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Tales of the Heart, literally


4 Minute Read

I am 74. I have always considered myself to be fit and healthy, even though I have been living with the consequences of a serious rock climbing injury for the last 20 years. I have followed a healthy diet and lifestyle: largely vegetarian, low alcohol consumption, not overweight, no drugs for the last 40 years, and high level of physical activity.

So, one day in July this year, I was shocked when swimming in the sea near my house in N Wales - to discover I could hardly catch my breath. And then the following day when I started to go up the stairs at home, I found myself struggling to get to the top without stopping. At that point, I chose to tell myself that age has finally caught up with me, whatever that was supposed to mean. Any crap rationalisation rather than consider myself to be less than a perfect specimen of humanity!

The next morning, when I struggled to get out of bed because I was so breathless, I took my pulse and fear shot through me as I registered how fast it was beating. Then, after an emergency visit to my GP, I am being whisked off to my local district hospital in an ambulance with flashing lights, feeling somewhat detached from it all.

When told I have heart failure with the left side of my heart working at less than 25% of its expected capacity, I refuse to take it in and incongruously argue that I am healthy. Part of my reluctance at this point is because two days later I am due to fly to Corfu to take part in a week-long group process: Tantra Mantra with my beloved. At this point, I desperately hold onto the belief that I am still going to make it.

All in all, after a week in hospital I am discharged feeling weak, with two pieces of metal scaffolding (stents) in one of my coronary arteries, which had become completely blocked up with fatty deposits. My heart lifted, and I felt like cheering towards the end of the stenting procedure when the artery reappeared on the monitor screen as it finally became filled again with blood, signalling that the operation, during which time I had been fully awake, had been a success. It took all of ninety minutes – the blockage had been a long one and it required clearing a little bit at a time to avoid any mishap. And my breathing was easier.

For the first four weeks, I had to take things very easily, and was not allowed to drive. Since then I have been making a steady recovery back to normal day to day life: looking after the large house and smallholding where I live, taking my dog for walks, even logging a large fallen oak tree using a chainsaw. This morning I went for a rather cold, even in full wetsuit gear, but enjoyable swim in the sea. It was the end of October.

Although I feel a lot better, I am taking a lot of medication to control cholesterol, thin my blood and slow down the heart and more. This is to prevent more blockages and clotting around the stents as well protecting my heart muscle while it heals. I am even following a more strict, self-imposed diet: cutting out almost all dairy, less sugar and taking specific heart associated supplements.

Until I get the results of the MRI scan, scheduled to happen end November, I am still being treated for heart failure. I am hoping then for confirmation of the improvement I feel. Of course, as Ischaemic Heart Disease is the number one killer in the Western world, it is not surprising that I have some definite anxiety around the outcome.

Whatever the outcome I have been prompted to take stock of my life: accepting my ultimate mortality and not knowing when that will be. And there have been positive developments: in my close relationships. My beloved tells me I am sweeter now than before all this happened, and my daughter says she likes spending time with me and appreciates me. She and I have a chequered relationship which has been very tense at times gone by. It is a great relief that it is so much better now.

On self-reflection, I have realised I can be kinder to myself and that means being kinder to other people around me. I live at a slower pace and rest most afternoons. I expect less of myself and of others. What’s the point of driving myself to an early grave while there is still so much to live for. I don’t know about being sweeter, but I do know I can choose to be harmonious in the way I interact with those close to me rather than being over-reactive. And this makes for a happier life in many ways. And with so much experience of living it is time to choose the easy option!

I now look forward to sharing simple pleasures with my beloved, leading to a deeper, soft connection, without needing the excitement that is so often associated with friction. I think it amounts to being in the heart rather than the head. I have been on this journey for the last four years since finding a new lover. Together we have been through several positive, life-changing experiences. This is just the latest.

What the Hell is Binaural Dating?


5 Minute Read

Binaural dating. #bethedate was the offer that came to my inbox. 'Oh yes!' I thought, 'that sounds fun,.... an audio experience that looks at dating from the inside out. With a waiter that Waits and a Chef to guide you. What's the worst that could happen?'

Well, the worst that could happen couldn't possibly be worse than my own risible attempts. I tried a dating site once, wasn't prepared to pay for a 'proper' dating site as I wasn't terribly serious about finding a life partner. So I wasted a lot of people's time chatting when all they wanted was sex. I thought I wanted sex too. I thought defining myself as 'sapio-sexual' would both narrow the field and ensure that I dated people (men actually) who were more interested in finding out what was in my head than in my pants. After a number of dates where exploratory snogging led directly to people (men actually) diving straight into my pants, I gave up on the dating game.

So, the promise of a date, based on a performance, which would not land up with me gratuitously sticking my tongue down someone's throat (apparently I need little encouragement), or them prematurely diving into my pants (apparently they need little encouragement) sounded rather fun.

Who could resist an invitation that reads - 'Part interactive performance, part dating agency, Binaural Dinner Date invites genuine applications from individuals looking for love, or existing couples who simply want a very different dating experience.'

Friday was date night! In the absence of actually having someone to date, I booked a 'singles' ticket. My friend Henni who plays violin with me at poetry performances booked too. Off I trotted to Gerry's in Stratford, dressed almost for an actual date, but without the plunging neckline or the three layers of face paint, I navigated a packed overground, got lost in the Westville Centre and arrived hot, bothered and a little late just in time to be one of the last to be seated at a table. This was going well, almost as well as any actual date I had been on. I was joined by a very attractive and very female date. I think we both managed our disappointment rather well. To be honest, at least she wasn't 5ft 7ins when she'd said she was 6ft 2ins or 52 when she'd said she was 45. This was already the most honest date I'd ever been on and we hadn't even exchanged a word!

The Binaural Dating experience was a bit like those dating programmes where people who are hopeless at flirting are given instructions through headphones. Except we both had headphones on! We were both being given instructions! Even knowing this, I felt relieved to be divested of the responsibility of using my own tired dating script. The Chef was a lot funnier, more cruel and deliberate than I could ever be. Seven mins in, we had broken the ice. Seventeen mins in, we had asked each other some pretty deep and interesting questions. Thirty mins in, we were playing competitive games. Forty five mins in, we were co-operating. Each new item on the menu brought us closer together. I was asking and being asked questions, I would never have the courage, playfulness or imagination to ask on a first date. The waiter, as promised, was waiting. There was eye-contact, there was intimacy, and there was reassurance and connection. There has been a lot been written about intimate, participative and immersive theatres as antidote to the consumerist nature of capitalist cultural production. Modern dating apps tend to exacerbate problems of expendability and magnify the performative nature of romance, without critical awareness. At some point, I wondered vaguely if I could hire the Chef to accompany me on all dates to feed me some alternative narrative lines. This was a theatre which used dating as both metaphor and means. I had an esoteric teacher who used to claim that intimacy was about allowing people in: 'In-too-me-see'. I'd rather go on a million dates like this; dates which are subversive enough to make me challenge my motives and the superficiality of my preferences and yet still provide me with a deeply intimate experience. After an hour of sitting across from and interacting with my date, I found that I had truly laughed, revealed, played and explored with a complete stranger.

Our clothes were still on, my tongue had not transgressed. Her hands had not travelled (this would not have been different if it had been a man!). I felt warm and squishy and more fully human and alive. I bought into the idea that love can heal our brokenness. Both Henni and I left wishing we had bought someone whom we fancied on this date. I hope fervently that Binaural Dating will be set up as an agency for reluctant daters or those wanting a a playful challenge to their tired dating scripts. I'm keen to go again.

It's still on until the 2nd Dec. Book now. Go!

