The Journal of Strength

 

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I don’t often sit in front of an empty page to see what will come as I type, like one would sit in front of an open fire admiring the flames as they dance. But even now as I thought of it, my eyes fell on the little icon on the top that tells me ‘write’. As if concluding my thoughts it said, ‘come on, come and write’.

This evening is calm. Clouds have withered away, there is a light in the neighbouring house. Birds are probably asleep, though it’s late it is still daylight.

A few months ago, someone told me to start a journal of my strengths, especially to help me with rough days. She told me, “You are strong. And you have to exercise your mind same as you exercise your muscles”. By writing about it I remind myself that I am strong, even though on more challenging days it feels as if the opposite is true. One thing I noticed. I redefined strength. In my view strength is not not-being-vulnerable. Quite the contrary, my strength is that I acknowledge my vulnerability but I don’t stop there.

Here is today’s example. Entry 83. I am strong because I let myself feel even unpleasant feelings of loneliness and despair – they lie to me about my weakness, but I am strong because I face them.

“They lie to me…” and they do it fiercely. Earlier in the year I faced one of my very intense fears and people told me I was brave. But fear makes you think you are a coward simply because you feel it. Then you unmask what is behind a ‘lie’ and realise, I’m simply human. I don’t slay fear fearlessly like a heroine would slay a dragon, but I faced it and it remains conquered on the pages of my journal.

Sometimes I read through the journal and get encouraged by words I wrote. Entry 44. I am strong because I use my vulnerability for connection (with others) not isolation. Yes, there is a tendency towards isolation at times, but even here by writing about what I learned on my own skin I hope to cross boundaries of my own house and enter into yours. With a simple thought, a few words, and perhaps a torch that brings light, should you need some.

Entry 48. I am strong because I am happy today. And you know what, this made me smile.

We often identify with our emotions, especially if they are intense, no matter whether we call them ‘good’ or ‘bad’. As if they tell us, “This is who you are”. Well, thank you, for it is true you are telling me something about me, whether ‘you’ are joy, or anger, fear or unrest. However, when I take time to stay with you, with all your persuasion that you are overpowering, you lose your capacity and I expand mine. Therefore, while you are part of me, you are not me. But you don’t have to be an enemy either, through you I grow, I become more human, more alive.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 7th July 2017)
Photo by © Iva Beranek

A gift of being real (ramblings of a writer)

hemingway-writing-just-sit-at-a-typewriter-and-bleed

It has been a while since I wrote something substantial. Not that I had nothing to say, my head was often full of various speeches that would formulate into wonderful rhetorics in the most unlikely circumstances. Most often I got the inspiration in the morning as I was getting ready to go to work, while eating breakfast and drinking coffee on the go. Topics would come into my head, either related to my own life or whatever was a buzz of the day, and I would tell myself snippets of a potential speech, but of course there was no audience listening to me. I would open the fridge to take something to eat, and a few profound thoughts were on my lips. But, for some reason, I did not take time to write those things down. Each of those fleeting thoughts ended up being like a wind writing its story through the falling leaves of autumn trees.

Sometimes I wonder why there are times through the year when I struggle with writing. A person is probably not a writer if they don’t struggle with writing. Why would they? They wouldn’t even think about it. They would commit their time to something else and be quite happy about it. I am not a painter, so the fact I don’t take time to paint is not such big a deal. Yet if I had the gift of painting and I wouldn’t do it, I would probably be aware of it.

I think I know what has been stopping me. Apart from being busy, and needing rest in my free time, there is something else. I prefer writing honestly, but I have not been allowing myself to let it flow out of me without trying to polish my thinking. I am not quite sure why I wasn’t allowing myself to commit my thoughts on paper. Not everything needs to be public. I could have written a journal, and perhaps my soul even demanded it. If we don’t let the thoughts out they fester inside. Sometimes the best reflections come through the written word. I often learned new things while writing, so why was I blocking myself in this learning process? Perhaps I don’t need to know the answer, just acknowledge it and integrate it somehow into my writing. I’m telling myself, “Write a journal Iva, don’t keep your thoughts in. First of all, you write for yourself, because writing is what makes you ‘you’. You don’t have to write in order to be read, even though of course you want that too, but don’t put pressure on yourself”. If I write for someone else I will always want to be excellent, whereas a journal doesn’t have requirements for this or that. I think I just need to write, honestly. Whether it’s good or not, who cares.

