Category Archives: Artivism
It’s frighteningly easy to say ‘yes’ to things because we think someone expects us to, and then discover at the end of the day that we’ve taken on too much and can’t finish it all. Not only do we end up disappointing the very people we were hoping to impress, but worse still, we let ourselves down because we STILL haven’t made time for that one special thing that we’re yearning to do.
We end up breaking promises, running up debts and backing out of commitments, and are left feeling frustrated, martyred, and resentful of the people who asked us to do the stuff in the first place. Either that, or we keep up the fiction that we can ‘do it all’, and carry on trying to juggle seven plates and a flaming torch…until we drop ALL the plates and burn ourselves out completely, because a physical or mental health crisis comes along and we have to stop absolutely everything.
I hadn’t realised how deeply I was stuck in that particular behaviour pattern, until someone did it to me – and then proceeded to explain, in a beautifully clear and well-thought-out way, exactly why she’d changed her mind about the commitment that she’d made to me. At first I was upset about it, but after sleeping on it, I had a new breakthrough.
What I realised is that through living in Tanzania, I became a world expert in putting other people’s needs ahead of my own – because other people’s needs were usually urgent and sometimes life-threatening. I didn’t care if I had to sleep on a bed made of sticks with a couple of animal skins thrown over the top, and get bitten to death by fleas, as long as I was ‘making a difference’. It didn’t matter to me if I had to live on boiled maize and soya beans for three days, as long as The Work got done. As for savings – forget it. Pah, who am I to worry about a savings account when the mother of the plumber that I’ve hired to fix the shower (yes, this is a real-life example…) has cerebral malaria, and her life depends on medicine that costs $10, and I’m the only person in the plumber’s immediate orbit with a ‘spare’ $10?
There was always a `plumber’s mother’, or some other such walk-on character in my drama, who seemingly had a greater need for my time and my money than I did.
Yet after coming back to the UK, I started carrying that same sense of obligation into other things, which weren’t matters of life and death. The kids want to go to Tanzania and visit their family? Of course they must – even if I have to put it on a credit card, and don’t have a plan for paying it off. The teacher at the village nursery school wants me to take over paying his salary, because his funders have pulled out? Well, I wouldn’t want the nursery school to be forced to close – even if I’m behind with my bills. Someone wants me to do this, buy that, go there? Has to be done, I suppose – even if I can’t really afford it.
So this morning, I woke up with the lyrics to a new song in my head – “For Love, Or Not At All”. I think this could be a helpful song for me, because it’s pushing me to examine my own motivations every time I’m on the point of saying ‘yes’ to a substantial commitment of time or money. That doesn’t mean I’ll never offer to help anyone again, but it means I’ll try to be more realistic with the promises that I make, and ask myself questions like these:
Am I doing this because I really, truly care about it? (Or is it because I’m afraid that you’ll think badly of me if I say no?)
If yes: Have I got the time, energy and resources to do this properly, without hurting myself or anyone else? (Or would it be at the expense of my true soulwork, if I agreed to do it?)
If yes: Am I the right person to do it? (Or would it actually be more helpful, in the long run, if I just directed you to someone who already has this skill set?)
If yes: Is this the right time for me to do it? (Or would it be more appropriate to wait until later?)
This song still makes me squirm and feel selfish. But I’m going to keep singing it until I’m comfortable with it, because like Ani DiFranco in ‘Circle of Light’, “I ain’t got time for half-way, I ain’t got time for half-assed’. I’m tired of wearing myself out with half-hearted commitments, and doing things ‘just for the sake of the money’. Money is essential to life, of course, but money loves to flow wherever Love is – and when I’ve tried to do things `just for the money’ in the past, they haven’t tended to work out well. As I sing in Limitless Flow, “Money is sacred energy made tangible.”
My aim is to reach a point where if someone asks me to do something, I can either do it for Love, or delegate it to someone who really will love it…
For Love, Or Not At All
I will do it just because it sets my heart on fire,
I will do it just because it’s my spirit’s deep desire,
I will do it just because I have heard that inner call:
I will do it for Love, or not at all!
Not because of habit, not because I feel I should,
Not because, if I don’t, you’ll say that I’m no good;
Not because I’m under pressure, not because I want the fame,
Not because I need the money, or fans to shout my name,
Not because everyone else is doing it, not just because I can,
Not because I think I have to prove to you who I am…
I will link it to the songs my heart still yearns to sing,
I will link it to the joy my soul’s true work can bring,
I will link it to the dream that is always burning bright,
I will do it because it feels so right!
Not because of habit, not because I feel I should…
I will do it now because Love won’t let me refuse,
For my hands are just the tools that Spirit wants to use,
I will do it so that through me, the light of Love will shine,
I will do it because this work is mine!
Not because of habit, not because I feel I should…
I will do it just because I have heard that inner call:
I will do it for Love, or not at all!
“You told me that I was strong, and had the power in me to bring all my dreams alive: the very opposite of all the things Aedan had been telling me for so long. He called me a poor child: he was always pitying me, and telling me that I was small and weak and helpless, and that’s just what I became.”