Binaural Dinner Date is on from the 30th Nov to the 3rd December. Tickets are selling fast! http://www.stratfordeast.com/whats-on/all-shows/binaural-dinner-date#schedules

ZU-UK is run by creative directors Jaade Persis and Jorge Ramos. They run a collaborative theatre making MA in conjunction with the University of East London and also run frequent professional development courses for artists interested in performance, technology and collaboration.

Debra Watson is a participative theatre practitioner, media facilitator and poet. Visit her at: www.debrawatsoncreative.com

A Brief Return to Craigslist


1 Minute Read

I have a love/hate relationship with Craigslist, the American noticeboard with sections devoted to job, property, services and dating. I love, well, its randomness, the way it always manages to turn up someone somewhere who can quash a bug on my website or make my PowerPoint presentations shine. I hate how finding those people often means having to wade through the dozens of imposters, con artists and fantasists who use the site. Still I am loyal; at least from time to time.

Recently I did use it for something mutually beneficial. While searching for an interior designer who wouldn’t cost me an arm and a leg, I discovered one who refused to charge me on the understanding she could showcase the work as a way of achieving her British Institute of Interior Design qualification.

And then there’s the sex stuff – mutually beneficial but for different reasons altogether.

Eight years ago, before Tinder arrived on the scene and stole some of Craigslist’s thunder, Craigslist was an easy way to find local travel guides with special ‘perks’. I was in my mid-forties at the time, visiting Rome. I encountered one very nice young man who travelled all the way from Naples to Rome to meet me and show me around the city. He arrived, took me for a walk around the Coliseum and then, in my 5-star hotel room, he performed his final generoso—making me squirt all over the 400-thread count Egyptian cotton sheets. Craigslist had its purpose back then, it made business trips more fun.

Given my happy history with Craigslist, on the first day of spring, when the sun was shining brightly, the daffodils were in bloom and even complete strangers smiled at me while shopping on Kilburn High Road, I decided to throw the dice and post a personal on Craigslist. I was horny and was hoping to find, if not a partner, at the very least a shag.

Having just attended a workshop at the UK Dating Fair the weekend previously, entitled “Who Am I Compatible With?” a class that encouraged us to seek partners with shared values (apparently, it’s a myth that opposites attract), I was inspired to make my desire clear from the start:

Dominant, tall, slim man (45+) sought by confident, attractive woman.

 I listed the attributes I was seeking: someone older, wiser, perhaps semi-retired, a lover of good food and wine and travel. I mentioned that I generally identified as submissive but leaned towards being a take-charge person in my day-to-day life. I specified no toy boys or married men, knowing from past experience, on Craigslist at least, that many men tended to skip the ad’s text and go straight to the image. I’d posted “no one under 40” and within five minutes received dozens of messages from Millennials telling me I was the perfect vehicle for their MILF fantasy.

In my ad, I requested that the man have all his own teeth and was able to write in full sentences, and I made a point of noting that I preferred men who looked after their bodies. “Most importantly,” I added, “you do not take yourself too seriously, are naturally curious about the world and interested in what others have to say.”

I pressed submit and, as has been my experience in the past on this site, within a few minutes the replies came flooding in.

There were the usual rejectees: men who couldn’t spell or who used text speak, recent college grads my own sons’ ages, and guys who provided a cock shot, a phone number, and nothing else. However, there were also half a dozen that stood out. They included a 45-year-old firefighter who claimed to be in ‘good shape.’ I was suspicious, given my CL experience with men and knowing that “good shape” was a subjective term. Another was a 39-year-old banker based in Canary Wharf with a penchant for poker and a ‘mature city professional,’ who apparently thought that information alone was enough to entice me. And there was a man named Bryan, a 47-year-old Canadian based in London, who sent me lots of pictures of his erect penis. It was of a pleasing size and shape, although I’ve always preferred a man who keeps it in his pants until after a face-to-face meeting, after which making a penile appearance is the logical next step.

After skimming through another ten or twenty messages, one arrived that contained the four magic words guaranteed to make me wet. Semi-Retired. Investment. Banker. That is - a man with money and time on his hands. I’m not a gold digger but I’ve funded most of my relationships and no longer have an interest in doing so.

The banker’s name was John and he had a double-barrelled surname which indicated Eastern European origins. A quick Google search revealed a slightly dodgy past. He’d had some kind of run-in with the FCA over an investment scheme that hadn’t gone well, and been suspended by his employer, one of the larger banks. But then, is that really unusual in that business? Over the years, I’d read numerous stories in the broadsheets about bankers cooking the books or setting up dubious trust funds or Ponzi schemes. At least John hadn’t gone to prison. He seemed interesting, at least, and probably had a story to tell. I got in touch.

John told me he spent most of his time managing a block of studio apartments he owned in West London and one he had just purchased in Leipzig, his hometown. He had a nice voice, sounded friendly and relatively interesting.

We met on a Sunday afternoon, at a Hilton Hotel bar, at John’s suggestion.

I got there early and took a seat at the back of the room, away from the handful of other customers scattered around the cavernous space. Dissonant jazz music was playing through the speakers. The décor looked like it had been lifted from a Bond movie —dark brown wallpaper, long mirrors, large high-backed 60s-style chairs. The bar was twenty feet long and its stools were deserted. I ordered a glass of Malbec, handed my card to the waitress, and hoped I wouldn’t be drinking alone. Having been stood up on dates with Craigslist prospects before, I’ve learned that one man’s “I’ll be there” is another’s “Sure, unless a better opportunity arises.”

John arrived 10 minutes later, in a mix of brown tweed jacket, purple flowery shirt, a pair of jeans and a grey flat cap—country gentlemen, by way of Bayswater. His skin was almost transparent and so white it made him appear otherworldly. Slim and about six feet tall, he took off his hat to reveal a shiny, bald pate. He had small blue eyes and slightly lopsided lips that I felt drawn to because their asymmetry was surprisingly fetching.

I was in no position to judge him, as I was wearing jeans, tan suede cowboy boots and a multicoloured trilby, which covered my long hair, recently tinted fuchsia, my nod to difference.

I stood up to kiss him on both cheeks. “You made it,” I said, the surprise barely hidden in my voice.

“Well, of course,” he replied, sincerely.

John called the waitress over and asked her whether she had any non-alcoholic cocktails. Red Flag number #1. It was late afternoon and I knew John had taken public transport. A drink or two usually takes the edge off first meetings. It looked like I’d be drinking alone. By the time, his non-alcoholic mojito appeared, I had almost finished with my wine and ordered another, not caring whether that might bother a non-drinker.

We discovered a shared interest in property, as I’d recently renovated my home. He told me about his property portfolio and a renovation project he had been working on in a remote Eastern European city, now almost complete. After an hour we were still talking about it. He took out his phone and we went through the slide show of images on it: the newly tiled bathroom, the dining table shipped from Italy, the balcony and roof terrace. Like so many other men I’d met online, the focus of the conversation was him. What he was doing, his own achievements, what he enjoyed. And I put up with it because I was ambivalent. And horny. And he was sufficiently intriguing.

“Maybe you can help me christen the bed,” he said, confidently. I laughed nervously, despite myself and despite my experience with Craigslist men. I hadn’t even had a sip of my second drink and he was already steering the conversation towards sex. “And you can give me some decorating advice too,” he added.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to fuck him or be his interior designer. Still, he ticked many of the qualities I was looking for in a potential partner. He was a semi-retired. As a former investment banker, he was solvent. We shared many interests. While he wasn’t traditionally good looking, he could hold a conversation, although laughter was in short supply. He confessed to voting for Nigel Farage and I wondered if I could overlook that. I wasn’t sure I could. That would be hard to explain to my friends, who were rooting for Jeremy Corbyn at the time. I was horny, so I tried to remain open-minded. We had met on Craigslist, after all, not Guardian Soulmates or one of the staid sites targeting those seeking long-term relationships.

