Opportunity Disguised as Loss and Becoming Free of Hope

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I was travelling back from Italy yesterday. It has become such an ordinary thing and yet, if you think about it, it is stunning. I got driven 60 miles to the airport in Rome from where I was staying. I got carried on countless moving stairs and moving walkways across the vast airport – as big as a small town – with hundreds of shops, restaurants, bars, toilets and endless corridors. Then I got into an Easy jet airplane and was directed to a seat packed closely together with over a hundred other seats. Whilst sitting comfortably, the two hour flight took me soaring 2000 odd miles high over planes, snow capped mountains, rivers, hills, seas, towns and cities and lots of cloudscapes. Lest I should get bored on this extraordinary trip, I was given all kinds of ‘shopping opportunities’, supplied with inflight magazines full of exciting things to do and places to go and plied with as many drinks and snacks as I wished. Then I arrived at Gatwick airport – which is like a small city – where I was enticed with perfumes (which promised to improve my figure as well as my complexion and supply me with muscly handsome brooding young men), and countless other unnecessary glittery items, drinks, jewelry, watches at apparently discounted prices (although I remained unconvinced that buying all this stuff would actually save me money!)… I got carried on a shuttle across terminals and then directed to the train station. Two train rides and a taxi ride later I was home. In short, I spent 10 hours travelling from A to B, carried by countless moving vehicles or contraptions, using God knows how much energy, for relatively low cost… alongside thousands of other people. What is phenomenal is that this is a normal part of my life!

I justify this insane energy expenditure by convincing myself it is worthwhile, that what I offer when I teach abroad is valuable, that my time with my grandchild and daughter abroad is indispensable, or that rest time in warmer climes helps me recharge and is therefore good for everyone around me as well as for me. I do it because I live in an age where this is considered normal and acceptable, despite the fact that the risk our planets very survival is off the charts. And this is one factor among many hundreds of activities I engage in from eating meat and imported fruit and veg, buying things in plastic packaging, heating my home more than is strictly necessary, buying clothes and shoes I don’t actually need, running a car, using a smart phone, etc etc.
The difficulty is that because all of this is normal, those of us who have an environmental conscience have some idea of the cost and the unsustainability of it, and yet we do it anyway. Because everyone else does. And speaking for myself, I have not made any significant sacrifices to use less energy because quite honestly it doesn’t suit me, and even more than that, I don’t believe it would make any real difference.

I read yesterday an article by George Monbiot who said that
“a series of research papers reveal there is no significant difference between the ecological footprints of people who care and people who don’t… one article says that those who identify themselves as conscious consumers use more energy and carbon than those who do not. Why? Because environmental awareness tends to be higher among wealthy people. It is not attitudes which govern our impact on the planet but income. The richer we are, the bigger our footprint, regardless of intentions… none of this means that we should not try and reduce our impact but that we should be aware of the limits of the exercise. Our behavior within the system cannot change the outcomes of the system. It is the system itself which needs to change.” The conclusion is that any system which is reliant on continual ‘growth’ in order to survive, on a planet whose resources are limited and already over stretched is suicidal.

And this may sound pessimistic, but it seems to me that no matter how many individuals make big life changes to live more sustainably, if the system itself is rooted in a necessity of on-going exponential economic growth whatever the cost, the slow-motion fatal car crash we are involved in will keep unfolding relentlessly.

Nevertheless I take my hat off to those who do seek to live their principles for the sake of life on Earth. My daughter Lua and many like her has taken such a plunge. She has stepped out of the predominant rush of our culture and lives in the Canary Islands where her and her partner grow their own vegetables, and live without electricity or hot water. They have a tap and a water vat which is re-filled by the council, they have a compost loo, and they live a frugal, simple existence doing without the comforts which most of us take for granted these days. But even so, she has a mobile phone which she charges at friend’s houses, she runs a car, and regularly flies back to England. Some of her friends out there manage with donkeys for transport, and really do live completely off grid. They have a community of like minded people who all want to come back to a simpler way of being and bring up their children without computers, washing machines, television, or excessive toys and equipment. They have a kind of home schooling community venture for the youngsters, and a system where once a month many people gather together to work on each others’ land. There are young people from all over the world who have had enough of the rat race. They live in shacks, tipis, benders, caves, caravans or small houses for those who can afford it. The life is not easy in many ways and yet I see a shining aliveness in the eyes of the young people I meet there which is unusual and inspiring.

I was reading an article today by Pat McCabe who is an inspiring woman of Native American descent, and what I would consider an ambassador for the planets’ survival (and all of us who dwell in her)…
“Now we speak of our consumption in terms of “how many earths we are using” at any given time. The latest I hear, we are operating at using one and a half earths now. This is a perfect illustration of the mind’s complete irrationality when it is trying its best to be most rational. To point out the obvious here, we don’t have one and a half earths in our bank account, we only have one. What’s more, I believe we are supposed to share it with other lifeforms…”
She goes on to speak about environmental consciousness and shifting to ‘green energy’, recycling and all the gestures many of us make to ‘do our bit’…
“My sense is that the shift we are looking for is going to ask much more of us than this. First of all, this way of life that I sometimes refer to as “the island life” is set up such that we are attempting to create an entire ecosystem for each family unit or even for each individual human, so that they can continue to live in isolation, apart from larger community. This way of life is not sustainable, no matter what is powering it. Not sustainable in terms of “resources” from the Mother Earth, not sustainable in terms of our human development needs (do you know what the statistics are for youth suicides in your community?) nor in our shift from an economic system that is unsustainable and untenable as well, in which we are pitted against each other under the dark spell of scarcity.”

I am sometimes called a pessimist by my friends, and at times I think they are right, but I also consider myself a realist. I cannot see that the shift which Pat mcCabe and George Monbiot are speaking about, is likely to come about without the breakdown of our economic and political systems and the inevitable chaos and suffering which that will entail. The momentum of the juggernaut of so called ‘progress’ has gone beyond being stoppable because a few people think it is a good idea.

