At the end of his poetry workshop in Melbourne last year, Irish poet, Pádraig O’Tuama, spoke of his gratitude for what had been spoken, knowing that the words we shared would change him (and us). In a workshop on listening and story yesterday, several people observed that when we truly listen to each other, we allow ourselves to be present to all the subtle transformations that come to us. We can cycle through the seasons of our lives with the kind of grace we see in nature. The changing of colour in deciduous trees in autumn, the tangle of old bark abandoned by eucalypts as they bring a fresh skin to the world, these remind us of our own power to change. Held by someone’s listening, we can recall the changes and not get caught up in what should be but feel the power of what ‘is’.
Another person in the group talked about the way that listening to a story full of travel, disappointment and discovery helped her to see the convoluted path of her own life with fresh eyes. ‘It’s just a slice of my life,’ she said. ‘I don’t know where it’s going to end and I don’t what these failures and disappointments may eventually mean.’
Yet another person quoted the line from the film the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: ‘Everything will be all right in the end, and if it’s not all right, it’s not the end.’
In our success-driven contemporary mentality, we seek results more often than being present to the words that change us, to the events that seem like disappointments or failures or crises but may serve to transform us, motivate us to action, lead us to contemplation. We may even want to peel off the habits, attitudes, the old skin that no longer fits us, let it fall away so we can be present to the freshness that awaits.
New skin we’re in
My friend watched a baby huntsman shed its skin
a whole structure of itself abandoned.
We do the same thing slowly every seven years
a barely visible dust of us is gradually eroded.
We scrub it off with jute mitts,
bits of it adhere to our underwear,
our lovers and our friends.
But to see your whole body left behind
and feel your raw new skin?
I know why it scurried
to the shelter of the architraves,
newly revealed bits of me need a little refuge too
before they face the world.
The next day the spider made its way
under the eaves outside the back door.
My friend watched it linger there a day or three.
The spider sightings ceased
I like to think its out there in the bush
braving its own new world.
*a huntsman is a spider that sheds its skin as it grows
Clare Coburn 2012