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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Winter Solstice

Dark of night deepens,
Light now slips into shadow,
The sun lies sleeping.

Winter solstice comes,
Darkest day of nature's night,
Gateway to the Light.

See the blazing fires
Drive away the deepest dark,
Warm the earth for Spring.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

May the Peace and Joy of Christmas
be with you
through all the years of your life

Christmas is not a universal feast,
but the underlying spirit is common to all of us,
regardless of religious belief.
It is the celebration of light in the darkness,
the warmth of hope spreading in the cold winter of life.
Christmas is gratitude and appreciation
of all we have been given and are still to receive.

Christmas is the distilled essence of love.
It is a time of angel's wings on earthly bodies,
a time when the soothing touch of a nurse
lets a dying man know he is not alone.

Christmas is the distilled essence of all that is good.
It is a time for softly spoken words of love that reach into the hardest heart,
for it is only in giving our love unconditionally
that we release the heart song in others.

Christmas is the distilled essence of a quiet joy.
It rings out crystal clear in the singing of the soul.
It is the music of heaven played out on earth
in each carefully composed note of giving.

Christmas is the distilled essence of childhood innocence.
It is their laughter, their astonished delight, their belief in magic,
all wrapped up in the overwhelming love we feel for them
that sets free the child in us

Christmas is the distilled essence of peace.
It is the profoundest stillness of the soul
when it quietens the rampant chatter of the mind
and hears the single heart beat of the universe.

We are never alone.
In that stillness
we are one heart, one mind, one soul.

Hold the distilled essence of Christmas in your daily lives all year around.

Reach out in love to those around you.

I will always believe in magic.
Open your mind and let magic believe in you.

Christmas is here and now and every day of your lives.

Live it !

In Love and Light,

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Prompted thoughts from a Writing Group

( Julie Jordan Scott's Sacred Sixty)

I am in the present. I cannot know what tomorrow will bring forth. I can know only what the truth is for me today. That is what I am called upon to serve. Igor Stravinsky

And the truth for me today is:

The truth for me today is reflected in the bright tear brimming eyes of a sixty five year old man.
He came to me weighed down with remembered pain, present sorrows heaped upon him unremittingly.
I listened.
I shared his tears.
We moved together from past to present to a place beyond time.
We moved to the truth of choice, the choice to live in love regardless of external circumstance.
The truth for me today lies in the soft awed smile of that man as he left me.

The present is the ever moving shadow that dividesyesterday from tomorrow. In that lies hope.Frank Lloyd Wright

In the present moment, I see a richness of jewel colours flaring from a space deep within me.
They sparkle in prismatic energetic patterns, splintering the once solid greyness of the day.
Living rainbows bedazzle my mind.
In their scintillating rays, I find a feast for my inner eye.
Here in this visual cacophony of light I am bathed in the light of the soul.

He who lives in the present lives in eternity.Ludwig Wittgenstein

In the present moment I hear women chattering happily as they sit together sewing a glowing tapestry of multi-dimensional energy.
They embroider with their laughter, splashing the canvas with incredible colours with every peel of merriment.
Each myriad coloured thread splashes startling geometric patterns, abstract representation of the blending of their hearts.
I hear their souls, the divinity of their sharing, these sacred sisters who weave the silken web of etermity.

When we come into the present, we begin to feel the life around us again. Jack Kornfield

In the present moment, I feel a soft, yet weighty pressure emanating from my heart centre.
It is as though love itself is pushing to escape the constraints of my mortal body.
I feel as though I am ready to explode.
In that conflagration, a rain of incandescent fire will sweep the stars from the sky.
The planets will fall from their orbits and spin into space to seek new vistas, new solar systems, new creations.
I feel my skin stretching, stretching, stretching until atomic bonds dissolve and love is freed.

When I am in the present moment, I know the space between each sacred breath where all is stillness and white light.
I know the intimacy of electrons dancing in the orbits of creation.
I know the alchemical molecules of transformation.
I know who I am and who I may be.
I am the I who lies between the realms of past and future.
I am the I of now.
I know the presence of the energy that sings the universe into creation.
I know the space between all that is and I know love.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Moonlight Sorrow

Moonlight spills softly
Across the silent grave,
Haunting the darkness
With the memory of light.

Deep within my soul.
A sigh rises, transmuted
TO a silent keening moan,
A note of longing and of loss.

Silver shadows cast across
the tall pale granite stone,
Etched with icy tears,
Drawn from sightless eyes.

I ache for one more day to walk the earth
For one more night to hold you close,
Before the Light of dawn returns
And I am once more lost to Life.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Day dreaming

Flowing, drifting, wandering dreamily in the eternal cycle of life,
Far from the bustling, jumping, jostling, running to catch it, how do I juggle it, world.
Here I find balance in my heart beat,
Dancing and stretching as I reach for love,
Expanding, glowing in the syncopating rhythm of my soul
Snuggling down into the magic of the universe's hug.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Some thoughts on Love

Love is like a clear strong voice, speaking truth, heard above the confusing tumult of lies, deception and fear based thought.

Love is like a river flowing wild and free. I trust and surrender knowing it will carry me to wherever I am meant to be.

Love is like the twinkling eons of starlight, belonging neither to the past nor to the future, but here, fully present in the now of our hearts.

Love is like my lover's touch, fire consuming flesh, but so much more, for heart and soul find renewal is this blaze of consumation.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


One of the greatest lessons in my life has been the practice of gratitude. Oprah attributes much of the success in her life to a daily practice of journalling at least five things she has to be grateful for before she goes to sleep at night. I have found it raises my spirits, sees me through even the most challenging of times and in a curious way ti always seems as though more good things show up in my life when I am mindful of what I already have to be grateful for.

This is a typical list that I might write. Find your own style and grow your gratitude muscles by daily practice. It will be a gift in your life.

Oh, I am so grateful for this perfect gift of a perfect day at just the most perfect time of my life. I am also grateful for the recognition that every time has been the perfect time; all I had to do is relax, breathe and live it.