We ended up taking the Jubilee Line together. As we entered London Bridge station, John turned around on the escalator, pulled me towards him and pressed his lips against mine. His tongue probed my mouth. I was a little merry with the drink so I let him for a few seconds. Then I pulled away.

“Come back with me,” he said. I told him I had to work the next day and get up early, which was half true. By this point, I just wanted him to go.

We got into the carriage, while I counted the stops until he got off at Baker Street. I didn’t want to go home with him. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to see him again. I was desperate for him to say something funny, to break the awkward silences, the uncomfortable conversations about sex and the misplaced intimacy.

When I got home, I went to my computer and saw another 40 emails in my inbox, all of them responses to my original Craigslist post. I deleted them all. And then I pulled up the ad and pressed delete. Craigslist had once been a reliable site for connecting with men, back when I thought of men as items on a takeaway menu: to be selected, delivered, nibbled on, then tossed aside. Craigslist still worked that way: it brought me a wide selection of prospects and then face-to-face with John, a man who found me attractive and wanted a shag. Just hours earlier, I’d thought I’d wanted the same, and when given the opportunity, I’d opted out.

Special thanks to Mark Rathmell for creating the illustrations.

Beyond Religion


1 Minute Read

‘Those tender words we said to one another are stored in the secret heart of heaven. One day, like the rain, they will fall and spread, and their mystery will grow green over the world.’Rumi

The mystery that lies within the hidden heart of the human being, and is also the secret heart of heaven, takes us right to the core of creation and the dark wholeness that births what indigenous cultures call the ten thousand things.

‘In the whole of the universe there are only two, the lover and the Beloved.’ And for some, for the mystics of the world, the divine is not father nor mother, but the sweetest, most ecstatic lover that seizes our heart in the most passionate affair of our life.

When the heart is on fire a blaze is created that burns away everything in its path so all that is left is Love. This evisceration, this burning, is the necessary but cruel cleansing that returns us to our self.

‘I burnt and I burnt and I burnt’, says Rumi: ‘I lost my world, my fame, my mind. The Sun appeared and all the shadows ran. I ran after them but vanished as I ran. Light ran after me and hunted me down.’

Al-Hallaj, who was executed for revealing the divine secrets put it this way: ‘When Truth has taken hold of a heart, She empties if of all but Herself. When God attaches himself to a man, He kills in him all else but Himself.’

There is just so much that has to burn in us, so much that has to die, but the destruction of the false self - that scaffold we erected to stave off the wounds of childhood and other incarnations – is consoled.

And it is consoled by the arising of the divine light within, from a small spark to a steady and fierce longing that somehow makes all the pain worthwhile. Just as the pain of childbirth subsides in the memory of the mother as joy takes over, so too are we soothed by sheer wonderment and joy.

But the ego does not go easily. What has to die are all the psychological patterns and attachments that keep us wedded to the world.

Irina Tweedie, who spent several years with her Sufi master in India, said the pain was so bad she thought she was going to die…and the rewards do not come from the world but from the divine. As Rumi says, he lost his world, his fame, his mind.

Everything is given but everything has to be given up. But as Andrew Harvey says, when you no longer want the world, when it no longer matters, it is returned to you on a silver salver. That is the cosmic joke, or one of them.

An emperor had a slave whom he loved immensely and he wanted to know if the slave really loved him. So, into a room heaped with vast treasures, he summoned all the slaves saying they were free to take what they wished. They were over joyed and ran here and there taking what they most wanted. But the slave whom the emperor loved just stood in the corner of the room. When the room was empty, the slave walked quietly over to the emperor and stood by him, his eyes full of love. The emperor said to him, ‘What do you want?’ And the slave said, ‘I want you, just you.’ And the Emperor said to the slave, ‘Because all you want is me, all I possess is yours.’

As Harvey says, in his marvellous book The Way of Passion, it is trust, absolute trust that is the key. And for the Sufi, life itself is the greatest teacher and everything and everyone that crosses our path has the exact lessons we need to learn.

It is what I call having an eye for initiation. The Sufi teacher counsels us to look for the hint in the heart and the wayfarer lives not by the rules and regulations of society nor the covert co-dependent agreements of our culture, but learns to listen only to the still, small voice within.

To hear, and learn to obey that voice, so much rubbish has to be removed. So much that we thought important heads for the shredder! And it is seen that none of it was important after all.

What is revealed is that each of us is unique, that each hair on our head really is known, and that we, as this particular manifestation, will never pass this way again. We are important, vital even, and are here to play our part, large or small, it doesn’t matter.

But this way is not for the sensible, rational man or woman; this way is not for those intent on safety; it is only for those willing to give themselves to an affair of the heart, responding to the call of the moment.

A Persian poem offers this warning: ‘Do not come near to the Lane of Love! It is not a thoroughfare! You cannot sleep, you cannot eat; you don’t enjoy the world anymore.’

As Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee points out, a human love affair can pierce the heart, how much more potent an affair with the divine lover who lives inside your own self.

From Him, from Her, there is no escape, no hiding place. But as Rumi says, if we don’t make this journey within in truth we have done nothing with our life:

‘Desperation, let me always know how to welcome you, and put in your hands the torch to burn down the house.’

When I first started this piece, I wrote a piece called Exile and Longing, which grew out of my own experience of exile from family and society, and the choice to live by my own light come what may.

Often, those of us with mystical awareness, have to live outside the consciousness of the culture which we were raised in, beyond its limitations and judgments, patterns and demands.

As a boy, I was baffled as to why I did not want what others wanted, why achievements, even success, were not important to me, did not satisfy me. What I held to was a small light burning softly inside me, which I finally began to nurture.

Irina Tweedie wrote of her small life, living alone in North London, looking down from her hilltop at the comings and goings of those engaging in the world, and knew that although she had given up everything the world sees as important, she had gained the one thing that matters.

‘Those who belong to the Beloved, carry His curse, which is the memory of His embrace. Nothing in the world will fulfil them,’ writes Vaughan-Lee.

So it is, and if your heart is longing and burning, if you are calling God secretly in the night, if only Love will do, at some point you will be answered. Spiritual processes always begin within before manifesting without.  You don’t find a teacher, the teacher finds you.

‘Light upon light, Allah calls to Him whom He wills.’

When the divine spark is lit within and the Beloved turns towards you the journey of lover and beloved begins. One light calls to the other, the other calls in return. Finally, the ‘I’ that stands in the way is no more and the two merge in an ecstatic union.

If you are seeking, seek Us with joy for we live in the kingdom of joy. Do not give your heart to anything else, but to the love of those who are clear joy. Do not stray into the neighbourhood of despair; for there are hopes: they are real, they exist. Do not go in the direction of darkness – I tell you, suns exist.

Rumi said this because he knew. His meeting with the ferocious wandering Dervish Shams completely remade him. He went from erudite, spiritual scholar to Love’ supreme poet, today the world’s most popular poet. The price he paid was a terrible grief.

The ecstatic union that he enjoyed with Shams came after Shams struck a deal with God, the price of which was his life. The old sage, despised and feared by many, knew that he must pass on what he knew to someone worthy of it and capable of transmitting it to many.

He found Rumi in Konya and their great spiritual love affair began, a union so intense that it roused jealousy and anger among Rumi’s family. Shams disappeared once sending Rumi into paroxysms of grief and longing.

He was found and returned and they were reunited in joy, but Shams disappeared for a second time, finally murdered, probably by Rumi’s younger son.

It was this final pain that Rumi transformed, as he united on the inner planes with his beloved master, spending the last 30 years of his life working to bring the divine light into the world.

