Our Milky Way

Our Milky Way

A real dark night sky is a tonic for the soul. That’s why in the weeks following a diagnosis that I was growing cancerous tumours, feeling overwhelmed with it all, like an Indiana Jones-sized rolling rock of grief and fear was heading my way,  I stepped outside onto the front porch. Luckily, the sky was clear and when I looked up I heard the Milky Way calling out to me for falling into. I was bewitched by the white splashes along it’s twining body. I felt into the space within these mind-blowing cosmic stains, appearing so because they indicate numbers of stars so dense I cannot fathom the universe except in the most basic of ways. I wanted nothing more than to dive on in and  swim far enough through the sparkling infinity, so that I would be sure to reach the farthest place, the point of pregnant expansion from which I would retract like a catapult in reverse straight back to the core – the spot where I stood. I would fly back to the womb of my own rebirth. For a blessed moment, I confronted my own mortality and was not afraid to do so. I stood in a black hole filled with peace. Loved, loving. Happy. I felt for a fraction of a moment the freedom of understanding my own insignificance. And then it was gone.

Living is hard. Really hard.  I do want to mention here that I am not claiming hardships that compare with the lives of those born into poverty. Those who are more likely to experience physical suffering, discrimination, disenfranchisement, injustice and displacement. That’s hard living. Then there’s the rest of us, more or less enjoying lands of milk and honey those in poverty dream about. The poverty stricken must think us delirious with happiness. Yet we find a Milky Way of reasons not to be. Our ‘hard’ living is generally a result of a lack of appreciation for the things and opportunities we do have and an unfortunate craving for what we don’t. We can’t handle the excess all around as it wreaks havoc within us anymore than those in poverty can manifest what they need from without to sustain them within. What is within us is mirrored by what is outside.  A perfect imbalance. It’s all hard, but different.

Sitting in our ‘first world’ lives we believe our lives to be BIG. The dramas and dreams which emanate from our egos are so large and loud. There is logic in that. The will to live is pretty much hardwired – all things are driven by the blueprint for survival, growth and reproduction. But with the expectation – or at the very least, hope – of great things from our experience of life comes wave upon wave of dissatisfaction and disappointment as we judge at  every moment every detail of our progression in the cause of survival, growth and reproduction. Those whose suffering is starvation, sickness and early death – every day, without reprieve, do they have the luxury of thoughts other than those concerned with survival?  When I learned of my sickness, my tumultuous thought processes screamed to a halt. The myriad of  inner voices grew quiet – desire, envy and dissatisfaction stopped lending their unhelpful demands and judgements and I heard my still, small voice.  It spoke to me of the basics. What did I need to survive? It helped me make decisions about my treatment, it helped me speak to my children, mother, brothers, friends. It helped me look at what dying might be like. I discovered that I love myself and I love living – especially when death threatens – but also that it’s ok when my time is up. That moment on my front porch has led me through dark times.

And so I share that moment with you because it was possibly one of the best moments of my life – like falling in love and seeing my babies for the first time. Because it reminded me that what I think doesn’t really matter but is everything and all I have. It also reminds me that even in my darkest times, my life is privileged. To have such a positive vision of my difficult experience is something I feel very fortunate to have. I have stopped and thought for about 30 seconds for beautiful experiences of this world that I treasure. I realise I could fill a universe with them.

Swimming among innumerable stars to the ends of the universe and back showed me the blessing of being small. Infinitesimally small. Insignificant and hidden. It was a moment of true freedom.


Image‘Tis Valentine’s Day. It is coloured red-blooded and filled with passion promising, destined to end in sense-saturated overload. An overflow of emotion is poised, as the full moon gestates to fullness on Saturday.  So I pack three children off to school, think of the one at work and the other training for work, drop my 3rd strong black coffee and check out my inbox.

Stretch. Forget the messages, most of them are not really for me anyway. All that is of no consequence, and then a message pops up and I have to call my eldest son and deliver some sad news. Strangely appropriate for Valentine’s day – a death in the family. Love hurts.