I am so grateful for:
This bright, clear, Autumnal day. It started with dark clouds and heavy rain; now it has mellowed into a soft rosy apple of a day ready to be bitten into, deep white delectable flesh already dripping its sweet juices onto the pages of my life. Mmmmm, scrumptious.
Blue skies with dark grey clouds scuttling by, driven by the blessing of a wind that makes this such a good drying day. More joy in burying my nose into fresh sun and air dried clothes. Two washings completed and number three swirling and gurgling around in the machine next door.
Ah the merry trickle of water pouring from the outlet pipe onto the kitchen floor. What a joy to know that one phone call will bring the ideal man to fix it. The floor could do with a wash anyway. Why do I want to laugh? Why am I not having a foot stamping, rip roaring, "why me" temper tantrum? To quote another free spirit in a totally different context, "Quite frankly, my dear,I don't give a damn". The book said, "Don't sweat the small stuff" and a newly cleaned, kitchen floor is definitely small stuff.
My youngest brother's 40th birthday; all the good memories of his childhood and knowing that even although physically he is an ocean and an entire continent away from me in Vancouver, he is forever only a heart beat from my heart.
My 84 year old father walking so much more confidently; he is such an inspiration; three TIAs and he is out on the golf course every day, no longer playing, but out there keeping his many friends company. What a blessing those men are; they give him their time and their support; they encourage him and help to keep his mind sharp. I may not enjoy golf but I so appreciate their loving fraternity with one another.
My 78 year old mother outside hanging out her washing this morning as I hung out mine. How wonderful to see her so fit and active. How lucky I am to have both of my parents so close by and still with me. How even more grateful I am that my heart is filled with love for them and I know that I am loved unconditionally by them.
The sound of the little waterfall at the bottom of the garden. It is such a soothing yet enlivening sound. I love it after the heavy rains when it can be heard all through the house when I open my windows. It is an absolute joy.
Kicking my heels in the air; feeling like a 17 year old instead of 54 - then how is a 54 year old supposed to feel? I don't know but then again who cares? I feel what I feel and I feel alive, uproariously, mischievously, joyfully, soul stirringly, alleluia chorusing, fireworks exploding stars across the sky, ALIVE!

The Universe is such a fun place to explore. Stand by and ready to launch. Have an adventurous day.

Over and out!

Monday, August 28, 2006


The web entangles me
in sticky threads of grief
Trapped in my rage
A roar dies in my throat.

I look into that mirror darkly,
Eyes blighted by the horror
Of the reflections I see.
Souls lost in pain and terror
Lives extinguished in a war
that was no choice of theirs
For who would chose war
but the criminally insane?

The bodies of children pile high
In a cataclysmic chasm of the damned
The innocence of their faces tormenting
With undelivered promises of peace.

I cannot watch this.
I chose to run from the
incessant sounds of war
brought into my home
in digitally mastered surround sound
Scurrying to hide myself
from pictures of horrors
A refugee on the road
To no escape.

A single crimson blossom
Falls from the rhododendron
Into the crystalline lake
And I am haunted by
the supercilious voices
of politicians who claim
the moral high ground
with hands as bloody
as that flower staining
the still silent water

Friday, July 28, 2006

Who is Maria? - The Musing of a Moment!

Gosh on a good day, I'm not really sure. I have this hazy concept of self that keeps drifting over the fictional boundaries of time, space and individual definitions of human beings. I just sort of am, in the way that the wind, the sun, the stars, the grass, the trees and the birds just are.

I am the bird song I hear outside my office window. I am the breeze that caresses my shoulders stealing its way in from the garden. I am the open window, open door, open something or other that allows all manner of thoughts, feelings, sensory impressions to flow. I am me and you and everything.

How tiresome! I cannot get my brain to work in a linear, rational, analytical way today. It is filled with sunshine and storm clouds, sorrow, and joy, impatience and the infinite patience of the divine. I would say I am a crazy mixed up kid but that archetype is fighting it out with the wise old crone who also inhabits this vortex of energy that might be considered to be Maria.

Who am I today? Am I defined, corralled into a box, by what I do or say? Or is there something far beyond all of that which is who I am at any given moment. I sense immense fluidity, shape shifting denizen of the energy of the source. Shall I permit myself to pop out from one of the boxes marked psychotherapist, listener, hypnotherapist, writer, mother, fifty four year old, woman, wife, lover, friend, firefly, butterfly, fire breathing dragon? Ah, I think not, then do I think or do I simply dream this life into existence?

Quirky old day today. It is so beautiful, so filled with magic. The Source is bursting out all over, shining in the soft greening of the trees, shimmering in the blue blaze of the sky, singing to me in a thousand bird voices. a million buzzing bees and the seductive whispers of the waterfall. Who is Maria? She is all of these things. She is Source and of the Source. Source, sorceror? Sorceror, Source?

Shhhhh! Do you hear the Goddess calling? She calls from deep within each of us, for we are all the Goddess. We are one.

Who is Maria?

Just a dream. Go back to sleep and who knows who you may create in your slumbers.

The snake slithered sinuously between the sleepers as they lay nestled together in the naked innocence of unknowing, children in the dawning of time itself.

Touching, caressing, the serpent draws from secret wells of sensory pleasure great scarket gushes of sensation, staining the pristine purity of their dreams.

Seductive murmurings whisper in their slumbers, bringing that to life which once was suspended still and quiet in the limbo of ignorance.

The apple of the tree of knowledge, once bitten, cannot be made whole again. Bitter sweet is this fruit, the gift of the Serpent.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Witnessing our feelings

I was browsing through some of my archived material from an on-line writing course with Julie Jordan Scott when I came across the following. We were asked to simply be aware of what we were feeling, to stand witness to the moment and write. Sometimes we become disconnected from our feelings, confused, distracted. This may manifest in the moment as vague discontent, restlessness, anxiety, even irritation or downright anger waiting to explode.

I find this very simple exercise quite remarkably freeing. It allows you to follow that vague unrest down to the feeling place it is coming from. Once made visible, concrete if you will, we can shift it. The nagging toothache of repressed emotion stops and we find peace. Perhaps you would like to try it.

The feeling I want to witness is love.

When I hold it I notice how tight my heart space feels, how restricted.

I loosen my grip and hold this love in open hands, cupped together, envisioning them filled with a ball of glowing red energy.

I place my lips together as though ready for a kiss, then blow softly into this quietly vibrating energy field.

I blow love out into the world.

I release my hold on it.

I let it flow out into other hearts, other minds, other souls, another time, another space.

I release this feeling to go wherever the Divine intends and I feel at peace.

I feel my heart space open, all constriction gone.

This was the same exercise on another day. It brought up an emotion I had no conscious idea I was feeling. My awareness was simply that I felt uneasy and burdened.

The feeling I want to witness is forgiveness

And when I hold it, I notice it has jagged edges which dig uncomfortably into my ribs from its heavy lump like presence in my heart space.

It is talking to me, reminding me of a time when I stood stubborn in my judgement and anger. I felt there had been a callous betrayal of someone I love.

For years I have allowed this dark feeling to cloud my perception of this man. Today I understand that this has been a reflection of my own self-judgement.

Today I see this clearly and now I release it.

Finally yet another day and another emotion to become aware of, to draw in to consciousness and release.

The feeling I want to witness is an all pervasive sadness; it leaks from my pores, settles in my soul, slows my heart and covers me like a stifling visionless fog.

When I hold it, I notice an ache in my cheekbones from stemming unshed tears.

I notice the unrelieved painful tension in my shoulders and neck, from carrying the weight of my self-directed anger alone and unshared. So that is where the sadness is coming from.

I notice the headache creeping up from the back of my neck into my temples, like a dark pressure filled shadow beginning to crush my brain to stop it from thinking, thinking, thinking. It is not the thinking that causes the pressure, it is the lack of resolution.