I was in Greece at the end of August; you may have read about it here on my blog. No, I didn’t go on a holiday. I volunteered in a refugee camp for a week. It was not an easy experience, though very valuable. I didn’t do it in order to gain something for myself, but I did get a gift while I was there. I was writing about my experience, as raw as it was, and shared it with my Facebook friends. My best friend said those reflections were one of the best things I had ever written; because I wasn’t censoring my own thoughts. I just said it as I saw it. That week in Greece gave me a gift of being real. Perhaps that’s what a place that is stripped to its essentials does; it stripes you to yours and you cannot but be real. That is exactly what I need in my writing, and not just in writing. I need this gift of being real in my life.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 23rd October 2016)

Experience from the refugee camp in Greece – unedited diary

Recently I spent a week in a refugee camp in Greece. Four of us from Dublin joined Remar S.O.S. in their work in a camp outside of Athens. In our prayer group we kept the refugees in prayers over the last year, and especially the countries they come from. Sometimes you have to bring your feet to where your payers were. Personally I wanted to go and see what the situation was like, away from the news clips, but in a real day to day life.

Just a day before the trip I celebrated eleven years of living in Ireland; coming to Ireland was my biggest ever dream come true so far. It took around ten years of longing, dreaming, waiting, praying, wondering, before the dream came to be. I am glad it was not quicker than that, because it makes me appreciate some of the feelings others might be having as they wonder about their future. As I was travelling to Athens that Sunday morning on 28th August, I was acutely aware that for every dream come true there are probably at least hundred shuttered somewhere else in the world.

Every day during the trip I was writing my row, often emotional, thoughts on Facebook about how the days went, and  I want to share some of it here.

28th August 2016 (Sunday) 

I want to share some of my initial impressions. You have to bare in mind I am still fairly ignorant, at the end of the week I may have other things to say, but this is raw, unprocessed, honest.

We went to the camp straight from the airport, helped until the evening and then back to Athens. We are going there again in the morning, every morning. Even before we were told that we cannot take photos at the camp, I decided I won’t, at least initially. It just didn’t seem respectful, and also I have a tendency to find beauty or to turn ugly into beautiful, but here it would give a wrong impression. The conditions are just so bad. My unedited thoughts about the camp are, “this is a place where dreams die”. If I had a family, I mean if my family was a refugee family, I would not stay there longer than a day; but I probably wouldn’t have much choice. And then I would probably die inside, or something would. Unless you are really a surviver type and tough situations make you dream more, but I suspect in general those people are exception.

People smile at you as you walk past them, they are absolutely beautiful, almost like their soul opens up with a smile; children run, play, guys try to flirt with you, even if they don’t know your language. That’s kind of normality and I think I would cling onto that normality for dear life if I had to be there, ‘stuck there’, as I’d say most are. I don’t know what gives them hope. I haven’t spoken to a lot of them, but one other volunteer said things that resonated with my first impressions.

I heard there is a poet in the camp, and he wants to write a book. Well, he seems to be keeping his dream alive. I hope to look for him tomorrow and talk to him. I don’t know how to finish this, as I said it’s raw, unprocessed, unpolished.

A few weeks on, I still don’t know how to gather my thoughts properly. I was reading an article ‘Prisoners of Europe’ about the bad conditions that refugees encounter in Greece. Many of them “said that the limbo they are trapped in – which has left them far from loved ones, without access to work and education, and without any clarity on their future – has led to a wave of depression and mental health problems”. I did not see that when I was in Greece, but I could ‘feel’ it.

