These last ten days or so have been spectacular. There’s a generosity in the air, a sense of abundance. All around us the woods are carpeted with bluebells. Sprays of hawthorn blossom decorate hedges and roadsides. The trees are bursting with every shade of green in the palette and it seems as if we’re drowning in chlorophyll.
But for all the abounding energy there’s a softness too. It feels like a time of year that is kind and it reminds me of why I write this blog. May sees nature at her most creative and also her most compassionate, cloaking the trees, coaxing plants into bloom, refreshing the grass that will sustain the newborn.
Compassion and creativity don’t always go hand in hand; but in so much as an act of creative expression is an act of compassion towards oneself, they do. Last weekend Sarah and I ran part two of our weekend workshop, The Stories We Tell. We open with a simple and beautiful early Christian chant. The words are Ubi caritas et amor, deus ibi est. In this secular age I translate that as Where there is kindness and love, there is truth.
Kindness and love. Most of us don’t allow ourselves nearly enough of either. One of the themes of our weekend is the relationship between two members of that parliament of voices we play host to: the critical self and the compassionate self. For most people the critical self tends to be the dominant voice. It can be the enemy of spontaneity and playfulness and in its most extreme form, perfectionism, it strangles creativity.
The compassionate self is the antidote. This is the voice of unconditional love, the voice that asks the inner critic whether he or she is really acting in our best interests, the voice that encourages us to be true to ourselves. But it is also the voice that wants us to look after ourselves and keep ourselves safe, so it is not simply the advocate of an anything-goes approach to being human. It gently suggests that we look for balance.
I think it’s there, at that point of balance, where we find the freedom to be our authentic, creative selves whatever we actually do in the world – ploughboy or poet. That is the place where the deus, the God, of that Christian chant, or truth as I prefer to call it, resides. And we are led there by kindness and love towards ourselves.
One translation of caritas is charity. If, as the saying goes, that begins at home, then so must the kindness that finds its way into the words I write about so often here. My motto could be: Writer, be kind to thyself. But it’s not just writer, of course, it’s everyone. Only when you are kind to yourself can you really be kind to others.
Yesterday evening, as I walked into the day room of the care home where my mother now lives, one of the carers came in clutching her cheek in obvious pain. She had just been kicked very hard in the face by a resident in a moment of demented aggression. Another resident, a 99-year-old, saw her enter, smiled and hailed her, unaware of what had just happened. The carer walked across, still holding her own cheek with one hand, bent forward, and with the other hand affectionately brushed the cheek of the old woman in greeting.
It was a tiny moment of spontaneous tenderness. I don’t know whether anyone else even noticed it, but I did and it felt like a May gift. These carers are some of the kindest people I have ever come across.