There are many different Sufi groups with differing practises, but the work on the path is similar: meditation, chanting the names of God, working with dreams, facing the shadow – all those qualities we have buried and not loved , facing the contra-sexual aspects within, what Jung called the anima and animus, and working with archetypal energies.

And what is right for one aspirant is not right for another. Each of us is unique, yet the practises of the path keep us on track in single-pointed focus on our heart’s devotion.

This is polishing the mirror and when the heart is free of blemishes, the divine sun can be reflected in it. Here the mind is drowned in the heart and as we return to the unmanifest world from when we came we sacrifice ourselves on the altar of love.

Finally, the heart is made as soft and as warm as wool, and the alchemy that was started within you way back when is over……for now.

Last words.

A lover does not figure the odds. He figures he came clean from God as a gift without reason, so he gives without cause or calculation or limit. A conventionally religious person behaves a certain way to achieve salvation. A lover gambles everything, the self, the circle around the zero! He or she cuts and throws it all away.

This is beyond any religion.

11 Ways to Find Passion in Work and Career


7 Minute Read

“Work is that which you dislike doing but perform for the sake of external rewards. At school, this takes the form of grades. In society, it means money, status, privilege.” Abraham Maslow (1909 – 1970) His “…interest in human potential, seeking peak experiences and improving mental health by seeking personal growth had a lasting influence on psychology.”[1] [2]

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” Harriet Tubman (1820 – 1913) escaped slavery to become a leading abolitionist. She led hundreds of enslaved people to freedom along the route of the Underground Railroad.[3] [4]

Work versus Passion, can I have Both?

 Maslow and Tubman are from very different backgrounds. Both respected, they each knew lots about work, passion and a continually changing world based on clashing cultures and the times in which they lived.

Both are right as they were each dedicated to a cause and reached for the stars. However, in the 35+ years working in the corporate world, no matter what the background or circumstances, the common complaint is typically, “I hate my job and want a new one that fits my values and passion. How do I do that?”

Coaching hundreds of employees, peers and friends over the years, I came to the conclusion that I too had the same basic question. As a short-term fix I jumped from one job to another (and a big raise and new title), but no matter how exciting at first, the honeymoon ended somewhere at the two to four year mark. The cycle would continue.

The 50s – I’m not going anywhere Career or Workwise

As I hit my early 50s, I felt that something was missing from my life. It wasn’t money, relationships, friends, traveling, or my industry being ripped apart; it was my lack of passion. My BA in psychology and MBA in Marketing were virtually useless after 2000.

In 2001 I was working in Silicon Valley for a new, hot start-up and then lived through the crash of the economy and poor business models (2008). I was the last person standing in our Partner Marketing department. Hundreds of people were let go.

I knew in my heart that changing jobs again would not bring me any more satisfaction, but landed a great looking job in Washington DC at another startup; it was sold.

I needed a major lifestyle change.

I got divorced and moved to my New York childhood home with my mom. What I thought would be 6 months turned into 8 years, becoming her caretaker and holding her hand as she died. At the time that I sold her house, I was 62 with no job or home.

I moved in with my boyfriend. I had no choice but to look at my life and decide how satisfying it was. I took a few years off to read, attend retreats and meditated; it was clear my life needed a good dusting.

The 60s – Too many Deaths of Friends

Let’s face it, I would never be a Maslow in psychology or a Tubman helping free folks from slavery and getting them to safer pastures.

So I took stock of my passion. It had been growing through the years, but I always put it behind the important stuff, “my work.” As I started to take a look at my life, panic set in. Would I have enough money, was I too old to be hired, could I handle the 60-hour workweek and the speed at which everything was changing?

I looked at my skill set and tried to figure out what really turned me on (my passion – what was that again?). What activities could take me to another place where time wouldn’t matter? I discovered there was a world of activities to explore.

Finding your Passion and New Lifestyle

  1. Resources and budgets

A budget is a plan that allows you to compare the amount of money you have with your expenses. Budgets can be developed for any time period, but a monthly review is a good idea to see if you are on track. Budgets are flexible and can be changed based on circumstances.   With budgets you remain “in the know” of your resources so there are no surprises.

  1. Downsizing

In 1977, I was one of the first women to graduate with a Master’s in Business Administration. I got my first job with Ford Motor Company and the sky was the limit. Six years later poor profits and sales got me thinking the grass must be greener somewhere else. Having worked for over 10 firms, I realized that much of the grass was already browned.

We aren’t talking about downsizing; we learned it had another inside name, “dealt by 1000 cuts.” The reality was that the world was changing and the skill sets were very different than when we were trained.

  1. Living Situation

There are many different “family” units and living situations; multiple marriages, divorce, combined families, sexual orientation, homelessness, and adults living in their parents’ home or parents living in their child’s home. What will you do?

  1. Unresolved relationships

We see many of these around us. Our nuclear family, extended family, friends, marriage, living together, affairs, moving away, changing interests, illness, grief, excitement, all exist in our changing world.

My living situations changed over the years. I went from family home, dorm, apartments, leasing million dollar homes, brownstone, back to family home, living with boyfriend and now, finally, taking the step to move into my own apartment.

  1. Making Money to Survive or Thrive

Depending on your chosen (or not) lifestyle, this will impact how you live. Decide what you want and what you can afford or what can fit into your life. There are endless choices. But you must do your research first.

  1. Choice to Retire

Why retire? Perhaps you have hit a certain age, have become sick of your job, or new needs arise. The world is your oyster, if you can afford it.

  1. No Choice to Retire

Money, money, money, obligations, ego, status and power, all contribute to your choices. You need to look deep into your heart, mind and bank account before making a change.

You won’t find many volunteers who hate their jobs. There may be problems and you may choose to leave, but it is a personal choice and thus offers complete freedom to do what you want.

  1. New Life Style

As you explore your life, where it is now, and where you want it to go, this may push you to adapt to a new life style, which matches your passion. It is up to you and no one else. Then you try to make it work with others. There are big decisions to be made here.

  1. Planning

Planning is key. You need to be your own project manager and keep on task, regardless of what is happening in the world (fires, floods, tsunami, hurricane, governments take overs)…you can continue to plan and re-plan until the day you die.

  1. Baby Steps

One of the best pieces of advice I have gotten was “take baby steps.” It takes out the panic and frustration as you begin this process. Even if you could do a project in three steps, turn them into 9.

  1. Action

You must decide for yourself what type of action you will take to create changing beliefs, different mind frames and your Plan.

Once action is taken, a periodic review of how you are feeling and the results you have achieved is imperative. As we go through this change process, both beliefs and affirmations allow us to shift positions, both philosophically and physically, knowing that we can always shift it again at a later date.

Passion from the Masters

I have studied, read, and met many wise people.

“Humans create their own boundaries, their own limitations. We say what is humanly possible, and what is not possible. Then just because we believe it, it becomes truth for us.”[5]

NOTE:

This process can take a while. It took me two years. It can be fun and very frustrating. At the end of the process you may not be able to put all changes in place, but do what you can. The rest will find you.

 

[1]https://www.verywell.com/biography-of-abraham-maslow-1908-1970-2795524

[2] https://www.verywell.com/biography-of-abraham-maslow-1908-1970-2795524

[3] https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/h/harriettub310306.html

[4] https://www.biography.com/people/harriet-tubman-9511430#!

[5] Don Miguel Ruiz, The Mastery of Love (2011)

The Story Behind Silver Tent – A Movement for Post-Menopausal Women


12 Minute Read

The Christmas after I turned 59 was my dark night of the soul. For the first time, I honestly faced the nagging concern I’d had for so many years - I’d messed up! I’d messed up by choosing not to take my place at university all those decades ago. Fear had kept on stopping me going across the years - fear of being back in an environment where I was not in charge, fear of having to conform - so I didn’t.