31st August 2016 (Wednesday) 

Every morning I pray through St. Patrick’s breastplate. It focuses my mind in the right way and I come to the camp ‘clothed’ in God’s presence. One image that I remind myself in the morning is of a small bucket of water that I can use for watering a few ‘plants’; in other words I remind myself that I have only a small bucket of water with me (what I can do is limited), so I will not attempt watering the whole desert as that would be futile, but I can always bring blessings (water) to a few people.

Yesterday I wanted to bring joy, today in the morning I thought I wanted to bring life. Pretty soon after we came to the camp I deserted that idea. The place is so desolate that if I thought ‘I want to bring life’, the task would overwhelm me and I would fail at every step. I decided just to do what needs to be done and meet people with kindness, joy and hopefully love. Through the day I would remember occasionally that I have water to give, ‘bringing life’ would come into my mind now and again, but I didn’t stress over it.

One thing in particular struck me today. As I was walking in the camp I noticed that one of the families had a pet bird; most of you would know birds are my favourite animals. Normality of life again, having a pet. But the bird was in the cage, not just any cage, a very small cage. I think it was a goldfinch, so a beautiful little creature totally unable to fly. What is even more heartbreaking about it is that this bird in the cage is like a symbol of this camp. These people are all beautiful but their freedom is limited. They are allowed to come and go from the camp, spend the day in Athens, and many do, they don’t have to stay in the camp all the time. But they cannot leave Greece. Not legally anyway. If they try to leave illegally and they are caught, they will be sent back to their own country. And you don’t escape your home for no reason. What choice do they really have? What freedom? Same as that bird in the cage, their freedom is .. hm, I don’t know whether to be blunt or not, but their freedom is a fake freedom, it’s an illusion. It’s sad, really.

Another thing that struck me was during the conversation with someone, they mentioned ‘home’ and first I thought they meant their own country, but they actually meant the tent here in the camp. I know that when I go on a holiday, or I’m travelling somewhere, wherever I am staying I soon start calling it ‘home’. But this is different. What kind of ‘home’ are these tents for these people? They don’t deserve that name. If I think about it for even a little bit, I find it quite disturbing.

1st September 2016 (Thursday)

Today was a hard day. I don’t even want to write about it. I cried after lunch, though I felt like screaming. And then I cried some more in the van on the way to Athens. I find it hard to see where the people in the camp live, it’s not good. Not good at all. There were good things today too, don’t get me wrong, ….  I don’t like writing negatively here, I’m sorry. I’m used to using this space to encourage and inspire. But the desolation of the camp gets to me. And I wonder, what’s the use of my tears?

They should be living in better conditions. I could not get my head around that they were living in tents that were very much unsuitable for living, and this reality would get me down on most of the days. In this camp, in Malakasa, they have toilets and showers, they are not hungry, they can even cook for themselves, which gives them some dignity, but the conditions where they sleep are so poor that it makes the place really desolate.

I will write more in the next few days about my experience, but for now I want to say that Europe should do more. The people we were with are mainly from Afghanistan, wonderful people, but there are other nations among the refugees in other camps, people from Syria, Iran, and other countries. We cannot abandon them in Greece. They have nowhere to go, they have to stay there, and it does not seem like a good solution for all of them. It is good that Greece took them on board, perhaps generous even considering the problems they have anyway in the country. Yet certain things could definitely improve in the camps there.

I am not a politician, so I do not know what exactly needs to be done, but opening up some of the borders again, and providing an organised help, a thought-through project, may be part of the solution. As well as raising awareness about racism and trying to counter-act it with real human contact which has a potential to remove barriers. People we met were wonderful people, and same as you and I they simply want a better life.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 15th September 2016)
Photo ‘Longing for freedom’ by © Iva Beranek

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I shed a river

 

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I shed a river for you
Tear after tear
To fall
Softly
Like heaven’s rain
On your heart

I shed a cry or two
When no one saw me
Cries of love
In affection, pleading
That your depths may be
Filled
With light

I shed a thought
For your smiles
Gently contemplating
The beauty of your face
And again
A tear or two
To wash the darkness
In which your smile
Hides