“Of course you did,” Aelfric says. “Aedan was cunning: he wanted to use you for his own pleasure, and he knew you’d never stay with him if you were in your right mind, so he set out purposely to destroy all your self-belief.”
“But when you told me with such authority that I had to become the Sacred Flame, and get up and go to Beckery, I found the strength to do what I needed to do,” I go on. “I changed out of my clothes that were soaked in blood, and tore up my old dress into rags for the bleeding, and even had the sense to bring out our two pottery bowls to trade them for a ride in an ox-cart, although in the end the man wouldn’t take them. I was still so dreadfully unwell: I blacked out again on the journey, and bled all over that poor man’s barley sacks. But you made me believe in myself, so I was able to do all those things, even in that condition.”
“Whatever we believe about ourselves becomes our reality,” Aelfric tells me. “It’s true: you are the Warrior Maiden, my Brianna. You’re strong and brave and powerful, no different from Brigid herself. And you’ll always be the Flame Keeper and the Sacred Flame, just as long as you remember that’s who you are. I’m just grateful to the Lord and Lady that you listened to my voice in your dream, and were led to the very people who could help you see that again, after Aedan made you forget your own light.”
There are so many people out there trying to spread fear, hatred and division. We notice the violent ones, who make grand gestures and kill a lot of people in a short space of time, but we often don’t notice the ones who work in more subtle ways.
Much of today’s politics is based on fear. Fear of those people who don’t look like us, or that culture that doesn’t do things the way we do them, or that guy who wants to change the system, or that group that calls itself by a different name and seems to be worshipping a different kind of Divinity.
That’s because fear is a natural human emotion. It’s evolved to keep us alive, which is usually agreed to be a good thing. So it’s easy for politicians to exploit it – to appeal to our primitive survival instincts, rather than our higher consciousness that keeps trying to wake us up and tell us the truth: There is no ‘us and them’.
As I wrote in a poem when I was a teenager at the Drielandenpunt, where the borders of Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands all meet – countries that were once at war, but have now turned the site into an international peace park:
And should we speak of ‘them’ at all,
as ‘them and me’, or ‘them and us’,
or should we speak of us and us?
Why all this fuss?
A name is just a name…
And as one of my characters has explained it more recently in my forthcoming novel, The Nineteen Songs of Reunion:
“Although the fluttery feelings don’t go away, they’re easier to dismiss when I’m in the middle of a story. It’s after the others have gone to bed that I feel the anxiety most, and wish hardest that I could be with Aelfric, and wonder what’s happening and whether he’s in terrible agony, or might even be dead.
But then, in an instant, I remember the great truth I learned on the night when Aelfric was attacked: that the remedy for deep fear is Deep Love. Instead of fretting, I give myself over to praying, letting myself be caught up and held and embraced by the Love that has no beginning or end – the Love beyond all names. It isn’t about my love for Aelfric any more, as a soul in a body; but love for the great Soul that rises in Aelfric and in all of us.
I sing new songs and pray new prayers that the world has never heard before, and Terithien wakes from his sleep, and stares at me with wide eyes. He shakes Orla awake and begs her to light a candle and take up her ink-pot, quill and vellum – for he can’t read or write – and capture all my words so that he might learn them by heart.”
This is my prayer for all of us affected by people’s attempts to spread terror: that we remember, as the members of the Fellowship learn to sing in `The Song of the Healer’, You are the Love beyond all names.
God, Goddess, Allah, Mungu, Engai Brahma, Jehovah: these are just our feeble human attempts at naming something which is far, far bigger and more beautiful than we can ever dream of.
Muslim, Christian, Pagan, Druid, Baha’i, Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Jew, Zoroastrian, atheist, agnostic, spiritual wanderer, or whatever other names we might come up with: we are all seekers, chasing sparks of that Divine Love and trying to fan them into flames.
We can’t let ourselves be distracted from our quest by people who don’t understand it, and think that ‘those people’ over there are ‘the enemy’. A name is just a name…
We were all created to create something amazing.
We all have the potential to become artists, pilgrims, pioneers, visionaries, revolutionaries and world-changers. This power isn’t just in some of us: it’s a Divine gift that’s been granted to every single soul.
We all have that Light burning within us, but most of the time, we hide it. It’s too scary to shine that brightly.
Whatever it is that we’re dreaming of… we tell ourselves it’s crazy, or too weird, or too ‘out there’, or it’ll never work.
Or we kid ourselves we’re too small, too unknown, too young, too old, too short, too tall, too fat, too thin, too dumb, or too unknown to make it work.
Or we insist we don’t have the right education, the right training, the right skills, the right background, the right contacts, the right car, the right shoes, or the right handbag.
What I loved about Tanzania in 1999 was that none of that stuff mattered.
I was part of a group of 19-22 year olds with a dream of building a Peace Village – a place where young people from all over the world could come to learn about African music, culture and wellness traditions. We didn’t let anyone tell us we couldn’t do it. We raised money, bought a plot of land, registered our own arts and culture organisation, and started building huts.
It got burnt down, so we adjusted the dream, grew the big crazy vision even bigger and crazier, and started again.
You can’t build that there, people told us. Whatever are you thinking of? You’re insane.