I have been told that in Chinese the word crisis combines two characters meaning crisis and opportunity – it has sometimes been translated as ‘opportunity disguised as loss’. It seems to me that us humans are loathe to change unless circumstances dictate that we have to. During the second world war, draconian measures were taken in honour of the war effort, which cut the consumption of this country in ways which today would seem both unthinkable and un-implementable. In a democratic system it is impossible to impose un-wanted changes without risking not being re-elected, so written into the political system is a system of brakes which maintain the status quo even when Life itself is hanging in the balance. The only thing which would make the kind of dramatic shifts necessary to slow down the seemingly inevitable run-away climate crisis would be – it seems to me from my limited perspective – a complete breakdown of the banking system and therefore the whole system we are increasingly dependent on. Then what? Crisis on a major scale which would make the current refugee crisis look like no big deal. And only when we are on our knees as a global community – and its not far off as far as I can see – will it be possible to impose the kind of changes we need to make. God knows what that will look like, I shudder to think… And yet what rises out of the ashes of destruction and devastation is very interesting.

Many children and teenagers I know now are suffering from huge psychological problems as well as physical ones; not to mention the adults. The crisis is already here, and is happening on every level, including within each of our bodies and psyches. As Pat alludes to, youth suicides have gone through the roof.

I believe we need community. We need a sense of deep connection with the earth and each other. We need a sense of deep purpose which allows life to actually make some kind of sense and motivates us to get creative. We need to take care of one another across the generations. We need to get real and come out of virtual bubbles. We need to sing and dance and find enjoyment even when things are dire. We need to get more local in our orientation.

About 6 years ago I went to an Ecopsychology conference at the Eden Centre in Cornwall. I was particularly inspired by Joanna Macy and her Work which Reconnects which is based on 4 guiding principles:
Gratitude for what is.
Honouring our pain for the world. Most of us live with the unbearable knowledge of mass species extinction and the fact that the beautiful-beyond-belief natural world we enjoy is on the verge of being destroyed by what we humans are doing. Because it is unbearable to face it, we tend to avoid feeling the pain of it, which numbs us to every other aspect of life along with it, and makes us incapable of any real response.
Seeing with new eyes: in this we are encouraged to see the world fresh and also recognize our interconnectedness with all beings as well as a sense of connecting with other generations, both those before us and those to come.
Going forth, in which we can start to appreciate our power to support change and participate in what she calls The Great Turning where each of us can contribute to creating new life sustaining cultures, depending on our natural gifts, inclinations and life situations.
There is a wonderful, joyous and life-enhancing love of life and the possibility it keeps offering us that she brings, alongside a chilling realism about what we are really up against here, synthesized in this quote –
“The most remarkable feature of this historical moment on Earth is not that we are on the way to destroying the world, we’ve actually been on the way for quite a while. It is that we are beginning to wake up, as from a millennia-long sleep, to a whole new relationship to our world, to ourselves and to each other.”

I came out of the conference seriously sobered but also inspired to step out of my nihilistic pessimism and actually dare to believe it was worth living each day as if it were my last and planning for the future as if it would carry on forever (regardless of whether it actually did or didn’t). I remember going to have my hair cut and saying to my hairdresser, “I feel as if I have just received a diagnosis of terminal cancer, except it doesn’t just involve me, it involves the whole of life as I know it. And I am drawn then to ask myself , What am I going to do? Am I going to drive myself nuts trying to do everything I can to stay alive despite all the odds, trying out every possible cure which might prolong my life (whatever the cost), or am I going to accept reality and give myself with my whole body and heart to the time I have left? And that would mean loving more deeply and completely, opening all the doors I have been trying to keep shut, finding whatever ways I can to give my gift in the time I have: the gift which only I can give!”
The hairdresser was lost for words (which was unusual). I think I remembered it because the passion in which I spoke to someone who was on a very different wavelength, stunned us both.

A couple of years later a student of mine passed a video on to me in which a climate scientist called Guy MacPherson gave a terrifying report on our chances of survival from climate change, even if our carbon output were to come to a complete halt right now. Nil. In his estimation at that time, we had about 20 years left before human beings were extinct. I had a look at an interview with him done this year in which he has updated that prediction based on what has unfolded since then. He now says that the shift in our climate based on many different feedback loops on all kinds of levels is such that we have less than 10 years left.
When he first started realizing what was in store for us he hit despair and fell into a deep depression, compounded by the fact that nobody was prepared to face the possibility that his bleak outlook might be true. So not only was he facing our extinction within years, but he was alone in facing it. But after a while he moved beyond the despair into a deep acceptance which then led to an awakening of the heart. His offering now is this – don’t bother trying to change the world, it is too late. But live life as fully as you can and love as deeply as you are able. What else is there left to do?
I am not inclined to outright disbelieve his prognosis, even whilst I sincerely hope it is not true. But saying that leads me to another point which is about hope.

What is hope? Other than a clinging onto a possibility of reality being better than it is at present? It is seen as being a good thing, but what if it is no more than the proverbial carrot dangled in front of the donkey to force him or her to move forward? What if, in Steven Jenkinsons’ words, we were to move beyond the swing between hope and hopelessness and land in a place which is essentially hope free?

Jenkinson is a man who has spent most of his life working with the dying in palliative care, and founded in 2010 the Orphan Wisdom School, redefining what it means to live and die well. His view is that we are facing the possible death of life as we know it and certainly the death of the culture which gave us our existence and our identity – and in order to move beyond the swing between hope and hopelessness it is absolutely essential to feel the grief of that loss. He says, “To see the death of what you love and be willing to continue to love it when it’s not going to last, that itself is an act of love… Our times require us to be hope free and burn through the false choice between hope and hopelessness which are two sides of the same con job. You don’t require hope to proceed, you require grief to proceed. And if you awaken in our time, you awaken with a sob”.