Even my breathing is tentative, as though I fear to inhale fully; inhale what? Life, a full breath of life, that is what I fear and it is the recognition of that fear which sparks the anger. Then there is only the shallow breathing of my sadness, the regrets, the broken promises, the unlived dreams.

I rest here fully witnessing this sadness, allowing it to seep into my bones, to have its way, I listen to the heaviness of its words and acknowledge why it is wrapping itself around me like a cold linen shroud. I understand you, sadness. I know your reasons. I accept your whispered rebuke. I surrender.

And now I release this sorrow and putting one foot in front of another, I step forward seeking that place of joy which will embrace me and soothe me until the shadow fades into the nothingness from which it rose.

I encourage you to try this, particularly if you are experiencing sadness, depression, unease, anger, negativity whose source you are unsure of. Sit with the question. "What feeling do I want to witness?" Then simply write. Don't think. Don't analyse. Don't correct. Don't worry about spelling or grammar. Just write.

Please feel free to post as a reply or if you prefer than send it privately to me at my e mail address.

Have a blissful day. That is my intention for me and my wish for all of you.



Friday, April 07, 2006

This is an article I wrote for my occasional newsletter, "Out of the Chrysalis". It is now April and and it may well seem as though the year is gaining momentum, picking up speed all ofthe time. It is so important to remember that there only is this moment and it is up to us to fill it with power, beauty, laughter and love. The hours of our lives are not something which ultimately we have control over but we do have this precious moment. Use it well.

Happiness is a Choice

I was recently asked how I manage to maintain such a positive outlook on life even in the face of adversity. The process has become so much an integral part of me that I had to stand back and think quite deeply about it. It is a little like someone asking how you breathe. You know you do, but it is such an automatic process that unless you are ill and literally struggling for breath, or using shifts in breathing patterns consciously as in meditation practices, you simply do not think about it. The man who posed the question postulated from my writing that I was a glass "half-full" sort of person, a natural optimist. He asked me to comment on how I got to be that way and how it helped me deal with the turmoil of life. This is the distillation of what I wrote to him.
I did not spring from the womb as a naturally optimistic human being. I would not question the description now and my own son told me during a recent conversation that I was an "outrageously optimistic realist". The realist part is witnessed by the fact that he knows I see the world exactly as it is in all its madness and all its beauty. The optimist comes from my choice to dwell on the light rather than the darkness. As for the outrageous, well you would have to ask him, but I think it comes from his combination of exasperation and reluctant admiration for the way I can spin his teenage angst upside down and round again until he ends up grinning in spite of his best intention to see life in its grimmest aspects.

I was once asked to describe myself in terms of how I face the world; the phrase that came to mind is "relentless positivity". I see and I feel the misery all around me. Every day I work with people to take them out of misery into peace and happiness. It takes acertain quality of relentlessness to maintain a positive outlook. Now if you have a choice between being relentlessly miserable and being relentlessly joyful, it should be no contestfor the joy. Somewhere in between is just fine; I tend towards exuberance myself but I will let you off with quiet happiness. Sadly many people allow the misery to win. Who does that serve? Certainly not them, their loved ones or this world.

When it comes to cups half-full or half-empty, well mine is overflowing. I see it more as a cornucopia than a cup. So if I was not born an optimist, a natural little Miss Sunshine, how did I get from there to here? I learned it through the experience of turning adversity into an opportunity for growth and learning. I discovered that I could make reaching forhappiness a deliberate choice. Like most things in life when you practice it often enough, it starts to come naturally. We can be defined by our hardships or we can be defined by our strength in overcoming them. Which sounds the better option to you?

I was an extremely serious child, the one people would stop in the street and say inane but well meaning things to, like, "Smile, it might never happen". I was much too polite a little girl to say what I was thinking, "Too late. It already has." I was not unhappy. I was just very intense, very cerebral and extremely sensitive to the feelings of others. I also came from a family background where there had been a large measure of misfortune, something I did not consciously become aware of until I was older but which I absorbed from the atmosphere I grew up in.

My father had survived two years of slave labour in a Siberian camp and then action in the allied navy until the end of the Second World War; his mother died of malnutrition in Teheran having survived the camps, only to loose her life just as freedom came; his father died of cancer the year the war ended without ever knowing the fate of his family.

My maternal grandfather died of peritonitis when my mother was only 9, leaving his widow to raise 11 children, all under the age of 16, in conditions of extreme poverty. My mother, a gifted artist and musician, left school at the age of 14 to work so she could support her mother as she put most of her children through college.

There was not much of joyful spontaneity in either of my parents and as second oldest in a family of ten, I learned to adopt responsibility as my middle name, when I was not quietly almost unobtrusively rebelling against it. Rebellion takes many subtle forms and sometimes they are inward directed rather than overt.

I grew up hideously aware of the realities of international politics, the real dangers of Stalinism and not the myths. I knelt with the other little girls in my class as Sister Teresa lead us in prayers begging God to save us from annihilation during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I was in the kitchen of my home when news of Jack Kennedy's assassination came through on the radio and I cried as though the end of the world really had come. Mytransition into adolescence is marked by the murder of three great men, Jack and Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Then there was Vietnam and my childish faith in the integrity of government evaporated in the face of a screaming child burning in a hell of napalm. South African segregation could be described as the final nail in the coffin of sadness and grief in which I was trapped. Sadness and grief became the lenses through which I viewed the world.

I lost my beloved grandmother to a long painful dying from cancer when I was just sixteen and a year later one of my friends was gone in five short months, a victim of leukaemia. I wanted to save the world and everyone in it with a passion I can hardlydescribe. I could not bear to see pain in those around me and I absorbed it all as though it was my own.

At the age of 19, away from home for the first time, I became so distressed by both the state of the world and the turmoil of the individuals around me in the hedonistic, free "love", drug culture of the seventies, that I reached a point where I decided I was of no use to the world. Nothing I could do would change it and that robbed my life of any meaning. I think you could safely place me on the far side of the pessimist scale at that point in my life.

Some of you will remember a previous issue when I discussed my near suicide in the light of the words we speak to one another. In short I made the decision to put an end to the misery and kill myself. With the logic of the damned, I reasoned that although my family loved me, they would get over my death. I placed so little value on my life that I really believed this to be true. Having worked for over ten years with the suicidal and the families of suicides, I know that this is something they never "get over". They learn to live with it and in spite of it, but it is always hauntingly present. I am forever grateful that I did not put my own beloved family through that particular circle of hell.

On the night I had planned to swallow down my bottle of codeine, the words of one person reached out to me and stopped me. There was no blinding light on the road to Damascus, just a glimmer of hope that penetrated the thick clouds of depression. I made a decision that I would stamp my own meaning on life. It was up to me to create a new direction. I could not save the world but I could start with myself. All that was necessary for me was to live my life lovingly with respect and compassion. I did not have to save the world but if I made even the tiniest difference in one life, then it was worthwhile. Those were my rules and I have lived by them ever since.

