#31 Follow Your Heart

One day someone is going to tell you to follow your heart. Then you might turn to me because I helped you once. You might ask me what it means. The truth is I’m trying to understand too, so maybe we can work together on this one.

First, of course, we need to know what your heart is. Then what it means to follow. From what I remember, home is where the heart is. And from previous working I know that home is a way from where you began to the place you’re going; your place. You find it by trying to understand; gather those fragments which catch your eye like whispers. Then follow them home; which isn’t a place.

You’re looking at me funny. Is it something about the way I give instructions? The way I play with words? You know sometimes truth is merely the light that shines between the lines of things. Truth is something you let in; a complex task. You look confused. I didn’t mean - should I explain another way? Start with the rules, walk you through definitions, hand in hand, what do you say?

Not convinced? That’s okay, take a look at this picture. See the heart in the corner with the chain around it, held by that small child with soft feet all but floating on the damp ground? He’s moving toward that tree full of snakes. But the ground isn’t damp at all, its cracked and dry and those people with pleading expressions can’t seem to penetrate it. See?

Images like that are old and confusing. Took me a long time to learn how to read them. But you’re young, let’s try something else. I learned this technique from people who study theories of mind. They say most of the mind lurks beyond and beneath, accessible only by way of imagination. Here’s how it works; take a look in this basket. I gathered these things from the bush. When something catches your eye, reach for it - place it here in this space I cleared for you. That’s it, keep going. When you’ve finished I'll help you describe what you’ve made with questions, and I'll repeat your answers back to you. You’ll be amazed how your choices reveal the parts of you that know all along!

You’re smiling now. Are you happy I came? You know I’ve been learning all these things for you to help you on your way. Maybe you remember me from long ago, when I was further away. I remember you. The way you were scared to try new things but tried them anyway, often after much coaxing, how proud you were! And I remember the first time you lost something important. You were so small but that didn’t shrink your grief, only your capacity to hold it all. I was certain you’d be crushed by the weight, so I tried to help. I tried to explain. 

Now here we are. What is that you’re holding? I hadn’t noticed your hands before, your feet, they barely touch the ground. Is it food? I can’t see, hold on - let me - where did you find it?

You know, I heard a story the other day, a good story, about a snake that guards something precious. The snake is so good at guarding the precious thing that no one ever sees it, not even the snake. Then one day someone visits and tells the snake to follow his heart. But the snake doesn’t know what that means. He starts looking everywhere but he can’t seem to find it.

Heart  (2019)

Heart (2019)

Letters Home #8 "Alone"

You can listen to me read this letter here or on iTunes or Stitcher.

For context you might want to read/listen to previous letter #7 "Don Quixote".

Letter #8 “Alone"

Since my adoption into Yolngu kinship, I call Rose gnama, which means mother. She calls me wakū, which means son. One day we were sitting together and she said, “Wakū, when you are alone, there are different ways of knowing things.”

Its hard to be alone. Though not for feeling lonely. In solitude an open heart makes intimate friends with anything from alley cats to fence posts, from dreams to an afternoon breeze. It learns the moods of these things and marks the passing of time by their ageing features. Their presence becomes a source of comfort - and should tragedy strike, out of the deepest empathy it suffers their misfortune. In time they become like flesh and blood. So its hard to be alone.

In my last letter I made poems from a wellspring of grief that opened in me. My feelings were wet and flowing. After writing I dreamed a wildfire had burned through my yard in the night and in the morning when I went outside I found the level of the ground lower by several metres. Where once there was only short dry grass, now there was a lush garden. I know to water that garden regularly with wet and flowing feelings, drawn from the cracks in my heart. 

And now I sit by a small fire each evening. A ritual that begins in the afternoon. After work I collect sticks and make a bundle of tinder from a dry vine that grows along my fence. I place the bundle on yesterday’s ashes. Then I crack each of the sticks to the same length. I love that part because a cracked stick gives off a fresh scent and in that regard every stick is unique. With the fire built I go inside to work a while at writing. I rise again at the first hint of dusk and take my notebook outside with a cup of tea to welcome the evening. I’ve two logs for sitting on, in case of guests. Some days I light a stick of sandalwood to keep the mosquitos at bay, on other days - to save money because sandalwood is expensive and I haven’t got much - I dab my bare feet with a mixture of eucalyptus oil and rubbing alcohol and that works too. Then I jot down observations and write little songs until last light, when a pair of tiny bats fly circles after mosquitos over my head and I cheer them on. When they’re gone, I light my fire.

One night I was joined by three kids who walked past and asked if they could visit. Two were around six years old and one was ten. I knew them from school and welcomed the chance to test out my second log. While we sat their mother went to play cards. Its a common pastime, circles of card players are dotted around town. By day they sit under mango trees and by night under street lights. The game is simple. Everyone is dealt two cards. The highest score is ten, made by adding the value of the cards. A seven and an eight makes five. There are two rounds of betting. Winners walk to the shop. Losers go home hungry. The kids and I traded magic tricks and they taught me a few new words of Yolngu Matha. Eventually the younger ones were called to bed and it was just me and the older one. We sat silently together for a long time. He’s a good kid. We tore strips of bark from the logs, to make them smooth. And we gathered dry grass from around the fire to clear a circle. Eventually I called it a night and said he was welcome to join my fire the next day. He hasn’t come back.

That’s the thing about time alone. Its a private freedom in which a well watered heart makes room for new connections. And no matter how many times the heart sees an evening sky, or sips tea to the breeze, or learns to let things go - it feels everything as though for the first time.

So I wrote this song.

Now I’m not the first to sing it,
Nor will I be the last,
A thousand hearts before my own
Have seen these words go past.

Seen them enter in a twilight spell
Come floating on the breeze,
Watched them leave through broken promises
And prayers said on the knees.

They are the bible waters
That came flowing from a stone,
And we learned to treat them kindly
Lest we die all on our own.

And we learned that they are beautiful
We learned their power too -
When we threaded them through syllables
We made them feel anew.

For no matter how familiar
Is the background to our pain,
There is no heart that will not break
Again - and again.

So let us greet the dreamer
As though he were a friend,
May we learn to be forgiving
Any harshness that he sends.

May we keep our gardens watered
May we whisper to our stones,
May we never stop remembering
All the things we learn alone.

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