I find this inspiring. I am tired of looking at all of this in terms of being pessimistic or optimistic. I would rather draw back from my terror of what is in store for us, or my hopes for a dramatic, magical shift in consciousness which will save us all by producing miraculous changes, and give myself wholeheartedly to what makes my heart sing and aligns me most fully to whatever step I am moved to make. And this necessarily means that I regularly feel broken-hearted by what is happening in our world, and because of that rather than despite that, broken open to the absolute wonder and beauty of existence.

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George Monbiot article – https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/22/black-friday-consumption-killing-planet-growth
Pat McCabe – http://womanstandsshining.strikingly.com/
Joanna Macy – https://workthatreconnects.org/
Guy McPherson – https://guymcpherson.com/
Stephen Jenkinson – https://orphanwisdom.com/

“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” Albert Einstein

Waking up in a troubled world

‘It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society” Krishnamurti

I’m traveling from Milan to Rome on a fast moving train, watching the flat landscape of the Pianura Padana whizz by. There is traffic moving alongside the train, cars speeding along, each one on their mission. So many people, all going somewhere. As I sat on the metro crossing Milan I was sitting next to a young man playing a video game. The tinny sound of his phone as he moved little men across the screen was worming its way into my brain in a way which I soon found intolerable. So I went and sat on another seat purposely chosen as the young man next to it did not have a phone in his hands and earphones attached to his head. After a while I became aware that he kept looking my way and his hand was making anxious rhythmic movements around his groin. I tried not to pay attention but it was as disturbing as the sound of the video game had been. Eventually he stood up to reveal a substantial protuberance in his polyester track suit bottoms, and thankfully then turned to face the other way. He looked miserable. Opposite me were two little boys, their faces still alive with curiosity and a kind of innocence and they stood out from a crowd of people who seemed absolutely lost.

I register all of this. And I carry on my way. Heading to Rome to teach the on going group I have been working with there for many years. And I am thinking of what it is to start to find some kind of sanity in a very lost society.

I was staying recently with a dear friend of many years. When she is on form, she is one of the most awake, alive and wise people I know. And yet she disappears from one moment to the next into holes in which it is hard to reach her. It is a mind loop which appears so believable to her in those moments that however wise she was a moment ago, I now cannot reach her. Or rather I usually can, but it is an extremely delicate process and one which requires tact, compassion and a lot of inner space on my part. Any hint of me wanting her to be different and attempting to exert my influence, backfires. These holes tend to be triggered by a call from her husband, mother or brother; or by speaking to one of her children and hearing about their health problems or their troubles at school. They are triggered by being face to face with people who are lost themselves, who are close to her, and next to whom she joins forces in a shared experience of what I would call not-at-homeness.

So this question is with me today: we are profoundly influenced by whatever stream we are swimming in. Who we are around, and where they are coming from in any moment, is having a massive effect on how we are viewing whatever is unfolding.

When I open a retreat, the first 24 hours tend to be a bit of a work. People arrive from whatever life situations they have come from and often they are somewhat discombobulated. There is often an immediate relief to be in a field which is allowing, where is space for things to be as they are. There is nothing else to attend to and people tend to relax and open. Before long however, whatever has been accumulating in them over the weeks is suddenly more visible as there is nothing else to distract them, and they tend to be confronted with how much is held in their nervous systems, and how much their minds are running riot. Over the days things come to the surface and people open up; often there is a sense of meeting difficulties as they come up, and through the willingness and space to meet them, finding a sense of well being, warmth and simplicity. Perhaps there is a realization that contrary to how it seems, all is actually ok on a deep level, whatever difficulties may arise, and whatever they may be dealing with, is held in a bigger space which is able to relate healthily to it all.
Often by the time a retreat comes to an end people leave less defended, more at home in their bodies, and more available to the mystery of existence and a sense of love and wonder towards what is.

But then what? Then this is brought back into daily life existence, and into a field which is generally more contracted, and less available, less vulnerable, less trustable, and less honest as people go back to families and work places and all kinds of home life situations. This interface is difficult.

Our human society is generally pretty dysfunctional, and to begin to wake up in the midst of that is no small thing. It takes courage, determination compassion and is supported and made possible by large doses of good company (a sense of humour also really helps!). I believe it is very rare for people to be able to awaken in a sustainable way unless they are supported, met and dialogued with in an on-going way by others who are similarly waking up to another dimension of being. Otherwise the ways in which our habitual patterning meshes with those nearest and dearest to us is never able to be addressed or seen. We remain blind to what we are up to, and often are only able to see what is wrong with the other. And we are not supported enough, or enabled to feel safe enough, to see and drop our learned, patterned, compulsive behaviors and therefore drop to another level of relating.

My friend who I mentioned earlier is very alone. I see her about twice a year, but otherwise she tends to be in a circuit of people who are not really ready to meet her on another level. And she is not ready to land on that level unless she is being met there. This troubles me. Because the fact is, that if we taste a deeper taste of freedom, honesty and integrity but find ourselves again and again unable to live it because of the company we keep or because we are simply not ready, this is incredibly painful, and most often like gasoline for a vicious self critic to take hold. And when the self critic runs the show (whether we are conscious of it or not) we become enemies to ourselves and isolated from everyone else.

I don’t have any answers here. I am curious about how we can support ourselves and each other to come closer in to a more sane way of being, one which is less driven, more sustainable, and more relational.

It seems clear that we are at a massive point in history. There is a paradigm shift which has to happen if life as we know it is to survive. What is required is huge and it is systemic, and requires a critical mass of people who have their wits about them and are able to move beyond the game of us and them. Personally, for my own sanity, I have started to look closer into my immediate sphere of influence and got less concerned with what to do about the bigger picture. I have become convinced that for now what is needed is to clean up my own act in every relationship I have and stop presuming the problem is all out there. Or rather presuming that what is out there is separate from what is in here. And I am curious to see where I am moved from here.

