I have been exploring the relationship between coming forward and resting back for years. A pulse which involves no pushing and simultaneously no holding back. To support myself to live like that I ask myself, “what is it like, right now, if I let go and allow completely what wants to come through me, without making an effort?” In young children and animals, this doesn’t need to be ‘worked on’ because it is so natural. It is how it is supposed to be. Life moves because it moves and it loves to move.
Memory of a realization : I am looking into Colin’s eyes. I suddenly realize that I am receiving him but not giving of myself to him. I see that I have somehow assumed that relationship equals letting the other in, which means not really letting him in, but checking him (or anyone) out and responding to him, rather than just showing up, and meeting him as he and I show up. Ha, there are two of us here and this is a conversation. It is one of those moments when what I thought I knew, I suddenly knew. It’s so obvious that I hadn’t been aware of it. I don’t have to check anything out in you, in order to be who I am, or to measure up how much of me I can be. I can step in and say hello, as I am, and see what wants to happen.
Many years ago, I asked a tree if he/she/it trusted Life. The tree was somewhat perplexed by the question and responded “I AM Life!”I realized in that moment that I had missed something so fundamental and obvious. I thought I was a character in this big play of life, I hadn’t realized that, whilst this was also true, more profoundly than that I was Life. Just as every other living thing is life. And from that perspective the very idea of being separate from existence, or from another, or from the natural world is absurd, unthinkable, weird.
And as life, movement happens, expression happens, words tumble out, actions happen. Watching my little grand daughter, I see her being life. She has no concept yet of being a separate person with volition and the capacity to choose whether to hold back or come forward. She just does what she does. Life moves her. Hands happen, hunger happens, a breast appears, a smiling face appears. Sounds happen; a loud startling bang, music, the clucking sounds which one day she will recognize is chickens even when she cannot see them. A smile or laugh bursts out of her little body, a cry, a scream, a kick, a gurgle. Her own hand appears in view, or her foot. But the concept of my own foot hasn’t yet dawned. It is all just life happening.
It seems that all creatures are naturally living this immediacy, this impulsive, creative possibility which is never ending.
So what happens to us as humans as we individuate and realize we are distinct from others, and need to survive physically and emotionally in the world?
I will speak personally; I decided from a fairly young age, it was wise and sensible to tone this business down. Not completely, because I liked getting attention, and I couldn’t hold back the life energy which I felt so strongly wanting expression through me in a myriad of ways. – like climbing trees, singing and dancing, telling stories and painting pictures, chatting to people, playing with dogs and jumping in rivers creating emotional dramas and running and running around… But I figured it would be sensible to try and control it and constantly gage all those I encountered, to figure out how much or how little I could let the energy out depending on who I was with and where they were at in that moment. This only became possible at a certain age before which it was impossible to temper my energy. One of my earliest memories is this – sitting in the back of the car with my mother and grandmother who were talking about boring things. I had a lot to tell them about, but I only became aware of this when I was bribed to be quiet for 2 minutes. I’m not sure what the bribe was, but I know I wanted it badly, probably sweet money. But the things I wanted to say were SO important, and holding it all down felt more or less impossible, and what’s more, I remember thinking that they would be badly deprived if I didn’t tell them all this fascinating stuff; I failed to reach the 2 minute mark thus sacrificing my prize in the knowledge that although they didn’t realize it, they would be so much the richer for my offering.
A few years on however adaptions to fit with my environment came easier. This was quite an energy consuming process, because there wasn’t a set formula. For example my Dad (who I most desperately wanted closeness with), would love and praise my unbounded expression one minute, and come down like a ton of bricks on it the next. So there was a constant need to listen, and to measure and determine in every moment how much or how little would be needed in order to please him and get the love and praise and communion I wanted. And of course with each other member of my family and friends or acquaintances this had to be honed to a fine art too, amplified by moving to another country aged 6 where all the rules of conduct were very different to what I was used to. The effect of all of this was that the appraisal of who was in front of me began to become more important than the natural uncensored movement of life through me. This is pretty normal of course, and actually to some degree healthy. We need to attune to our environment and determine how we behave in order to survive, fit in and thrive in our community as best we can. However the downside is that there is an increasing sense of a separation between myself and the natural flow of life through me as I learn to manipulate myself to fit in and control, repress, deny or dissociate from the flow.
It seems to take years to reclaim that spontaneous life movement when it has been trained in such complex ways. And it is only truly possible in my experience, as I start to intuit and then to increasingly feel a sense of being safe in my own skin even when I am not liked or approved of. This gives confidence and safety in letting go of the holding. And as the repression starts to thin, and the movement of life itself is able to come through more freely, there can be a sense of disorientation which comes with the aliveness, and an exposure which comes hand in hand with being less defended.
Another layer of this is up for me, as I start to stick my neck out, and communicate through the written word, without being able to control who is receiving it and therefore adapt to fit my audience…
Ancient, well honed voices pipe up – “Do you like me? Do you approve of what I say and therefore of me? Will I still belong whether I fuck up, I shine or make no noise at all? Will you punish me if I get noticed?”
I won a prize at school for the best painting. I remember it vividly, I was so proud. It was of a man who had just done the grape harvest (or vendemmia) in Tuscany where we lived. He was leaning against the barrel full of grapes with a fiasco of wine in his hand overlooking the Chianti hills. My father was very upset. He told me that I didn’t deserve the prize, and that I had only been given it because he was a painter and that made him sick (he felt ashamed to imagine I was being favoritised unfairly and he thought the painting was mediocre). This was bewildering and devastating. It was one of many incidents in my growing where I started to believe a narrative in which success seemed emotionally dangerous.
I love listening to peoples stories, and hearing the twists and turns of our complex lives and how certain events happen, and we make decisions based on them which go on to shape the rest of our lives. It’s amazing. And not that straightforward to unravel. You could say that although the story we make up is all a bit outdated, tiresome and constraining (at best!), it is an incredibly creative process that we engage in as we fit ourselves into boxes we believe will keep us safe.
I seem to have been making it my business to climb out of my own self-created limiting boxes and support others to climb out of theirs so as to open the incredible potential that life offers us when we step out of the narrative and allow ourselves to be moved. It’s exciting, and daunting by turns, not to mention thrilling and terrifying, or just quite simply relaxing. Very relaxing. And I love that more and more of us are interested in this possibility as the world veers towards more and more chaos and uncertainty. Perhaps the urgency of the state we find ourselves as a human race is part of what is supporting the wake up call. In any case despite the fact that the future looks pretty scary, I am grateful to be born in these times and to be part of a massive global movement towards profound transformation. I have no idea what we are in for, but I want to be here for it all, allowing life to move through me uncensored and alive; available for action whatever it takes, and able to rest back and not act when appropriate.