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goat king
heart mind writing

The Goat King

Years ago I moved to a new place just days before the area was hit with ferocious bush fires. Shortly after  shifting everything I owned into my new home, I had to quickly pack all my possessions up again, and stack them by the door ready for evacuation.

This new home was a broken-down, rambling 130 year old house that I shared with two other renters. It sat on 5 acres at the top of a ridge, in the Blue Mountains outside of Sydney, Australia. There was no fence and the bush started at our back door and rolled all the way down the valley, which was part of over 600,000 acres of National Park.

Watching The Fire

We spent one anxious night sitting on the back verandah watching the glowing fires out to the west. The winds were forecast to be 80 km/hour and headed straight for us. We scanned the orange glow across the horizon, tracking the movement, waiting for the moment we would have to leave.

The moment never came. The forecast winds only hit 4 km an hour instead of the predicted 80. The next day the local bush-fire brigade came out and did some back-burning in the valley behind our house. It seemed we were safe for the moment.

The day after the back-burning I went for a walk to check things out. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have a full-blown raging bushfire run through, because the effect of a tightly controlled back-burn was pretty decimating.

The previous day,  the undergrowth had been thick, disorienting, and difficult to navigate. My first few attempts to get down into the valley to join the track leading to the creeks and waterfalls were
futile. I ended up turning back, fearful I would lose track of where my new house was.

But after the back-burning there was just an expanse of charred soil, warm underfoot, smoke slowly rising from it. Dead remnants of trees still stood here and there. A few had fallen and needed climbing over. The walk to where the valley dropped down now took five minutes, about a quarter what it had when battling through the undergrowth.

An Odd Visitor

So I was standing there, looking over the seared landscape, when a white shape shifted behind a clump of blackened trunks. At first I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me, and walked quietly closer
to get a look. And there I saw it.

A white goat had come up from the valley and was walking through looking for green vegetation to eat.

I stood quietly and watched it nose around for awhile. The goat was so white. I wondered if it had bolted from a nearby home, frightened by the fire. It was such a strange sight, so clean and seemingly domesticated, calmly foraging through the charred ground.

After watching the goat for a while, I went back to the house and drew a few quick sketches in a notebook. The image was locked into my memory, and still is years later. I thought it might be good to use in a piece of art somewhere down the line. After I made a note of it I didn’t think about it much for a while.

A few months later, the bush had begun the task of regenerating. Even with the undergrowth returning, the bush was still nicely thinned out and it was an easy walk down to the public tracks.

I’d gotten to the point where I could scramble all over the valleys behind the house and had gotten to know the area very well. At least one day of the weekend was reserved for walking in the valleys, I usually followed the creeks that spread out through the surrounding area, climbing up waterfalls as they gradually got smaller and smaller and almost disappeared, or slowed to a trickle at their source.

The area is famous for the golden sandstone cliffs and ridges, and I would often spot caves high up above the creeks and would make a detour to climb up and check them out.

The Goat King

One series of cliffs had these gigantic golden caves that were eroded into the shape of golden waves about to break over the valley. I tried a few times but could never find a path up to the ledges near the top of the cliffs. Whenever I walked by the creek below them I’d look up above the tree-line and check them out.

One day I looked up as I was walking by and saw another white whiff of movement. I stopped and looked more closely. It was the goat, sitting on his belly, paws close to the lip of the ledge, surveying the valley. There was something about the way he sat that struck me, he was so at home, he seemed like a king looking over his kingdom. I’m sure he must have seen me but he must have felt that I was no threat as he didn’t move or acknowledge me in any way, he certainly shoed no sense of skittishness or fear.

That goat, who in some ways seemed so out of place in that wild environment but had clearly made a life for himself out there, continues to walk the the landscape of my imagination. He represents a model for how I want to be in my own life. He represents the qualities of sovereignty  and resilience that I want to bring to my life. The way he sat there on the cliff was so regal, there was such a strong sense of belonging and ease in the way that goat held himself.

And he brought that same calm presence to the blackened landscape as he did to the recovering landscape. He walked among the charred debris with the same confidence he displayed sitting high up on his throne, present and watchful as the land around him bloomed.

He reminds me that all we need to do when things chaotic is to forage calmly, sniffing after any remaining green shoots.

And he reminds me that we, too,  can simply sit here and be fully ourselves.  Settled, calm, secure in the knowledge that we belong.

