Time and Light


Sometimes on a crisp, clear day, I walk through the light
And do not consider it because I am walking
To somewhere.

Sometimes the light becomes opaque. It is all I see.
Instead of walking through, I pause and allow light’s beauty
To enter me.

Sometimes I walk through time like I walk through light.
I do not consider it because I am walking
To somewhere.

Sometimes time becomes opaque. It is all I see.
Instead of walking through, I am watching myself walking past,
Becoming old,

Does time like light, have beauty?
Or is it merely one loss after another?

By Susie Stead
© 2013

holding tree

Unfinished Business

2011 335They say that people with schizophrenia hear voices and can’t discern between which voices are real and which are not.

I don’t have schizophrenia. I do have voices. You know them – the ones who tell you ‘that was a stupid thing to do’ or who trawl over unsatisfactory conversations. They pop up frequently when I’m alone: in the bath, on a walk, in the car. Sometimes it’s only one but occasionally the whole lot emerge like zombies from a bad movie. It doesn’t matter how often you hack their limbs off, they just keep coming. Sometimes I summon them, especially if I think I’ve got the clinching argument. The one I should have used in the real conversation. In these internal dialogues, I’m always witty, sharp, and brilliant. They are always slow, stupid and put in their places… briefly.

They are all ghosts of real people, living and dead. They are all unfinished business.

Occasionally I have moments of clarity. I say ‘why am I spending so much time with YOU?’ But like sticky, over chewed gum, I can’t get them off my metaphorical fingers.

Except I can.

They are not holding onto me. I am holding onto them. I have my hand fisted round their shirt collar and I won’t let go. I’m intense and angry or else I’m cool and reasonable. But I never let them go. I want my view of the world to be accepted, agreed. But it is only the ghosts who concede. Their real counterparts obstinately and continually refuse to collude with my interpretation of matters. And I will not collude with theirs.

It seems that it’s not possible to resolve unfinished business with ghosts.

Recently I wrote a screenplay for a short film. It wasn’t until at least the 5th draft and complaints from others that I realised that my main character was unfinished business. I’d created her and set her up so I could destroy her. I was pretending I had sympathy when actually I wanted her to suffer.

Who wants the difficulty of real people? Next time I’ll go for a Fairy Story. Forget attempts at inclusion and go for full on dualism – I’ll have a fairy godmother, a crowd of wonderful mythical creatures (all on my side) and zombies. Lots of them. It’ll be a hard and difficult journey but just before the closing credits, good will triumph (my side of course) and all the zombies will be buried forever under concrete or thrown in the sea or turned into deformed statues to be ogled at by strangers. A few of my beloved creatures will have sacrificed themselves for me on the way and I will remember them always.

There. Done. If only.

Singing Bowl


Begin the song exactly where you are,
Remain within the world of which you’re made.
Call nothing common in the earth or air,

Accept it all and let it be for good.
Start with the very breath you breathe in now,
This moment’s pulse, this rhythm in your blood

And listen to it, ringing soft and low.
Stay with the music, words will come in time.
Slow down your breathing. Keep it deep and slow.

Become an open singing-bowl, whose chime
Is richness rising out of emptiness,
And timelessness resounding into time.

And when the heart is full of quietness
Begin the song exactly where you are.

You can hear him read this by going to this link

Malcolm read this at the Bloxham Faith and Literature festival and commented that if you put any objects into a singing bowl, it will not sing….

It is the emptiness that allows the song.


This won the Lewes Fair Trade Writing Competition in 2006. It was written and produced as a piece of comic street theatre, originally performed in Haywards Heath Shopping Centre.
The figures used for this piece were correct in July 2005 – will need updating.

INTERVIEWER – Preferably a woman
MAN – preferably with a decent physique

The interviewer and helper stand looking like they are about to pick someone out of the crowd. The people with placards stand to one side. The man casually walks past and is accosted.

INTERVIEWER: Excuse me sir – do you know where that shirt comes from?

MAN: No idea – the wife got it for me – nice isn’t it?

Interviewer looks at the label down the back of the man’s shirt.

MAN: Oi, get off.

INTERVIEWER: Made in Bangkok. Do you know how much they pay the women who make these shirts?

MAN: No, and I don’t care.

INTERVIEWER: They’re paid virtually nothing.

MAN: They get no pay?

INTERVIEWER: Hardly anything.

MAN: They must get something!

INTERVIEWER: Enough to pay for food and rent. That’s it.

MAN: That’s alright then.

INTERVIEWER: But it won’t pay medical expenses – there’s no NHS out there.


INTERVIEWER: They get paid £1.09/day for a 6 day week – which makes it £6.54 a week.

MAN: No way!.