I shed a prayer
For sunshine
In your soul
To sooth the ache
Inflicted
Through the years

Bright,
Golden lights of Sun
Smiling within your core
Would break away
The darkness
From my soul
And help me
Shed some smiles
Mirroring your joy

I shed a flower
That would not grow
Elsewhere
Planting it, I sang
A song that angels
Taught me
Sing

Yet no knowledge
Do I have
If my shedding
Brought any of these
‘Bright things’
Thus, I brace myself
Resolute to shed
Whatever it takes
For your inner beauty
To shine in happiness
Forever
Again

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 17th January 2011, dedicated to Ireland)
Photo by © Iva Beranek

Loving life

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There are times in life when things don’t go as you planned, and you are taken in a season of grief. It may not actually mean that it will be a fully sad season, it could be full of joy and zest of life, but the days where you do grieve you are plunged into an abyss that glues you to the floor.

You thought you were grieving one thing,
you fool,
you are grieving everything
your whole life,
as you thought it would be,
is shattered and lost

it takes time to rebuild
even things
that get broken
how much more
a living being
whose soul was torn
like last year’s autumn leaves
battered in a storm

When that storm is over and the clouds clear, you may realise you actually love your life – as it is. Earlier today I enjoyed a moment of sitting on my own, having coffee, reading, looking through the window of a café and I realised that regardless of disappointments I love my life. Probably because I actually simply love life.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, poem from May, the rest from 10th July 20160
Photo by © Iva Beranek

Belfast, when a city was a friend

a journey on the rainbow bridge - by Iva B.

Long time ago I used to be in love with Belfast, and I miss that sometimes, because that love helped me to know who I was. We get to know and we get to love places when we pray for them. You get to know them more intimately than you would know a lover, because in prayer you learn to let go of yourself, and all your love is directed towards the ‘other’. At least that’s how (I think) I used to prayed; I no longer do. I remember a time when I would go anywhere in Ireland and I could ‘see’ how much it is loved. I could see its beauty more than a natural phenomenon, but rather as a place that is saturated with God’s presence and God’s love. I miss that. I can still bring it up with an effort of remembering, but then it was effortless. I did not think about it or made myself feel in a certain way. It was a given. The difference is, I was never able to talk about it, it would overwhelm me even if I tried. Now, I can talk about it, but the feeling has been drained out.

Thomas Merton said many wise things, and this is just one of them that resonates: “There is a silent self within us whose presence is disturbing precisely because it is so silent: it can’t be spoken. It has to remain silent. To articulate it, to verbalise it, is to tamper with it, and in some ways to destroy it”.  Perhaps that’s what happened, perhaps not.

Writing about it is as if I am writing about someone else, and not my own life. As if I lived through an era to its fullness and then new chapters opened up. Below is a poem I wrote about Belfast nine years ago. Reading it again after many years made me smile. When you pray for a place, and then you bring your feet to where you prayers have been, you realise it’s not only you who know it, no, the place in some strange way knows you too. And you can never loose that, no matter what.

My Belfast

My Belfast is green with hills tenderly touching their valleys

My Belfast is a garden of hope

In him only cheerful parades march

He trusts in peace, on his streets and corners

Irish music plays day and night, at all times.

In my Belfast silence is not dead,

Nor is there a terrorist drama being played in it

No

My Belfast has no walls that prevent extending our

Vision towards heaven

Nor are there stones or blocks that stumble our

Steps while we walk

 

My Belfast has to come

He lives in my heart

Rains cry of him coming

And rainbows are awaken to make people move

To see beyond the enmity threats

Beyond fights

Rainbows have the mission of peace

Of rest

They call our hearts to trust

 

My Belfast is green with hills that gently kiss

The river with their mouth

My Belfast is emerging from the deep dark

. . .