My sense is that what is really important, more than ever, is a sense of community in which we can enjoy a communion of being where the demands of daily life survival and destructive or mind numbing tendencies are not running the show. Community in which we can inspire each other to go beyond our habits, and enjoy life – and each other – enough to want to preserve and nourish what is precious. Community in which we are mirrored in a very real way so we can get to see both our strengths and weaknesses realistically and explore ways to widen our repertoire of what is possible. Community in which we can get serious and lighten up by turns, and find the kind of alchemy which happens when our differences become inspiring and growth-full rather than just infuriating. And in which our capacities and resources can be pooled in creative ways and we can become way more than the sum of our parts.

Spiritual Ego: some personal reflections

”Most peoples’ social personalities are pretty obnoxious but give them a taste of awakening and they become really obnoxious.” Quote ascribed to Adida

I know this one in myself and I often see it in others.

I know what it is to have had a realization, and walk around feeling like I know something many others are not privy to. And to feel that I have something to teach them by my very presence.

I know what it is to feel that it is my duty to insinuate the teachings and learnings I have had into every conversation I have where it is even vaguely relevant, as an offering to the other.

I know what it is to use what I have been given by grace to big myself up, and prop up a fragile ego.

Recently I was with a dear old friend who I hadn’t seen for a long time and she said to me, in passing, ‘I have always loved you, but it is a relief to be with you now that your God complex has relaxed’. This made me laugh and I knew exactly what she was talking about. It also made me wince with a familiar “was it really that obvious?”, when something which I thought was hidden (even to myself), transpired to be written in neon on my forehead for everyone around me.
I can tell you it is a relief.

Nothing to live up to. I am now – as I always was – just another human being with all my gifts and neuroses. I have stuff to say and it is alive in me to say it, but it doesn’t mean it has to be anything special. Phew. I don’t have to justify my imperfections, and I don’t need to insult you with the presumption that I know more than you about anything. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t.

I was sitting on the train yesterday and I got chatting to Joan, a 70 year old woman on her way to her sisters’ funeral in Chesterfield where she used to live before moving to Devon. We chatted for 2 hours and I loved every minute of our conversation; we laughed quite a bit and she told me a lot about her life, and I told her some about my own. I felt stimulated, enlivened and grateful for the insights she gave me from her very different life.
She had two sons, who she told me she had never liked, and who’s company she still doesn’t enjoy. She has (she worked out by counting on her fingers) 8 grandchildren and 1 great grandchild. She also has 3 shitsu dogs ‘two of whom are a nightmare, but one is a sweetheart’. She has a second husband who will get her everything she wants (‘as long as I am not too over the top’). She worked for 8 years in the Black and Decker factory in Sheffield which was one of the happiest times of her life. It was such a great team, she told me. There was the store manager, the production manager, the steel cutters, those who tempered the steel; there were those who dealt with putting the carbide tips on, those in charge of the grinding machines; the blade polishers, the packers… at least 6 of them for each job… and all of this to create the circular saws. She told me that the team had been very close and then the factory closed down and she lost touch with every one of them. But recently they had all found each other again through Facebook and now they are about to meet. They have hired a pub, seeing as she was going back for the funeral, and her return is an excuse to meet. Since she left and moved to Torquay she has worked re-filling and cleaning vending machines for 5 years, and more recently as an employee in Morrisons’ baking department which she said was glorious because there were no pressures on her whatsoever.

Afterwards, as I was reflecting on our conversation, I was struck by the fact that once upon a time I might have somehow imagined my job was to insert some kind of pearls into the conversation to open her mind from my greater wisdom. Or I might have pitied her for her lack of possibilities in life and felt guilty for my life which to my mind seemed richer or more full of potential and somehow felt that I owed her something. I might have imagined that this meeting was edifying for her, rather than letting in how much it was enriching and educating me. But I realized with a lot of gratitude that now I just felt free to enjoy our rich human contact, to feel the love, humor and mutual interest as our very different worlds met.

It feels so much easier and lighter than the spiritual arrogance I was carrying around with me like a weight around my neck without even realizing it. It has taken years for that aspect in me to start to relax.

I think it began very early on in my life and was compounded at school in Italy. There I was, this tall, blond, quirky English girl from a bohemian, artistic, middle-class family amongst short, dark-haired Italian village children most of whose parents had lived off the land for generations and had never travelled further than Siena, the nearest city 20 Km away. I was bullied a fair bit, and it was a good survival tactic to show that I was undaunted, unafraid, untouchable and to think I was more open minded, freer and actually better than them. This really helped me cover over the fact that I was longing for friends, and often felt isolated, frightened, out of place, and in many ways inadequate.
It was a good adaptation. It served me well then and when I went to boarding school in England, it made me feel invulnerable which was really cool. It served me going to a massive red brick college in West London where students were often attacked or raped in the long corridors and I felt like a country bumpkin without a clue but held my head high. It served me going through University, and also when I went through my half sisters’ suicide and took on as my job to take care of my shattered family. It served me well as I stepped into the 5 Rhythms world and then trained to teach and began to give my gift in the world. And that ‘I can handle anything’, attitude got strengthened by the wonderful transformations and realizations which began occurring for me as I walked the path I walked with my spiritual teacher, and shared the teachings as the years went by.

But there is a lot to let go of when we have a successful ego adaptation. It is hard to let go of a self image which is pumped up and self satisfied. There is a long way to fall, and what is at the bottom of that fall does not appear to be very attractive. Putting myself again and again in a context of both receiving and giving teachings, the veneer started wearing thin. As I began to slide down the slippery pole of my own egoic construction I began to feel an inadequacy I had spent my life defending against. It was frightening and humiliating to admit that I couldn’t hold it together any more. I fell into a sense of depletion, lostness and aloneness which I had avoided forever. I felt hopeless, impotent and despairing.

