All posts by Mike Wilson

Nonviolent Communication: Marshall Rosenberg on moralistic judgements

In this 18 minute video, Marshall Rosenberg explains much of the essence of NVC. He covers pretty well everything except the NVC understanding of needs. In particular, he discusses the moralistic judgemental language that leads to violence and disconnection.

The part where he talks about the love is particularly informative.

What we expected and did not receive

Image: Village, inkjet printed 160gsm paper. Each house 5x5x5cm

Using the same paper house design I first created in 2005, I have made the houses for this village. As I have done before, the work is made to be photographed. The finished work presented to the viewer is the photograph. This work is inspired by Francis Weller’s Five Gates of Grief.

The Fourth Gate: What we expected and did not receive

We arrive here as stone age children. We are wired and prepared to participate in everything our deep time ancestors experienced. R. D. Laing.

I have experienced the company of friends I don’t completely trust, people who I might choose to hide some vulnerability from, people who might exploit some weakness for “just a joke”. A “joke” that invites distance, invites the withholding of trust, encourages superficial connection.

Aware of this, for several years I have been wondering about the depth of connection people are able to have when there is deep trust. I have experience radical trust and extraordinary (in my personal experience) connection. I long to live with this every day and I believe it is possible.

It seems to be that our nature invites us to live in communities of around 40 adults plus children. 40 people with close and healthy interdependence, trusting each other with their lives. A village. People who I would hold, people who would hold me in times of grief. People who would share joy and celebration. How would it feel to live with that level of trust & connection? What is it like to live without it? It is one of the experiences we came into the world expecting and did not receive.

Where is my village? How can it be made? How will we make ourselves into villagers?

The Sorrows of the World

Image: Temple, 160gsm card, each megalith 8x4x2cm

Using the same  “Cut, Fold & Stick” technique as my paper houses, I have made the megaliths for Temple. As I have done before, the work is made to be photographed. The finished work presented to the viewer is the photograph. This work is inspired by Francis Weller’s Five Gates of Grief.

The Third Gate: The Sorrows of the World

There are no unsacred places. There are sacred places and desecrated places. Wendell Berry.

When I began reading about the third gate in The Wild Edge of Sorrow, I was prepared to find my grief about how our civilisation has treated the world. What I wasn’t expecting was grief about my own separateness from the more than human world. Our civilisation teaches us to see ourselves as separate. Once this error is seen, the separation does not, in my own experience, simply disappear. Some work is needed to reestablish connection. What is the nature of that work? How will I reclaim my proper place as belonging to this world?

Progress seems to be by small steps. Grief for the way things are is part of the process. Then remembering John O’Donohue’s words “When we walk on the earth with reverence, beauty will decide to trust us.”. Without beauty, I don’t think I could do this. I would collapse into despair.

The Poet, a short story

The Farmer

I don’t want to be here. I’m not a soldier. I don’t even own a sword. Hardly any of us do. There can’t be more than a dozen swords between us.

The king asked me to come. So here I am, a farmer armed with a farmer’s tools facing another army of farmers, carpenters, blacksmiths and weavers, all armed with what fell to hand.

I’m here because my king asked me to be here. I’m not a killer. I don’t want to kill anyone. And I don’t want to let my king down, wouldn’t be able to live with myself if a neighbour died and I might have been there to protect him. So today I will fight for my friends and because my king asked me.

The Prince

At last I will prove myself worthy of leading these peasants. When I am victorious in battle, I am proved a man, and if my father dies here, better still. I might be king by sunset. The old man is past it, too old to lead. He can barely lift the weight of that ridiculous old sword he carries.

A boy from the neighbouring kingdom didn’t show proper respect and I put him in his place. I am a royal prince. I deserve respect. The boy’s king demanded an apology! The cheek of it. My father refused and demanded tribute. For one lousy sheep they could have prevented this, they are responsible. After this battle, we will have all their scrawny sheep and their daughters as well.

The King

I set the tip of my ancient sword on the ground and let the weapon take some of my weight. Today this old steel will taste an enemy’s flesh again.

I don’t want this and I don’t know how to stop it. My idiot son has severely beaten a neighbouring boy. Their druids don’t know if he will live. The boy’s king demanded an apology which I dare not give. Instead, I demanded tribute, just one sheep to show proper respect.

I dare not show weakness or mercy in the face of this rival king. They would slaughter us all, take our sheep, our wives and daughters. We must show strength in the face of this ruthless enemy. We want peace and will only have it when the neighbour is defeated.

The Rival

How has it come to this? This isn’t what I wanted. Two armies, mostly farmers, facing each other across a field. Today we will break the hearts of mothers, wives and children. Any man who returns from this not covered in someone’s blood will be shunned as a coward.