I didn’t get married, didn’t have children, didn’t have a career, didn’t have a house, and didn’t create any sort of nest egg. I seemed to lurch from one inspiring project to another but wasn’t able to build any firm foundations and each crumbled one by one. I went from being immersed in a frenzy of activity to crashing and burning. At 59, my lifelong failure stared back at me unblinkingly. I thought all there is left is for me - is to go downhill and die.

Yet instead of sidestepping all of this as I normally would, I allowed it to be. I allowed the possibility of it being true. I stopped resisting, stopped denying, and just stopped. I was holed up in bed with a bad chest infection and I lay there until I was motivated to move again.

Then something unexpected happened. Unexpected as I’d learned that to create one’s own reality you had to focus on it. However, all I was focused on was this barren landscape of a life less lived! At least, that was how I saw it during those few weeks.

Out of the blue, an ex-flatmate got in touch from Peru. He offered me a job, a paid one, writing for his spiritual tour company. Within a few weeks, I was on an all expenses paid trip to experience his signature bucket list tour, which included Lake Titicaca, Machu Picchu, Cusco and the Amazon jungle for a week’s Ayahuasca retreat. I was rooming with another ‘elder’ woman and a seed of a thought emerged that maybe we ‘elder’ women have wisdom to offer the world. It came from some of the quiet thoughts she shared with me about the world.

Much of this magical tour was an ordeal because I was far too unfit for the Andes but it was still an incredible journey. And even though I am at my worst in hot humid environments surrounded by insects, I fell in love with the jungle. I loved the noise - the drumming rain on the roof of my roughly hewn wooden cabin on stilts, the orchestra of bull frogs and other wildlife which escalated during the frequent rain storms. And then there was the beautiful sound of the shaman singing his songs of protection in the middle of the night as I journeyed with Ayahuasca on a deep exploration of my psyche. I had a vision of my birth - me with my feet braced at the entrance to this world screaming for all I was worth ‘Noooooooooo!’. It was an opportunity to let that resistance to being alive on this planet go. About time too.

When I arrived back in the UK, I just wanted to lie face down on the grass in the rain all the time. And as the rainforest had got deeply under my skin, I found myself choosing to spend four months in an off-grid yurt in a secluded Welsh valley during the wettest winter on record in Wales! It was like living inside a drum. And as I learned the rhythm and voices of the stormy winds I knew I might never live in a house again. Emerging out the other side of this womb-like existence - where it took an hour to boil a kettle on top of the woodburner for tea, and two hours to cook a stew or heat enough water for a wash - I realised I may be a worry wart but I was also a resilient and awesome woman!

The idea that we women over 50 are wild, wonderful and wise began to root more deeply.

Having discovered that this part of Wales is my spiritual home I stayed. I found myself a small caravan to live in which shook in the wild winds and where I could hear the rain hammering on the thin aluminium roof. Joy!

Francesca Cassini

An Intuitive PR course I did online around my storytelling - separate from my spiritual travel work - showed me that the people who would be most interested in what I had to share were women over 50. It was like a light bulb going on and it married so well with my increasing sense of us ‘elders’ sharing our wisdom with the world. And before you think you don’t have any - think again.

You can’t make it through 50+ years on this planet without gaining insight, understanding and your own unique perspective. I’d wager a bet on us all being far wiser than we give ourselves credit for. Somehow it’s easier in the ageist society we live in, to believe we’re not worth very much at all, particularly once we’re past menopause. After all, if we aren’t slim, young, fertile and gorgeous, we must be on the scrap heap. So speaks the masculine voice of authority through the press, through our peers and even through our own family.

Another out-of-the-blue opportunity pinged its way in to my inbox - the chance to participate in a shamanic retreat with Elen Tompkins, author of Silver Wheel - the Lost Teachings of the Deerskin Book. As I read the offer I burst into tears. And no matter how hard I tried to talk myself out of it, I knew I had to go. I had already committed to following my heart, but this was the first time I truly followed it without having any conscious sense of the reason for doing it.

A couple of months later, I was camping in a tiny tent during a massive storm under the stern gaze of a rock giant and his mate, with the deep rumbling roar of a waterfall nearby. It was a mystical place to be and perfect for eleven of us to experience thirteen shamanic ceremonies from the Elven Realm of Lemuria. I still had no conscious sense of what I was doing there except reconnecting with an ancient vow. I wondered what that could be.

A few days later, I lost my job and my landlord decided that he had better ask me to leave too. I also had a very sick cat, who was cage-bound for weeks. Did I have a Plan B? Of course not! But I do believe that when things become so chaotic, a breakthrough is just around the corner. So I stayed as calm as I could and allowed life to unfold, and for magic to happen.

Money-making suggestions started pouring in. But I haven’t been able to work purely for money for years. I have to work from inspiration and ideally a bonus is the essential cash flow. But something else happened - out of the suggestions emerged the idea of a community. A community of women over 50 who acknowledge they are truly wise elders with something of value to offer the world.

As I drove through a beautiful Welsh valley, I asked out loud what would be the name of the place where these wonderful elder women would meet? Our version of The Red Tent. At that very moment, the name The Silver Tent boomed out. I felt goose bumps race over my arms while energy shot down through my crown chakra and out through my feet. I burst into tears. Just thinking about this moment as I write is enough to make the tears flow again. I knew in that instant this was bigger than me. It was as if I had been the open-hearted goddess through which this could be birthed. My vow.

All of a sudden, I understood why my life has unfolded the way it had. I had been waiting to be 62 years old, in the right place at the right time – in order to bring this divinely inspired enterprise to fruition.

I saw this community as a crystalline structure, transparent, strong and deeply feminine. It would be a place where we would meet on and offline, learn from each other, share with each other, and discover that being wise elders is our birthright. In fact, it is in our DNA, it is what we’re designed to be. This stage of our lives, far from being a fading out is the most profound, magnificent and creative time of our lives. And above all, we’d take our wisdom out in to the world. I began to believe the Gloria Steinem quote that says ‘one day an army of gray haired woman will quietly take over the world’. Yes, yes, yes.

This was back in October 2016. Since then, almost 3000 women from all around the world have joined the Silver Tent Facebook Group. It is the most engaging and supportive group, I have personally experienced and the feedback is quite extraordinary. I was totally clear from the beginning that this was to be founded on the principles of conscious, co-creative collaboration and to be a place of non-judgemental support, nourishment and learning. What came through intuitively is that this would be the space to create a movement of women over 50 who would create this third stage of our lives imbued with meaning and celebration, as well as making a profound difference in our world.

I am in awe every day at the conversations unfolding in the group and the transformations, which occur. One woman shared her sadness and anger at her relationship ending. She allowed herself to be vulnerable. The wisdom and support from the community was way beyond what you’d expect in a FB group. Woman after woman shared their experiences and reminded her of how wonderful she is and that she didn’t need to settle for anything less than she deserves. She kept in touch with us posting her feelings along the journey -of failure and upset and of challenge - until she shared with us her excitement at enrolling in college again to learn something new. She changed her life and herself in the process and told me that her transformation was helped substantially by being a part of The Silver Tent and receiving such non-judgemental support.

Another woman poured her heart out about her ex-husband and his imminent death. As she posted, day by day taking us with her on her emotional journey, she called on our help and support, but what she didn’t realise for a long time was how much we received from her. Her growth shone through as she learned moment by moment to be more of herself through self reflection and forgiveness. She has been an incredible beacon to all of us. She has helped us understand that our most vulnerable moments can give others more than we can ever believe possible. We certainly don’t need to be perfect in order to share our wisdom.