Before my Belfast had to come

But now he appears before our sight

He is becoming

He comes from within

Like spring

My Belfast lives in God’s heart

In his garden the most beautiful roses grow

Fragrance of hope

City emerging from the dark

My Belfast

Is a home of hope

He has a heart that smiles

The laughter of giants is in his air

My Belfast is such a beautiful wee fella

With no compare

My Belfast is green with Cave hill and

The Lagan

He is emerging

He is here

He invites us to emerge with him

 

My Belfast is becoming

And so are we

Gradually

© Iva Beranek (poem from 2007, the rest 31st May 2016)
Photo by © Iva Beranek

Grief is….

grief - risingcairn_3

Grief is a weird reality that on very rare occasions seems like a friend, or at least as something that will help you grow, but most often than not it acts like an enemy wanting to tear you down, fully to tear you apart so you would need to collect the stitches of who you used to be in order to rebuild and become someone new. In grief you see what you are made of, what in you is made of steel, what is rubber or merely straw that evaporates with a little bit of heat.

Grief is like death. No, grief is death, most severe of them all, as what needs to die in order to be born again is your soul. Grief changes you, sweeps you so completely that you no longer recognise your own thoughts, no longer know how to distinguish right from wrong; anger, anger is so strong in grief. But anger clears away inner attachments that you were holding onto for too long; at least it tries to. Sadness then jumps in in order to complete the process of tearing you apart.

Grief comes in waves, like a storm raging from within your heart. And then it rains through your eyes. It also comes in waves of anger, strong, fierce anger, that rages in your mouth and flows through your fist and gathers in the pit of your stomach, making you almost feel ill.

© Iva Beranek (2015, excerpt)
Sculpture “Rising Cairn” by © Celeste Roberge

Collecting my winning photo

Last month it was one of the ‘firsts’ in my life; one of my photos made it to a photo exhibition run by Outdoor Studio. I went to the opening night on 4th April in Skerries Mills, Skerries. It was a great honour to see my photo on the wall with other winning photos. The exhibition ran for two weeks, and then all the photographers who took part in the exhibition would be given their print, to keep.

I collected my photo today. As I was walking with this proud wrapping beneath my hand, I felt like a real artist. A little accomplishment, a little stepping stone as an encouragement to keep creating. As you will see, my photo was taken at the Flower Festival in Christ Church last year. When I got home I asked one of my housemates to take photos in order to witness the process of me opening the wrapping, and I will share some of the photos here with you.

They wrote my surname incorrectly, but I will forgive them. It’s not every day you get this kind of ‘gift’.

1

2

Being happy as an ‘artist’.

Unwrapping and enjoying every moment of it!

Ta-ta!

Feeling grateful and proud.

9

What? You want more? There is no more, sorry.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 23rd May 2016)
Photos with me in them © Marie Walsh (edited by me).

The point Zero

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At some point in life, after walking many miles and surviving many adventures, it may happen that your journey takes you to the point Zero. Not that what happened before becomes insignificant, it doesn’t, but in a way it does not hold the same value as before. The main value it has is that it brought you to this point and now is the time to begin, as if for the first time.

I used to think that coming to the point zero was a rare occasion, one that happens once or twice in a lifetime. But I have come to realise that it may happen again and again, many times. It is like one of the seasons happening at certain points in ones life.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 2016, edited from four years ago)
Photo by © Iva Beranek

Laughing at myself

laughter

Do you ever laugh at your own thought process? I hope at least some of you do, but even if I am alone in this, it’s pretty enjoyable altogether I must say. I would remember a conversation in my head, and then I’d add a funny twist to it, a bit of wit, and imagine how the conversation would continue. Normally I make myself laugh in the process, and if that is happening while I walk in town, it means I walk on my own, and I’m laughing. The whole imagining-thing takes merely a few seconds, but it can still be rather amusing.

Laughter is a great thing. It brings out the joy that we have stored inside, at times buried beneath concerns of life, neglected like diamonds that gather dust, whereas they were meant to shine. Let us seek places, people, situations that bring out the joy in us. Laughter restores the soul to its original intent – it restores the goodness that God put into your heart, and mine. I wish you a lot of laughter in the days to come, restoration of joy, lightness of life.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 7th May 2016)