All it would take to stop this would be an apology. Very little to ask when a young man of our tribe lies beaten almost to death by a hot headed prince. Instead my rival demanded tribute. Only one sheep, granted, but to show weakness to this ruthless rival would spell disaster. They would overwhelm us, take our land, our homes and our livestock. We dare not show mercy and so we will fight, we will kill and many will die. We want peace and will only have it when the neighbour is defeated.

But wait! Who on Earth are these four, walking towards the centre of the battlefield, unarmed? A harp, a lyre, the old poet, and there’s an ancient bard leading them. Do they not know there will be a battle here in a few heartbeats? They will be cut to pieces when the armies meet.

The Bard

As we step between the two armies, I remember my mentor’s words: feel the fear and go where your heart leads. I know these people revere bards, and it is taboo to hurt us, but today their blood is on fire and they are ready to kill. Will someone forget himself and fell me with a sword? In the centre of the field, my mentor makes a tiny gesture and we come to a halt. Looking across to the southern king, I see confusion, and on the prince’s face, annoyance and impatience. What hope is there for my mentor’s plan?

We stand silently for a moment, then the musicians begin. Beautiful harp music is carried away on the breeze. I hear the fear in the harpists fingers. The lyre joins the harp, the music a little louder now. Will it carry to the armies facing us? Can beautiful music soften the hearts of men this fierce?

The musicians fall silent. We pause for a moment. Again I look to the king’s men and see puzzlement and impatience. Is there perhaps a little less blood rage than before? Or is this my wishful thinking? I turn back to my mentor, he nods slightly and I begin my song.

I sing the most heroic song I know, the one I’ve been writing all my life, the one that began with a vision. I hear the fear in my voice, it breaks and falters. I pause, collect myself and begin again. This time my voice sounds its best, even if quivering with fear.

I weave in stories from another poet, one I have never met. I sing of fantastic beasts from far away places no one here will will ever visit. I sing the lives of angry wild dogs the size of horses, who snarl and tear at their friends and family with their fierce teeth. I sing their their hidden fear and sadness, their longing for love and their fear of showing themselves.

Will the armies see my meaning? Can their hearts be softened?

I continue my song, I sing the long necked beasts as tall as ten men, with hearts the size of barrels. I sing their stories of kindness and gentleness, of care for all, of courage when they face the fierce ones, daring to offer love to those afraid to be loved.

As I near the end of my song, fill my lungs again and feel my body more alive than ever before. My song of love and courage carries easily now, no one will miss a word.

Across the field I see the king lose his grip on his sword. The oversized weapon falls slowly to the ground, like a felled tree. The king sinks to his knees, several of his men follow, then a few more. The king’s shoulders are shaking. I do believe he is weeping. On the opposite rise, the rival army is unravelling. Everywhere men are weeping, some are holding each other. Weapons lay discarded on the ground.

My song ends and I fall silent, exhausted, ready to collapse. As my knees give way, my mentor on the harpist catch me and hold me upright.

There will be no battle here today. No mothers will mourn sons, no wives will mourn their husbands, no children will lose a father. There is no sign of the prince. There may be more work there, but his sword will not taste flesh today.

And in my bones I feel the truth of what the druids told my parents the day I was born.

I am a poet.
I can stop an army.

Copyright © 2017, Mike Wilson

Some old art work

I came across some photos of art work which dates back 11 years or more, from my days as an art student in Wrexham.

Ceramic Vessel

Ceramic Vessel was made from hundreds of pieces of broken table ware, glued against a jig I made, using hot melt glue. About 25cm tall.

Reflected Colour wall relief

Reflected Colour relief, extruded foam, acrylic paint. All the colour you can see is reflected from the back of the blocks, only white is facing the camera. About 150cm wide.

People struggled to believe this worked, some asked how I turned it off at night. Here’s a diagram of the pieces:

The grey area is the back which is glued to the wall.

Reflected Colour detail
Paper Houses

A composition of paper houses. Each house is 5x5x5cm. The houses are printed on 160gsm paper with the roof area printed in colour. Light filters through the paper, projecting colour inside the house. These were cut out using a scalpel and assembled with double sided tape. I used these paper houses in many different compositions and made several hundred over a couple of years.

This composition was inspired by Georges Braque’s early Cubist work and late Paul Cézanne paintings. Cézanne’s late work seem to me to have inspired Braque & Picasso’s early Cubist works. I was unable to find any reference to support this idea.

 

Promise (prose poem)

Today was my first time at Penfro Poets, a Pembrokeshire poetry group. We has a workshop on prose poetry and this is the second of my exercises. This one I declined to read at the meeting as I was sure I would be triggered into grief.

Promise

I said I would be here for this if you wanted me, said I wouldn’t beg you to stay a moment longer than chose. You smiled, told me “You know what I want”. So, here I am now, just as I promised. This isn’t what I expected. What, exactly, has changed? I thank your ancestors, ask them to collect you. I trust they did.