There are many stories of how this growing global circle of women over 50 is transformational. The Facebook Group is giving people the space to be vulnerable and find support. Our online video meet-ups have taught us that even though we’re meeting in a virtual room, we actually feel as intimately connected as if we were all sitting round a blazing fire sipping mulled wine together. There is an oxytocin rush, which gives us all a wonderful level of deep nourishment. And from this, we’re developing offline meet-ups around the world as well as retreats and house parties.

One of the biggest visions of The Silver Tent is to create co-housing communities all around the world. A new Silver Tent member contacted me recently to talk about just this. She had been her mother’s carer for six years until her death about two days before we spoke. Depression had been her companion for a while and she believed there was nothing for her after this. But she came across the idea of co-housing and it brought some light back to her life. After we chatted for an hour or two about co-housing, we knew we were on the same page. She came to meet me and we are now working together to create the first community of this kind. We’re starting from scratch with no funds available so it is a fascinatingly big project, one that is changing her life… and mine!

There are so many plans to develop. Silver Sofas will be our version of AirBnB helping our women travel around the world feeling supported and safe. Our Silver Wisdom Portal along with Silver Tent Radio and TV will be where we share our wisdom within and beyond the community. Not to mention the quarterly bursary and the philanthropic foundation, which will emerge once we are more than breaking even financially. And there is always more.

It is fascinating to look back and see that the seeds of this have been within me all my life. Just like an acorn grows into an oak tree, I have at last grown in to who I have been destined to be. It is an amazing and magical adventure.

Francesca Cassini, Founder, The Silver Tent

The Silver Tent is creating a movement of post-menopausal women regaining their wild, wonderful and wise elder status to enable the re-emergence of the female elder in western society.

It does this by serving women to reconnect with their wisdom and re-ignite their dreams through an online community offering on and offline conferences, coaching and mentoring, luscious retreats and workshops, global travel experiences and peer to peer meet ups.

The current foundational team and faculty coaches/mentors are wise elder women themselves, are experts in their field, have great experience in running relevant events and in particular supporting women to recognise their value and wisdom through a number of modalities.

To join us: https://www.facebook.com/groups/TheSilverTent/ and www.thesilvertent.com

AofA People: Caroline Rosie Dent – End of Life Doula, Death Cafe Host, Jeweller


5 Minute Read

Caroline Rosie Dent, 59, was one of our guests at the Death Dinner (screened tonight for the first time at Barts Pathology Museum). She is an end of life Doula, a jeweller and a death cafe host. Be warned - if you're courting Caroline, never bring her cheap chocolate!

WHAT IS YOUR NAME?
Caroline Rosie Dent

HOW OLD ARE YOU?
59

WHERE DO YOU LIVE?
London, UK

WHAT DO YOU DO?
I am an end of life Doula – I walk alongside and advocate for people at the end of life, so they feel more at ease and more empowered in their dying days. I also run a Death cafe and am active in the Positive Death movement. I have been working as a creative in Textiles and jewellery for most of my life and I still make Memorial Jewellery under the alter ego Rosie Weisencrantz

TELL US WHAT IT'S LIKE TO BE YOUR AGE?

I find that such a hard question to answer as I honestly feel ageless inside. I am all the ages I have ever been ....I still carry all those younger versions of myself inside me; they all pop out at different times. At the moment I feel about 26 because I am particularly happy right now

WHAT DO YOU HAVE NOW THAT YOU DIDN'T HAVE AT 25?
I have the security of owning a home which gives me choices. I see it as my passport to freedom and adventure in the future. I have a beautiful son, who teaches me constantly how to be a better person.

WHAT ABOUT SEX?
I see sex as part of a deeper intimacy. I have zero interest in casual sex, in the same way I have no interest in fast food. I dipped my toes in the tantric waters for a while, and I got a glimpse of what is possible. I'm an all or nothing kind of person. Never bring me cheap chocolate!

AND RELATIONSHIPS?
I was a serial monogamist for most of my life and have had some pretty disastrous relationships, and yet I regret none of them. They all contributed to my growth, no matter how difficult. However, now I would like something a bit more joyful, with a man who totally *gets* me and shares my irreverent spirit. I am not afraid to be alone, as that is infinitely preferable to being in a dysfunctional relationship. I quite like the idea of living separately within a relationship. I think this keeps a relationship healthy.
Relationships can be a breeding ground for resentment, and living apart can act as a deterrent to that, and help to engender greater respect for each other. As Gibran says *let there be space in your togetherness* I would like to meet a man to travel and explore the world with...that is very appealing.... someone who looks at me through loving and forgiving eyes, and a man who can allow himself to open and be loved fully in return. I would like to experience that once before I die.

HOW FREE DO YOU FEEL?
Freedom is a state of mind. Thoughts are our greatest jailers. Sometimes I feel free, other times I feel imprisoned by my fears. I feel most free when I am alone in nature, and the mental noise is switched off. Nature is my sanctuary.

WHAT ARE YOU PROUD OF?
My son is my greatest achievement. He is a beautiful being with a boundless heart, and he has taught me many things. I am proud of my creativity and my achievements as a designer. I won an international award at the peak of my career. I am also incredibly proud that I overcame my pathological fear of death phobia, that plagued me as a child and into adulthood, and now through my work with death and dying, am helping others to overcome theirs.

WHAT KEEPS YOU INSPIRED?
Questions and Ideas. My own creative process. I have loved playing with my imagination since I was tiny and have always got a kick out of my own thought processes. I see myself as a catalyst, energy-wise. I would have made a good inventor. I feel I could have done anything I put my mind to..because my creativity is limitless.

WHEN ARE YOU HAPPIEST?
I feel freest and happiest when I am cycling along the river, far away from people, listening to beautiful music on my iPod. I am also happy when I am having conversations about death and dying and see people opening up about their deepest fears for the first time. I am happy when I am in love.

AND WHERE DOES YOUR CREATIVITY GO?
It goes everywhere! Creativity is a state of mind. It's an unstoppable force. Art writing talking feeling being. An open and curious mind is the foundation of all creativity.

WHAT'S YOUR PHILOSOPHY OF LIVING?
Be yourself, and don’t take yourself too seriously. Be able to laugh at yourself in all your glorious human imperfection. There is literally nobody who does you as well as you, so celebrate your uniqueness. We are all glorious paradoxes. Enjoy the play. It will be over soon enough. And dying? “Get curious about death before death gets curious about you” is my mantra. Don’t wait till your body and mind are failing to begin this most important work. Contemplation of Death teaches us how to live. As the Zen quote says *the cup is already broken* so live each moment fully and kiss the joy as it flies.

ARE YOU STILL DREAMING?
Always. To dream is to be alive. Never underestimate the power of your imagination. Enjoy this play.

WHAT WAS A RECENT OUTRAGEOUS ACTION OF YOURS?
No huge acts of outrageousness here...just being myself. That is my act of rebellion or outrageousness. To give an example; yesterday I lay on a bench with my head hanging upside down, and watched the passers by walking from *the ceiling of the earth* – from an upside down viewpoint walking looks like dancing. It amused me to notice that and I try not to bother myself with what others think of me. By being myself I hope I give others permission to be themselves also.

The Death Dinner – Opening up the Last Taboo


5 Minute Read

‘After the soaring, a peace
like swans settling on a lake.
After the tumult and the roaring winds,
Silence.’

Sheila Kitzinger, the natural childbirth activist who died in 2015

I am 64, and entering into the terrain of my own drawing-closer mortality - yet talking about death is still forbidden. Sex is so much more out in the open. Death is the last taboo. We do not talk about dying, how we’d like to die, or how others have died.