The fact is that my reaction to the sad news will be coloured by different processes to that of my son, who I have raised without the burden of a religious belief system. But I ask myself the question, would such a system be helpful to him now?

I examine the evidence. Let’s put it in a storybook.

‘ONCE UPON A TIME, there was a little boy who lived in a happy home, with lots of people, in the light and the dark. One night, he looked up at the stars and asked his mummy –

“Mummy, what are they?” She told him about the stars and planets, the solar system, the universe, about what we think we know and about what we know we don’t know.

He asked her, “How did we come to be here?” She told him about a big bang, expansion, matter, oxygen and water and evolution.

He asked her, “Why are we here?”

She smoothed the hair on his forehead and said, “Nobody really knows, my sweet.” He cuddled his toy rabbit (called Rabbit) and said, “Is that it?”

She said, reluctantly, “Not really. There are many, many things that people here on our planet have thought up from the place in our amazing brains that wants an explanation for WHY and HOW we came to be.

She took a deep breath and began.

“Some people, called Christians, believe that a God made the world in 6 days and had a rest (maybe a beer) on the 7th.  They believe that he made Adam and Eve (in his own image) and they lived in a paradise garden and a talking snake made Eve eat an apple that made her feel sexy and dirty and then as the first Harlot upon whom every evil of the world can then be laid she spoiled Adam and even though God must have made the snake and the apple he punished them by banishing them to a life of pain hardship and struggle. They also believe that a God chose one tribe of people over another to be the most important and to dictate how the rest of the tribes should live and then that a woman got pregnant without having sex and gave birth to a boy who then revived the dead, then died himself and then lived again but in a different place?”

And though her brain was bleeding, she hugged him tightly (and Rabbit) and she continued,

“I don’t really know much about another belief system called Islam but I know that some of these men don’t like to look at women’s hair and bodies. And sometimes faces as well. They do allow the women to show their eyes though because otherwise they would fall over and not be able to do anything useful. But then again, sometimes they have to cover even their eyes too, behind a kind of material two-way mirror. There are just enough holes to see out of but not allow anyone to look in.”

And though her heart was bleeding, she snuggled under the covers with her small son and his even smaller Rabbit and told him,

“I wrestle daily with myself and a Buddhist practice, that ultimately lays all my success and failure back in my lap. So I either feel good about myself or a bit shitty until I get the strength to pick myself up, dust myself off and start all over again.”

The little boy laughed at his mummy and said  “Why would you want to fight with yourself?”

And although her throat was bleeding she mustered up a voice. “Good question little man. As everything in life seems to be a fight against something, that belief system I find the most humane.“Is that it, mummy?”

There is a little more, my sweet and then it’s time for sleep.” Lots of people in the past and still some today believe in a pantheon of Nature Gods. They make super-people out of the sky, the sea, the earth and everything on the earth. And even the clouds. That’s what dragons are – and they make good stories don’t they?”

The two snugglers thought separate thoughts for a while.

Mummy said  “I do know that gardening makes me feel better. AND if you can grow it, you can eat it. Yum!

“Like strawberries, mummy.”


“So that’s it then?”

“You know what, the best thing is that you and all the people who love and have loved you, we all collided at the same time in the same place so that we met and loved each other, for however long. Love connects us all. Sometimes it makes you burst with happiness, sometimes it hurts more than you think you can take. We don’t really understand it. But it’s there in all the stories I just told you. It gets a bit lost in some of those stories, but it is where all those stories are trying to get to.”

The little boy was asleep. She kissed him and Rabbit and slipped away.


Happy Valentines Day to all my boys, big and small. I will always love you no matter what.

I sip the dregs of my coffee. “That’s really weird. About an hour ago I thought of her and wondered how she was and when…… .”  I ask if he’ll be ok.  “I’ll be sweet” says my eldest son.

“Of course you will.” I say.

Rest in peace, Pam. xx