INTERVIEWER: She can’t exactly hit the town on a Saturday night, with that sum! Would you work those hours for that pay?

MAN: What do you take me for?

INTERVIEWER: So you agree it isn’t fair? This shirt is the result of mega exploitation of the workers.

MAN: Too right.

INTERVIEWER: People like that should be paid a proper minimum wage.

MAN: Absolutely.
Interviewer and helper start to take the man’s shirt off

MAN: What…..now look here….what are you doing?

INTERVIEWER: You don’t want this shirt now do you?

MAN: Well,…..erh

INTERVIEWER: You want to stand up for workers rights don’t you?

MAN: I suppose so…but what am I supposed to wear?

INTERVIEWER: Buy fair-trade clothes – look on the net – meanwhile
(takes shirt off) show off your chest!

Man stands a little straighter- possibly flexes his muscles and does a pose.
People with placards put them down and applaud.

INTERVIEWER: Now, about the trousers.

MAN: So, they’re on the cheap side – you don’t have to go on about it.

Interviewer looks down the back of his trousers.

MAN: Oi! Will you stop doing that!

INTERVIEWER: These trousers are from Cambodia – the sweatshops there employ children as young as 12 to work up to 16 hours a day, 7 days a week – they’re mostly girls.

MAN: You’ve got to be joking.

INTERVIEWER: [to audience]Who’d like to send their 12 year old to a sweat shop? She could earn you – oh anything up to £8 a week! Oh, And they don’t worry about silly things like safety in sweat shops – it’s quite likely she’ll get a needle through her finger on a regular basis. She may well have to work standing up for 8 hours at a time with no break – as for proper lighting, well….

MAN; It’s disgusting!

INTERVIEWER: They do employ plenty of adults – you’d be very welcome.

MAN: I’d work for a different company.

INTERVIEWER: They’re all the same except the fair trade companies, like Gossipium and People Tree.

MAN: I’d get a job with them then.

INTERVIEWER: Well you’d better buy some trousers from them – look them up on the net. But your trousers were made in a sweatshop in Bangkok! Off they come my boy!

They start to take the man’s trousers off

MAN: Heh! Stop that! You’re tickling!

Man gets left standing there in a pair of swimming trunks or shorts – maybe boxer shorts – the funnier they look the better.

INTERVIEWER: A fine pair of legs! Now don’t be embarrassed – these nice people only want to stare at you.

MAN: Arrgh!

INTERVIEWER: Where were we? Oh yes – your pants..…

Man puts his hands over his crotch. Policewoman appears.

POLICEWOMAN: Hello, Hello, Hello – what have we here? Exposing yourself in public (starts writing on a notepad)

MAN: I can explain everything, officer – this person was just telling me about the girls in Bangkok.

POLICEWOMAN: Was she now…

MAN: I’ve got to take my trousers off – you see – my trousers are the result of exploitation and..

POLICEWOMAN: I think you better come with me – and bring your exploited trousers with you.

(Policewoman takes man away)
MAN: I can explain everything… it was her fault….

INTERVIEWER: Stop taking the shirts off the backs of the poor – buy Fairtrade and ask for Trade Justice Now!

Interviewer, helper and people with placards step forward and say together

ALL: Trade Justice Now!


With thanks to Pete Rollins whose strange and startling stories have inspired me.

Once upon a time a long time ago, there lived a king and queen of a great kingdom. They had one daughter. Like any parent, they did not want their child to suffer. But unlike most parents these two had the power and the money to achieve their aim. They had a huge wall built and their daughter grew up within these grounds. All the servants and visitors were required to be happy and positive at all times. Their daughter grew up blissfully happy. Everyone loved her – they were paid to.

The princess in due course became a very beautiful young woman. One day, out of curiosity she found her way onto the streets. The suffering she saw there overwhelmed her. She wanted to make it all better. Her parents tried to tell her that these people were used to their way of life – they were mostly lazy or brutalised and would not appreciate her warm and caring heart. However to please her they gave her a generous allowance which she spent on the poor. The poor were very grateful.

Then, on one occasion when she was distributing largesse to those in need, an arthritic old man chose to tell her the real problem. Her parents. It was they who were the main employers in the area – they paid low wages and charged high taxes. The princess was so disturbed by this that she couldn’t carry on. She returned home in tears. Her parents were enraged at the old man for throwing their daughter’s generosity back in her face and causing her to suffer. They re-assured her as best they could and only hinted mildly that they had warned her. A number of good citizens came to renounce the old man’s words and to apologise for his hurtful words. As for the old man, he was brought before the court, tried and summarily executed for treason.

The princess chose never to leave the castle grounds again. She married, had many children and lived happily ever after.