I like to think of the present moment as my throne, and yours too. And believe that how we occupy that throne matters. How do you feel as you sit in that throne? Can you make your home there? When you sit
on your golden throne what perspective does it give you?

writing prompts
heart mind writing

Imagine This …

Imagine This …

You are sitting at your desk

You are sitting at your desk staring at a blank page in your notebook

You are sitting at your desk staring at a blank page in your notebook and this blank page stares back up

You are sitting at your desk staring at a blank page in your notebook and this blank page stares back up as you twirl your favorite pen in one hand and nurse a mug of peppermint tea in the other

You are sitting at your desk staring at a blank page in your notebook and this blank page stares back up as you twirl your favorite pen in one hand and nurse a mug of peppermint tea in the other, you blow steam from the top of your mug because the tea is hot and it is very difficult to start writing

You are sitting at your desk staring at a blank page in your notebook and this blank page stares back up as you twirl your favorite pen in one hand and nurse a mug of peppermint tea in the other, you blow steam from the top of your mug because the tea is hot and it is very difficult to start writing when a robin bathes vigorously in the birdbath outside your window reminding you how low the water really is

You are sitting at your desk staring at a blank page in your notebook and this blank page stares back up as you twirl your favorite pen in one hand and nurse a mug of peppermint tea in the other, you blow steam from the top of your mug because the tea is hot and it is very difficult to start writing when a robin bathes vigorously in the birdbath outside your window reminding you how low the water really is, so you go to the garden to fill the birdbath back up and maybe water the roses, and the rhododendrons by the back fence, before heading back in and then

You are sitting at your desk …

memory of shoes
heart mind writing

The Memory Of Shoes

When he was in First Grade, my son Finn came up to me one day and said, “Look at my closet, my shoes are in a line and you can see the memories of all the fun I had when I was wearing them”

So we went through the shoes:

“These are the shoes you wore to the beach last summer”

“These were your running shoes”

“You stomped in so many puddles with these boots, and raked the yard and kicked autumn leaves”

“Started kindergarten in these”

“Ended kindergarten in these”

I was really touched that Finn assumed I could see what he saw in his mind, where he saw it, as if we shared minds.

And it’s true–I could, when he pointed out to me what he saw when he looked at the shoes.

He was showing me a beautiful way to relate to my possessions. After we’d gone through his shoes like this, honoring each memory they held, I had a new appreciation for my own things. Shoes, clothes, books. We’re always in relation to the objects around us, and we have a choice whether that relationship is one of presence and appreciation, or one of casual disregard.

I seem to swing between the two, but the discussion with Finn helped rekindle my awareness of how our selves, and our memories, soak into the items that we use, and how we, in turn, are shaped by the items we possess.

welcome presence.com history of trees
heart mind writing

A Brief History Of Trees

When we moved in, the back yard was empty except for newly laid lawn and an old gum tree in the back right hand corner. Stripped bark circled the base of the tree like discarded snake skins.

Holidays at Budgewoi. I always woke first and walked along the lake, in and out through the paperbark trees, their upper branches filled with morning sky and magpie songs.

First grade. On my way to the bus stop I’d walk under the jacaranda trees on a carpet of discarded purple flowers, they looked like a trail of delicate, miniature trumpets.

I got stuck stuck halfway up while climbing the fig tree, and sat there calling for my dad to help me down.

In the rainforest at Cedar Creek, the water was icy cold and I let eels slide through my fingers while dad took photos for painting. The trees rose up, blocking out the sky. We arrived home during a wild storm. The next day the whole city was underwater.

At school assembly the Principal informed us that a fellow student had been playing in the school on the weekend and had fallen from the tree at the edge of the playground, onto the asphalt. He was in a coma.

Funeral. Walking back to class from church. Looking at the tree, trying not to look at the tree.

Every year. First day of school. My mum takes a photo of me and my brothers in front of the maple tree in our front yard.

Most weekends there was a barbecue, swimming in the pool (a thousand bloody kids!), backyard cricket games under the myrtle tree.

The sky was blue and bright and burning. We climbed up into the plum tree. We ate plums in the breezy shade.

Canoe trip on the Murrimbidgee river. After a hard day of paddling the first night is freezing and we drag the base of a giant fallen tree over to the fire, we barely got it on there, thick roots flew out in all directions like tentacles. We named it ‘The octopus fire’.

Parked by the norfolk pines at Manly beach. Checking out the Winter surf from the car while listening to Midnight Oil.

The only thing I liked about this house was the bathroom window. Every time I took a shower I could look into the upper branches of the tree outside the window, and imagine I was somewhere else. Somewhere wild.

Old friends: Three turpentine trees beside the creek along the valley track at the back of my house. The angophoras guarding the top of the track just before our yard. The ‘reading tree’ in the garden with leaves that reached all the way down to the ground.

Aboriginal meeting place, Mt Wilson.  The trees curved up from the ground, spaced apart, they looked like dancers waiting for their cue. I rested by a small creek. A rotting log had jammed in there and been hollowed out by the force of the water, now the creek flowed through it. Blue dragonflies hovered.