The climb back out of the pit took a while but each day there was something new to notice, some natural beauty, some small kindness, some little positive difference I created through some words or an action. I disciplined myself to look for that beauty, those acts of kindness, the positive life affirming words and deeds. With that deliberate choice, I found myself noticing more and more the wonder and joy in the world. I made myself a promise that no matter what happened in my life, I would never consider suicide again. I chose life and found it in all its sweetness and imperfect perfection.

When we make the choice to look for the light, the more it finds us. The focus shifts. We view the world through clearer, brighter filters. Over the years, I have learned that we have choice over how we feel. We are not corks bobbing in the tides of the ocean, carried at their whim. We can swim and we can chose to strike out in our own direction. Fate does not drive us; our own internal choices do. There are uncontrollable elements in life.We could not hold back the Tsunami or the floods that destroyed large parts of New Orleans, but what we do have is a choice over how we respond.

There is ugliness and evil in the world and it needs to be faced and dealt with, but what I see just as clearly is the goodness and the love which stands against it. I see what gives me joy and I keep looking in that direction. When I contemplate the past , that brief time of suicidal depression and the years of challenge and growth that followed, I understand that the good outweighed the bad because I made it so.

Every sorrow of my life has given rise to joy, not always at the time but later.With time and practice, something miraculous happens when we live a life focused on the positive.Even when we are living in the centre of great pain, we find that we can shelter in that quiet joy filled place and find peace and comfort. It is only a thought away. The trick lies in allowing ourselves the space to reach for that thought.

Shifting from the negative to the positive has almost become an unconscious process with me now. It has become part of who I am. I can only describe the journey to positivity as one which one must practice. Seek what gives you joy. Spend time each day, simply appreciating what is around you and what is within you. Create a treasure chest of good memories which can be opened to give you courage when the clouds gather. Be mindful every day of all that you have to be grateful for. Take some time to be still and silent. In the stillness and silence you find who you truly are. I promise you will not be disappointed.

When you think of old painful experiences, remember that regardless of how hard it was, it only has the power over you that you chose to give to it. Whatever it was, however awful, you survived or you would not be here now. Some people wear their "survivor" badges like a cross of martyrdom; the choice to wear it as a joyful celebration of their courage and their resilience is just that thought away. It takes work; it takes focus and it takes a relentless determination to turn away from darkness into the light. You can turn it into a game, the game of reaching for the higher, brighter, most positive thought. It is a game with great rewards. The rule is that for every negative thought that enters your head, you must seek the positive counterpart. Then each time you make a positive choice, you create powerful inner reserves of peace which become more and more easily accessible. Then one day you will find that it is natural; you don't have to try any more; you simply are a positive, happy person.

I don't have heroes but there are a few individuals whose light shines so brightly they come close. One is Viktor Frankl who survived the Nazi extermination camps to bring the world a school of psychotherapy which looks to the creation of meaning in life as the way to happiness. Unlike other schools of thought it is less about the pathology of our pain than a way of using it to find our road to peace. My favourite quote from him is this:
"We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

I chose to be positive. Maybe it is all smoke and mirrors and I have become a master of illusion or perhaps delusion. It makes no difference; it is the reality I choose. Bad things happen but it is what we make of them that determines whether they will destroy us or raise us up. I prefer to be at peace with myself, to allow happiness. When we allow the behaviour of others to rob us of our peace, we give them the final victory. Why?

Monday, March 27, 2006

Yesterday was Mother's Day here in the UK. This is the poem I wrote for my mother. It is a series of linked haiku, a form I enjoy writing in.

This is for Teresa Murphy Stepek, my 76 year old mother and all the mothers whose hearts are bound forever to their children. They teach us the meaning of love and we in our turn teach it to our children.

Motherhood; soft touch,
Gentle hands, kindness soothing
Childish hurts away.

Motherhood; your strength
Fed my mind and heart and soul,
Always there, always.

Motherhood; late nights
And weary early mornings,
Still smiling, serene.

Motherhood; centre
Of a childhood filled with love;
Still my anchor now.

Motherhood is you.
A life wrapped around my heart,
Holding me safe, loved.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

"The idea of love is not love" - Mary Oliver

During a writing group yesterday, we were asked to respond in free flow writing to the following quotation from Mary Oliver.

It is the intimate, never the general, that is teacherly.
The idea of love is not love.

The idea of the ocean is neither salt nor sand;
the face of the seal can not rise from the idea to stare at you, to astound your heart.

This is what came:

I see the truth of who you are, the sum of your life experiences, written upon your face in each line deep etched with laughter and pain.

I hear the truth of who you are in that voice, aged in time, like a good wine in an oak barrel.

I feel the truth of who you are in the warmth of your hug as your arms wrapped around me hold me close.

I sense the truth of your soul in the gentle wisdom that swirls around you like a playful ghost.

I know the truth of who you are in every aspect of your being, my most beloved Father.


I looked again at this quotation from Mary Oliver this morning and contemplated its meaning for me.

What particularly struck me is the words, "The idea of love is not love". I sat down and wrote.

Love is not an idea. It is not a theory. It is not even a feeling.

Love is as love does.

Love is an active verb. It is a doing, not a thinking, not a feeling.

Love opens. Love accepts. Love includes.

Love reaches out its hand to hold another's.

It does not sit and think how nice it would be to hold a hand.

It does it.

Love does not sit in contemplation of the loving act.

It gets off its rear end and reaches out.

It just does it.

Love does make grandiose plans for how it will love.

It keeps it simple, immediate, now.

It just does it and it does it now.

Love is not an idea.

Love is not a theory.

Love is an action.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

A few thoughts from the Chrysalis

Sleep, I must sleep, the caterpillar yawns,
Spinning into his warm cocoon,
Spinning into a dreamless comforting slumber,
Spinning into the death of form,
Awakening from the chrysalis reborn.
Caterpillar writhes
In chrysalis transforming,
Butterfly set free.

Sadness fills my soul.
Little deaths foretell new life,
Dark brings light to dawn.

Lost in shadow land
Light and darkness madly dance,
Stumbling I follow.

Dense dark clouds disperse,
Chased by winds across the sky,
Daylight following.

Words flourish softly,
Flowing rich from the deep source,
Flowering blood red now.

Hunger grows within
Silence growling to be heard
Hibernation ends.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

My Special Place
- from a writing exercise formulated by Julie Jordan Scott who asked me to write a haiku three years ago and unleashed the repressed writer in me.

My special place is my garden. In it I find inspiration, solace, joy. It is a reflection of my soul, my connection to nature, my constant loving companion.

I wipe this canvas clean and here there is now pure white space, ready to be transformed, but I will hold myself in this pregnant emptiness for a fleeting moment or is it eternity. Here in the nothingness of creation, time is an illusion.

I raise my magician’s staff and wave it across the canvas. Green and grassy slopes appear, falling gently towards a living boundary of water, cascading over shining pebbles, then slowly meandering in deeper calmer channels, sometimes so slowly it appears to be completely immobile.