© Susie Stead 2014


I recently listened to Pema Chadron on the subject of mindfulness meditation. I recommend her. She says people often think that meditation is about ‘feeling peaceful’. You sit down, you begin to meditate and peacefulness descends on you. Like a stormy sea which becomes as still as a mill pond…

Mmm… yes…. As you start to meditate, the stormy sea does begin to calm and then become still. But then the water becomes clear, so clear that you can see all the old tyres, the dead bodies, the plastic bags full of stuff you threw in there years ago.

Her point is that the work of peace begins when you agree to look through the clear water and face what is there, not what you want to be there.

simple, eh? 🙂

This story of calming the storm and yet not ‘feeling’ peaceful is in the New Testament in Mark chapter 4 from verse 35. Jesus is in a boat with his disciples on the Sea of Galilee. A storm blows up but Jesus remains fast asleep in the back of the boat. It gets so bad the disciples wake him up shouting ‘Don’t you care if we die?’. So Jesus stands up and commands the winds and waves to be still. And there is a great calm. Are the disciples happy now? No. They’re terrified, saying to each other: “Who is this man? Even the wind and waves obey him.”

The Poem below I found in ‘Making Peace’ by Denise Levertov.

Bet said:
There was a dream I dreamed always,
Over and over,

A tunnel
And I in it, distraught

And great dogs blocking
Each end of it

And I thought I must
Always go on
Dreaming that dream,
Trapped there,

But Mrs Simon listened
And said

Why don’t you sit down
In the middle of the tunnel

Imagine yourself
Quiet and intense sitting there,
Not running from blocked
Exit to blocked exit.

Make a place for yourself
In the darkness
And wait there. Be there.

The dogs
will not go away.
They must be transformed.

Dream it that way.

Your being, a fiery stillness
Is needed to TRANSFORM
The dogs.

And Bet said to me:
Get down into your well,

It’s your well

Go deep into it

Into your own depth, as into a poem.

The Silent Observer


She used  to bring a small stool and sit down on the pavement for periods of time just watching life pass.  Or she would stand by the stool and stare.  I don’t know how long she stayed there because I was normally driving or cycling past, doing something ‘useful’.  But she was out there most days, somewhere in the area.  And sometimes she would still be in exactly the same position when I came back.

One afternoon I saw her sat by a driveway, watching a man wash his car.  She appeared engrossed and he unbothered.  There was no conversation. She didn’t sit in one of our attractive parks or wander about in the beauty of central Oxford but out here on a pavement in a suburban area with a housing estate, a couple of schools and some backwater roads.  I never saw her by the shops.

We’re not talking here about just summer or only in daylight.  She was out at any time and in any and all weathers.  Someone gave her a thick coat once after watching her sit there in the freezing cold, day after day one January.  She was established in these habits when I arrived in the neighbourhood and was still there on her stool, 5 years later.

She was Chinese but with a skin discoloration which looked like she’d tried creams or medication at one stage to become more ‘white’-  but it could just have been an accident of birth.  At the time that she wandered about the neighbourhood with her stool, her hair was  long and untended.  She would sometimes carry an umbrella but only to keep off the sun.

My teenage daughter’s school friends were frightened of her.  They thought she should just stay at home and watch TV.  On her own?  All day?  Her behaviour struck me as being remarkably rational.

Someone has now ‘done something’ about her.  I understand that she’s been re-housed in some supportive accommodation.  She now has a neat short bob haircut and no longer carries a stool.  She no longer stands or sits for periods of time on the street.  I only see her occasionally and say hello.

I hope she’s happy and that this move has been good for her.  For myself, it feels like a loss.  Was it just that she acted like an interesting local landmark?  Or was it her stillness?  In the midst of the busyness of life, someone simply sitting and observing was strangely affirming and comforting.  Or was it the fact that she was ‘allowed’ to be there by everyone.  It was ok to behave in a different manner.  A sign that there is still room in our community for ‘the other’?

If only people like that knew how important they were.  Especially to people like me.

Darkness a gift? The Guest House by Rumi

Can darkness ever be a gift? This Rumi poem deals with our many moods. It is a poem which you may find a delightful challenge, completely unacceptable, repulsive, or strangely therapeutic… but however you react immediately, let the poem sit with you, let yourself reflect.

Mary Oliver wrote a brief poem which said:
“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”

How do we turn darkness, depression, meanness, shame, into a gift? Over the centuries there has been a fascination with Alchemy. Alchemy was the search for ways to turn base metals into gold. It was also about how we transform our troubled lives into something beautiful.

If that’s what we seek, then Rumi is worth listening to….

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
They may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
— Jelaluddin Rumi, translation by Coleman Barks