Arriving at the Social Ecology retreat, we walked down the track through fine rain. The trunks of the yellow gums were wet and shining.

Flying into Seattle. Everything is green.

The whole crowd moved from point to point in the garden. There were poems. Friends sang from the balcony. For our wedding vows we stood in a circle of birch trees.

My son running for the first time, through the apple trees, chasing his cousins.

When we visit the zoo, I always fill my pockets with eucalyptus leaves from the ‘Australasia’ section.

Conducting my first labyrinth workshop surrounded by cedar trees and madronas. We do our final walk singing, our voices trail off, one by one, as we leave the labyrinth. You could hear the waves falling on the beach below.

noticing
heart mind writing

The Art Of Noticing

 

How do you feel when you face a blank page?

Some days it’s not a big deal for me, some days it’s difficult.

When it’s good, writing and creating is like something fresh and vivid pouring itself onto the paper.

Then there’s the not-good times. The block shows up first in my body–as heat, as tension–it’s like I’m a thermometer and the red mercury of dread is rising up through me.

That feeling reminds me of exams I’ve taken where I sat, pen in hand, mortified as every drop of knowledge evaporates, leaving me stuck on a hard seat staring at the sheet of paper demanding answers from me.

Most of my experience of writer’s block is somehow related to false expectations. Set by me, or a someone else, as if I’m being examined and about to be ‘found out’ as lacking something.

I’ve developed a practice that helps me with all of these things, that is changing my relationship to writing, it’s called ‘noticing’.

Noticing is my way of dissolving false expectations, and tapping into what lies underneath all of that anxiety. It’s a way of claiming a small victory for myself. the small victory of starting. Which often leads to a snowballing effect–once I’ve pierced the crust of my anxiety I’m free to mine all the good that lies beneath it.

This Is How It Works

Start by writing the word ‘noticing’ at the top of your page, and begin to write whatever comes into your awareness, in this moment. Anything counts, if the pen is moving, this is working. There is no quality requirement here, we just record what’s happening in the moment, even that is just a starting point, if you veer away that’s fine, too.

Whenever you get stuck, or need a moment to regather, or simply want to follow a new train of thought write the word ‘noticing’ again keep the pen moving:

Noticing the boys walking outside my window, chatting away. The sound of geese? ducks? the light is low and I see grey through the window. The room is warm. Noticing tension in my head. At my temples. I’m tired and flat. Noticing the light falling on the page, how my hand casts a shadow over the tip of my pen and each word is written in shadow then moves into the light as my hand moves across

The repetition of the word noticing does a few things. First of all, writing the word noticing means that before I come up with my own first word, ink has already met the paper: no blank page. It sounds insignificant, but with writer’s block there are no insignificant victories. There’s writing, and there’s not writing.

The word noticing also gives me a focus, I have a clear simple action to perform, that keeps me from spinning my wheels.

I also like the rhythm of the word: ‘no-ti-cing‘. I often write it out a few times when I’m stuck and just enjoy that rhythm, and what it draws out from me:

noticing noticing noticing … a plane flying overhead, the small of my back is tight, I’m leaning forward in my chair, now shifting a little, my back has eased slightly , still tight. the window just brightened, the sun is out and there’s a mess of garden hose all lit up on the ground outside.

No grammar check, no spell check, no checking anything here. The exercise is all about getting the pen moving, and touching base with your present moment experience.

Noticing is for everybody. The great thing about this exercise is you can’t get it wrong, because you’re just recording what is coming into your field of attention as it happens. And also, you can’t get it right, because no matter how fast you write you can’t possibly capture with pen and hand all the things that are you are noticing in any given moment.

Ideas of right and wrong become completely irrelevant. Take that! Inner Critic.

It’s a great practice to begin a writing session–that’s my favourite use. I also find it calming, and will often ‘notice’ for a few minutes before writing an email, or filling out a form I’ve been stressed about, or even if I just want to sit and do some journalling (I never know what to journal about, so noticing is really helpful there. )

I’ll sometimes take a pen and paper out into the garden when I’m supervising my son’s play, too. It’s nice to sit out there with a cup of tea, do a bit of noticing, run around with the boys for a while, do some more noticing. It’s a great way to check in and touch base.

You can go as lightly or deeply as you choose to with this. Sometimes, I’ll start off noticing and hit an idea or a feeling that really draws me in and the noticing becomes something else entirely– a blog post, a starting point for a poem, or a painting.

Anything can happen.

And Hey! Did you know I’ve written a whole ebook on noticing for you?

It’s called ‘Notice Your Life’ and it’s free for you to download right now!

Just fill out the form at the bottom of the page, then hit that big orange button to get your copy delivered.

You will also receive the Welcome Presence newsletter with tips, blog updates, and conversations on being more present in the world.

Cheers!