Another wave of my staff and a little wood appears on the hillside which has materialised on the other side of the stream. It is spring time here in this garden of my soul and leaves are unfurling in all the beauty of the newly born. They dance in a soft breeze that whispers through the branches, singing stories of life and love and adventure. The brook babbles in response telling the hill tales of far away shores, mighty oceans and brave explorers who reached beyond the limitations of fear and borders.

It is spring time here in this garden of my soul, and with a single motion of my hand, the sun shines, warm and mellow. The light has that unmistakable quality of the spring about it, shimmering, sharp, clear, a light to paint worlds by.

Pale, delicate apple blossom drifts down from the trees creating a sea of the gentlest pink, lapping against the grey-brown bark of the slender tree trunks, ships in an ocean of dreams. Bluebells form undulating drifts of dark sky through the long waving grass.

Bird song blends with the buzzing of bees and all is sublimely peaceful here.

An ancient pear tree split in two by a lighting bolt, defies age and destruction to blossom profusely, a cascade of white froth blessing this beloved place.

In the blink of an eye a wraith like figure of a woman materialises from within the tree. She is the creative spirit of this garden. She hides within the pear tree, hides from the world, showing herself only in the transcendent glory of her work. She glances around cautiously. She has no desire to be seen, but she draws soul sustenance from the pleasure those who visit show in her creations. They must know her by this and this alone.

Her elfin face sparkles with joy when she walks to the water’s edge. She listens to the little waterfall speak of the bridge he forms between two worlds; the water of life flowing from on high to the hungry thirsty lands below. He loves his role as a conduit of life. She hears it in the blessing of the rushing, splashing, jumping waters. The breeze quickens and her long red hair fans out sparking fire in the sunlight. Each spark falls to the ground and where each drops, a crimson poppy will bloom in the summer months.

Suddenly she laughs and in her laughter, a light and loving vibration touches the fabric of creation. A mother fox and her cubs are drawn from the undergrowth to roll and play fearlessly on the lawn. She rolls and plays with them and wherever her skirts touch, daisies and buttercups grow.

This is a blessed place, this garden of the soul.

You may never meet the spirit of this place for she is a creature of another world who holds to the secret ways of an ancient magic.

Yet you will know all there is to know of her in her creations.

This garden is the essence of this spirit.

It tells everything.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

A forgotten anniversary -
The Return
This post was inspired by one of my Ryze friends who sometimes graces my favourite Creative Writer's Network with his presence. I have his permission to quote in full from it.

Whatever side of the political divide you sit on, take a few moments to think about these men and women, who served faithfully. Their service was never acknowledged in the way it should have been because of the politics of the Vietnam War. Give them that acknowledgement now.

"Another year has slipped by and not a single note appeared in the media about their anniversary. 32 years have gone by and they seem to have melted into thin air and we don't even remember.

They were fathers, brothers, sons, friends, men who lived next door. We missed them and then forgot. And now they are still there, next door, across the street or around the corner and we do not see them.

Their number is declining as the ravages of time eats away at their shining armor. Quiet but purposeful, they work in the community, serve in elected office, or prepare to retire. Not ones to blow their horn but ready to stand once again for the same ideals that took them away the first time.

Some were gone for as much as 9 years or more. Beaten, tortured, deprived of basic necessities of life and they never complained, then or now.

May I remind you of the 600 plus men who served our country and were repatriated as Prisoners of War on February 12, 1973. God bless them for their sacrifices."

Emil Di Motta

I replied to Emil. I told him that I have never forgotten these brave souls, those who died and those, like him, who live with their memories of that time.

I opposed the war but I could never understand the hostility directed at the men and women who served their country and their world to the very best of their ability and at huge personal cost. They did what they were sent to do and no one could or should ask more of any human being.

I was just a teenager growing to a young woman during Vietnam and for me it was the trigger for one of the most intense shifts in my thinking, one of the most painful yet profound experiences. I know that I was not alone in that spiritual and political baptism.

Regardless, of where we stood back then, the sacrifice of the few for the many should never be forgotten and never ever dishonoured.

Today I will light a candle in remembrance and pray for all those whose lives were touched by Vietnam.

It was Valentine's Day when Emil's post made me stop and think about those times. It suddenly seemed so appropriate to remember on a day which is all about love.

Isn't it about time that we remembered to share some of that love with those whose lives were so shadowed in our service, without reservation, without judgement.

When we can do that, they will truly have come home.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Pages of Creation

I write upon the pages of creation,my words seeding the infinite void with embryonic lives of infinite potential, spilling into the world, black on white.

In each moment of life we are gifted with the inviting brilliance of a new page.

It is ours to write anything we chose upon.

In its whiteness lies the power of redemption, the force of renewal and re-creation.

Upon the shining blankness of the page, we see the raw material of the universe, the energy of creation.

Upon this page, we may chose to reconcile the past, heal the present and unleash the infinite creativity of the future.

Upon this page, we may chose to hurl the world into darkness,prostituting our words in the service of a twisted ego, a sadistic, perverted mind,revealing one of the many corrupt faces of evil in this world.

In our words we hold the mirror to our souls.

In each clear and shining moment, we have a choice.

We may scratch the surface meanly with our spiritually miserly pen and ink, leaving only an ugly jagged trail, spoiling the beauty and purity of the page.

We may scarcely leave a perceptible mark, writing with the invisible ink of life blood diluted by fear, timidity, deference and hesitation.

We may throw ourselves joyfully, unashamedly in abundant abandon upon the page.

We may leave playful, exuberant, effervescent, emphatic paw prints upon the pristine paper.

We may pirouette in the spotlight of our words, craving the eyes of the world upon us, betraying the redemptive potency of our words, for forty pieces of sparkling silver applause.

We can chose to sell our words to a world ready to devour more darkness,cheap at the price but heavy in cost to our souls.

We can chose to be the creators of the universe and in the image and likeness of our words, our world becomes a place of abundant joy, overflowing love and deep connection to the purity of spirit.

Words have power. Chose them wisely.

What will you chose to write upon the face of creation?

What world will you weave with the tapesty of your words?

Monday, February 06, 2006

What are you to me?

What are you to me,
In endless reaches
Of time and space?

Atomic orbits intersecting
Divine spark connecting
Our energetic merging.

Eddies of time ripple
Parting as we pass,
Light speeds to light.

Central core pulsating
Two beats synchronise
Now, becoming, one.

Transcending death’s
Illusionary ending,
Love defies all laws.

No longer corporeal
Twin stars imploding
In cosmic orgasm.

Far beyond the body
Mind dissolved
Pure spirit blends.

In endless reaches
Of time and space
You and I - infinity.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Playing with sonnet form - Awaken.

Leafless tendrils twining round my window,
Watcher, listening to your quiet whispers.
"In this icy night of endless winter,
My life blood sap, lies frozen in my roots.
Existing in a pregnant pause in time
Suspended, inanimate, awaiting
The warming touch of sun, life giving light,
That summons me to break earth’s bonds and grow.
No, I am not dead, I merely slumber,
What gifts lie sleeping in your winter's soul?
Tell me Watcher, when will they awaken,
And blossom in the spring time of your soul?
No, you are not dead; you merely slumber;
When will you wake and live the gift of life?"