Last October, my mum nearly died of sepsis – her organs had begun to close down but being the 90-year-old Yorkshire woman she was and still is, she battled through – and then by chance, I saw there was a death café at the Dissenter’s Chapel in Kensal Green Cemetery as part of their October Month of the Dead.

I invited a close friend who presumed erroneously that Death was the incidental name of a café, and that we were meeting for Saturday morning tea and a natter. Instead we found ourselves in a circle of twelve discussing - the feelings that are evoked when a family member dies, the nature of a good death and different funereal rituals.

It was simply incredible to have this space to reflect on death and dying. There was a palpable sense of closeness and connection between us all at the end. Amanda and I definitely felt more alive as a result of the extraordinary conversations. One man admitted he’d never really expressed the grief around his mother dying. Another woman talked about the terrible suicide of someone close to her in detail. There was the death/life paradox in action. Plus it took place in this simple chapel created for non-conformists in 1834. Perfect. It sounds weird to say but we loved it, and vowed we would visit more. Forget bars and restaurants, death cafes are the place for truly, deeply, madly meeting.

A few months later, I found myself having the idea – we’d already featured a couple of fiercely brave pieces of writing about death, My First Death by Lena Semaan who told us about her friend, Bob, who had been terminally ill and courageously took the act of dying into his own hands, plus Dreaming of Death by Caroline Bobby who has been in an intimate relationship with death since she was young - for a Death Dinner as part of our OUTage series of events supported by the Arts Council. It would also take place at the Dissenter’s Chapel. The aim was to invite ten people from Deathworld – from mortician and author Carla Valentine to Soul Midwife Patrick Ardagh-Walter, to academic and expert in death rituals, Professor Douglas Davies to coffin plate aficionado, Hannah Gosh who happens to have a tattoo of one on her leg – to dialogue openly about their interests in death and dying, then dig a little deeper. We, at Advantages of Age, are keen to open up this last taboo as well as helping to form a Death Community, supporting the Assisted Dying movement, and also facing the nitty gritty of what we might personally want in terms death and dying.

I also thought it would be fascinating to invite the guests to come dressed as they would like to be buried or burnt. As well to bring objects with them that they’d like to go alongside them on the onward journey. This personal DeathStyle fascinated me.

Our aim was to turn the death stereotypes on their head. The guests arrived to a big red neon sign declaring Welcome to Death and then had their photos taken in or out of a deliberately kitsch Lachapelle-influenced gold frame with a leopard skin backdrop! Of course, not everyone was so keen to be snapped in this Day of the Dead type Momento Mori and we let them off the hook. Professor Davies wore his grey suit but had a rather extravagant cravat with it. Patrick, the soul midwife, was in his suit and photographed with his white miniature rose, the object he had chosen to take with him into the next world, which he felt crossed over between earth and spirit, a living rose. Others were keener to step into the frame, Liz Rothschild who runs a woodland burial ground, had turned up in her cream nightie and had chocolates to munch in the after-life. Suzanne, co-founder of Advantages of Age, was wearing a sexy scarlet dress clasping a photo of her beloved boys. Caroline Rosie Dent dazzled with her gold and black Victorian dress, black shawl and headband covered with ivory roses. In fact, she was the style star of the Death Dinner.

Everyone was welcomed over that liminal threshold into Deathland by the Queen of the Night (Ingrid Stone), all in white, of course, rather than black, with her purifying burning sage sticks. In silence, we made our way to our seats at the table accompanied by the haunting, ethereal sounds of Fran Loze’s cello. An abundant feast – from tomato and goats’ cheese tartlets to Parma ham and the remarkable broken heart cake – had been prepared by Caroline Bobby, our magnificent cook and a guest.

During the first half of the dinner, I invited the guests to tell us a little about their relationship with death and how they were linked to Deathworld.

Charlie Phillips, photographer, has documented Afro-Caribbean funerals at Kensal Green cemetery for years. He explained how Afro-Caribbean funerals are changing and that the emphasis is on paying out a lot of money and having songs like Do It My Way by Frank Sinatra these days. He had brought along his camera, of course, as his death object because apparently he is referred to as ‘the dead man photographer’.

Liz Rothschild is a celebrant, started the Kicking the Bucket Festival in Oxford, owns a woodland burial ground and has a show called Out Of The Box about death. Liz explained how when a friend of hers died, her group of friends gathered in such an intimate DIY way, it inspired her to want to support others create this kind of a ceremony.

Hannah Gosh makes modern mourning jewelry and told us why she is so taken with coffin plates. She had also brought along a pug’s skull as her object, but not her pug’s skull!

Caroline Rosie Dent is an end of life doula and a death café host, she told us about her death anxiety as a child, and why she’d brought along a part of her son’s umbilical cord to take with her on the ancestral trip.

John Constable aka John Crow wrote The Southwark Mysteries, a series of poems which became a play. It is the story of the Winchester Goose, one of the medieval sex workers in the area who were condoned by the Bishop of Winchester but forced to have unconsecrated graves. John has been a campaigner around the Cross Bones graveyard for many years and holds a monthly vigil there on the 23rd of every month.

Caroline Bobby is a writer, cook, erotic healer and psychotherapist. She had brought with her The Book of Longing by Leonard Cohen and her favoured piece of fine woolen cloth, that she would like to be wrapped in when she goes. She sees herself becoming ash and being blown away.

Patrick Ardagh-Walter is a soul midwife, which he describes as being simply alongside someone as they approach this last stage of their lives.

Carla Valentine is an author, mortician and the Technical Assistant Curator at Barts Pathology Museum where she looks after 5,000 body parts in bottles. She describes herself as being quite an unusual child who was interested in death and whose grandfather died when she was seven, in front of her.

Professor David Davies lectures in Death Studies, his most recent book is Mors Britannica: Lifestyle and Death-Style in Britain Today. He explained that he’s fascinated by different groups and their attitudes to death, some like their lives and deaths to cohere, others are just the opposite. He said he hadn’t brought an object because he’s never thought of having an object with him at that time.

Liz Hoggard is a journalist who admits to feeling like a bit of a death tourist in our midst. She sports pearls that might act as some sort of collateral in a future existence and has brought along two lipsticks, one of them is black, the other red. Max Ernst described the latter apparently as ‘the red badge of courage’.

During the break, we listen to Caroline Bobby’s recorded version of her piece, Dreaming of Death. It is precious and moving. In it, she says: ‘I don’t know if I long for death just because living with baseline depression is unforgiving, and every morning is a shock. I don’t think it’s just that. This human and embodied world has never, quite felt like my natural habitat. At a cellular level I am aching to go home.’

 

After this raw and vulnerable piece, we entered a discussion about death led by Suzanne. We looked at whether there is a revolution in death going on, whether death is really trending, how we could welcome death into our daily lives in conversation and what sort of funerals we would like. Some of it was funny, other parts were poignant. Professor Douglas Davies declared controversially that the only revolution going on is amongst middle-class women. ‘The Death Chattering classes,’ he asserted.

Finally, Charlie Phillips declared that ideally, he would go while making love. And that he’d like ‘Lucky Motherfucker’ on his gravestone as well as ‘Came and Went at the same time’. As you can imagine, laughter rippled through the chapel.

I announced that natural birth activist and then death activist, Sheila Kitzinger had inspired me. She had a death plan, managed to stay at home to die surrounded by her close family despite doctors trying to get her to hospital because she had cancer, then she was put in a simple cardboard coffin decorated by family and friends, and eventually taken in the back of a car for a small woodland burial. The more flamboyant memorial service came later.

Son – take note!