I began reaching out in new ways. I reconnected with my mother who was suddenly there for me in a way which I had thought was impossible. I began to drop my know-it-all big sister thing with my younger brothers, and actually met them as I was, seeing them as they were. There was another kind of intimacy happening and it felt good, healthy and normal though unfamiliar. I became more vulnerable and more real in all my relationships. And slowly I started to feel a different kind of confidence, one which was coming from a deeper ground and wasn’t based so much on how I was being received, how I came across, or how much I could help people, but on an underlying trust in life itself. I began to feel normal. And I hadn’t realized until then how much I had been playing a part before that.

I remember my teacher saying to me 19 years ago – “one thing I can tell you for certain about awakening – it won’t look anything like you imagine”. I remember hearing that and nodding my head wisely and thinking that I had it all figured out. That if I ‘woke up’, I would become a kind of perfected angelic figure who people would be blown away by and I would be able to save the world in the most effective way as I had always wanted to do.

I am finding out from the inside about what awakening means. It isn’t anything like I imagined. It is very ordinary. It is humbling and often embarrassing. And at times it is literally mind blowing. But more about that another time.

Searching for ‘Wa-hee!’

You were waiting for the Wa-hee! moment and it wasn’t happening.

You were sitting there and it felt flat and dull.

You were not happy about that and wondering what was wrong.

Surely if all was well, and complete, and in place, then Wa-hee! would be occurring and you would feel great, excited, on top of the world and bursting with creativity!

So you decided, because you had learned (although you briefly forgot) that ‘being with what is’ is the best show in town, to feel the flatness.

To explore it with – if not enthusiasm – at least some willingness.

What was it like? Well it was flat. A bit empty. The temptation to think, ‘Fuck this, let’s do something more exciting’ arose. But you just sat there. And slowly flat began to give way to sad. Sadness happened, washing over you like a wave of slow heavy salt water drenching everything. You named this and just allowed yourself to be engulfed in it, and slowly it became apparent that there was peace. The engine of hope had relaxed, the search for a better state slowed right down, and there was just a shimmering presence and a deep connection. And there was a quiet humility which hummed through the space. It was obvious then that there was nothing to be achieved, nothing to be done. And all the ambition and the jittery, anxious, driving motor to achieve some better experience relented. There was nothing else.

And then love arose. A simple, connected, sweet love of being which included us both; personal and not personal, including all of existence.

And then we wrote a little song called ‘Searching for Wa-hee!’. Well, we didn’t actually write it, but it appeared, coming tumbling out of our mouths like a bubbling brook. Although there were just two of us singing, I could hear a symphony of harmony voices singing full-throttle about the search for Wa-hee!, and the surrender through flatness and sadness into the infinite peace of being which unexpectedly led to the unstoppable creation of the next song.

For Fran

Not Knowing What to Do

When my daughter Ruthie Lua was a child, she used to get the most awful headaches. Headaches which made her throw up with pain, and which could last sometimes for days. I was worried sick and tried all kinds of things to help her. I took her to the doctor. I spent a small fortune on cranial osteopathy, homeopathy, kinesiology, acupuncture and guidance from medical psychics. I tried cutting wheat, sugar, dairy and chocolate out of her diet. I fretted, and secretly feared that she must have some kind of tumor. When I gave her painkillers they seem to have no effect at all. I would massage her and try to talk her through meditations in which she could be supported to be kind and soften around the pain, and focus on other parts of her body.

But the thing I found most difficult was to open to the fact that I simply didn’t know what to do. I found it difficult to just be with her and love her whilst not knowing what to do. Surely there must be something I could do, or someone I could think of who could help. And I believe that what she most needed was my loving presence with her; she needed to know that I was ok with her being as she was, and that I could simply be with her and love her; she needed to know that it was not her fault and that she was not a problem to be solved by me; fundamentally she needed to relax, and all my struggles around it were not helping.

It is probably the hardest lesson for a parent to learn: that it is ok and unavoidable that the child feels pain at times, and that the greatest act of love is not to try and take the pain away but to be there with them in their suffering, and let them know that pain hurts but it is ok to feel it. So going back to my story, I am not suggesting that I shouldn’t have sought the treatments I sought for her, but that my worrying and endlessly looking for solutions took precedence over (and actually got in the way of) my capacity to simply love her where she was.

The other ‘technique’ I practiced was to immerse myself in another persons’ suffering as if it were my own. I decided early on – and I remember it, I must have been 6 or so – that if I took on as fully as possible my half-sisters’ pain (both of whom had lost their mother when they were 5 years old); if I imagined my own mother dead over and over again and made myself cry every day about it, and walked around with a cloud of dread over my head, that this would somehow alleviate them of the burden of having to carry it alone. Basically I believed it would help if I took it on. I carried on believing this without ever really inspecting it for many years (and sometimes still catch myself acting as if this were so!). So, back to Ruthie and the headaches, I would sit there for a bit – and I couldn’t take it for very long – imagining I had the headache, feeling guilty that I was alright while she wasn’t, basically making myself miserable and I’m sure making things worse for her.

I did get better, over the years, at recognizing that I couldn’t take her pain away and I didn’t need to engulf myself in it as if it were my pain. That I could enjoy the relative ease of my own body whilst supporting her in the difficulty of her body. That I could allow myself to love her and be with her and trust that all things move.

These lessons have served me almost more than anything else in how I am with those who come to work with me. I regularly work with people who have suffered awful and sometimes horrific early life situations and are facing the ways in which past trauma collides with present day situations. It is my capacity to differentiate from them and yet feel them, whilst staying firmly rooted in my own body and feeling responses – and fully allowing myself to not know what to do which allows me to be with the suffering without taking it on. This place of not knowing can be a painful one, when faced with another’s pain, confusion, despair or shame – there is such a natural urge to want to help and know how to. But I have found that again and again it is my willingness to surrender to having no idea which allows ordinary and unexpected miracles to happen. Things reveal themselves, doors open, not so much because I did anything but because I was willing to do nothing and know that that was ok. And I was willing to feel – often intensely – the pain of where they were at and our shared common human predicament.