Thursday, February 02, 2006

I remember

I remember the night my grandmother died. She was 79 years old and she was the only grandparent I had ever known. All of the others were dead years before I was born. She was my connection to the past, the family history that I was and am still so fascinated by.

She was a quiet and dignified woman, reserved, yet possessing a sense of humour that would see her apple cheeks and little round belly vibrate with laughter. I would spend every weekend I could with her, escaping from my large, unruly family to the sanctity and silence of her home, a few miles from my own. She would let me sit curled up by the fire reading or writing or simply dreamily watching the flames, spinning stories around them. She gave me the peace and stillness that I needed to be fully me.

She had the softest, smoothest skin, with no visible lines and her long silver hair was worn up in a tidy bun. She would brush it out around her shoulders before she went to bed and it fascinated a little girl who was never allowed to grow her lush thick jungle of hair longer than a little below the ears. She was a tiny woman, less than five feet tall and she lived long enough for me to tower over her by exactly two inches. I loved her and there was never a moment in my life when I doubted that she loved me.

I was fifteen when I realised that my grandmother was dying. No one told me. I think I knew even before she did. They say that animals can smell death and I believe that that unfettered part of my animal brain, caught the scent of death from her long before her inoperable bladder cancer was diagnosed. I visited her more often. I brought her little gifts, sometimes some pretty ornament or scarf, sometimes her favourite strawberry tart. In those last few months, she could eat very little and eventually even those favourites were inedible. She was my first experience of the way people you love begin to fade in front of you, like cartoon figures being gradually erased, layer after layer obliterated, until there is only a shadow caught half way between this world and the next. She was my first experience of death.

On the night of her death there was a gathering of almost all of her adult children in her home as she lay in her bed barely conscious. We took it in turns to sit with her. My aunts and my mother were weeping in the kitchen as they kept the kettle boiling for the endless cups of tea that seem indispensable in times of trial in any Scottish or Irish household. I had volunteered to sit with granny and as a fifteen year old, sensible way beyond my years, I was trusted to be her guardian while the others grieved downstairs.

As I sat beside her bed, she was moaning softly, in excruciating pain. I wiped the beads of sweat from her already deathly pale face and moistened her lips with small drops of water which seemed to help. She was barely aware of my presence. This courageous little woman who had single handedly raised eleven children after the death of her husband, deserved better than this. A devout Catholic, she walked to Mass, every morning at 6.30a.m. regardless of hail, wind or snow. She was the most faithful of faithful servants and I was so angry that this is how she had been rewarded by the God in whom she placed such trust. I sat and I prayed as I had never prayed before. I told God about my anger. I told God that she deserved better treatment than this. I stormed heaven with the intensity of my pleas that she be released from her pain, that she be allowed right now to enter the heaven that she so fervently believed in.

As I prayed, something quite extraordinary happened, something I had no conception of, something beyond my experience. It started with a feeling of the deepest most serene peace engulfing me. Then the whole room seemed to take on this gentle golden glow, as if I had been transported to another dimension. I knew with absolute certainty that my prayer had been answered and that my grandmother would make her transition that night. I was filled with such quiet joy. I knew at the deepest level of my being that there is no death. I knew that the body she was leaving behind was not my grandmother. I knew that the essence of who she is, her soul, was eternal and that I could never lose her. I simply knew and in that knowing, was the most amazing sensation of love. I was complete, whole, at one with the divine and there was no separation. There never could be.

For the rest of the evening, until we went home, I comforted my family and the serenity of the experience remained with me, cloaking me in this transcendent joy that I will never forget. At two in the morning, as I lay sleeping, I woke to find my grandmother sitting at the bottom of my bed. I knew she had passed and she had come to let me know. I smiled at her and as she disappeared, I thanked the Light for her freedom and slept without a tear. The following morning, my mother told me that granny had slipped away at 2a.m.. I cried once after her funeral and I cried no more. She was at peace and I knew beyond doubt that life truly is eternal. I did not grieve for her passing. I rejoiced in her liberation from a body that no longer served her bright, shining spirit.

I remember my grandmother. I remember our love. I remember a door opening to another world.

Maria Stepek Doherty
For a transformational change in mind

I watch your tendrils twine leafless around my window. I listen to your quiet whispering.
"In this icy night of endless winter, my life blood, my sap, lies frozen to the roots.
I exist in a deeply pregnant pause, a suspension of time.
I await the summoning of bird song, heralding the Sun's return to give me life and growth.
I am not dead. I merely slumber.
What gifts lie slumbering in your winter's soul, watcher?
When will they awaken?
They are not dead; they merely slumber until the light touches them.
When will you allow the springtime of your blossoming?
You are not dead; you merely slumber.
When will you awaken?"

Monday, January 30, 2006

A Strange Day

Yesterday was a strange day. There was too much going on around me and I needed to disconnect in order to process all the busy jangled thoughts and emotions. To the eyes of the observer, I was a quiet pool of tranquility in a sea of mixed sorrows and blessings. Inside, I was indeed very still, but I think that underneath that stillness, there was a churning. Just as the heart withdraws the circulation of blood from the extremities in times of emergency, I had withdrawn my connection to the external world.

My little sister and I waited almost all day to hear if our mother was being released from hospital after a less than smooth gall bladder removal which had seen her stay extended from a planned 24 hours to 13 days with a prospective replay in six weeks time to catch the giant stone that got away. This was the culmination of an intense period of anxiety as she put off every opportunity to have the operation done. Such a black Irish stubborn streak in so seemingly gentle a woman, reminds those of us who splinter against it that immovable objects like icebergs are indeed largely below the surface.

Earlier that morning, I had heard that a man I had known for almost thirty years, a work colleague just a few years older than me, had died the day before. He had felt ill over the Christmas holiday, collapsed just after New Year's Day and was dead three week's later from a silent but deadly cancer of the kidneys and liver. I had worked with him and his wife; we had socialised together and when our company collapsed and was taken over, I had made one of my last acts the safeguarding of his position. Their lives revolved around their grown children and the delights of their grandchildren. Nothing else was important in their lives other than one another and now she faces the long years ahead without him.

A few hours later, I learned that the wife of a friend was dying of cancer of the brain. I cannot even begin to imagine how this already melancholy man will survive her absence. During all the long years I have known him, I have scooped him out of the pits of depression on several occasions. Now I can only pray and hope that he will come through this darkness.

Later in the afternoon, my older brother told me about his best friend, a boy we both grew up with, now a very successful businessman in Australia. He faces heart by-pass surgery this week and by coincidence at the same Perth hospital where another friend's brother battled bravely for his life for six months after a heart transplant. I was involved almost daily in pulling together an international prayer and healing circle to support him and it was immensely sad when he passed just before Christmas. Then we cannot hold back the tides of death when it is time, although our acceptance of this can come a little tardy and after much pain.