Copyright © 2017, Mike Wilson

Using turmeric to treat eczema

I’ve had eczema since childhood. The medics told me I’d grow out of it. I didn’t think to ask when. I’m 60 now and there is still awful dry, flaky skin around me ears. Until now, I’ve been using steroid cream as the only effective treatment. Recently, I read that there is some evidence for treating eczema with turmeric. According to study carried out for the BBC, the active compound in turmeric is best absorbed when heated in oil.

I’ve been taking a big teaspoon of turmeric once a week. I heat it in cooking oil and add it to my Huel vegetable protein. I’ve just re-read the BBC article and noticed they mention black pepper may be useful as well, so I’ll add that next time.

The results are very good with my eczema reduced by 90%. This obviously isn’t remotely like a proper clinical trial, it’s just an anecdote. It’s a nice safe experiment, though. Unless turmeric allergy is a thing. I’d like to come up with a way to take a smaller amount daily.

Llangranog beach

Walking meditation

I’ve been practising walking “meditation” on the beach at Llangranog. I begin with my awareness, in my personal here & now. Staying in awareness of myself, my physical presence and senses, I become aware what is around. The experience is as though I’ve opened my eyes & ears further, more gets in, and what arrives is less “filtered”, without judgement. The experience reminds of me of John O’Donohue: “When we walk on the earth with reverence, beauty will decide to trust us”. Is this reverence? Is beauty deciding to trust me?

(The “meditation” practice is my own creation, distilled from different things I’ve been taught over many years. I don’t suppose it’s original. It is original to me).

Llangranog beach
Llangranog beach

Our deepest joy is only as deep as our deepest grief

I’ve been having a rich and full year, the most full of my life. It’s been filled with love and grief, with listening and learning. I’ve been thinking a lot, I’ve made some sense of my experience and come to a conclusion I can’t escape: it’s good to embrace grief and heartbreak.

Perhaps that sounds masochistic or just plain nuts. Allow me to explain. The experience began in November 2015. I went to listen to Stephen Jenkinson speak, not far from my home in Wales. At the end of the day, I shook Stephen’s hand and thanked him for ruining my life, for shaking me up so much when I thought I was approaching an age for settling down a bit. What I particularly took from that day was the thought that the more I embrace the inevitability of my death and the death of my loved ones, the more I will be able to love life.

It fits well with Francis Weller’s First Gate of Grief: Everything You Love, You Lose. It might be possible to avoid grief by loving nothing & no one. Which sounds like a recipe for a bleak life of depression & despair. Or we can love wholeheartedly, and embrace the inevitability of losing those we love, right up until our own life slips away.

This all became a lot more real only a month later when my dear friend and housemate LJ was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Being beside my friend in her dying time was a sad, painful, joyous and precious experience, the most precious time of my life. I surprised myself by showing up in a way that was a rejection of what I had been brought up with. Coming from a dull, middle class English family who shun strong emotion, my upbringing told me to keep some emotional distance between myself and my dying friend. Instead, I chose the opposite, I chose to lean in to the experience, to lean into love knowing I was also choosing heartbreak. And by the middle of January, when LJ returned from her last holiday, I knew my love had grown, that I really had chosen the way of love & grief.

LJ died on Good Friday 2016, at the home we shared, in her own bed with two friends beside her, and me in the next room (we had agreed only two of us at a time with LJ — she didn’t enjoy more people). I her final days, she received wonderful care from friends, her doctor, Paul Sartori Foundation “Hospice at Home” & the district nurses.

The evening before, and only a few hours before she fell into unconsciousness, LJ & I connected in a way that is unique for me. I didn’t intend or plan this. I went to sit with her for a while. Knowing she enjoyed company and didn’t enjoy hearing people speak, I chose to sit silently and try to remain present to my friend. What happened next was so far outside my experience, it took a while to make sense of it. We spent about two hours in deep, radically trusting connection, and I experienced something which I will call “love without attachment”. The  experience of these two hours are the most precious of my life so far. I am sure my friend died knowing she was loved.

I wept easily in the days after LJ died. I got more deeply in touch with my grief a few weeks later with friends while I was in Mallorca. Here, I found all of it, and I howled like a wounded animal. I beautiful, precious and painful experience. Grief, someone said, is a way of loving.

So in the first few months of 2016, the deepest connection, gentlest love and the deepest grief I have experienced. Not a coincidence, I’m sure. We can’t selectively numb ourselves — our deepest joy is only as deep as our deepest grief. We can have neither or both.

My suggestion? Show up wholeheartedly for all of it: love, joy, grief and heartbreak. Yes, it’ll hurt sometimes. And the love might be exquisite.