanzibar. I get emails and texts from people in other countries from time to time, but somehow this feels more amazing. Wherever my friends are, even at the far, remote reaches of the globe we are still connected.

I do believe we are all connected at a deeper spiritual level anyway and that is significant and important. This adds to it though, the ability to share people’s journeys no matter how intrepid they are. It represents the paradox of being human – we are always alone, and we are always connected. They have to climb their own mountains and walk their own ice and they are essentially alone while they do it. But others can be connected to them during the experience and share a small part of it, and maybe that sometimes makes their journey easier. And perhaps the ability through technology to be connected to people’s physical journeys gives us the context and courage to be more connected to their personal and spiritual journeys too.