So, yesterday was a day of internal ruminating. I was not aware consciously of all this processing going on. I simply drifted through the day in an almost surreal detachment. I was disconnected from external life while the assimilation of all this took place. Oh, there was also my visit with my schizophrenic brother whose current delusion is that he is about to die from spinal disconnection due to osteoporosis. When I tried to draw the reality of medical fact into the conversation, I was greeted with calm but hostile disdain. Ah, well, I tried.

Yes, indeed, yesterday was certainly a good day to be disconnected, to feel life wash gently over me without even getting wet. It was rather like being anaesthetised yet somehow still conscious. I could feel the scalpel cut but I didn't feel any pain.

It was later in the evening when I became joined up again, when all the pieces of this day's jigsaw fell back into place. It began with my practice of gratitude. No matter how awful the day might have been, or indeed how awful it looks to become, I have always found a few moments to take stock of all that I have to be blissfully happy about it my life. It puts all the icky dark grungy stuff into perspective and often as not dissolves it. Lest you think I am as delusional as my brother, I live in the reality of the moment, I simply chose to focus on what is good about my life rather than wallow in the mire. Why would anyone chose to be miserable when they can be happy?

I took a few moments to collect my scattered thoughts and to simply allow gratitude to fill me up. This is a short selection of what I gave thanks for yesterday.

Today I am so very grateful for:

Bringing my mother home from hospital after 13 days

Seeing the look of relief on my 83 year old father's face as she walked through the door of their home

The nurses, doctors and support workers who gave the gift of their long years of training to make this possible

My mother for her stubborn quiet Irish courage which sometimes drives me nuts in the nicest of ways

My husband, Jim, for loving me and for the joy I find in loving him

Our son, Jan, for his compassionate heart, his shining soul, his sparkling mind and for simply being who he is

My sister-in- law for all the help she brings to many

My little brother for all his obsessive fears, troubled mind and delusions. He is who he is and I am grateful for the love he brings to my life.

My older brother for the deep friendship which has endured through all the years of our adult lives, pretty good for two kids who fought like two cats in a bag.

For the bright blessed beauty of a crisp sunny day

For the stunning sunset that set the Clyde Valley alight as we came home from the hospital

For my little sister who helped me bring our mother home

For the work that she does in helping troubled children find secure roots in the world

For Julie Jordan Scott and the magic of her circle where dreams are born into reality and magic is everyday

For me simply being me. For the grace of being comfortable in my own skin. For looking in the mirror and smiling at my reflection. For loving myself just the way I am.

For absolutely everything and all the everythings I don't yet know. I am celebrating them right now.

What a difference a few moments contemplation of gratitude brings. I feel so centred, so blissfully at peace. Love entered my heart, my mind, my soul. Every fibre of my being resonates with love. Love beams out into the world from the big grin on my face, in the tenderness of my worlds, in the flow of healing energy from these hands. Nothing exists but this love. Nothing touches or troubles me in my cocoon, wrapped around in a divinity of love. All is in perfect order and all is well. I feel on fire with that deep sense of joy and freedom that love brings with it. I am sure you can feel me glowing from wherever you read today. I am suffused in love, like the sun rising to warm and bless the earth.

This is my heaven. Love is truly all there is. No darkness can withstand its fiercely gentle glow.
Gratitude is the key. It opens the door to love.

Here is my bliss, my paradise. Here is the glory of the divine, the enchanted blessing of life lived in love.

Here is the transcendence of the human spirit.

Here is the heaven that I chose to dwell in.

Monday, January 16, 2006

A Gift for Babcia.
In memory of my grandmother, a quiet heroine of the Second World War.

As the snow softly gathers in the folds of Mother Earth's skirt, I find myself thinking of you, the Polish grandmother I never knew. In the bitter cold Siberian winters, when you fought for your life and the lives of your children, did Christmas come or did it slip away in the icy night of your exile?
I wonder what your laughter sounded like, Babcia? I never got to hear that sound or to know your voice. I wonder what it was like? Was it soft and musical like mine? Was it filled with wonder at the beauty of the earth even as you were surrounded with death and misery in those long forced marches?
Babcia, grandmother; I never got to call you by that name or any other. You were never to brush your grand daughter’s hair, as long and dark as yours. You never had the chance to smooth out its tangles or to do any of the other things a grandmother does so lovingly.
We were lost to one another from the moment Hitler declared war on Poland. You were fated never to see me from the day that his monstrous ally, Stalin, stole you away from your homeland. The soldiers came like thieves in the night and with their guns they forced you out of your home into the cattles trucks with your three children.
In those vast snowy forests of Siberia, as you laboured, half-starved, to keep your children alive, did you ever dream of their unborn children? Did you pray to God to keep them safe and healthy so that those dreams might come true one day? Well, dearest Babcia, your prayers were answered. Each of your three little ones survived; each of them married and had children of their own. I am one of them and I wonder how I can miss someone I never knew, how I can feel my heart ache for a face I never saw, a voice I never heard, a touch I never felt.
You kept the flame of life alive in each of those children and I am here today because of your love, your courage, your sacrifice. I wish you were here to hold me and to wipe away the tears that I shed as I write this, tears of sadness and lingering regret for one I have never known and never will know. Yet there is a soul knowing and that is what I have for you.
My father and my aunts tell me that you were a wonderful mother, intelligent, loving, and compassionate. They are a reflection of all that you were here on this earth, little grandmother, and I am a reflection of the reflection of you. As long as I walk this earth and the seed of my seed follow me, you too will live on.
You would find your great grandson, named for you and your son, a constant source of delight. He is already the philosopher that your husband was, the caring, passionate man whose charisma swept so many people to him. You would see his magic sparkling in my Jan’s eyes. You would hear him in the wonder of his eloquence. You would know that the man you loved lives on in his grandson. You would love him as I do.
It is almost Christmas day. How many Christmases have passed since you were last given a present, Babcia? It is over sixty years since you perished in the hospital in Teheran, far from home but finally free. You gave your food to your children, You gave your life so that they would live. You died knowing that your children were safe but that you would never see Poland again, never feel the embrace of your husband, never see the spring flowers shooting up through the earth, never know the grandchildren you already held in your heart.
This year Babcia, I will give you a gift. I will make a little spring garden for you and whenever a bulb sends up a pale green shoot through the darkness of the earth, it will be in remembrance of your spirit, the triumph of love in a world filled with hatred. The daffodils will be your golden medals for courage. The snowdrops will symbolise the purity of your soul. The forget-me-nots will be my promise to you.
Your life, your love and your dying deserve to be remembered, Babcia. This gift will be your memorial; it is yours little grandmother. It blooms for all that we never had together; for all that I carry within me that is yours; for the eternity that we have been apart and for the eternity that we will share together. It blooms for the love of grandmother and granddaughter. Thank you for the gift of my life.