In the twenty or so years since I have been offering sessions in groups and to individuals I have also been in an on-going process of training both with my teacher of 20 years and many other teachers whose work as called to me over time; somatic experiencing trauma work, shamanic work, psychotherapeutic work, working with the voice, movement, meditation and deep presence work. But more than any techniques I have learned, what is way more profound is an increasing trust in life itself and how things unfold when I stop trying to do anything.

I find myself on a daily basis sitting with someone going through God knows what and falling into that space where there really is nothing I can do to help. And I just let myself fall. I wait. I let myself feel what I feel as I sit with them. Sometimes it is boredom or awkwardness; sometimes it is intense pain or bewilderment; sometimes it is tenderness, compassion; sometimes it is anger; or sometimes I find my mind drifting off and a kind of fogginess occurring. These days I take all of this as useful information. I let myself touch a deep respect for the fact that each life is precious and there is an honor and privilege in being included in someone’s unfolding. And then I find myself falling through the space of having no idea – out of the mind and into a wider dimension. And it is like a falling. And the fact that someone is suffering in front of me and I have no idea what to do is very touching; I feel my own impotence and let myself love that. I know that this has nothing to do with my worth. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone, I can just be with who I am with. I can trust the magic which happens when two or more people gather together with a shared intention to wake up and allow life’s natural movement and inclination towards wholeness to happen.

This is what I love most. I am often awed by what comes through. And the obviousness that I am not separate from whoever I am with; that we are absolutely interconnected and what happens in you is felt in me because of that – all of this becomes palpable. And I find myself surprised by the fierceness which comes through me, or the tenderness or the hilariousness of it all. In those moments I realize that I can be as surprised by what comes out of my own mouth as I am by who I am with. And there is a simple rightness in what then happens in the alchemy of our mutual exploration.

Sometimes people come to me and it is obvious they are seeing themselves as a problem to be solved, and my job as the problem solver or the healer. That attitude never bears fruit. We are in actuality both lost and both found, and sitting in the revelation of that is what is needed. And then what is actually needed has the space to be revealed. Because there are real needs which need addressing and meeting; but what those really are is often obscured.

If I do ever fall into the trap of thinking that I am the one who is sorted and the person or people in front of me are the ones who need sorting (and many people will attempt to perpetuate that fallacy with me, so it can be tempting to believe it), it goes tits up. It is increasingly obvious to me that who I am with is an extraordinary mirror to me – in their wounds and their gifts; in their magnificence and their small mindedness and self obsession; in their addictive and habitual tendencies and in their quirky originality. Not that we are the same – we are wonderfully different in fact – but in all of that distortion and glory there is a remarkable shared humanness. And I find that we are way more like each other than I ever realized before.

I am not sure if I have remembered this completely accurately, but someone once told me about the origins of modern day Ho’oponopono. Ho’oponopono is a Hawaiian forgiveness practice based on the words I love you, I am sorry, Please Forgive me, Thank You. I was told that there was a psychiatric hospital somewhere which was famous for its extremely high staff turnover rate. The nurses and therapists working there would leave after few weeks suffering from anxiety, stress and nervous exhaustion. The patients were people diagnosed with incurable and severe mental illnesses most of whom would be stuck there for life. Then one day a new director was hired and after a few months the change was radical. The staff were happy and had no reason to leave; the patients were not only stabilizing, but in many cases improving dramatically. One day, a stunned relative asked the director what his secret was. He answered something like – “It is simple. I sit with each patient, sometimes not even face to face. I tune into their condition and I allow myself to acknowledge and feel the ways in which I am similar to them. There is always, if I go deep enough, a place I recognize in myself which is like that. I let myself feel the remorse for not having been able to address this in myself. I then ask them to forgive me for the ways that my unconsciousness is contributing to them being in the condition they are in. And at that point I am ready to thank them for helping me see and heal myself. And in this open acknowledgement of our sameness, even though we are different, miracles happen.

Of course this is advanced stuff. To be able to do this in absolute integrity because it is real to do so, rather than as a prescribed formula picked up somewhere, takes mastery. But the principle is profound, and can be increasingly lived if there is the interest, maturity and capacity to do so.

I believe one of the biggest factors which prevent us being able to get beyond old wounds and open up to our potential, is both our identification with and shame around having those wounds, and being run by the behaviors borne of them. If, as a healer, guide or therapist, I am genuinely not holding myself superior or beyond any of what the person in front of me is bringing to be explored – this goes a long way towards dissolving the shame and lessening the identification. It is not by any means an instant panacea. But in my view it is an essential element if the process is to be effective. And here I am speaking about the ‘process of presence’, or what I think Jesus meant when he said “When two or more are gathered in my name, there I am with them…”

When I – with my worries, my fears, my need for self aggrandizement, my need for solutions, my pity and my judgments – attempt to guide and support someone, I become part of the difficulty they may be facing and I can compound it unwittingly however good my conscious intentions. But if I step out of the way and allow myself to fall into the empty space where you and I are not separate; where there is only a shared humanity and no idea what to do; and if I can allow a presence which is intrinsically mysterious, compassionate, humorous and intelligent by turns if not simultaneously – and includes both or all of us – then Life itself can do the work it loves to do. Which is, it seems to me, to be born, to do what it can to optimize its chances to grow, to blossom, thrive and then let go into death when it is ready.

Some simple needs

I need to sit still, because it means I stop – for a while – the momentum of a busy life. I get to listen to the silence, and remember my own death. I remember that this fixation with worldly things/people/experiences is only temporary. And that feels relaxing, relieving and revitalizing; a blessing which makes each moment more precious.