It’s a barren patch of bushland. There’s no infrastructure. There’s no water. There’s no electricity.
What you’re trying to do has never been done before. There’s no path.
So we created the path by walking it.
Within five years, we had our place where young people from all over the world could come to learn about African music, culture and wellness traditions. But it wasn’t just a Peace Village. It was the beginning of a secondary school for underprivileged youth.
Those aren’t classrooms, officials told us. An octagonal timber-frame building can’t be a classroom. Classrooms are rectangular and built from concrete blocks. They measure 9 metres by 7.2 metres and have three windows.
You don’t have to demolish them. Just use them as store-rooms, or whatever. But go away and build us some classrooms.
So we did. And two staff houses, and toilet blocks, and a laboratory, and dormitories. All in accordance with the officially recognised plans.
Those aren’t students. You can’t be a student in a secondary school if you’re wearing Maasai robes. Make them all buy shirts and trousers, or skirts if they’re girls.
Ouch. That one hurt. We thought about giving up at that point. But we knew school would come to the village sooner or later. We figured it was better to have one that honoured the Maasai traditions as best it could, and showed young people the power and the beauty of indigenous knowledge by bringing Masters and PhD students from overseas to study it… and let them wear their robes on special occasions, if they wanted to. (Some of them didn’t, which was also fine…)
I won’t say it was all 100% benefit and no costs. Nothing in life ever is. But since our first graduation in 2008, more than 300 students – most of them from low-income families who’d never have been able to afford an education – have graduated from Noonkodin Secondary School with a Form 4 certificate – the equivalent of GCSE or tenth grade.
Many of them are now teachers, nurses or business owners. And one is the Headmaster.
So if you have a dream, however wild and crazy, don’t let anyone put you down. Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s too much, or that you’re not enough.
You are enough.
We are ALL enough.
We are big enough, smart enough, brave enough… even when we aren’t feeling it.
In this week’s blog series, I’ll be sharing my own insights about how to face your fears. I’ll introduce you to Daman, the crazy dreamer from my new novel The Nineteen Songs of Reunion, who’s all fired up about crossing the Irish Sea with a lighted lantern to win the patronage of the King… and to Brianna, the heroine of the story, whose spark becomes a flame when she falls in love with Daman and discovers new dreams of her own.
And I’ll be telling you about my new crazy dream, which you can join in- a powerful initiation for Summer Solstice, held at the ancient sacred site of Aquae Sulis (Bath Spa), to help women awaken the fearless Goddess within and start living those dreams!
One of the greatest tragedies of the West is that we’ve lost the magic of song.
In the Maasai community, singing is part of everyday life. People sing to praise God, regardless of whether they’re Christians, Muslims, or followers of their own indigenous spiritual tradition (where ‘Engai’ is actually translated more accurately as ‘Goddess’).
People sing to preserve their memories and histories, most of which are still unwritten. All the rites of passage have their own songs associated with them, including weddings, ceremonies to bless unborn children, child-naming ceremonies, initiation into adulthood, and the transition from warriorhood into elderhood (although the latter doesn’t have an equivalent for women), and funerals.
Songs are used to welcome important visitors, to launch projects, or – as in the photo above – to entertain parents at the school Open Day. Crucially, they can also be used to open people’s minds to the possibility of change: in our project to reduce the prevalence of female genital mutilation (FGM), we started every seminar and workshop with a performance by a women’s commuity choir.
Yet, in so-called ‘developed’ countries, we’ve created a culture in which most people are afraid to sing.
Shows like ‘The X Factor’, ‘American Idol’ and ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ – where harsh criticism of people’s vocal performance is seen as entertaining – certainly haven’t helped. But a bigger issue is that, with the decline in church attendance, most people just don’t have a space in which they can sing freely without being criticised or judged.
When I recently started attending my local Baptist church in England and the very first song we sang was one that I recognised from an international church that I used to attend in Tanzania, it felt like coming home. But traditional church services don’t appeal to everyone, and despite the vast amount of content available on YouTube, a lot of people – whatever their religion – wouldn’t know where to start looking for inspiring, uplifting, soul-stirring, life-changing, motivating songs that can support their own personal journey to reconnection and wholeness.
That’s why I was inspired to write ‘The Nineteen Songs of Reunion’.
I’m a huge fan of Jodi Picoult’s book Sing You Home, which has a downloadable soundtrack. I LOVE those songs, especially ‘Ordinary Life’ – a cry from the heart for LGBTQ rights and non-discrimination – and the title track, a haunting song dedicated to a child lost through miscarriage. So, inspired by this, I decided to go a step further and write a novel in which the song lyrics are actually woven into the text and form an integral part of the plot.
‘The Nineteen Songs of Reunion’ is a story of transformation and healing through song, and I’m starting to explore ways of recording the 19 songs – which include, among many others, The Song of the Sacred Land, The Song of the Wilderness Wanderer, The Song of the Pilgrims, The Song of the Midwife, and The Song of the Artist – with a Celtic harp and chorus.
I’ve already posted some excerpts, but will be adding more in future. And please keep watching this space for more details of my Transformational Song Healing workshops, and the role of song in the Travelling Light program…