Death Dinner will be screened for the first time tonight - 6.30pm at Barts Pathology Museum, E2. https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/death-dinner-film-screening-tickets-38270917344

AofA People: Sue Tilley – Artist, Model, Writer, Speaker


1 Minute Read

Sue Tilley, 60, is the most recognisable muse – she was the model for Lucian Freud’s 1995 Benefits Supervisor Sleeping – in modern British art. These days, she lives in St Leonards and has her own career as an illustrator teaming up with designers like Fendi to create bags, T-shirts and more. Sue is talking at the Century Club in London this Wednesday about Taboo club and her friendship with Leigh Bowery. Sadly, it’s sold out.

WHAT IS YOUR NAME?  
Sue Tilley
HOW OLD ARE YOU?
60
WHERE DO YOU LIVE? 
St. Leonards, UK
WHAT DO YOU DO? 

I am an artist, model, writer and speaker. I also spend a lot of time lying about, reading, watching telly and meeting friends for gossiping.

TELL US WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE YOUR AGE?

It’s like being 17 but with more aching bones and less angst. Actually it’s marvellous, I have made my life as easy as it can be and more or less do what I want. I’ve paid off my mortgage, live in a lovely flat that I have just finished doing up and in a wonderful town by the sea.

I have realised that it is no point getting worked up about minor (or major) irritations . Continual moaning just makes you irritable and does not affect the person or situation you are moaning about as they usually can’t hear you. It also bores all those around you rigid. I can’t remember the last time I couldn’t sleep as I was worrying about something.

I think that not going to ‘proper’ work has made a great difference to my life. No attending boring meetings about boring subjects which have usually been discussed many times before.

I don’t care what people think of me anymore…if they don’t like me… so what …there are plenty of people who do. I don’t like everybody so why should everybody like me.

WHAT DO YOU HAVE NOW THAT YOU DIDN’T HAVE AT 25?

I have more money which really does make life much easier. I’m sure a time will come when I haven’t got much again but it is so lovely not having to think about every penny and I can pay to make my life easier. I have a cleaner which is so fantastic….I am hopeless at house work and I can’t describe the joy I have at not having to do it.

I also like to think that I also have some wisdom which I have acquired over the years

WHAT ABOUT SEX?

What about it…I can’t really believe I ever did it. I have talked to many women my age and many of them agree with me thinking that it is a very strange thing to do. I had fun doing it when I was younger but can’t bear the thought of it now… I’d much rather share a smile or hold someone’s hand.

AND RELATIONSHIPS?

I’m not really a relationship person. I’m far too lazy and enjoy my own company and my own funny ways far too much. I’d hate to live with someone unless we had a huge house where we could keep out of each other’s way

I’ve had a very strange relationship with an artist twenty years younger than me for the last 4 years. It’s a friendship that I can’t even really explain and have never really known anything like it before. But I rarely see him, we just message each other several times a day so it’s like he’s with me but he actually physically isn’t which is perfect for me.

I’ve also got a lot of friends and I have a different relationship with all of them and these satisfy all my needs ensuring that I am never bored and always have someone to talk to if I need to.

HOW FREE DO YOU FEEL?

I feel pretty free, the only thing that stops me from doing certain things is my very dodgy knees that makes walking too far a problem. But I’m very creative and can usually come up with a solution to make sure I can do what I want to do. I am currently embarking on a health improvement programme, and to get my knees fixed is on my list.

I am certainly free to make my own decisions and I really can’t bear people giving me unsolicited advice. If they do I usually do the opposite thing.

WHAT ARE YOU PROUD OF?

At the moment I’m very proud of getting my flat just the way I want it, in about 7 months.

I even got rid of most of my furniture and got some old things that were just what I’ve always wanted but never thought that I could have. It’s lucky that there are many shops and warehouses in St Leonards selling just what I want, at very reasonable prices.

I guess that people would think that I would be more proud of some of the things that I am well known for doing such as modelling for Lucian Freud or doing the illustrations for the Fendi SS18 menswear collection. And although I am really proud of these they are things that I was asked to do and I was working with other people but I did my flat all on my own and it was all my own creativity which went into it. It also helped that I was only pleasing myself and didn’t need to consult with or please anyone else.

WHAT KEEPS YOU INSPIRED?

I’m inspired by many things, I love meeting my old friends and meeting new people and looking at the things around me. I can find inspiration in most things which means that I am never bored.

My artist friend is also a great inspiration as he challenges me to do things that I haven’t done before and encourages me to make new art.

WHEN ARE YOU HAPPIEST?

I am happy most of the time, which is a wonderful feeling. I am particularly happy when I have finished all the jobs that I am meant to have done so that I can do exactly as I want but then I get a bit itchy and wait for the next project to come in.

AND WHERE DOES YOUR CREATIVITY GO?

In many different directions, although I usually wait to be asked to do things rather than starting projects on my own. But I am very lucky as people often ask me to do stuff, for instance this week I have sent a painting to be auctioned in aid of Art4Grenfell, I have written this piece and baked a cake to a recipe that I made up and next week I’m giving a talk in London about Leigh Bowery and Taboo.

WHAT’S YOUR PHILOSOPHY OF LIVING?

To live life as much as you can. I always think that experiences are more valuable that possessions.

Be kind to people. Don’t worry too much. Don’t complain too much. Make the best of whatever you have instead of focusing on what you don’t have. Try to see the funny side of everything. Even a bad experience can be made into a good story. To say ‘yes’ far more often that saying ‘no’.

AND DYING?

I used to be petrified of death but as I’ve got older, I’ve seen many of my friends and family get dreadful illnesses and addictions, some have died but some have survived. So now I’m not bothered about dying as long as it’s not too painful. And old age doesn’t look particularly appealing and I’ve got no children to look after me so I don’t want to live too long beset by pain and memory loss. However I don’t think I’m ready to go yet, I recently had surgery and they asked me if I wanted to be revived if I died on the operating table and I didn’t hesitate in saying ‘yes’.

But if I died tomorrow I would be satisfied with what I have achieved in my life and would be glad that I died happy.

ARE YOU STILL DREAMING?

If you mean do I dream when I’m asleep...yes, I do. I like the dreams that you have when you wake up and then snooze for a few minutes. I did this yesterday and the dream was so real I could feel myself flying through rooms and chatting to the various people that I met in them. It was most enjoyable.

But if you mean do I dream of doing things...not anymore. I used to dream about things that might happen to me and they never happened but the things that have happened to me are so bizarre I wouldn’t even imagine dreaming about them. For instance, I have been portrayed on the stage in London and on Broadway in the musical Taboo by Boy George. I also became the subject of the most expensive painting ever sold at auction by a living artist when Lucian Freud’s “Benefit Supervisor Sleeping” sold for 17.2 million pounds in 2008 which resulted in a media frenzy. And recently I did all the drawings that were used on the Fendi Spring/summer 2018 menswear collection and ended upon the front row at their Milan fashion show.

But when I was at school I dreamt about being an artist, this finally came true when I reached the ripe old age of 58 when I had a big show in London and have more or less made my living by my artistic skills in the two years since.

WHAT WAS A RECENT OUTRAGEOUS ACTION OF YOURS?

A few weeks ago I was asked to give a talk in the Art Tent at Hastings Pride. My payment for the event was a bottle of vodka which was plonked in front of me, along with several cold cans of diet coke as I sat down on stage. I don’t drink very often but I think the spirit of Leigh Bowery entered me on this sunny afternoon and I started glugging it down, I shared far more that I meant to in my talk and then carried on boozing, I invited several friend back to mine and as I left the field to get a taxi home I fell over and rolled down the grassy hill like a child and then came to an abrupt stop and immediately got my phone out like nothing had happened. We got back to mine and continued to drink until about midnight when I was sick and collapsed fully dressed on the floor by my bed.

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