I need to move my body – not to get anywhere or do anything but for movements’sake – because it draws me down, out of the dominance of my mind into a visceral, simple, direct experience of the moment. And if I give this enough time, and if I am lucky, I get to feel that I am being moved by life rather than making anything happen. This is glorious, very very satisfying and wonderfully pointless. Fingers touching space, opening like blossom; breath invited into every available cell; rocking hips dancing to a music I cannot hear with my ears. Today as I move, it is gentle and slow.

I need to write because it plugs me in to what is moving in the stream of my mind – in a way which starts to form a satisfying coherence to seemingly random happenings. There is never a final statement about anything, but I love how when I give space, this intelligent life form that I am, seems to want to create order and meaning and shape to the unfolding of things.
I love the play of body and mind together.

For years I was at war with my mind and its endless, tedious, repetitive chatter; its’ catastrophizing, self obsession and boring dramas. These days I feel more or less at peace with all of that, it is less in the foreground, and I know it for what it is, which is often just outdated old habits.
And having spent decades focusing on the wonders of embodiment, right now, it is the intelligence and capacity of the mind which thrills me. Not that I have a particularly brilliant mind for a human, but I love that it is able to make meaning and pattern and it is able to communicate through words and be heard and – on a good day – understood. That seems wondrous to me! That I can think something and then write it down as I am now with these funny little black symbols on a computer screen. And that you can read it and have some idea of what is being expressed. The less I take all this for granted, the more amazing it seems.
And then, even more amazingly, I can talk with someone and bounce ideas around, and on a good day we can spark each other off, create projects, make sense of things which previously seemed to make no sense at all, or fall about laughing at the absurdity of something which suddenly strikes us.

As I get older my memory is going. When I name this (having just forgotten the name of someone I know quite well) I see most people nod their heads in agreement. Our memories are suffering these days, and I don’t think it is just age. I think we are overloaded with information and the mind is simply over stuffed. So perhaps you are reading this now and I am contributing to a bit more stuffing.
Sorry about that.
But one of the things about a waning capacity is that it highlights the sense that everything is falling away and it would be a huge shame not to appreciate what is still here. In many ways I am happy to say I am still as bright as a button.

Back to these needs of mine – to sit still, and move, and write…

What makes me sad is that often I don’t.

I let the speed take over and make it seem as if these things are not necessary; and I give in to a strange resistance which would prefer not to feel anything much and just get on with what needs to be done – a thousand jobs to do in the house or the garden or admin or emails or people to attend to
And the difficulty with this is not only that I am less happy and less at home in my own skin, but I am invariably more inclined to mess up in my relationships, love less and contribute more to the general fuck up.

So this is, apart from anything else, a semi public pledge to myself (and maybe an inspiration to you reading), to spend time each day, however short, to give attention to what is precious, to what brings me home and what supports me to appreciate the incredible bounty of what it is to be human – whatever happens, regardless of whether I am in the mood or don’t think I have the time.

What is true in this beautiful and terrible life?

 

There are days when all I see is the horror and the despair…

All I see is that wild fires and storms are raging across the world, and people losing their homes, their livelihoods, and sometimes their lives. Along with thousands upon thousands of wild creatures.

All I see is a new generation of young people who are hooked on smartphones, social media and a technological world in which play and nature and simple face to face contact seem more and more rare; and that they are overwhelmed with eating disorders, neuroses, anxiety, depression and soaring suicide rates.

All I see is a world in which leaders like Trump and Kim Jong-Un – incompetent ignorant and power driven men – are taking us to the brink of nuclear war, denying the climate chaos which is already upon us, and supporting more and more extreme take-overs of profit driven corporations over the value of life itself.

All I see is our lunacy, and the fact that even amongst apparently sane, educated, well fed people, very few of us seem able to relate reliably in a healthy, life affirming, nourishing, and growing way with one another.

On days like this, I feel pessimistic. I feel fundamentally despairing of the human race and our chances of survival; as for the notion of us and the natural world thriving, and an “evolution-of-consciousness-the-likes-of-which-we-have-never-known” which some foretell (including myself on happier days), seem delusional and far fetched in the extreme.

And I realize that all of this is happening in my mind. All of it is thought. Yes, there are horrifying bare facts. And there always have been, when it comes to the history of humanity on Earth. And each generation has thrown up their hands and said, at some point, this is as bad as it gets.

But depending on my mood, the time of the month or the phases of the moon, what happened last night between Colin and I, who I happened to talk to today, or what I happened to read of a million possibilities; what I dreamed last night whether I remember it or not, what my body feels like, or what the weather is doing, what I heard on the news … depending on these and countless other factors, my mind will throw up different outlooks, different perspectives.

What is true? I do not know, and I strongly suspect there IS no truth, as such. There are just different perspectives on different days and at different times and what remains is to not take any one point of view as the right one. What remains is to feel for the response, to come home to the body and a consciousness which is aware of it all and willing to step forward and come back into a creative stream. Which is actually what Life is, when we are here for it. A creative stream of happening. An extraordinary unfolding in which we are all participating.

 

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It helps hugely to remember this. To slip my body and aching heart back into the water of this stream, and allow myself to be drawn by the current, swirling, eddying, pooling, trickling. It helps to connect with nature and to people I love, or people I meet along the way, and step out the narrowness which only thinking brings. And sometimes, like today, it helps to talk to myself out loud as I walk through the fields and woods, speaking out loud what is most precious to me in each moment, speaking out loud my love of the wind on my face; the beauty of the dancing leaves, the feel of my strong legs striding, the appreciation of my beating heart, and the birds wheeling wildly through the darkening sky. And then it helps to write all about it, to let my tears flow freely, let the despair roar through my chest, let the joy of just letting it through lift me up dancing like these autumn leaves… yes I dance a wild stomping fiery dance and then flop down softly on the ground, emptied out and ready for the next chapter of this beautiful and terrible life.

we are all addicts

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Ah, early Sunday Morning.

The people who are staying with me are still in bed.

I get up and clean the kitchen; I sweep and put away the dishes, each cup, glass, plate, bowl, spoon has its place to be put away into. I love that sense of order. I never thought I would, but I do. I love that things have their place and when each thing has its place there is a sense of simplicity and ease.