Friday, January 13, 2006

A Living Loss - Cannabis Psychosis
(First published in "Out of the Chrysalis" 17/5/2004. Updated for this Blog)

This morning, as I drove back from my son's school through leafy country lanes shining with the inner light of spring,I was so overwhelmed with sadness that I had to pull over and cry. Nature fills me up with a sense of the divine, of dimensions of bright radiant beauty. It calms me and conversely elevates me to a state of near bliss. I drink it in with a hunger for its healing. It has always been so. So why did it reduce me to tears of the deepest darkest sorrow this morning?

I was thinking about my little brother, my brown eyes sparkling, much loved brother, third youngest of our tribe. I was thinking about how he no longer sees the beauty of the morning, no longer connects to the deep sweet reality of nature, no longer vibrates with the sheer joy of being alive. Our brother has been lost to us for 15 years following his descent into the hell of drug induced psychosis. He is now42 and his journey into the darkness began at the age of 15 with the sharing of a joint with a few of his friends. Out of all the millions of people in the world who have safely taken this drug, there are some who have a genetic predisposition to an entirely different biochemical reaction which leads to dependency and in this case, schizophrenia. There is currently no test that predicts this outcome, so that first joint is a game of Russian roulette with our lives.

My brother grew up to be a respected, talented business man,in line for the position of CEO of his company. He married his soul mate and he had two beautiful daughters. He lived in a lovely home and was surrounded by supportive loving family and friends. He had a fine mind, a healthy body, a mischievous sense of humour and a magically attractive personality. He was also addicted to cannabis from the moment he smoked that first joint. As his mind became accustomed to it, he took it in ever increasing quantity. His wife knew; some of his friends knew, but no one else in the family knew. It was not until he was in his thirties that we started to see the first signs of trouble.

His work became erratic and he was demoted. He stayed up late at night and his sleeping patterns became disrupted. He would alternate between almost manic highs and a horrible bitter victim mentality, resenting everyone around him, blaming everyone but himself for the state of his life. One morning, he started to express himself in a way that I had never heard before. Alarm bells rang and the family discussed what was going on. The consenus was that he was stressed because of his work situation, his deteriorating marriage; I thought it was more than this but like the others I was not yet ready to face the reality of mental illness.

Then I received a call from his wife, panicked and frightened. He had been up all night, continuously smoking hash, playing his music so loudly that no one could sleep in their home or in his neighbours. He was watching the television and telling her about the messages he was getting from people on screen. He was to tell the world that he was the reincarnation of Jesus Christ and that the end of the world had come. She was Eve and he was Adam and they would start the world anew. I told her to take the girls to her mother's house and I would get help.

I called two of my brothers and we went round to his house together. Those hours are burned on my mind forever. In place of my gentle, mischievous little brother, there was a wretched, delusional, wild eyed, mad man. I vividly remember how painful it was as we waited for our family doctor to arrive; how torn I felt signing the certification that would commit him to a psychiatric hospital; the struggle we had persuading him to come with us in the car rather than be taken away in an ambulance. We sat with him. we held him; we listened to his ranting all the way to the bleak psychiatric hospital on the edge of the most god forsaken wind blasted moorland. It seemed like the entry to a kind of hell and that precisely reflected the emotional hell we were also entering. It took six months to stabilise his condition so he could be released but even in the hospital, he continued to access and use cannabis. He was told that he still had the possibility of a full recovery if he stopped but he couldn't overcome his addiction. Within the year, we were going through the same nightmare and this time we lost him forever. He is now diagnosed as a severely paranoid schizophrenic; he has been unable to work since; he cannot concentrate long enough to read or to pursue a hobby; he has lost his wife who stayed by him for many years until she accepted that she needed to create a life for herself and their daughters. He has little or no quality of life. He is often very afraid and he still continues to be addicted to cannabis which he now argues is a sacred herb which enables him to do his healing work.

Medication damps down the full force of his delusions; it stops him accosting strangers in the street telling them that he is their saviour; it stops him visiting sick people or their relatives to distress them with his statements that they have been cured; it stops him from frightening himself and others with the wildness of his behaviour. The price we all pay for this amelioration of his symptoms is a sad, pale, distant shadow of the brother we love. The medication numbs him and dulls down his response to everything; his world becomes a flat, featureless, grey landscape. This lasts only as long as he is on a legally enforceable order which ensures he takes his medication. As soon as this expires, he refuses to take his meds and we see the same hopeless, pain-filled cycle repeat itself. Sometimes he goes to hospital voluntarily and sometimes it is in an ambulance after a difficult process of persuasion; sometimes it is handcuffed in the back of a police car after a nightmarish chase which distresses everyone involved, including the officers for whose kindness and sensitivity I normally have the highest praise.

When he is in hospital, he is difficult and disruptive, agitating other patients and distressing their relatives with his insistence on "healing" them. The hospital has to increase their security when he is in hospital because he is highly intelligent and arranges to have his cannabis smuggled
in which he then shares with other patients, even those who do not normally use it. Unless he is on close observation, he escapes at least once on each hospitalisation, leading to police knocking on my elderly parents' door in the middle of the night. Then we begin a well rehearsed pattern as family and friends search his usual haunts. On one famous occasion, we had to return a stolen car which he used to get away from the hospital. We then endured a court case at which he was declared unfit to plea due to his insanity. Our parents are 83 and 77 respectively; his girls are 18 and 14. What price do they pay?

He lives alone; he is permanently unemployed; he lives on state benefits and if he did not have his family, he would be another derelict sleeping rough. This is an enormous price to pay for a recreational drug.

The block to my heart connection has been my need to tell this story, to reach into the minds of at least some of the young people who might be thinking that cannabis is harmless. So many of my own generation smoked it and they find it hard to accept that it has the potential to create such devastation. How then do they explain to their children that they are at risk if they follow in their parents' foot steps?
I do not take a judgemental or moralistic stance on this. I believe in freedom of choice with this one rider; it must be fully informed choice. Don't just look at all the people who have been unharmed by this drug; come visit my poor, mad brother and see what your future might hold. I spent two hours with him on Saturday and came away feeling as though I had been drained of my life blood. Yes it is just a small chance that you will be the one to have this predisposition; yes it is statistically low; yes it is unlikely .... but you will never know the outcome unless you take the chance and having taken the chance you have pressed the trigger and there is no turning back from the outcome. My brother pulled that trigger at the age of 15 and we entered a circle of hell with him. It's your choice. Chose with wisdom and love.
Do not smoke cannabis in your early teens. Your brain is still developing and you risk permanent disruption of the dopamine receptors, leading to mental illness.
Do not touch illegal drugs of any kind if you have a familial history of mental illness, particularly schizophrenia, but do not think that no family history safeguards you. We had no prior know incidence of schizophrenia in our family.
Stay clear of drugs. You do not know what effect they will have specifically on you. This is playing Russian Roulette, only the bullet does not just blow your brain away, it destroys the hearts of everyone who loves you.

Please print this and circulate it to your children and to their friends. Reprint it freely wherever it will reach even one person who might be helped by it. As for me, I have entered my heart space and told my story. Now I can breathe again.