And then I sit overlooking this magnificent garden with my cup of tea on the deck. There are so many wonderful big trees in this garden; oak, ash, chestnut, eucalyptus, beech; there is willow and hazel, and birch and rowan; there are apple, pear, medlar, plum, mulberry and cherry trees; there is buddleia, bay, and goodness knows what else which I have not even recognized. And all of them have been quietly, majestically living their lives here while we live our own complex human existances.

I went outside and stood under the ash tree. Majestic, huge, towering over me and gently, gently shedding its leaves. I felt grateful for this being, so different to me, so always, simply there, offering up its beauty, and a home and perch for hundreds of creatures…

It is complicated to be human. And not just in these times but (I imagine), always. We have these remarkable brains! We have the capacity to abstract, to conceptualize, to make meaning of all that happens. We know, however much we try and fail to make sense of it, that we are going to die. And we don’t know, actually, how the hell this thing called life came into being and how we got here in the first place. It is not particularly helpful to know about conception and procreation in this sense; it doesn’t help us have any kind of sense of WHY we are here. WHAT is it all for, and how on Earth did this all happen?

We look for answers, or ways to make sense of it all, and – failing that, in most of our cases – we become addicts.

I have been contemplating addiction this morning, and I think it is a particularly human phenomenon. I don’t imagine it happens in the wild animal kingdom (although animals who have been closely engaged with humans in some form or another, and have not been treated with a mutual respect, do show signs of it… painfully so).

I don’t think there is anyone I know well in which I don’t see signs of addictive behavior. I see us all craving and indulging and unable to resist doing things which we know are not doing us (or the planet), any good. I see us grabbing chocolate, junk food, sugar, salt, coffee; I see us over over eating, dieting, under eating; I see addiction in emotional dramas, in energy highs; I see it in alcohol and drugs; I see it in sex, and in excessive exercise. I see it in pornography, in and all kinds of fiction from thrillers to romances. I see it in bullying and people pleasing; I see it in attention needs, in talking, in the need to be busy; I see it in smart phones, social media, computer games; I see it in self development and the obsession with self-improvement; I see it in shopping and socializing; I see it in emotional catharsis, I see it in spiritual seeking, I see it in gossiping…

The list goes on, it is EVERYWHERE.

Often I catch myself marveling, and judging other people’s addictions; and then I am humbled to realize that I am no different, we are ALL in this.

I ask myself why this is.

And these are the answers I have coming.

We don’t know who we are any more (if we ever did).

We are lost, and afraid of dying (not to mention the dying of the planet).

We want to feel good, all the time.

We are running from facing the emptiness and confusion brought about by having no clue why we are here and what this is all about.

We are desperatedly lonely, because we have lost a sense of connection.

We are creatures of habit and we are deeply affected by the waters we are swimming in, by the culture we are living in, and here, addiction is normal.

It is normal to need more and more, to feel we ourselves are not enough, and to think we don’t have enough (whether it is physical, emotional or spiritual).

And we have these extraordinary minds which have the capacity to roam endlessly in the past and the future and are not that interested in being rooted to the present moment; that have the capacity to perceive themselves as separate from the rest of existence. And whether we know it or not, I believe we are all longing for a deeper sense of presence, of rootedness in the moment. And this is not easy with a brain like our one! Particularly in times like ours. Where more and more of life is lived out virtually on a billion screens, where so much of what we live is disembodied and disconnected.

In those times when I am really listening to what is most important for me in each moment; when I am blessed with a deeper sense of presence and therefore the capacity, readiness and interest to really be where I am, as I am; when I can give my energy and attention to a reverence to life which wants to be in service to each moment to the fullest of my ability; and when I am able to forgive myself and others for any lack of such capacity, readiness and interest – then the forces of addiction no longer hold sway over me.

And this takes dedication, commitment and an ongoing willingness to see what I am up to, and feel the pain of my own disconnection and addictive tendencies – and an interest to attend to what is most important again and again and again. And a love which wants to open to the wonder of life again and is willing to do whatever it takes to come back to it even though the addictive patterns would have us reach for the next fix.

Coming back to the trees, these magnificent ones, they help a lot.

I want to write

 

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I want to write.  I am hungry to write and to share it to anyone who is interested.

Over the course of my life I have periods when a certain form of expression starts knocking on my door; it keeps knocking despite a well-honed capacity to pretend I can’t hear.  It has eventually got too strong to ignore and has resulted in periods of painting, mosaic making, song writing, dancing.  Recently the one knocking is the writing muse.  And it is not just that I want to write, it is that I want to communicate.

So here I am creating a space in which I can allow my thoughts of the day or the week to be aired.

Unlike a conversation with someone in which there is an intermingling and a mutual stimulation of creative mind, these words are just what move in me as I move through my life. And having said that, they are always, inevitably, drawn out by the events and people in my life; what is touching, inspiring, devastating, ordinary, delightful in the unfolding of this personal (and collective) history.

These are extraordinary times. I feel an urgency, a call, an imperative, both personally and in the face of our shared human predicament, to step forward.

I am not here looking to do anything grand, just to open up my own mind – connected up with my heart and grounded in my body – and attempt to communicate, and see what comes through in the process.  Not as a teacher of anything, just as a human being attempting to make sense of life again and again.

I have been afraid to step forward like this.  But really, I am tired of holding back because I am afraid of not being good enough, inspiring enough, accurate enough, light enough, deep enough, funny enough… already enough… here I am… like this, right now.  And, for goodness’ sake, I am a grandmother now – it is absurd to keep running those stories when I have a beautiful grand-daughter to love and cherish, enjoy and some day to guide!

So today, as I launch this thing, I decided not to show any close friend, who might be encouraging and discerning, to read it through and give me the confidence to get on with it.  I just need to say it because I want to say it.

Thank you for your interest.